On Hans Jonas’ Environmental Philosophy

A couple of months ago I was reading a book called ‘Hans Jonas’ Ethic of Responsibility’ by Theresa Morris. I was not initially familiar with the work of Jonas but I came to find that Jonas was a highly influential figure in Germany and had the unique distinction of being an intellectual who had public significance.

 

When I was reading through the work I was thinking of objections and issues with Jonas’ overall thesis; Morris wrote the book in a very neat way that anticipated a lot of criticisms, such as the is-ought distinction (I was not convinced of the response but that’s another issue), and the fact that Jonas builds on previous philosophies such as Kant and Spinoza as well as the problems that they had.

 

When I think about Jonas’s overall thesis I find it forgettable. There’s a sense in which it is basically a hodgepodge of Kant and Phenomenology; Spinozist monism and moral responsibility. I understand the project that there is a need for a convincing set of ideas to frame our sense of responsibility towards the fact that consumption of various products given the developed world’s standard of living cannot be sustained for the current population if it were rolled out for everyone, or our infrastructures from using the internet to having a power grid releases a byproduct that does have an harmful impact on the planet.

 

I felt that the book hardly gave what we call in ethics a motivational reason. I think also that it may not be within our internal motivational set to be convinced of the ethics of say, using a car or eating meat. I wonder if these factors are motivationally external, that being, non-internal to our motivational set.

 

I also wonder on another front, when reading the book and reflecting on it, whether it is the assumptions that we make as everyday moral agents that perpetuate an attitude that maintains the ecological status quo. For example, if it is our sense of looking at the individual as our moral agency, instead of say, groups of people, humanity-at-large, or our governments. One discussion that was quite poignant was who counts as responsible in this ecological issue. Jonas seemed to be at the view that it was solely humanity. While I am inclined to agree, I may temper the warning that denying the agency or ethical commitment to non-persons is part of the problem that creates the status quo. We eat animals that we do not consider as people, we disregard our similarities of say, producing offspring or mating because they do not have communicable speech or technology.

 

There was an extent to which Jonas’s philosophy didn’t seem relevant when the starting point was in the western philosophical tradition. Even as someone whose starting point is the western philosophical tradition, I cannot find it easy to be convinced why say, plane travel is immoral, if we start off from moralistic or metaphysical first principles. It’s just not convincing, even if the ‘arguments’ are sound. In a sense I give a concession to the rhetorical politician who often argues from motivating reasons and the kneejerk reactions of our gut feeling as a basis for moral decision making.

 

I thought about this book as a parallel with various conversations I’ve had with recent friend, Dave Darby, who poised the question to me of how people are not shocked that they are eating and consuming their way into oblivion and are doing nothing about it. My answer to that was: they aren’t convinced by your narrative and until they are they won’t act. In that sense, the problem  with Jonas’s environmental philosophy is not particularly a unique one

Watching: Boss

I am drawn to cultural things that try to express some point about the society that we live in. I am especially drawn to things which really capture a sense of zeitgeist about them. I am for example, quite the fan of the recent Game of Thrones series. Perhaps a lesser known and unfortunately cancelled show that especially has recently caught my eye.

 

Boss was a television series starring Kelsey Grammer as a fictitious Chicago Mayor in a post 2008 GFC world of recession, rising national and federal debt and the difficulties of living for the citizenship. The particularly cynical look at how politicians are obviously janus faced is particularly resonant in an age where a vast voting public have little confidence in their political governance.

 

Kelsey Grammer’s Tom Kane is a character I cannot get my head around. As are many of the other characters involved. There are political alliances, compromises and complex personal relationships in the realpolitik of local government. I am particularly a fan of the lone Sentinel journalist who stands for integrity and cutting out all of the bullshit of both the media and the way that politicians use spin, or ‘chump bait’ to the frustration of Sam Miller.

