AGLS Keynote – Practicing the Arts of Liberty

By | Presentation: Academic, The Liberal Arts, Vita | One Comment

At the heart of my keynote address to the 2018 Association of General and Liberal Studies in Pittsburgh, PA is this idea:

The intellectual and ethical habits we need to transform higher education are the same as those we need to cultivate in our students if they are to thrive in the dynamic, interconnected world into which they will graduate.

To cultivate these intellectual and ethical habits in our students, however, we need to learn and embody them ourselves. Here again, I emphasize the central importance of a commitment to performative consistency that has shaped my scholarship and administrative life for years. 

Performative consistency involves enacting the values for which we advocate.  

In The Price of the Ticket,1 James Baldwin puts it succinctly:

I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.

To live up to this insistence on performative consistency requires intentional practice, humility, and vulnerability — characteristics not usually associated with the culture of higher education. 

But this culture must change.

Our attempts to elevate and champion the central importance general education and the liberal arts must themselves be animated by intellectual and ethical habits that enable us to put our freedom into practice in ways that enrich the world. 

Core Habits of the Arts of Liberty

To speak of the “arts of liberty” is to recognize that freedom is an activity that can be practiced well or badly.2 When practiced well, freedom expands, enriching the life of the community in which its members are empowered to live intentional, fulfilling lives. When practice poorly, freedom contracts, impoverishing our relationships with one another, and tearing the fabric of community.

In the presentation, I identify three core habits of the arts of liberty that enable us to practice freedom well.

  • Attentive listening: the capacity to be present to another in ways that are attuned and responsive to their experience; 
  • Ethical imagination: the cultivated habit of imagining one’s way into the life of another in order to open new possibilities of a more just future;  
  • Critical discernment: the capacity to recognize the limits of our relationships with one another and to hold ourselves accountable to the values we hold most dear.

In her forthcoming book, Generous Thinking,3 Kathleen Fitzpatrick speaks about the need to cultivate a “listening presence” and “critical humility” in ways that resonate with and deepen the account of the core habits of the arts of liberty that might enable us to educate and become more ethically imaginative citizens. 

Ethically Imaginative Citizenship

In her 2018 keynote address to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, Nancy Cantor enjoins us to re-imagine the future “with an eye toward cultivating empathetic citizenship.”4 She convincingly argues that we in higher education must create spaces for students and scholars to engage in democratic dialogue with a broader public so that we might shape the public good.

Empathy, however, is a necessary but insufficient condition for ethical imagination. Empathy involves the ability to share the feelings of another, but ethical imagination is a cultivated habit of character capable of imagining new possibilities for more just relationships based upon empathy, a “listening presence,” and “critical humility.”

These are the habits a new general education curriculum must embody, and they are the habits we ourselves must learn to put into intentional practice everyday in every encounter we have. 

Live-Tweets of the #AGLS18 Keynote Practicing the Arts of Liberty

Bianchi’s the Feminine Symptom – A Response

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This is the text of the response I made to Emanuela Bianchi, The Feminine Symptom: Aleatory Matter in the Aristotelian Cosmos, (New York: Fordham University Press, 2014) at the 2016 meeting of the Society for Phenomenology and Existentialist Philosophy in Salt Lake City on October 21, 2016. It is the continuation of a 25 year old conversation Emma I have had on how to read Aristotle.

In the very middle of her masterful and beautifully written book, The Feminine Symptom: Aleatory Matter in the Aristotelian Cosmos, Emma Bianchi gestures to the risk and power of her hermeneutic approach to Aristotle.

On the one hand, she recognizes Page duBois’s critique of feminist psycholanalytic readings of ancient texts as a “colonizing gesture that reduces a rich and multivalent field of representations of women and sexual difference in the ancient world to a crude schematism of presence and absence of the phallus.” 1 On the other hand, she deftly reminds us that this every reduction and crude schematism shows itself in the Aristotelian texts themselves. Here, she embraces Luce Irigaray’s approach, which “offers the possibility of an immanent critique, in that when deployed critically and to feminist ends, psychoanalysis not only foregrounds questions of sex and gender in philosophy, but also permits a disclosure of the precise topologies of the reductions at play and the symptoms produced by those reductions.”2

For Bianchi, an immanent feminist psychoanalytic engagement with Aristotle is well worth the risk of a bit of crudity, for its power lies in its ability to disclose the pathological reductions at work in the Aristotelian texts. Indeed, one might say, having learned something of the lesson Bianchi’s book has to teach, these very reductions, the ways the recalcitrant feminine is repressed, are not only at work in these texts but are precisely what make these texts work. They enact a repression of the disruptive energy of the feminine which, precisely because of this act of repression, comes to language in the texts at certain symptomatic moments. We will return to this symptomology in a moment, for the degree to which it resonates with what I have called legomenology turns out to be at the heart of an ongoing and long-standing, generous, and, for me, enriching dialogue with Emma about the nature of Aristotelian thinking and writing.

But before delving more deeply into the meaning of the symptom in Bianchi’s book, it is important to recognize that her methodological approach moves also beyond the immanent critique for which Irigaray advocates. Bianchi’s is a queer feminism, so her feminist critique is, as she puts it here in the middle of her book, “entwined with a queer critique of ontological sexual difference, engaging the Aristotelian text in a practice that is simultaneously faithful and irreverent, rigorous and deforming, legitimate and bastard—in a word, symptomatic—and also, I hope, illuminating, enabling, and generative.”3

One of the most important and powerful aspects of Bianchi’s book comes to language here, for she speaks of her reading as a practice. Interpretations do things, and Bianchi’s reading of Aristotle is designed not only to do things with him and with his legacy, but also with each of us who enter into genuine hermeneutical dialogue with the text.

This dialogue involves, for Bianchi, what Spivak calls “critical intimacy,” a way of engaging the text that is both generous and skeptical. She rightly understands reading itself as a practice, indeed, she calls it a “responsive practice, one which not only reads but responds.” 4 Such a responsive practice, of course, is not undertaken in a contextual or historical vacuum, and Bianchi’s book is thus oriented, as it must be, both toward Aristotle and toward the current situation in which the reading takes place.

Reading Aristotle from the perspective of the present, Bianchi charts a delicate course between Aristotle as master systematizer, the first of a long line of Aristotelians, and what she calls “reparative phenomenological readings in the Heideggerian vein.” 5 If I am not mistaken, Bianchi has my own reading of Aristotle in mind with this later formulation. Here, as elsewhere in the book, Bianchi is generous in her critique: on the one hand, she recognizes that my phenomenological approach seeks, like her own aleatory feminism, to attend to countercurrents in Aristotle’s texts. She appreciates too, my designation of Aristotle’s methodology as a “legomenology,” the attempt to do justice to the manner in which beings express themselves and come to expression. Yet, on the other hand, she is, as she has long been, graciously insistent about the limits of a reparative approach. She writes: “Such approaches are certainly exemplary in their attunement to Aristotle’s words, but however richly they complexify his legacy, they do not entirely vitiate the overarching teleological and hierarchical architecture with which I am grappling.”6

It is, of course, not only Bianchi who is grappling with the legacy of the hierarchical architecture of Aristotle’s thinking, but all of us insofar as the effective history of Aristotle’s teleology and the patriarchy it consolidated, legitimized, and passed down continues to structure our social, political, and indeed personal relationships with one another. The gracefulness of Bianchi’s approach is experienced in the manner in which she is able to grapple seriously and critically with Aristotle’s teleology without reducing the living and dynamic nature of his thinking to caricature.

