“Teaching Ethics Through Multiple Readings of Othello: The Moor of Venice: From Aristotle and Kant to Judith Butler,” American Association of Philosophy Teachers,” Alverno College, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, July 3 – 5, 2000:
Teaching an ethics course after a campus tragedy such as a murder-suicide makes special demands upon teachers unwilling to affect “business as usual.” My presentation consists in demonstrating how an ethics course might indirectly address this issue of gender violence by offering multiple readings of Shakespeare’s Othello: The Moor of Venice. By citing the text and showing excerpts from Olivier’s and Fishburne’s cinematographic portrayals of Othello, I show how both traditional and contemporary ethical theories ethical theories (virtue ethics, Kantian deontology, utilitarianism, early feminism, lesbian gender theorists, and race-relations) can find solid — if certainly not exclusive or definitive — footing in the drama. Reversing the direction of analysis from theory to artwork, I then draw attention to how the richness of the drama forces students to raise critical questions about the nature, scope and limitations of philosophy vis-a-vis the Humanities and the social sciences. In this fashion, students learn something important about the interdisciplinary nature of contemporary philosophy.
“From Dialogical Self to Chronotopic Body: A Dialogical Approach to Gender Identity, Moral Psychology and Heterosexual Melancholy,” First Annual Conference on the Dialogical Self, University of Nijmegen, Netherlands, June 22 – 16, 2000:
Hermans and Kempen’s (1993) dialogical model of identity offers a suggestive reorientation to the study of gender acquisition, moral development, and psycho-pathologies. Such applications of the “polyphonic” ideal of selfhood require, however, a fuller development of Hermans and Kempen’s discussion of Sarbin’s account of apperception and the introduction of Bakhtin’s (1981) “chronotopic” analysis of the novel. If the perception of time and space is “pre-scripted,” as Sarbin claims; and if novels are most perspicuously classified as “chronotopic” or “narratively charged perceptions of time and space,” as the later Bakhtin claims; and, finally, if the self is conceived as a “bodily ego” or “symbolically mediated proprioception,” as Freud (1915, 1917, 1923), Lacan (1966, 1978) and many others believe; then the dialogical model offers a novel clinical perspective upon “damaged” or “distorted” gender identity and, indeed, gender biases associated with Kohlberg’s (1969, 1984) classical model of moral development. The key idea I develop in this paper is that many “I-positions” are sub-verbal bodily schemata (Bermudez et. al 1995), not so much “unconscious” as “prosaic,” culturally charged, taken-for-granted perceptions of “times-and-spaces” that encode and enforce rigid gender stereotypes. In short, bodily schemata represent the “internalization” or habitualization of social scripting and blocking. Recent gender theorists (Butler 1987, 1990, 1993, 1997: Bordo 1992, 1998) have analyzed the psychic manifestation of homophobia and other forms of prejudice in terms of psychic “foreclosure” or “melancholia.” The normative ideal of the dialogical model demands, I argue, the therapeutic retrieval of such pre-verbal, gender-encoding or habitualized “I-positions” as a forgotten dimension of moral development (Wren 1990, Noam & 1993).
“Dialogical Self and Chronotopic Embodiment: Infant Development, Multilayered Self- Placement and Clinical Archaeology,” First Annual Conference on the Dialogical Self, University of Nijmegen, Netherlands, June 22 – 16, 2000:
Hermans and Kempen’s Dialogical model of identity (1990) and Stern’s (1985, 1995) developmental-clinical model of infant selfhood represent important contributions to psychology. Despite the fact that a “pre-verbal” infant and a narrator’s “I-positions” appear to have nothing common, Bakhtin’s notion of “chronotopes” offers, in fact, a conceptual linkage between Stern’s depiction of multilayered selves within infant development and the “polyphonic” ideal of identity formation. If one understands the integrity of the self — as embodied agent, affective-volitional subject, and verbal author — as intersubjectively cross-referenced “timings” and “placings” between caregiver and infant in social places — precisely as Stern does in his analysis of infant-caregiver “pseudo- dialogues” — and if one understands narrative as the disclosure of social times-and-spaces (Chrono-topes) — precisely as Bakhtin does in his later “chronotopic” analysis of the novel — then the possibility of multilayered pre-verbal I-positions emerges. According to Bakhtin, narrative forms are basics ways in which world time-space determine the possible nature of human agency, relations, plots, interactions, events, and outcomes. Distinguishing among some 27 different “chronotopes” — from elementary epic, adventure, travel and Greek-romance narratives to the more developed Bildungsromaene, historical and “polyphonic” novels — Bakhtin offers a fascinating developmental account of how ensuing narrative forms progressively approximate modern experiences of “real-life” time-spaces and agency. According to Stern, infants develop “core,” “subjective” and “verbal” senses of self within finely tuned “pseudo- dialogues” that cross-reference shared times and places in terms of the elemental aesthetic qualities of amodal, physiognomic, and vitality-affect perceptions. It is my contention that the earliest and rudimentary chronotopes of epic, travel, ordeal, everyday, and Greek-romance narratives capture the elemental conflicts of core, subjective and verbal stages of infant development. More importantly, such elemental dramatic experiences of shared time-spaces remain in play in adult experiences, not as “unconscious” content but, instead, as non-reflectively “sensed” dimensions or archaeological strata of ordinary adult experiences of social places. This isomorphism between Stern’s and Bakhtin’s developmental models significantly extends the clinical and sociological implications of Hermans and Kempen’s original model
