Philosophy

17 posts

Can Ethics be the First Philosophy?

Emmanuel Levinas is a unique philosopher in the 20th century. He redefines traditional philosophy by radically re-thinking it from the point of view of justice, which in his understanding originates in the encounter with the other. For Aristotle, the “first philosophy” is metaphysics: what is the meaning of the verb “to be.” This leads to a whole system of ontology that serves as the background to 2500 years of metaphysical thought.
Levinas suggests a radical turn. “This is the question of the meaning of being: not the ontology of the understanding of that extraordinary verb, but the ethics of its justice. The question ‘par excellence’ or the question of philosophy. Not ‘Why being rather than nothing?’, but how being justifies itself.”

Heidegger made simple.

The photo above was taken during Heidegger’s Paris visit in 1955. The photo shows him with Lacan and their wives in Lacan’s house in Guitrancourt, near Paris. During the visit in Paris, Heidegger delivered the lecture ‘What is Philosophy?’ at Cerisy-la-sale. Left to right: Heidegger, Axelos, Lacan, Jean Beaufret (recipient of the Letter on Humanism), Elfriede Heidegger, Sylvia Bataille (by this time married […]

Nietzsche: A look back.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) is one of the most important philosophers of the last 200 years. He foresaw the downfall of Europe, even though he died in 1900, and he influenced many thinkers in the 20th century. Heidegger, for instance, published four volumes on Nietzsche. He is commonly seen as an existentialist philosopher, but he can be viewed easily as a […]

Existentialism Today

The task of facing one’s life cannot be met by reasoning alone; it cannot be captured in an abstract system. It requires concrete choices and actions of existing individuals in order to make it meaningful. Existentialism is a philosophical approach aimed at understanding human existence from the point of view of the experiencing subject, not from an academic distance. In the words of Søren Kierkegaard: ‘It is perfectly true, as philosophers say, that life must be understood backward. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards. And if one thinks about that proposition, it becomes more and more evident that life can never really be understood in time simply because at no particular moment can I find the necessary resting place from which to understand it—backwards.’

Reason and Arguments

This article will introduce the plural to the monumental concept of rationality. Rather than treating it as a fixed noun, I suggest we should contextualize “reason” and look at propositions and their supporting arguments instead. “Reasons” are crystallized statements found in the process of thinking about something “real,” which means that there is – beyond the real – an underlying […]

Three Perspectives on Political Theory

What is the main task for any state? Providing security, creating a diverse and stable reform-oriented middle class, or unifying the citizenship through education into a strong community? These three views on political theory can be correlated with the names of Machiavelli, Aristotle, and Plato. I will discuss them briefly.

1. Security first: political realism and the role of power (Machiavelli, Hobbes.)
2. Diversity and freedom: stability and reform (Aristotle, Locke)
3. Community, unity, and vision (Plato, Rousseau.)

The Idea of Dialogue

“The cup has to be empty in order to hold something.” When a group is new, in general people talk around the point for a while. They often have a way of not directly facing anything at the beginning. They talk around things, avoiding difficulties or direct questions. If the group continues to work, this tendency begins to break down. Dialog is different from discussion, […]

Plato and Aristotle

Plato lived from 428/427 or 424/423 BCE  to 348/347 BCE. He was born and died in Athens, and reached 80. He was a student of Socrates, and started a school of philosophy, the Academy, when he was around 40. Aristotle (384-322 BCE) was born in Stagirus, northern Greece. His father died when Aristotle was a child. At eighteen, he joined Plato’s […]

Ethical Systems

  The picture above suggests a way to integrate ethical systems on the basis of the structure of action. Ethical reflection can begin with the acting subject, the action itself, or the outcome.  Another consideration is the field of application: What actions can be subjected to ethical considerations? (Sneezing or falling from a tree is not an ethical act.) Furthermore, […]

What are Philosophical Problems?

Philosophy clarifies our thought process and refines the basic concepts that we use to understand reality.  Like other sciences, it works on problems – it is driven by questions that cannot be answered easily, or that are unanswerable. If these questions, like the mind-body problem, cannot be answered (yet?), one may still be able to build a theory that illuminates […]

Time and Consciousness?

We live in a world where everything seems to speed up. Everybody is pressed for time; the pressures to perform, to consume, to “manage” time effectively, or to “have fun,” overwhelm our need for rest and contemplation. Will the future bring us even more acceleration? Are we going somewhere with all this change? And further: what is our relationship to time itself? Can we become more conscious of the flow of time and thereby separate ourselves from the addictive absorption in current affairs?

At the root of the last 500 years of scientific and intellectual history lie the abstractions of space and time. The progress we witnessed over the last centuries begins with our ability to represent space three-dimensionally. This historical progress began in the early 15th century.

Philosophical Assumptions

Philosophy as a distinct discourse began roughly 2500 years ago. Early on, the form of philosophy was defined by Plato’s dialogues. The participants in these conversations were sometimes ignorant or caught up in various illusions. The discussions produce insights or at least remove erroneous ideas. In contrast to this Socratic style of philosophy, the period of German Idealism introduces the […]

Kurt Gödel’s Proof of the Existence of God

Explanation of the terms  in the image above. This is Godel’s formalized proof of the existence of God. P(psi) P is “positive” G(x) x has the property God ess. essential E existing • (bullet) Necessary (Kurt Gödel (1995). “Ontological Proof”. Collected Works: Unpublished Essays & Lectures, Volume III. pp. 403–404. Oxford University Press. Gödel left in his papers a  fourteen-point outline of […]

George Spencer-Brown: Laws of Form

George Spencer-Brown: Laws of Form, Chapter 12 Notes. “It seems hard to find an acceptable answer to the question of how or why the world conceives a desire, and discovers an ability, to see itself, and appears to suffer the process. That it does so is sometimes called the original mystery. Perhaps in view of the form in which we […]

Thinking and Being: Lacan versus Parmenides

Summary: There are two onto-epistemological strategies: (1) we can either assume that there is an underlying identity of thinking and being (Parmenides) or (2) the real is different from knowledge, and this gap or “unknowability”  means that our knowledge is just a historically determined construction.  The following short essay discusses the consequences of these opposing approaches for the question of […]

Subject, Ego, Person

This short essay, written in August and September 2001, could also be entitled “The Religious Roots of  Our Concept of the Person.” I argue that: we need to make a distinction between “something” and “someone;” this was done in the past through a religious definition of the origin of the human being; it has been secularized into the concept of […]

Reason and the Subject of Philosophy

Summary: This short essay  traces the complex dance between rationality and subjectivity  in 20th century philosophy.  It touches on Kant, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Adorno, and  suggests that if we introduce a new  concept to the mix, we might be able to stabilize  the philosophy of the subject. The concept in question is the idea of “personhood.”  (This essay was written […]