Throughout the book she resists the temptation to explain away Aristotle’s systematic aspirations, and when she encounters contradictions, she identifies them, rightly, as symptoms of an aleatory materialism that refuses to go quietly into the hierarchical structure of Aristotle’s patriarchal architecture. There are two moments in the book that illustrate this poignantly, and they are worth considering in more detail both because they demonstrate the power of Bianchi’s intimate critique and because they enable us to practice an intimate, immanent critique of our own.

The first moment on which to focus is her reading of Aristotle’s God, a figure who, more than any in the Aristotelian corpus, embodies the potency of Aristotle’s teleology—or to be perhaps more accurate: a figure who fails to embody any potency at all, if we are to adhere rigidly to Aristotle’s insistence, in Metaphysics XII.6, that if what is primary has potency, “there would not be everlasting motion, since what has being in potency admits of not being.”7

The second moment on which to focus is Bianchi’s careful reading of Aristotle’s shifting account of generation in the Generation of Animals, which she calls, channeling Heidegger’s characterization of Aristotle’s Physics, “the hidden and therefore never adequately studied foundational book of Western patriarchal metaphysics.”8 This formulation is telling for two reasons. First, it justifies the way The Feminine Symptom is structured, framed as it is by opening and closing chapters that engage Generation of Animals in substantive ways. Second, however, it also suggests the degree to which Bianchi’s own reading presumes a kind of grand narrative of the history of philosophy that the deconstructive theory she also embraces has done so much to call into question. One might say that this poetic formulation about Generation of Animals as the hidden book of Western patriarchal metaphysics is itself a symptom of Bianchi’s tendency to frame her reading of Aristotle in terms of the broad sweep of Western philosophy. She comes by this honestly, of course, as we both were attracted to the New School in part at least because of philosophers like Agnes Heller and Reiner Schürmann, who told such wonderful and compelling stories about the history of Western philosophy. Even so, however, we also learned there to be critical of grand narratives, so where it symptomatically appears in Emma’s book, I’ll gesture to it so we can perhaps take it up together in our ongoing discussion of the broad historical implications of this excellent study.

In order to address these two moments in Bianchi’s text with the critical intimacy they deserve, it will be important first to outline briefly the two central concepts around with the book is organized: aleatory matter and the feminine symptom.

Aleatory Matter and the Feminine Symptom

The aporia that most tellingly haunts the Aristotelian system is the appearance of the female offspring herself. On the one hand, Aristotle’s canonical account of generation requires the male form embodied in the semen to master and shape the female matter in order to produce one such as himself. The female appears as the result of a failure of mastery, or as Bianchi puts it “a material mishap.”9 On the other hand, of course, without the female, no generation at all is possible. The feminine is at once necessary and accidental.

Bianchi captures the signature of this aporia with the phrase “aleatory matter.” She puts it this way: “Aleatory matter—that is, matter that is apparently self-moving, disruptive, exterior to any teleological unfolding, indeed that acts against nature—poses continual difficulties for the Aristotelian cosmos.”10 The aleatory, for Bianchi, names that chance happening which Aristotle’s teleological system can neither subdue nor do without. As a result, it appears throughout the Aristotelian corpus as a sign of a certain inability, that is, as a symptom of the system’s incapacity to account for what it seeks to capture.

Symptom, here, takes on an important technical meaning. Bianchi draws together the two dimensions of the Greek word “sumptōma,” which combines the prefix sum-, which means “together,” and pipto-, “to fall,” in order to amplify the manner in which chance and coincidence befall the Aristotelian system. For Bianchi, “the sumptōma signifies a fundamental disruption of hierarchy and teleology.”11 A reading attuned to the feminine symptom in Aristotle will hear in certain decisive passages an equivocation, inconsistency, or vacillation, that is symptomatic of the resistance of aleatory matter to the hegemonic operation of the Aristotelian teleology. The beauty of Bianchi’s reading is the way it refuses to shrink from such symptomatic moments, finding in them instead precisely the signs of another dimension of Aristotle’s thinking that comes to language despite itself. Her intention is neither to indict nor repair, but rather, as she writes at the end, “to tarry with the aleatory.”12 In this, however, we also encounter the practical dimension of Bianchi’s reading, for in attending carefully to her texts, in following along with her as she enters into an intimate and critical engagement with Aristotle, we too learn to cultivate something of what she calls “interruptivity,” “a capacity both to be interrupted and to interrupt existing orders.”13 The cultivation of capacities of interruption enables us to welcome alterity in ways that can lead to more enriching modes of being together with others in a shared world.

Let’s Talk About God

There is no other figure in the Aristotelian imaginary less welcoming to alterity than the Prime Mover. I say “Prime Mover” here specifically, because God in Aristotle is said in many ways, and one way God comes to language is as first mover responsible for the motion of the cosmos. Another way, however, God comes to language is as “the thinking of thinking thinking.” What precisely comes to language in this later formulation is worth pursuing in more detail once we have established the robust and in many ways compelling critique Bianchi levels against the Prime Mover.

Following Irigaray, Bianchi traces a line of thinking in Aristotle from the account of place in the Physics to the figure of God in Metaphysics. She begins, in fact, further back, with an account of Plato’s conception of space or chōra as receptacle, with its rich resonances with the feminine, arguing that in Aristotle, the feminine receptacle is recast as place or topos. This is important because it opens the crucial question of the container, the contained, and the boundary between them. In the Physics, Aristotle develops a conception of topos as boundary, indeed, as the “primary motionless boundary of that which contains.”14 After citing this definition, Bianchi calls our attention to this important passage: “a place is together with [hama] the thing [contained], for the limit [of that which contains] coincides with [hama] that which is limited.”15 Here issues of inside, outside, and boundary are somehow navigated by means of the appearance of the little word, hama, which itself takes on significance in Bianchi’s reading as an expression of the feminine symptom.

The annunciation of “hama” here, according to Bianchi, draws together the temporal and the spatial in a telling way, for it means both “at the same time” and “together with.” This duplicity of meaning gives expression to the paradox of the boundary itself and points to the manner in which the rectilinear motions of the sublunary realm where each element tends toward its proper place give way to the higher circular motions of the stars that marks the passing of time. But, according to Bianchi, the hama here is symptomatic insofar as it brings to language the perplexing structure of the boundary itself in which the contained and the container somehow coincide. Even my own formulation here resorts through the use of “somehow” to an Aristotelian tendency to appeal to an indefinite pronoun to signal the ambiguity of the problem.