 

As a personal side point I didn’t know very much about Kelsey Grammer (except for him being Beast, and Frasier Crane). I discovered that Grammer is a notable conservative and his producer involvement in Boss included a bit of creative direction. I am thoroughly impressed at how the show does not particularly have any obvious messages but focusses on the micro-interactions and nitty gritty of a democracy, or supposed-democracy.

 

I wonder to myself whether this will be one of the TV series that expresses the 2010s and what the zeitgeist of our age will be.

Some thoughts on my music playlists

Lately I have not listened to as much underground black metal music as I would like to. This is for a variety of reasons (scarcity being the main one). I always make a point of keeping a diverse set of listening interests. Sometimes if I hear a conversation about a band going on and I don’t know much about it, I will make a note in Google Keep and check on them later. I also have a rolling task every month of making a ‘big fuckoff playlist’ which lasts anything from 8-12 days (as in up to 300 hours).

 

I like to organise my playlists in ways that try to acknowledge the greatest amount of unity through the greatest variety of depth. I’m sure Kant didn’t envisage the application of schematic concepts in this way. I listen to music with a variety of different personas and hats. With my spotify subscription I try to organise my music in as rational a way as possible.

 

I am interested in learning about early 20th century music from the perspective of being a fan of Modernist thought. My interest in modernism also informs my interest in black metal (but that’s another story). I am also interested in connecting to understand my old piano teacher’s Jazz heritage. I had initially been listening to the early jazz of Jelly Roll Morton and Benny Goodman, and then I evolved to exploring John Coltrane most recently.

 

I am also exploring composers that I haven’t known very much about and trying to get an informed opinion of. I listened to the works of Krenek, CPE Bach, Aaron Copland and I am currently exploring Jean Sibelius, Gerald Finzi and I have about 3 different Leonard Bernstein playlists. There seem to be three Leonard Bernsteins: the conductor who was well known for performing the greats and the classics of European artmusik; Bernstein the composer who wrote works that reflected this meshing of his distinctly American and urbanite sensibility with someone who is steeped in the history and heritage of the Europeans; and finally the ‘popular’ Berinstein who lives on as the dude who did West Side Story and those other Jazzy tunes. I think that through listening to all three of these Bernsteins concurrently I am having a better appreciation of his perspective and the interesting cultural soup that formed his outlook.

 

I was recently watching a MOOC on modern music which discussed the recent composer George Crumb (Whom I know nothing about). Crumb said in an interview how growing up in the USA with parents who were local band and orchestra musicians influenced him, as well as the multicultural agenda of the music department at his university. Music is alive insofar as it is both current and historical. I love listening to music through different personas, similar to how I have conceptualised Bernstein. I enjoy listening to music as someone who is a bad amateur musician. I enjoy listening to music as someone who is interested in its history and culture. Then there are the sensibilities of someone born in the 1980s and was a kid of the 90s and a 20-something through the 2000s trying to negotiate getting a bit older and uncool.

 

When I listen to all this music I explore things I like and things that I don’t like but still try to be informed about. I love the idea of trying to find some kind of unity in all the musical personas that I have, but on the other hand I think it is not possible or desirable. I want to have Shining’s Förtvivlan, min arvedel as something relatively recent that I absolutely adore and feel encapsulates me as a person, but at the same time I also feel the same kind of identification and emotion (albeit different emotional colours) about Beethoven’s Sonata no. 8, which I am currently working on and trying to deal with the tremolando of the left hand in the first movement (the word pathetique comes to mind!). Often people talk of historical periods and some have referred to the present as ‘postmodern’. Let’s say that I accept this label. Being a post-modern means that I can go to the gym listening to the music representing my outlook through Black Metal when I’m walking around with my headphones in; but also write blog posts at 3am while listening to Blaise Pascal on audiobook and listening to the music of Darius Milhaud (of les six) fame. Postmodern is one word to describe it perhaps, or perhaps muddled, confused. But not to say that these are necessarily bad things to mix it all up.