“The Ontological Foundations of Environmental Ethics: Toward a Hermeneutic Conception of Life,” Twentieth Conference on the Life and Philosophy of Martin Heidegger: The Many Heideggers: Interpreting the Future of Heideggerian Studies, Denton, Texas, April 20 – 22, 2000:
In his most recent publication on Heidegger, Heidegger and the Ground of Ethics: A Study of Mitsein (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1998), Frederick Olafson develops Heidegger’s concept of Mitsein into a theory of truth as a non-elective partnership among humans who depend upon mutual recognition to ‘have’ a world at all. Because any attempt to deny the obligations and dependencies vis-a-vis others in co-disclosing the world is existentially self-defeating, “responsibility” and “trust” form, Olafson argues, the basic structure of human existence. While all modalities of being-with-others require responsibility and trust, the distinctively ethical dimension of our social nature emerges from Olafson’s theory of ethical truth. Authenticating “the good,” for the sake of which any individual human might be motivated to act, requires a form of intersubjective recognition more basic than any heretofore discussed in ethical theory. Ethical truth — truth about “the good” for the sake of which we might act — is not “a match-up between an archetype that defines right conduct and our judgments and actions” but, instead, “must itself be a form of disclosure in which something is not simply vorhanden [there as a thing: C.L.] shows itself to be such that it constitutes a limit on the choices we can make” (51). The primary concern of ethics, then, is the preservation of an axiological-teleological partnership. According to this existential reinterpretation of agape, the cognitive justification of explicit ethical rules presupposes a more basic drama of whether others are allowed to emerge in their ontologically distinctive role as preserving the social milieu, within which choice and action first make sense. The thesis I defend in this paper is that Heidegger’s ontological distinctions between “world-building” Dasein (humans) and “world-impoverished” life (animals) likewise supports a cross-species form of reciprocity or mutuality that not only escapes the charge of anthropocentrism but offers a ground in re for ethical responsibility to animals. The ontological condition of being open to the world — however minimal — builds a common element of vulnerability into the existence of living beings as such. This non-empirical concept of fragility cannot be denied without existential self-contradiction; hence, a quasi-deontological dimension of “negative” duties accrues to animals. Moreover, animals also offer a form of “recognition” or “confirmation” of “the good” for which humans, as living beings, strive; hence, a quasi- axiological dimension of ethical regard accrues to animals. Unlike rights-based and utilitarian attempts to widen the scope of moral concern, Heidegger provides a post-metaphysical grounding of moral concern for the living. More surprisingly, even environments fall under the scope of such concern — indirectly, however, since an Um-gebung presupposes a being with world-access to which it is indexed. When this ground in re for environmental sensibilities is coupled with Heidegger’s analysis of technology as “world-occlusion” or Seinsvergessenheit, then ethical responsibilities emerge in the specific form of maintaining non-instrumental conceptions of striving and non-scientistic conceptions of life.
“Reconstructing and Deconstructing The Ideals of Reason: Habermas and the Constructive Role of Narrative,” American Philosophical Association, Pacific Division Meeting, Albuquerque, New Mexico, April 5 – 8, 2000:
Habermas’s concept of rationality is beset by two competing proposals for contextualizing the ideals of communicative reason in history. At one extreme, Neo-Kantians such as McCarthy insist that the ideals of reason are purely regulative, not constitutive. At the other, both Neo-Hegelian and Nietzschean critics demand a more emphatic encounter of reason with history — anticipating, respectively, that the real is rational or that the irrational is real. This dichotomy between either removing reason from history as purely regulative or captivating reason within a teleological or genealogical history does not capture Habermas’s insistence that communicative reason is a real idealizing force. Habermas’s complementarity thesis — that the innerworldly validity-testing and world-disclosive functions of language are internally related — commits him to expanding the role of narrative in his account of the “communicative orientation to validity.” In fact, only by adopting Hegelian teleological and Nietzschean genealogical narratives as corresponding strategies for problematizing situations can communicative reason be an effective historical force.