For Bianchi, however, Aristotle himself never tarries long with the ambiguous moments his own language betrays. Rather, in the end, he opts to appeal to an ultimate principle of hegemonic authority, the Prime Mover itself, unmoved, but capable of moving others by virtue of its divine authority. On this reading, the Prime Mover is the engine of Aristotle’s teleology. Bianchi puts it this way: “the masculine signifier par excellence is unmoved, motionless, standing beyond the physical cosmos, outside space and time.”16

Here the symptomatic ambiguity heard in the word “hama” gives way to the dominance of patriarchal automony.

In the heavens, the feminine no longer has any place at all, not even as a giver of place. The woman/mother is superseded and the relation between subject and paternal function, now understood as that between heavenly body and divine prime mover, is mediated at her expense, at the price of her disappearance.17

Yet there remains this “hama,” the symptom of aleatory matter and the trace of that which cannot be disappeared by the positing of an ultimate.

It should come, then, as no surprise that when Aristotle turns his attention to the living activity of God perhaps here now properly described as “Father,” that little word appears again as Aristotle attempts to give voice to the complete activity that has its end in itself. To express this, as he does in Metaphysics IX.6, Aristotle differentiates between incomplete activities, like building, which have their ends outside of themselves in the product toward which they aim, and complete activities, like seeing, thinking, living. Aristotle expresses complete activities this way: “one is seeing and at the same time (hama) one has seen (heōrake), and one is practically wise (phronei) and one has been practically wise (pephronēke), is thinking and has thought (nenoēken)….”18 Striking here, is first how Aristotle deploys a combination of verb tenses, the present, with its progressive aspect, and the perfect, with its completed aspect, to bring to language an ongoing activity that is complete in itself.19 In this context, Bianchi rightly emphasizes again the appearance of the adverb, hama, which, as she says, “explicitly seeks a unity, collapsing the present and perfect tenses, while also marking and giving the possibility of a temporal difference, the possibility of a time other than the present.”20 Just as in the case of the earlier discussion of place where the adverb announced a chiasmatic coincidence and separation of time and space at the boundary of the sub- and super-lunary spheres, here too, hama appears symptomatically to gesture to another time. Bianchi is right too to identify this other time with the living activity of God, which Aristotle also describes in terms of receiving, touching, holding, thinking, seeing, being loved, and, living. In this sense, the adverb again announces the recalcitrant feminine symptom, for as Bianchi herself emphasizes, with these formations, the divine activity “also in its articulation bears traces of that very materiality, embodiment, and temporality from which it is purportedly free as a superlatively perfect form of life.”21

Aristotle thus posits the autonomous activity of God, pure and complete, as the ultimate hegemonic principle of patriarchal metaphysics at the same time as (hama) he gives voice also to the feminine symptom that refuses to go into the teleological system without remainder. The feminine symptom comes to language again, it seems to me, in the very manner in which Aristotle articulates the activity of God as the thinking of thinking thinking (noēsis noēseōs noēsis), a formulation which, I have argued, “declares the manner in which a certain dynamis remains cooperative in that activity of thinking which expresses the relational dynamic of encounter on which all life depends.”22 Attending to those moments in Aristotle’s text when the feminine symptom comes to language is what I have called “legomenology,” a method that follows Aristotle’s lead in attending to the things said by those who seek to give voice to the truth of things.

Bianchi has long been a trusted interlocutor who attempts in what she says and writes to give voice to the truth of things, and her book is an eloquent testimony to her endeavor to hold Aristotle accountable for the things he says. In a sense, she attempts to do with Aristotle what Aristotle did with Empedocles when, at the beginning of the Metaphysics, he sought to “pursue and get hold of Empedocles’ thinking, rather than what he said inarticulately.”23 To this end, she insists that the thinking behind the articulation of God as life without body, matter, and time is the establishment of a teleological of order in which the feminine is systematically repressed. There can be little doubt that this has been the misogynistic legacy of Western thinking and acting that a certain Aristotelianism has wrought.

Her critique of my legomenological approach, despite its similarity with her symptomology, is my alleged unwillingness to hold Aristotle’s feet to the misogynistic teleological fire. She writes:

Long’s immanentist reading moves quickly over the radicality of this transcending of matter in the figure of the prime mover, instead emphasizing its rootedness in the relationality of perception and thus its continuity with the human experience of thinking as apprehension and encounter with alterity.24

If, however, I move too quickly over the way Aristotle radically attempts to transcend matter and divorce God from the world, which indeed I very well might, Bianchi could be said to move too quickly to posit the hegemonic dominance of the prime mover as the ultimate teleological principle of patriarchal metaphysics. Ironically, of course, as she suggests, my desire to tarry with ambiguity and affirm relationality at the root of Aristotle’s thinking is animated by a philosophical commitment similar to her own. It is a commitment to do justice to difference, indeed, to learn the habits of welcoming alterity that Bianchi so eloquently associates with aleatory matter. What she calls the feminine symptom, I trace through Aristotle’s legomenology, decidedly not however I hope, as an apology for the misogynistic tendencies in Aristotle. If my reading colludes in covering over the misogynistic tendencies in Aristotle’s thinking and the broader impact such tendencies have long had on the history of Western thinking and acting, Emma is right to criticize me and to highlight these dimensions of Aristotle’s legacy.

However, I would suggest that my legomenological approach is consistent with and capable of lending further support to her own feminist symptomology. To flesh that out further, it will be helpful, finally, to turn our attention to the Generation of Animals, that hidden foundational book of Western patriarchal metaphysics. Here, however, although our approaches resonate with one another, we ourselves fall on different sides of the question of the degree to which the technological model ultimately holds sway as the central metaphor through which Aristotle understands generation.