Amorphous, Nebulous and enthymatic, or British Values

Lately there has been a bit of public discussion about the issue of what are British values? This comes from a discussion about a suggested coup of one faith group to allegedly influencing a school in negative ways that are not just out of local educational policies, but are also unBritish. In a similar vein, this week saw the death of Rik Mayall, a comedic actor that I grew up watching through the show Bottom. I remember watching Bottom during two periods of my life. One where I was a lot younger and mostly saw the desperation of the characters in their shoddy mod-like clothes; and later on with a more critical eye which appreciated more of the dysfunctional side of Eddie and Richie. I mention this because Rik Mayall was to me, a quintessentially British character, and yet could hardly be considered an estalishment sort of figure.

 

I was watching this week’s BBC Question Time where people talked about British values and pointing to values but not defining explicitly (or in the Carnapian sense) what exhaustatively consists within the notion of “British Values”.

 

This week began the world cup. I recall this thursday going to the gym and seeing how the roads were exceptionally empty. Most people were presumably at their homes watching the opening Brazil/Croatia match. To me, the casual interest in football seems quintessentially British. I say a casual interest because when it comes to Premiership or European championships, people are passionate but not to the degree as it is with the national England team.

 

One phrase that I normally use to the ridicule of my friends is: [That’s] not cricket! British values could be linked to old traditional notions such as the commitment to observing and codifying rules. By this I give the examples of the codification of Rugby football or the Marquess of Queensbury rules. Often when I am playing Badminton we are committed to the principle of fair play. That means being honest about whether a shuttle is in or out of the perimeter of the court , even if it means you lose your point and could have gained a point if you lied.

 

It could also be said that our values are constantly under change, as the idea of what counts as British has changed over history. The intake of French Huguenots in the 16th century or the wave of migration from the West Indians in the 20th century have had impacts on the culture and it could be said that it is this integration and mix that makes of a distinct culture.

 

At the moment I am reading book V of Gibbon’s gargantuan The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. It starts off with a very familiar Augustan era (contemporaneous to the time in which Virgil wrote), and I am currently on a section describing the reign of Charlemagne and the emergence of what will become modern Europe. The Roman Empire had contact with African factions of Christianity; China and India in trade; and the emergence of Islam affected it all to the point that what we consider as the Roman Empire is beyond recognition to the age of Augustus Caesar.

 

I suspect that national and cultural identities work in this way. By acknowledging the influences we find out who we are, and also by pointing out how much an identity is in flux shows the potential of how things can change. To close I recall a remark that I once heard from a German I had a conversation with when I said of my view (which I now have changed my mind on) that I am not a fan of British composers compared to the Germans. The German said to me: my favourite British composer is Georg Friedrich Handel.

 

In praise of the notebook

Since the start of the year (I still can’t believe it’s been 6 months), I have begun re-organising my normal inventory to include a notebook. It has changed my perspective on things. I am often of the view that paper is archaic, antiquated and will soon be obsolescent.

 

I was on a train last weekend reading a book on my tablet and the train passed through a tunnel. At that point there were no light sources anywhere in the train, but I barely noticed this as my tablet had a backlight and I continued to read Spiegelman’s Maus. I then noticed that people on the train reading magazines and books (P-books as I might call them) were noticing that I was not hindered by this tunnel and enviably observed how I was like the only person with an umbrella in a sudden spate of rain.

 

I am a keen user of Google Keep and I have found that it has really made an impact on my productivity and I use an account of Keep at work to keep track of multiple things going on. I also love the way in which Keep is like a post-it note and a back of an envelope all at once.

 

However for all this innovation and integration into a centralised cloud based centre, I have still fallen love with this old-fangled notebook. There are things that I love about my notebook which are irreducible. I love how my notebook has a little tab that keeps a pen, which has usages for other things besides that book. I love the physical size and weight of it. It is unimposing yet distinctly present. I have a 32gb microSD card that I often carry on my person which is a back up of a lot of files that I have had since 2006, but I barely remember its there and it is far to small to remind me of this fact.