“Is There A ‘Teleological Suspension of the Ethical’?: Absolute and Relative Standing in Interpersonal Relations,” The Michigan Academy Conference, Saginaw Valley College, Big Bay Michigan, March 10th – 11th, 2000:
“Is there a teleological suspension of the ethical,” asks Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous author “Johannes de Silentio,” who in faith — “fear and trembling” — ponders Abraham’s willing obedience to sacrifice Isaac. Interpersonal relations are forms of “faith,” I argue, because one’s identity is first secured by taking another’s existence as absolute. Being defined by taking such merely possible finite others as, paradoxically, necessarily definitive of one’s “infinite” dignity as a human being is an “offense to reason” or faith. Such individuating defining relations “suspend” the universal, not by demanding immoral acts but, instead, by opening up the question of why I do, or fail to do, what any moral agent should. The absolute standing of others neither undermines nor guarantees the universal moral point of view; instead, reasons for anyone are “suspended” in my having, or failing to have, motivations for doing the right thing. More pointedly, if another has standing in my life because she is either the object of my desires — an “aesthetic” relationship — or subject of my autonomous choice — an “ethical” relationship — then she has only relative standing in my life. Most pointedly, the capacity to “open” oneself to a particular other “absolutely” or “without remainder” is, I argue, a type of self- understanding without which universal respect remains hauntingly empty.
“Merleau-Ponty’s Heideggerian Turn: From Individual Bodies to Social Flesh,” The MidSouth Philosophy Conference, The University of Memphis, Memphis, Tennessee, February 25th – 26th, 2000:
Secondary literature on Merleau-Ponty seems to agree that he developed two, apparently distinct notions of our corporeal involvement: “the body” in The Phenomenology of Perception and “the flesh” in The Visible and the Invisible. The former, it is claimed, is contaminated with individualist and mentalist traces of Subjektphilosophie while the latter turns toward an truly post-Cartesian ontology of being. So, whereas bodily existence is understood as plural, individuated and reflexive, “the flesh” is conceived as singular, unitary and (anonymously) “chiasmtic”. The claim that Merleau-Ponty rejected the concept of the body in working out an ontology of the flesh is, however, seriously mistaken. Like Heidegger’s analysis of Dasein (Daseinanalytik) within the overall project of the question of being (Seinsfrage), Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of the body is provisional and complementary to his ontology of flesh. Only on the basis of a provisional analysis of Da-sein as plural, individuated and reflexive is it possible to develop a complementary concept of Sein as singular, unitary and anonymous — allowing Heidegger to retrospectively claim that being, not human beings, “holds existence in its existential.” This continuity thesis also captures Merleau-Ponty’s retrospective ontological return to his abiding phenemonology. “The flesh,” “rays of the world” or “palpations of being” throw individuated bodies open toward a singular and unitary world, making the singular reflexive activity of individuals a participation in an anonymous Donee of dehiscent being. Most pointedly, proponents of the discontinuity thesis regarding the “turn” between early and later works either mystify “flesh” by uncoupling it from individuated bodies or caricature bodily existence in terms of isolated “subjects.” I argue that “the lived body” is a holistically functioning repertoire of dispositions, skills, capacities and practices and, further, that “the flesh” names the open milieu of presence interdependent with bodily existence as such but independent of singular, or interaction among, individuals.
“The Body Politic: Naturalizing Biological Citizenship and Philosophical Reservations,” University of Chicago Midwest Seminar, March 1998.
“Binary Symbol Operations and Identity” (Psychology Division) Michigan Academy of Science Arts and Letters Conference: Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, March 1997:
In Self-Representation: Life Narrative Studies in Identity and Ideology, the psychologist Gary Gregg presents a general theory of identity formation. Cross-cultural analyses of life narratives reveals, he maintains, that humans construct identities around “systematically ambiguous symbols.” Such symbols encode macro-social, “in-group and out-group” polarities in the micro- recesses of individual psyches, making identity largely a matter of society writ-small. Symbolic self-representations — e.g. “Italian American” or “Career women” — shift, like perceptual gestalts, from positive to negative social representations, staging a binary inner struggle. While convinced of the empirical merits of Dr. Gregg’s studies, I am nevertheless critical of his theoretical framework. Because it builds historical ideological rigidities into a general theory of identity formation, it mystifies the clinician’s task of treating the devastating psychological effects of social racism, misogyny and ethnic intolerance. Only a fuller understanding of how such “systematically ambiguous symbols” function within the more encompassing integration of the self will Gregg be able to rectify the current clinical sterility of his work. I argue that his current interest in the relation between “self-symbol” and “self-schema” moves in precisely this direction.