Generation and Techne

Bianchi begins and ends her book with a substantive engagement with Aristotle’s Generation of Animals. A thread that runs through her interpretation of generation in Aristotle is that Aristotle tends to assimilate the processes of “nature to the scene of technical production….”25 In this, she follows our teacher, Reiner Schürmann, who insisted that Aristotle ultimately treated politics and nature in terms of human fabrication.26

In the final chapter of her book, Bianchi turns her attention to what might be considered the central crisis of Aristotle’s canonical account of generation in the Generation of Animals. The crisis concerns the appearance of certain hereditary phenomena associated with the mother and with the maternal ancestry of the offspring. The canonical account bases generation on production, a model in which the male semen provides the form that shapes the material provided by the mother. As the producing agent, the masculine principle overcomes the feminine matter to produce offspring like itself. This is the source of the odious tendency in Aristotle to identify the generation of a female as a “teras,” a monstrosity, because it is a departure from the masculine norm.27 Indeed, at the beginning of her book, Bianchi points to the female offspring herself as the feminine symptom par excellence.28

Aristotle’s canonical account of generation, predicated as it is on the model of technical production, demonstrates its limitation in the wake of attempts to account for the generation of the female and of the appearance of maternal hereditary features. In GA IV.3, Aristotle deploys a sophisticated battery of concepts to attempt to account for such hereditary phenomena, including, first and foremost, the very appearance of a daughter. Chief among these concepts is the distinction between two sorts of interaction between the powers of the male and female: existasthai, which names the failure of the mastery of the male that results in the appearance of the female; and luesthai, a loosening of the agent resulting from its being acted upon by that upon which it acts. Aristotle deploys the difference between these two ways the male principle can fail to produce one such as himself to account, through existasthai, for the appearance of the female, and through luesthai, for the appearance of male children with maternal characteristics.

Bianchi does a very nice job of summarizing it this way:

Loosening (luesthai) is a rather passive failure of the generative principle, and results merely in a walking over (meta-bainei) to the next same-sex ancestor in line. Existasthai marks a misdirection or deviation in matter that results in radical transformation into a contrary: a meta-ballei or throwing over into sexual alterity.29

The solution is as creative as it is problematic. While is saves the phenomenon of generation and heredity, it problematizes the canonical model of generation in which form imposes itself upon matter in a manner analogous with technical production. Bianchi suggests as much when she writes: “Aristotle’s quite brilliant solution to the problem of inherited characteristics nevertheless results in a profound incoherence in relation to his theory of sexual reproduction, because it requires a balance of powers (dunameis) between the sexes that cannot be effectively translated into the matter-form distinction.”30

This incoherence has far reaching implications for how we understand Aristotle’s thinking as a whole, for it falls together symptomatically, arguably, at the very heart of his biology, which Bianchi rightly situates at the root of his thinking.31 It has implications too, for the degree to which we ought to follow Bianchi (and Schürmann) in identifying technical production as the central model according to which Aristotle thinks natural being. Although it is true that technological thinking haunts Aristotle’s corpus throughout, particularly when it intends to articulate the separate dimensions of form in its relation to matter, the complex messiness of generation undermines the sort of clean distinctions between form and matter Aristotle’s canonical hylomorphism seems to require. Bianchi recognizes and indeed emphasizes it as one of the primary sites in which the feminine symptom appears. Indeed, I would argue, the feminine symptom comes to language in a wide variety of places in the texts handed down to us under Aristotle’s name, including here in the discussion of the generation of animals in the form of the distinction between existasthai and luesthai. Yet, Bianchi herself here might be said to move too quickly away from the incoherence that comes to language here, an incoherence that would require us to consider the degree to which Aristotle’s thinking truly is obsessed with the technological model of production and the rigid teleology in which it finds a home.

The point here is not to initiate a reparative reading of Aristotle, but to complicate the grand narrative that situates his thinking at the beginning of the history patriarchal metaphysics. In complicating things in this way, however, I hope am beginning to learn the habits of interruptivity that a reading of this remarkable book cultivates. If so, it is yet another symptom of how Emma’s work continues to enrich my own engagement with Aristotle and the broader lens through which I encounter the world and those I meet in it.

Philosophy and the Networked Public

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Philosophy has always been a public activity, although its relationship with the public and its own public nature have long been fraught with anxiety for philosophy and the public both.

At this year’s Society for Phenomenology and Existentialist Philosophy, the advocacy committee organized a panel entitled “New Media, Social Networks, and Philosophy.” Each panelist was asked to frame the conversation in ways that might open a wider discussion.

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AltAc and the Engaged PhD

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Without diminishing the centrality of the PhD research endeavor, how can we cultivate more engaged graduate students?

This presentation situates the graduate research endeavor in its wider institutional and public context and suggests two concrete ways to give PhDs enhanced skills that will enable them to enrich their institutions and the wider world they inhabit.

For the full text of the presentation, see The Engaged PhD.

Socratic and Platonic Politics

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This presentation argues that there is a difference, and a similarity, between the ways Socrates and Plato practice politics.

Socratic politics, as depicted in Plato’s dialogues, may be characterized as the practice of using spoken words to turn the individuals one encounters toward the questions of what is just and beautiful and good. These three ideas function as erotic ideals that entice those animated by Socratic questioning to live a life seeking justice, beauty and the good. Of course, one of the main things we learn from the figure of Socrates we meet in the Platonic dialogues is that those ideals, however alluring, remain always ultimately elusive to finite human beings. Even so, Socratic politics is designed to cultivate in individuals a desire for them and to enjoin us to weave a concern for them into our relationships with one another.

The main argument of the lecture is that what Socrates attempts to do with those with whom he speaks, Plato attempts to do with those to whom he writes.

Platonic writing is political not because it presents manifestos, but because it requires each of us who encounters his texts to become actively concerned with the ideals of justice, beauty and the good and to consider how the course of our lives and our relationships with one another can be enriched by an engagement with those ideals.

The relationship between Socrates and the individuals he encounters is the site of Socratic politics. It is a “topology,” a place of saying.

The relationship between the written text and each individual reader is the site of Platonic politics. It is a “topography,” a place of writing.

The interactive lecture will outline the differences between the topology of Socratic politics and the topography of Platonic politics in order to invite further engagement with these ideas on the interactive website of my enhanced digital book: Socratic and Platonic Political Philosophy: Practicing a Politics of Reading.

Following the Footprints of Aristotle: On Kosman's The Activity of Being

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Aristotle’s thinking is peripatetic. It moves along paths, some of which are well-worn, others newly cleared by the creative elasticity of his thinking. It pursues questions by traversing along a course for a stretch, on the scent of truth itself, but when it finds its way impeded, it is unafraid to turn around, return to the start, or even to cut a new path of its own to navigate a hindrance, to find a way to around an aporia.

To read Aristotle well is to cultivate something of that peripatetic elasticity of mind; it is to learn to walk with him, without rushing; it is to tarry with his thinking and to patiently follow where it leads

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Public Digital Scholarship: The @PubPhilJ at the #APAEastern

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This presentation on the Public Philosophy Journal, invited by the APA Committee on Public Philosophy, provides an update on the status of the development of the open access, open peer review journal.

However difficult it is to create an open access, open peer review site of excellent digital scholarship, the Public Philosophy Journal includes a yet more ambitious performative dimension: the PPJ seeks to perform, as its very mode of scholarly publication, the sort of public philosophy it hopes to cultivate and amplify.

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Socrates, Plato and Digital Scholarship at #ECDS

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The Emory Center for Digital Scholarship asked me to give a version of the presentation at gave at #DH2013 last summer entitled eBook as Ecosystem of Digital Scholarship

Socratic and Platonic Political Philosophy: Practicing the Politics of Reading (forthcoming Cambridge University Press) is an enhanced digital book that attempts to use digital media technology to cultivate the political practice of collaborative reading for which it argues.