 

I love the way that my notebook has visible signs of aging; it has discolourations, coffee stains, nicks here and there and other unaccounted for discolourations. I love how my notebook has a few torn out pages for when I’ve given my phone number or email to somebody. I also like using the lined pages for whatever I want. Unlike Google Keep, which presently allows pictures, checked lists and free text, my notebook is used for newspaper cuttings, scrawlings of logical proofs (Fitch, truth table and tableaux), I have some odd number chains and rough calculations, I write up my decision matrices there. I keep notes of meetings that I go to and I keep odd mementos there. I have for example a ticket stub from when I saw X Men: Days of Future Past alongside a picture of Schoenberg. I sometimes make a 5-line stave and write up some harmonic ideas in my head.

 

The novellist Lawrence Norfolk once described the notebook as being a junkyard of the mind. I love this conception, because I’d put things in my notebook that I’d never want to be on my blog, or twitter, or on Google Keep. I use Keep for strictly professional purposes at work and my home Keep account is strictly for productivity purposes. I have so much going on that I have to keep any kind of junkyard in a place that doesn’t affect that which is clean cut and polished.

 

Although I’ve always written this blog as a notebook form of sorts-  where I might state a view and possibly change my mind. I realise that this blog has become so established that I can’t always use it to post pictures of Pusheen. I am so besotted with my notebook that I should give it a name. Glenn Gould once described his chair as a boon companion and something that was quite close to him in more than a figurative way. Perhaps I might refer to my notebook as Gould. Although, I do have my worn-in-all-weather winter jackets that I refer to as my Glenn Gould jackets. There’s something to be said about the power of personal effects. My notebook has become almost talisman like, and as someone with a physical issue with handwriting, I am highly surprised to find this is the case.

 

The Apology (and a taxonomy)

Lately there have been a lot of revelations of embarrassing or offensive behaviours from public notables. Perhaps to say ‘lately’ is not so accurate as this has always been the case as long as there has been a public eye. However in the age of social media and constant scrutiny, even our scrutiny is under scrutiny.

 

Last week on the notable BBC current affairs Question Time show, a notable footballer made a comment that he immediately apologised for. I thought it was incredibly refreshing to see an immediate apology as with the more menacing cases in the public eye, many notables have denied responsibility for things that a court of law has convicted them of. In the age of apologies there is a thing called the non-apology apology which is something of the form: I’m sorry you feel that way. This is not a genuine repentance but a disingenuous cop-out.

 

Then there are the cases (amusing perhaps) of the deniers-then-apologies. Deniers are notables who firstly do not acknowledge that any wrongdoing has taken place, usually in the lack of any public evidence. When such public evidence comes out – they apologise. This is also menacing in two senses. One is the sense that a person denies something that they know of doing but thinks that the public will not find out. The other sense of menace comes in the overly public nature of the modern world that potentially anything can be leaked, released, found out or dug up forensically. When our emails and financial transactions are not secure, we potentially have a lot more public about us than we know, and probably in the case of many notables. A lot to potentially apologise for in the future, or deny, or non-apologise.
Antisophie

Pigliucci the Pugilist

Originally posted on Daily Nous:

You and a number of your colleagues keep asking what philosophy (of science, in particular) has done for science, lately. There are two answers here: first, much philosophy of science is simply not concerned with advancing science, which means that it is a category mistake (a useful philosophical concept) to ask why it didn’t.

BOOM! By now you have probably read about Neil deGrasse Tyson’s dismissive remarks about philosophy (previously). Well, entering into the ring is Massimo Pigliucci (CUNY) over at his Scientia Salon. “Time to set you straight once more,” he tells Tyson, who can barely respond when it’s over. OH YEAH.

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