“Metaphorical Truth” (Philosophy Division) Michigan Academy of Science Arts and Letters Conference: Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, March 1997:
Among philosophers of language, fundamental disagreement persists regarding the nature of metaphorical utterances. What is the force of metaphorical utterances, constative, expressive or some other brand of performative? Davidson contends that speakers do not assert anything in uttering metaphors but, instead, merely suggest novel ways of imagining or “seeing as” — they are, he says, “the dream- work of language.” Searle, in contrast, argues that speakers can execute, indirectly, any type of illocutionary act using metaphors, even assertions. This apparently fundamental contrast between the alleged aletheic (Davidson) and the apophantic (Searle) functions of metaphorical utterances overlooks, I content, their demonstrative function. Metaphorical utterances exhibit the perceptual and conceptual orientation by which states of affairs are revealed to the speaker. By so demonstrating the aletheic function, speaker divulge the basic framework in terms of which he/she nevertheless articulates a specific claim. Metaphorical language-use is distinctive, I argue, precisely in the way it combines demonstrative, apophantic and demonstrative functions.
“Feminist Motifs in the Paintings of Lynn Vought” (Women’s Studies) Michigan Academy of Science Arts and Letters Conference: Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, March 1997:
The paintings of Lyn Vought offer a remarkably subtle and powerful depiction of the plight of modern women. Vought’s artistry resides less in her choice of subjects, however, than in how her style captures the existential modes of embodiment that function as the relay station between individual psyches, on the one hand, and social demands, on the other. By analyzing both earlier and later works, I suggest that Vought’s art reveals two important, pre-conscious experiences of time: what I call “plant” and “animal” time. Vought’s paintings reveal both “earth” and “body” dimensions of experience, within which “waking consciousness” or “explicit awareness” often functions in a secondary or ancillary fashion. The analysis of individual works demonstrates that Vought moves to these dimensions of experience to capture important ways in which female identities are constructed.
“The Politics of Difference and Critical Social Theory” APA, Central Division Meeting, Chicago, Illinois, April 1996:
In her recent work, Justice and the Politics of Difference, Iris Young argues that traditional theories of justice — the so-called “distributive paradigm” — is fundamentally flawed. Justice, she claims, cannot be exclusively, or even primarily, understood as the fair distribution of benefits and burdens but, instead, as the eradication of social oppression and domination. To accomplish the latter, we must, she claims (1) abandon the ideal of impartiality (2) administer differential social conditions to distinct social groups and (3) analyze the subtle and heretofore unnoticed modi operandi of domination and oppression. Although sympathetic to Young’s project, I nevertheless offer the following criticism. The ideal of some traditional theories of justice — the Kantian and the Hegelian, for instance — is mutual recognition, according to which differential distribution is unjust because it offends mutual respect, not because it deprives one of goods. More importantly, Young’s views about group coexistence presuppose some such normative notion of mutual respect among groups. Ironically, however, Young’s denigration of impartiality and universality blocks her most convenient account of respectful group coexistence, a Habermasian discourse-theoretic one. I focus my criticism on how Young’s surprisingly minimal, traditional concept of a social group prevents her from developing an account of oppression and domination she needs to fill out her reconceptualization of justice.
“Natural Born Levellers: A Kierkegaardian Critique of Post-modern Cinematography.” American Comparative Literature Association Conference: Between Philosophy and Cultural Studies, Notre Dame, Indiana, March 1996:
One of the most disturbing film images of the ‘90s is the Dangerfield sitcom of paternal sexual abuse. Like a nightmare’s uncoupling of subjectivity from motility — the drug-like stupor of the unresponsive body faced with impending danger — this scene uncouples our affectual and critical response from our taking the drama in. Our critical spontaneity is anesthetized — drugged — by the encompassing canned laughter, sighs and gasps that work behind our subjectivity like an implanted silicone ego. We are in effect forced to watch a rape and suffer the wrap-around sound of commending laughter that corrodes our ability to respond–our viewing responsibility — at its very birth. Here we have a veritable “dramatic reenactment” of a natural born audience, the literal birth of a viewing (de-)generation. Alone, this scene demonstrates what Kierkegaard calls the “levelling” of “qualitative distinctions,” e.g. between good and evil, respect and denigration, indignation and fascination, etc.. Qualitative distinctions are, according to Kierkegaard, the “mainsprings” of passionate action, and levelling is “a feat of dialectics … that leaves qualitative distinctions standing while cunningly emptying them of significance …. leaves everything standing while making the whole of life ambiguous.” Stone, I contend, sets out to explore “natural born levelling” but cannot maintain the central qualitative distinction of the film. The qualitative distinction — between witness and conspirator, insight and illusion, dwelling and dreaming — is itself levelled, by the final witness, the unmanned camera, a criminal record without a conscience. I contend that Stone himself “levels” the distinction between the two, qualitatively distinct forms of bearing witness he depicts in his film: the dying native — horror — and the faltering camera — indifference.