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Reading the Death of Socrates

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Returning to Wittenberg for the first time since graduating in 1991, I gave an interactive, live-tweeted, lecture on Reading the Death of Socrates. The paper argues that the Phaedo is Plato’s most eloquent political dialogue, and it seeks not only to argue that both Socratic and Platonic politics recognized the transformative power of words, but also to use social media to experience the way words can enrich, or impoverish, community.

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Performative Publication in a Digital Age

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New affordances in dynamic modes of digital scholarly communication have enabled authors to tailor the content of our texts to the forms in which they appear in public.

This presentation focuses on two performative publication projects I am currently undertaking: Socratic and Platonic Political Philosophy: Practicing a Politics of Reading to be published by Cambridge University Press, and the Public Philosophy Journal which is in the final stages of being considered for a Mellon Grant.

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eBook as Ecosystem of Scholarly Communication

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Socratic and Platonic Political Philosophy: Practicing the Politics of Reading (forthcoming Cambridge University Press) is an enhanced digital book that attempts to use digital media technology to cultivate the political practice of collaborative reading for which it argues.

The book’s central argument is that there is an analogy between the ways Socrates practices politics with those he encounters in the dialogues and the ways Platonic writing turns us as readers toward ideals of speaking and acting capable of transforming our lives and the community in which we live.

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Forever (42 bicycles), Ai Weiwei

The Politics of Reading … in China

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NANJING, China – I must admit, I am a bit uneasy about delivering this talk on Plato and the Politics of Reading here at Nanjing University.

You see, I am simply not sure what it means to speak in China about the erotic nature of politics. But this uneasiness is not unfamiliar to the discipline of Philosophy; in fact, one might tell a long story about how the history of Western philosophy, at least, is the history of trying to do away with uncertainty, of repressing it by appealing to some ultimate Archimedean point on which we can ultimately depend.

But Philosophy goes astray the moment it denies its own uneasiness and seeks refuge in the delusions of certainty.

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Public Philosophy in Digital Dialogue

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There is a difference between the ways Socrates turns those with whom he speaks in Plato’s dialogues to consider questions of justice, beauty and the good and the ways Plato’s writing turns his readers to consider the same ideals. But there is also a strikingly analogous set of philosophical practices by which Socratic speaking enjoins interlocutors and Platonic writing enjoins readers to orient our lives toward the question of justice. This presentation traces the contours of this analogy that is at the center of my enhanced digital book: Socratic and Platonic Political Philosophy.

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Public Philosophy Journal

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Philosophy is often mistakenly viewed as distant from public life, secluded in the Ivory Tower away from the public concerns of civil society.

However, the affordances of digital scholarly communication have enabled philosophers increasingly to bring the value of their work to bear on matters of public importance from ethics and public policy to cultural criticism. Even so, however, there are few publishing venues available for philosophers to gain publicity for their work and to reach diverse audiences.

The Public Philosophy Journal is designed to re-envision the relationship between the academy and everyday life by creating a public space for accessible but rigorous scholarly discourse on challenging contemporary issues of public concern.

The Public Philosophy Journal is a collaborative endeavor between the Department of Philosophy and the Humanities in a Digital Age initiative at the Pennsylvania State University, and Matrix: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters, and Social Sciences Online and the Department of Philosophy at Michigan State University.

Our intent is to create a journal that will perform public philosophy as its mode of publication.

By leveraging the open and collaborative capacities endemic to digital communications, the Public Philosophy Journal will cultivate a community of scholars engaged in curating, reviewing, editing, co-writing and modeling rigorous work related to public philosophy broadly construed.

The process of publication for the journal will involve five basic dimensions:

  1. Curate: Current digital public philosophy discussions and pertinent web content will be curated by leveraging the work and input of a world-wide community of scholars, graduate students, and policy makers;
  2. Review: The journal will include mechanisms for open peer review of curated content, including a system for reviewing reviewers and credentialing reviewers who are consistently engaged and thoughtful in their contributions;
  3. Enrich: Digital public philosophy will be greatly enriched by creating a space for collaborative writing to further develop the content of the online discussions into a rigorous scholarly article;
  4. Publish: Reviewed articles will be openly published together with invited responses to the reviewed work;
  5. Cultivate: Ongoing open dialogue about the published articles will be cultivated by invited and curated responses that have the potential to feed the development of new collaborative scholarship.

Below is a Prezi that Mark Fisher and I developed for the Networked Humanities conference at the University of Kentucky, February 15-16, 2013, #NHUK, that explains in a bit more detail the vision behind the Public Philosophy Journal.

If you are interested in being a part of the @PubPhilJ community, please fill out the attached form and help curate excellent content from around the web.

Plato and the Politics of Reading

By | Presentation: Academic, Presentations, Socratic and Platonic Politics, Vita | 3 Comments

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – To give a lecture on the politics of collaborative reading without inviting one’s listeners to become active participants would be a performative contradiction.

So, in this lecture, Plato and the Politics of Reading, delivered at the University of San Francisco, I have sought ways to use digital technologies like twitter, Storify and, of course, this blog, to invite my listeners to participate in the lecture itself. (I wrote a post about live tweeting my own lecture to explain the rationale and logistics of this.)

As this post is designed to be a platform for further discussion, let me offer a brief synopsis of the position the lecture articulates.

Socratic politics may be characterized as the practice of using spoken words to turn those individuals one encounters toward the questions of what is just and beautiful and good. These ideas function as erotic ideals that entice those animated by Socratic questioning to live a life seeking justice, beauty and the good. Of course, one of the main things we learn from the figure of Socrates we meet in the Platonic dialogues is that those ideals, however alluring, remain always ultimately elusive to finite human beings. Even so, Socratic politics is designed to turn individuals toward those ideals and to enjoin us to weave a concern for them into our relationships with one another.

The main argument of the lecture is that what Socrates attempts to do with those with whom he speaks, Plato attempts to do with those to whom he writes.

Platonic writing is political not because it presents manifestos, but because it requires each of us who encounters his texts to become actively concerned with the ideals of justice, beauty and the good and to consider how the course of our lives and our relationships with one another can be enriched by an engagement with those ideals.

The lecture ultimately seeks to articulate three dimensions of Platonic writing that demonstrate its profound political power.

  1. By calling our own beliefs and opinions into question, Platonic writing opens us to what is beyond ourselves.
  2. By confronting us with Socrates’ public failures and pointing to his more private interpersonal successes, Platonic writing cultivates in us the ability to imagine new, more just political realities.
  3. By depicting a Socrates unwaveringly animated by a concern for the erotic ideals of justice, beauty and the good, Platonic writing invites us to consider how these ideals themselves are capable of transforming the nature of our relationships with one another.

But if this is what Platonic writing does with us, the politics of reading points to what we might do together as engaged readers of his texts, for the most transformative possibilities emerge from Plato’s writings only when we take them up and actively read them together.

Works Cited in the Lecture

Plato and the Politics of Reading is a group in Education, Philosophy on Mendeley.

In an attempt to perform something of this in public, I have sought below to curate some of the collaborative discussion that emerged from the lecture in the Storify story embedded below. I invite you participate in the Storify by way of twitter (@cplong and #bapca) or by commenting on this blog post.

Here is the Storify:

On Touch and Life in the De Anima

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CITTÀ DI CASTELLO, Umbria, Italy – Late last year, I received a very kind set of questions from Matteo Cosci, a PhD student in Italy at the University of Padua, about my book Aristotle on the Nature of Truth. One of the issues he raised about the book was that it did not flesh out the meaning of the methodological approach that informs the book, an approach I call a “peripatetic legomenology.”

In this, Matteo agreed with Sean Kirkland’s review of the book in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews in which he suggested that “more contextualizing methodological reflections” on the meaning of legomenology would have been welcome.

In this paper, On Touch and Life in the De Anima, I attempt to further flesh out the meaning and nature of the legomenological method by putting it to work on the question of touch in the De Anima. More specifically, because legomenology involves the attempt to discern the nature of a phenomenon by attending to the things having been said (ta legomena) by thoughtful predecessors who have sought to articulate the meaning of the phenomenon itself, this paper seeks to follow the things Aristotle says about touch in the De Anima.

The most effective articulation of the meaning and nature of legomenology is not to offer a meta-reflection on it as a methodology separable from a way of inquiry, but to perform it so that the hermeneutical possibilities it opens may be experienced.

This is the spirit in which this paper was offered, as a performance of legomenology at work on the question of touch in the De Anima. By following the manner in which Aristotle speaks of touch in the De Anima, we identify an itinerary in which the nature of touch is felt to haunt Aristotle’s account of the other proper powers of perceiving – seeing, hearing, smelling and tasting – in such a way that the nature of perceiving itself comes ultimately to language in the chapter on touch in De Anima II.11.

More specifically, the aporia of touch, which seems not to require a separate medium through which to operate as the other powers of perceiving do, appears in the middle of the De Anima, forcing Aristotle to speak not of a medium (to metaxu) but of a mean (to meson). This enables him to articulate the nature of perceiving itself as a mean condition (mesotes) that puts us in intimate touch with the world in which we live. But perceiving turns out not only to be the manner in which animals inhabit the world, but the mode by which the world habituates us to it.

The legomenology of touch in the De Anima uncovers the dynamic, reciprocal relationship between animal life and the world in and with which it lives.

Below is a small slide show with some images from the Circolo, where the Collegium is held:

Philosophy and the Digital Public

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Rembrandt’s Philosopher in Meditation

WASHINGTON, DC – Today at the Advancing Public Philosophy Conference hosted by the Public Philosophy Network, Cori Wong, a graduate student in the Philosophy Department at Penn State, and I are holding a workshop entitled Philosophy and the Digital Public.

Rembrandt’s image, Philosopher in Meditation, presents a vision of the philosopher as isolated from the world. The Public Philosophy Network and the Advancing Public Philosophy Conference challenges this image by advocating for a vision of the philosopher as deeply engaged with the public and philosophy as a fundamentally human way of being with others in the world.
As part of the larger effort to advance publicly engaged philosophy, our Philosophy and the Digital Public workshop is designed to open a sustained dialogue about the relationship between philosophy and the digital public.
The workshop is divided into three parts. The first part, which I lead, focuses on the transformation of literacy through which we are currently living as we move from print to digital culture. It then turns to concrete examples of how I have used my Digital Dialogue podcast, and other modes of collaborative research to do philosophy publicly in ways that enrich my scholarship. The model here involves the attempt to do philosophy more publicly.
The second part, which is led by Cori, focuses on doing philosophy with and for the public. She has used social media, such as Youtube and her personal blog, to present philosophy to wider public audiences in ways that seek to cultivate and enhance public discourse on issues like racism and homophobia. The goal of making philosophical reflection relevant and accessible to general audiences has required her to develop different pedagogical skills, which are in many ways beneficial for her as an instructor, but this public work on the Internet is also seemingly in tension with the sort of scholarship that is viewed as legitimate, credible, and more valuable when establishing oneself as a rigorous scholar. Furthermore, despite her own skepticism about the pedagogical promise of teaching to the public through social media versus teaching in residence to students in a classroom, a number of “viewers” have urged her to continue this public work and stress that it is important for them and others.
The third part of the workshop will involve the creation of a collaborate digital artifact that captures something of the spirit and nature of the discussion we had and establishes a basis for ongoing dialogue concerning the nature of public philosophy in a digital age.

Platonic Writing and the Practice of Death

By | Presentation: Academic, Presentations, Socratic and Platonic Politics, Vita | 3 Comments

FREIBURG, GERMANY – Today at the Freiburg Institute of Advanced Studies, I presented a paper entitled The Politics of Finitude in Plato’s Phaedo at the 2011 Freiburger Hermeneutisches Kolloquium, whose theme was Hermeneutik (in) der Antike.

The paper, written specifically for this conference, will also be the middle chapter of my book on Socratic and Platonic politics.  This chapter traces the differences and continuities between what I have been calling the topology of Socratic politics and the topography of Platonic politics.

The Phaedo, I argue, is perhaps Plato’s most eloquent political dialogue. To quote from the paper:

Its eloquence, however, is not heard in the political theories it sets forth or in the dogma it allegedly establishes, but in the way the poignant things Socrates says to and with his friends on the last day of his life are woven together into a written recollection that requires those who enter into dialogue with it not merely to reflect upon, but also to act differently in the footsteps of the words encountered there.

You can, I hope, hear the influence of Gadamer here, who argued that genuine interpretation requires the willingness of the interpreter to risk entering into dialogue with the text in such a way that the interpreter’s own thoughts and possibilities are brought into play (Truth and Method, 388).

The paper traces the way Kebes and Simmias are themselves transformed by the power of the things Socrates says to them, moving then in the second half to trace the ways Platonic writing attempts to transform the course of the life of the interpreter of the text by showing Phaedo practicing what Socrates calls a “second sailing” with Echecrates.

If politics, for Socrates, is a way of caring for the soul, then Plato has given us a provocative vision of politics in the Phaedo.

"The Politics of Truth" at University of Kansas

By | Presentation: Academic, Presentations, Socratic and Platonic Politics, Vita | 3 Comments

LAWRENCE, KS – The paper I presented here today, entitled The Politics of Truth, argued that Socratic politics is a matter of speaking truth with a concern for justice and the good. I suggested further that the practice of Platonic writing is also a kind of politics in which texts are crafted in ways that enjoin readers to consider the course of their lives and the degree to which their lives are animated by a concern for justice.