“Intentionalist Semantics and Acoustic Reversibility” (Philosophy Division) Michigan Academy of Science Arts and Letters Conference: Alma, Michigan, March 1996:
The cornerstone of John Searle’s mature philosophy of language is the idea that “the philosophy of language is a branch of the philosophy of mind.” His theory of meaning supports this ordering of inquiries by distinguishing “meaning intentions” from “intentions of communicate.” Because the intention to represent is more primary than the intention to communicate, a philosophy of language (theory of communication) is grounded in a philosophy of mind (theory of representation). Against Searle, I argue that “meaning intentions” are characteristic of unusual breakdowns in communication. A philosophy of language based upon them stylizes an aberrant experience into an abiding condition. The autism of “wild children” indicates as much. Analysis of ordinary speech reveals that word choice is primarily a matter of “the acoustic reversibility” of saying and hearing. In short, we choose words, not to externalize what is private, but to play upon a shared linguistic keyboard. We choose words because of their public acoustics, because they “reverberate” or “sound out” within social spaces in a particular manner. The idea of semantic content stripped of intersubjective tonality — the acoustic reversibility of saying and hearing — is really the story of a private language. I argue that the phenomenon of private languages are crypto-graphic encodings of natural languages — hardly a promising model of language-use as such. The notion of “acoustic reversibility” is, I argue, an essential and neglected feature of speech.
“Undamaged Identity or Undistorted Communication: Two Competing Ideals of Critical Theory?” (Political Science Division) Michigan Academy of Science Arts and Letters Conference: Alma, Michigan, March 1996:
In a recent book, The Struggle for Recognition: On the Moral Grammar of Social Conflict, Axel Honneth presents and defends a critical social theory inspired by Hegel’s Jena writings. Against Habermas’s claim that “undistorted communication” is the basic normative ideal of a rational society, Honneth argues that the ideal of “undamaged identities” should guide our study, criticism and alteration of contemporary society. A rational, healthy society reproduces itself, not by eliminating distorted communication, but, instead, by securing the material condition under which its members form undamaged identities. Like Hegel, Honneth distinguishes among three, sequentially ordered social domains normatively structured by a “struggle for recognition”: the family, civil society and associations of value (Wertgemeinschaften). To assess the relative merits of these alternative models of society, I compare Habermas’s “discourse ethics” with what I propose as Honneth’s “ethics of recognition.” What are the consequences of adopting one or the other, I ask, with respect to contemporary debates about “difference” or multiculturalism? In this context, one sees some of the virtues of Habermas’s minimal model of the “moral point of view.” For Habermas, legitimacy is tied to possible communicative approval; for Honneth, to the affirmation of identity claims. While some political theorists reason that intractable disagreements — e.g. abortion — should be politically resolved by agreement to respect the identity claims of the opposition, I argue that such an ideal is too strong for modern pluralistic democracies. Honneth’s model imposes Herculean hermeneutic demands upon members of multicultural democracies. The politics of “recognition” and “difference” are, I argue, a bad match. The greater degree of “harmonious disagreement” required for democratic ethnic, religious, and gender pluralization is anchored in the demand for undistorted communication, not recognized identities.
“Dialogical Conceptions of Self and Early Childhood Development” (Psychology Division) Michigan Academy of Science Arts and Letters Conference: Alma, Michigan, March 1996:
In a recent publication, The Dialogical Self: Meaning as Movement, Hermans and Kempen present and defend a “narrative” approach to identity formation. The central claim of their book is that the human “self” must be understood as a complex, de-centralized, socially situated activity of managing a multiplicity of narratable, interactive selves. The normative-therapeutic ideal to emerge from this account of the self is the goal of a healthy flexibility in narratively managing the forces of integration (centripetal movement) and dis-integration (centrifugal movement) that characterize psychological integrity in complex modern societies. While in general agreement with their suggested paradigm of research, I am nevertheless puzzled by their omission of any sustained discussion of the body and of early childhood development. This is particularly surprising when one considers their central concern with the “spatialization of temporal differences” and the “de-centering of the omniscient narrator.” Drawing upon the recent work of Daniel Stern, The Interpersonal World of the Infant, I develop the idea of a bodily-centered “pseudo-dialogue” between child and caregivers that has important consequences for the “spatialization of time.” Drawing upon both the later works of M. M Bakhtin — a central figure for Hermans and Kempen — and the works of Julia Kristeva, I introduce a conceptually enriched model of narrative temporality that locates pre-verbal embodiment as an important source of both “centrifugal” and “centripetal” schematizations of narratives. These conceptual explications of narrative structures have important implications for researching how developmental stages are “ramified” — not nullified or supplanted — in human maturation.