I pursue this largely by a reading of the Gorgias in which I contend that Socrates establishes a philosophical friendship with Gorgias that in fact transforms Gorgias’s own understanding of his art of rhetoric.

One of the central issues that was raised in the question and answer period concerned the meaning of the erotic in Plato generally and in my use of it specifically as an important dimension of the political. This is an issue I need to develop more fully as I continue to work on my book about the practices of Socratic and Platonic philosophy.

For Socrates and, I would argue, for Plato, cultivating a proper erotic relation to the good and the just is a political activity – I might even say, it is the political activity par excellence … although I offer that tentatively here. I say this because the practice of Socratic politics involves using words to turn those he encounters toward the question of the good and the just as ideals toward which we should strive even as he recognizes that, as erotic, these ideals remain forever elusive. No human can possess determinate knowledge of the good and the just in an absolute sense, but in orienting one’s life toward the attempt to bring the good and the just into being by and through the words we speak to and with one another, we can begin to cultivate healthier human relationships.

In my essay, The Politics of Music, I do develop the meaning of an erotic principle along these specific lines.

Precisely what a “proper erotic relation to the good and the just” would look like, remains in need of further articulation. We all are drawn to one degree or another by a sense of justice, but we also too easily fall into the delusion that we possess an adequate understanding of what is just. The proper erotic relationship toward the good and the just would need to involve allowing ourselves to be animated by a concern for justice without deluding ourselves that we possess it adequately.

Aristotle on the Nature of Truth Premiers at Sundance

By | Presentation: Academic, Presentations, Recognition and Responses, Vita | One Comment

SUNDANCE, UT – Today there was a panel on my book, Aristotle on the Nature of Truth, at the Ancient Philosophy Society held this year at Sundance in Utah. The panel included Will McNeill, Professor of Philosophy at DePaul University, Drew Hyland, Charles A. Dana Professor of Philosophy at Trinity College, and John Lysaker, Professor of Philosophy at Emory University.

You can find each individual commentary, including sound recordings of their presentation at the links provided below:

I invite you to listen to the recording of my APS Book Panel Introduction.

Here are some images from the book panel:

The text of my introductory comments is below:

This book begins and ends with these words from Heraclitus:

“… wisdom is for the one’s listening to speak truth and act according to nature.”

It was, indeed, by way of a certain listening that this book itself came into being; for by attending to the ways my daughters found their ways into the world–at first by touch and taste, and now increasingly by words, spoken, whispered, sung and written that I was first able to discern something of the language of nature and, I hope, of the nature of truth–which inhabits the space between being and language.

But in speaking at the beginning of the book as I do about my daughters, I only spoke part of the truth. For this book was born in the wake of my move to Penn State, where the thinking of Heidegger has long been permitted to engage that of American Pragmatism, and the spirit of that pragmatism, infused with continental phenomenology, has allowed a certain approach to Ancient Greek Philosophy to flourish. And yet, to say this is still inadequate; for the Aristotle who speaks in this book is one who has been nourished by what is now over a decade’s worth of conversations, with many of you here in the Ancient Philosophy Society.

So, I can imagine no better place than this place, no more appropriate group than you, in which and with whom to embark on a discussion of a book that attempts to articulate the nature of truth and the truth of nature.

As recently as a week ago, I had intended use this time to frame the book, to speak of its method and structure, of the way it is organized around the central metaphor of articulation, which for the Greeks functions also as a joint or lever capable of translating those rudimentary encounters in perceiving into the vernacular of thinking. I had intended to speak of truth, not as correspondence, but as the ability to respond together with the things of nature, that is, I had intended to speak of truth as a co-response-ability.

But that was before I received the three gifts you are about to hear. For Will, Drew and John, have responded to the things I have said in my book in ways that do justice at once to it and to the truth. And although to be heard is a great gift, greater still is to hear the articulate responses of friends whom one holds dear–even if, as Aristotle so eloquently reminds us, “although both our friends and the truth are loved, it is more sacred to give truth the higher honor” (NE, 1096a16-7).

BACAP Presentation: Attempting the Political Art

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BOSTON, MA – The main thesis of the paper I delivered today at the Boston Area Colloquium for Ancient Philosophy is that the practice of Socratic political speaking and the practice of Platonic political writing are intimately interconnected but distinct.

To develop this position, I focused on the famous passage from the Gorgias in which Socrates claims to be one of the few Athenians who attempt the political art truly and goes on to articulate the nature of his political practice as a way of speaking toward the best (521d6-e2).

I then trace the ways Socrates attempts to use words to turn Gorgias, Polus and Callicles toward the best in the course of the dialogue.  What emerges is a picture of a philosophical friendship between Gorgias and Socrates rooted in a common concern for justice.

Yet, Socrates’ success with Gorgias is overshadowed by his failure to convince Polus or Callicles to allow a concern for truth, justice and the good to animate the course of their lives. Even so, the political practice of Platonic writing is shown in the paper to be designed to awaken in us, the readers, precisely such a concern to live a life in which words are spoken in ways that uncover the truth and are directed toward the best.

Here is a slideshow of images from the visit:

There were a number of important points developed in the question and answer period to which I will point here, but they remain issues I am thinking about as I develop this larger book project on the practices of Socratic and Platonic politics.

Nalin Ranasinghe of Assumption College, who received his PhD from Penn State in the late 1980’s, delivered a very generous response to the paper in which he agreed in large part with the project in general and my reading of the Gorgias in particular, a text on which he has written a book himself: Socrates in the Underworld: On Plato’s Gorgias.

He did raise, however, a number of concerns that echo some of the things I heard in response to the seminar I gave on the Apology in Colombia last month.

Just as Catalina González Quintero had pressed me in Bogotá to delineate the negative side of Socratic politics in which Socrates provokes and punishes his interlocutor, Nalin was concerned that I did not do full justice to the agonistic dimension of the Gorgias, and particularly the fact that Socrates was punishing Callicles and Polus with public shame.  In the question and answer period, this issue was amplified with a number of questions about how rarely Socrates actually succeeds in cultivating in those he encounters a disposition to speak words “toward the best” and to respond to others with a shared concern for the truth.

To respond adequately to this issue requires detailed textual analysis of specific dialogues in which it can be argued that Socrates does succeed in cultivating the active desire to speak and seek the truth, as for example, I argue happens to some degree with Gorgias in the Gorgias, and in a different and less developed way with Hippocrates in the Protagoras; and Glaucon shows some signs of this in the Republic too.

Other questions that arose concerned the degree to which the Socratic activity of philosophizing can be called “political” in any meaningful sense.  To this, however, I would defend the central claim of the project which is that “politics” needs to be rethought in terms of the activities that most effectively open the possibility of cultivating healthy communities of relationship between people. Such an understanding of politics would imply that “politics” is at work each time two people enter into relation with one another.