“Where is Putnam Going? A European Itinerary for Analytic Philosophy.” Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters Conference; Ferris State, Big Rapids, March 1995:
In recent publications, Hilary Putnam has offered a cluster of arguments against mainstream positions in Anglo-American philosophy of science, mind and language. The crux of his new position — which is opposed to naturalized epistemology, functionalist theories of mind, and verificationist theories of meaning — is, I believe, a philosophy of language inspired by Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. This new conceptualization of language-use is, however, an unstable balance between two important theses. First, there is an internal connection between meaning and truth because the former is tied to epistemological idealizations of a linguistic community. Second, there is an internal connection between meaning and perception, because language is acquired and stabilized in the context of a linguistic community’s perceptual- pragmatic involvement. To chart out how Putnam may proceed in this matter, it is instructive to review Juergen Habermas’s reception of Wittgensteinian and Heideggerian philosophies of language in his recent Theory of Communicative Action. Habermas is forced to qualify Wittgenstein’s emphasis upon perceptual-pragmatic practices — what he calls Lifeforms in On Certainty — because of its relativistic consequences, and Habermas is thereby forced to embrace a conception of our “common-sense” view of world — the so-called lifeworld — that does not square well with Wittgenstein’s discussion of everyday certainty. This same tension is to be found in Putnam’s discussion of “natural realism” and the recent attacks upon so-called “Folkpsychology.” Putnam is able to maintain his critique of scientistic philosophy of mind only at the expense of compromising what he says about truth and meaning in the philosophy of language. Putnam will soon confront this issue by having to state whether the conceptual pluralism celebrated in “internal realism” harbors a quasi-foundationist claim regarding our ordinary understanding of the world. I conclude with a reminder Husserl’s difficulties in this matter.
“Is the Kohlberg-Gilligan Debate Over.” Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters Conference; Ferris State, Big Rapids, March 1995:
The Kohlberg-Gilligan debate of the early 80s gave rise to several interesting attempts at mediating the opposition between “justice” and “care” moral orientations. Both the essentialist stand-off — men and women are essentially different — and Kohlberg’s hasty assimilation of “care” — the “care” orientation is just the constellation of personal relations — have given way to more interesting forms of mediation. Thomas Wren has recently argued that the care orientation is the fundamental setting in which otherwise anonymous justice-reasoning performs the function of articulating a personal life biography. Juergen Habermas, on the other hand, argues that the care orientation stabilizes judgments of application and has no bearing upon the justification of moral judgments. Noddings, Pritchard and others argue that the care orientation provides the setting in which sympathies toward particular others are generalized, where such generalizations are morally superior to the abstract, top-down universalizations of deontological ethics. I suggest that all of the above models possess both assets and liabilities by offering an alternative account of moral development that highlights the role of examples, models and artworks in coping with moral situations. Using hints from Friedrich Schiller’s The Aesthetic Education of Man, Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and Martin Heidegger’s “The Origin of the Work of Art,” I sketch an alternative, existential developmental logic that privileges the recognition of similarity via moral exempla as the original root of both cognition and conation in moral matters. While I offer my speculations about an alternative conceptual model without empirical support, I point out that we are not yet in a position of knowing what counts as empirical evidence in such matters.
“Feminizing Discourse: Reflections on Benhabib’s Feminist Appropriation of Discourse Ethics.” Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters Conference; Ferris State, Big Rapids, March 1995:
In the essays that make up Situating the Self: Gender, Community and Postmodernism in Contemporary Ethics, Seyla Benhabib claims that Habermas’s discourse ethics, with its two-pronged critique of Neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics and Neo-Kantian deontological ethics, could be a fruitful starting point for feminist political theory. She suggests that a notion of “intersubjective universality” could be articulated that balances the aspirations of a radical group- based politics, on the one hand, and of a critical social theory that still appeals to the notion of a “rational society,” on the other. The core of this conception of intersubjectivity is the normative ideal of a public space in which communication stages a meaningful encounter of self and other and, when successful, a veritable reciprocity of interests. Without a “feminization” of discourse, however, such public fora will systematically distort the interests of women. It’s not altogether clear what Benhabib has in mind with this suggestion of “feminizing discourse.” While she argues — persuasively in my mind — against the idealizations of traditional liberal political theory, she seems to endorse Habermas’s regulative ideal of an ideal speech situation. I point out that Habermas’s current account of a discourse ethics still partakes in the type of idealizations that Benhabib finds so disturbing in traditional political theory. Using various alternative conceptualizations of linguistic interaction — those of M. Bakhtin and Pierre Bourdieu — I suggests ways in which a philosophical conceptualization of language use could be enriched to support Benhabib’s feminist aspirations.
“The Politics of Difference: Young on Habermas.” Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters Conference; Ferris State, Big Rapids, March 1995:
In her recent work, Justice and the Politics of Difference, Iris Young argues that traditional theories of justice — the so-called “distributive paradigm” — is fundamentally flawed. Justice, she claims, cannot be exclusively, or even primarily, understood as the fair distribution of benefits and burdens but, instead, as the eradication of social oppression and domination. To accomplish the latter, we must, she claims (1) reject all appeals to universals as disguised assimilationist strategies, (2) administer differential social conditions to distinct social groups and (3) analyze the subtle and heretofore unnoticed modi operandi of domination and oppression. Although sympathetic to Young’s project, I nevertheless offer the following observations and criticism. The ideal of some traditional theories of justice — the Kantian and the Hegelian, for instance — is mutual recognition, according to which differential distribution is unjust, not because it deprives one of goods, but because it violates mutual respect. The “distributive paradigm” is then only one strand of a more complex tradition. More importantly, Young’s conceptualization of justice as group-pluralism without oppression and domination presupposes not only traditional universal norms of equality but additional universals that regulate group self-determination. When Young denies these universals, she embroils herself in performative self-contradictions. More ironically, however, Young’s denigration of universal norms blocks her most convenient and enabling account of respectful group coexistence, a Habermasian discourse-theoretic one, which she explicitly endorses. The Politics of Difference, I argue, should not purchase its critique of Phall-Logocentrism at the cost of performative self-contradiction.
“Embodiment as Metaphor: A Critique of Ricoeur’s The Rule of Metaphor,” Thirtieth Conference in Modern Literature: “Aesthetics and Ideologies: An Interdisciplinary Conference; Michigan State University, October 1994:
Philosophers and literary theorists have debated at length how we generate and understand metaphor. Two opposing views emerge from that discussion: the idea that “vehicle” and “tenor” literally share some similarity, on the one hand, and the idea that the vehicle gets us to see the tenor as something else. In the Rule of Metaphor, Ricoeur argues against both these accounts — the mimetic and the Nietzschean — and then develops a notion of metaphor based upon Aristotelian “analogies of Being.” Ricoeur’s Heideggerian account of “analogies of Being” locates “metaphorical comprehension” in pre- cognitive modes of existence and action, and this represents, I believe, an advance over objectivist and relativist positions. Nevertheless, like Heidegger’s existentialism, which makes room for but neglects the human body as a dimension of existence, Ricoeur’s epistemology of metaphorical comprehension makes room for but neglects the body as essential to understanding “analogies of Being.” Using both Merleau-Ponty’s earlier and later words — in which he develops the notions of, respectively, “the lived body” and “the flesh” — I offer a critical reinterpretation of Ricoeur’s “analogies of being.” First, the very notion of “analogies of Being” is a theoretical embarrassment — a chagrined placeholder for analysis — unless it is undergirded by some explanation of how such correspondences or “equivalences” can be established. I marshal several arguments from The Phenomenology of Perception, The Visible and the Invisible, and “Eye and Mind” to show how a philosophical conceptualization of the body can indeed provide just such an account. I then articulate two seemingly different explanations of how “corporeal schemata” — what Merleau- Ponty calls “lived meanings” — can establish “correspondences” or “analogies” between different things, so that one’s coping with the one “summons” or “clears one access to” another. These two notions are however, aspects of the same unified account, the central notion of which is “anonymous embodiment” or “intersubjective corporeality” — i.e. “the flesh.”
“Did Merleau-Ponty Have Two Concepts of The Body?” Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters Conference, Michigan State University, Lansing, March 1994:
Secondary literature on Merleau-Ponty seems in agreement that he developed two, apparently distinct notions of our corporeal involvement: “the body” in The Phenomenology of Perception and “the flesh” in The Visible and the Invisible. The latter, it is claimed, emphasizes the intersubjectivity of language; the former the reciprocity of perception. In connection with a theory of perception, corporeal involvement is understood in terms of the reciprocity of individual bodies. In connection with the theory of language developed in the later works, corporeal involvement is understood in terms of the individuation of a common social clearing. While I agree that these notions are different, I nevertheless emphasize the continuity instead of the discontinuity of Merleau-Ponty’s lifelong preoccupation with the corporeal nature of human existence. I argue that these two conceptions are complementary, not incompatible or otherwise in tension. If the banner of the earlier works reads “A theory of the body is a theory of perception,” then the banner of the later works reads “A theory of language is a theory of the body.” I relate this issue to the recent clash between Churchland’s plasticity-of-perception thesis and Fodor’s counterclaims about the modularity of perceptual and linguistic functions.
“Illocutionary Binding Force: How Do Speech Acts Coordinate Interaction?” Guest Speaker Before Hope College Faculty, Holland, November 1993:
Recently, Juergen Habermas — the current representative of the Frankfurt School of social inquiry — has developed a philosophy of language along the lines of a formal pragmatic. The cornerstone of this approach is the idea that “to understand an utterance is to know the conditions under which it is acceptable.” Habermas’s basic intuition is that speakers coordinate interaction by mutually recognizing certain validity claims: truth (about the world), correctness (about social norms) and sincerity (about one’s self). Communicative interaction is, therefore, a “rational medium of social coordination”: speakers must either rationally redeem, through argument, the validity claims they raise in communication or resort to “strategically” manipulating the other. I criticize this stark distinction between “communicative” and “strategic” interaction. Using M. M. Bakhtin’s distinction between “primary” and “secondary” speech genre, I wedge several layers of linguistic interaction between everyday communication and rational discourse. Speakers are almost never directly related to individual validity claims; they are, instead, almost always indirectly related to validity claims through certain stereotypical speech genre. Such speech genre comprise various rhetorical complexes that interweave “strategic” and “communicative” moments. Unlike Habermas’s idealized “standard form” speech act — in which a speaker raises a single, isolated validity claim — speech genre still contain elements of social class, authority, membership in groups, implicit reference to prior views, gender cuing, etc. that strategically mediate our relation to validity claims. With this notion of a speech genre as a complex linguistic instrument through which we are nonetheless directed to rational argumentation, I preserve Habermas’s basic intuition that language is a potential for rational reconciliation of social friction while nevertheless demonstrating the strategic, “power” dimensions of language. Finally, I argue that the principle of hope built into communicative interaction — the presupposition of respectful, rational reconciliation of differences — requires that we move beyond the narrow confines of a “formal pragmatic” philosophy of language to one rich enough to analyze the complex social vehicles we deploy as speech genre.
“Habermas’ Concept of Aesthetic-Expressive Rationality.” Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters Conference, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, March 1993:
In The Theory of Communicative Action, Juergen Habermas offers a critique of reason based upon a reconstructive analysis of language use. The resulting concept of “communicative reason” is differentiated into three distinct types of rationality: aesthetic-expressive, moral-practical and empirical-theoretical rationality. Aesthetic-expressive rationality, according to Habermas, is oriented to the validity claim to truthfulness, the type of claim raised and redeemed in expressive speech acts. Habermas’ account of this type of rationality in terms of the expressive dimension of language-use is flawed in fundamental ways. Habermas analyzes the “ontological assumptions” of expressive speech acts on the model of Ego’s private access to its inner states — a thoroughly Cartesian conception — and yet it is precisely Descartes’s philosophy of the subject that is the explicit and principle target of Habermas’s overall project. Moreover, elsewhere in the same work Habermas’ characterizes narrative self-presentation as a form of “constative” speech act — i.e. non- expressive — and yet it is precisely this type of language use that allows one to assess the “truthfulness” of another’s self-understanding. If Habermas could abandon the former account of truthfulness and take up an explanatory strategy along the line of the latter, then he would not only remove a contradiction in his attack upon the “philosophy of the subject” but also deepen our understanding of the validity claim of “truthfulness.”
“Teaching Kierkegaard’s Pseudonymous Writings.” Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters Conference, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, March 1993:
From 1843 to 1850 Kierkegaard composed and published a number of works under various pseudonyms. This body of writing is known as the “aesthetic writings.” This “construction of the aesthetic,” as Adorno calls it, presents obvious difficulties for the teacher concerned to present Kierkegaard’s views. If the pseudonymous authors’ views are authoritative, then why didn’t Kierkegaard append his name? If such views diverge from Kierkegaard’s, then why communicate through pseudo- authority? Why did Kierkegaard use indirect discourse to educate us? The notion of an “aesthetic education” has been the primary pedagogical concern of philosophers such as Schiller, Hegel, Fichte and others, but Kierkegaard’s “aesthetic” education differs in fundamental respects from theirs. In this paper, I distinguish between Schiller’s and Kierkegaard’s conceptions of an “aesthetic education” by distinguishing between their quite different conceptions of the problems such an education rectifies. Schiller’s is worried about how to address an individual who embodies a duality between passion and reason, and he solves the problem by an appeal to art as a tertium quid, the mediating spielraum, in which passion and reason are equally addressed. In contrast, Kierkegaard is worried about how to address someone who lives in “the present age,” an age in which “qualitative distinctions are left standing while cunningly emptied of significance.” By analyzing these quite different rhetorical situations, I demonstrate the necessity of their respective conceptions of an “aesthetic education.”