Socrates, Plato and the Politics of Truth

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Next week I am giving a lecture on Plato’s Gorgias at Boston College for the Boston Area Colloquium for Ancient Philosophy. The title of the lecture is Attempting the Political Art.

Prior to the lecture, I will hold a seminar in which we will focus on those passages in the Gorgias in which truth is at stake as a political question. The seminar, entitled Socrates, Plato and the Politics of Truth, will begin with that strange passage from the Gorgias in which Socrates claims:

I think that with few Athenians, so as not to say the only one, I attempt the political art truly [ἐπιχειρεῖν τῇ ὡς ἀληθῶς πολιτικῇ τέχνῃ] and I alone of those now living do political things [πράττειν τὰ πολιτικὰ]; for it is not toward [πρὸς] gratification that I speak the speeches I speak on each occasion, but toward [πρὸς τὸ βέλτιστον] the best, not toward [πρὸς] the most pleasant … (Gorgias, 521d6-e2).

This passage invites us not only to ask about the nature of the “art” that Socrates claims to be one of the few to attempt, but also to consider the question of the political nature of Platonic writing.

The distinction between the ways of saying endemic to Socratic politics and the ways of writing endemic to Platonic politics will frame the discussion in the seminar.  In an essay on Plato’s Protagoras that has recently appeared in Epoché, I have thematized this distinction in terms of the “topology of Socratic politics” and the “topography of Platonic politics.” (For a more detailed discussion of the distinction, see Digital Dialogue 31: Shame and Justice, and more recently, see, Digital Dialogue 44: The Apology.)

For those students and faculty who will attend the seminar, we will focus our attention on the following passages in addition to the one cited above:

  • 453a8-b3: Where Socrates claims that he and Gorgias are each the sort of person who wants to know “the very thing for which the logos exists.”
  • 453c2-4: Where Socrates connects the proper way to proceed with a way of speaking that makes things as evident as possible.
  • 457c4-d5: Where Socrates distinguishes between a way of speaking animated by a desire to win and one committed to making the matter at hand evident.
  • 458a2-5: Where Socrates insists that he is as happy to be refuted as to refute.

These passages point to the nature of the relationship between Gorgias and Socrates, which, I argue, grows through the dialogue into a kind of friendship rooted in a shared desire for the truth.  This can be heard in these passages, which we will also consider:

  • 463a1-5: Where Socrates is empowered by Gorgias to continue his discussion with Polus so as to make what they have been discussing evident. This leads to the discussion of the difference between a techne and an empeiria, an art or a knack.
  • 464e2-465a6: Suggests the nature of a techne, as Socrates uses it in the dialogue.
  • 500c1-503a9: Where Socrates articulates the beautiful rhetoric associated with philosophy.
  • 506b2-3: The final words Gorgias speaks in the dialogue, in which he encourages Socrates to continue the logos even when Callicles refuses to respond any longer.

Seminar on the Apology in Bogotá

By | Presentation: Academic, Presentations, Socratic and Platonic Politics, Vita | 2 Comments



Seminar on the Apology

Originally uploaded by cplong11

BOGOTÁ, COLOMBIA – Today I gave a seminar on Plato’s Apology at the Universidad de los Andes to graduate and undergraduate students and faculty. The seminar was based on a paper I wrote entitled, Socratic Disturbances and Platonic Politics.

I argue in that paper that the Apology is a dialogue between Socrates and the “men of Athens.” In order to discern the dynamics of this dialogue, the paper follows those moment when the “men of Athens” create disturbances (thorubein) in response to the things Socrates says. These disturbances suggest the degree to which the practice of Socratic politics provokes those with whom he is engaged to think and act differently.

The paper also further develops the difference between the practice of Socratic politics as it is performed in the Platonic dialogues and the politics of Platonic writing as it presents itself to us in the written texts. The end of the paper attempts to lend some determination to the way Plato practices politics in his writing by thinking through the deep symbolism of the proposal Plato puts into the mouth of Socrates that his punishment should be to receive free meals for life in the Prytaneion. The Prytaneion was the center of Athenian life, the site of the hearth of Hestia, and the suggestion, which is quite likely a Platonic creation, emphasizes the importance of attempting to integrate the practices of philosophical politics into the very heart of the city.

The participants in the seminar were excellent. They had prepared by reading the Apology with great care and considering the details of my paper. I was encouraged to think more deeply about a few of the issues I raise in the paper, particularly about the differences between Platonic and Socratic politics.

One suggestion by Catalina González Quintero was particularly helpful insofar as it invited me to consider further if the Socratic practice of politics is essentially provocative and negative – as suggested by the gadfly metaphor – and Platonic politics is more educative and positive, concerned to cultivate habits of thinking and acting in the citizens of the city.  I am concerned about divorcing these two dimensions of politics, but there might be a sense in which Socratic politics leads with provocation and moves only hesitantly toward education, while Platonic politics is concerned primarily with education, even if it retains always a provocative dimension.

The discussion of these and other issues continued on Digital Dialogue episode 44 in which I was invited by Sergio Ariza, Nicolas Parra and Norman Mora to articulate the difference between Platonic and Socratic politics in more detail.
Here are some images from the seminar:

Aristotle's Phenomenology in Colombia

By | Aristotle on the Nature of Truth, Presentation: Academic, Presentations, Vita | 4 Comments



At the Universidad de los Andes

Originally uploaded by cplong11

BOGOTÁ, COLOMBIA – This evening I gave a public lecture at the Universidad de los Andes entitled Aristotle’s Phenomenology of Truth in which I articulate the basic argument of my book, Aristotle on the Nature of Truth. The lecture, and the book, attempt to re-think the nature of truth not as correspondance, but in terms of the ability to respond together with the things of nature.

The lecture locates in Aristotle resources by which to understand truth in terms of the attempt to put words to things in ways that do justice to the ways they express themselves. I draw on Heideggerian phenomenology and American naturalism in order to identify Aristotelian phenomenology as a ‘legomenology’ that attends to the ways things are said in order to gain access to something of the nature of things.

The ability to respond to the logos of things is at the root of an understanding of truth in terms of justice.

Here is a slideshow of the visit to Colombia:

Crisis of Community Paper at the 2010 APS

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EAST LANSING, MI It was particularly poignant for me to give a paper on the nature of Socratic political community at the tenth annual meeting of the Ancient Philosophy Society.

The APS has been for me a professional community of education of rich fecundity and enormous depth. The values the Society embodies and the spirit of friendship in which philosophy is pursued here stands as an example of what is possible when scholars enter into relation with one another committed at once to attending to the letter of the ancient texts and to responding the demands of the contemporary social, political and historical situation.

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PRC Talk on Oedipus

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In the wake of a paper on Oedipus and his relationship with his daughters in Oedipus at Colonus I gave at the Philosophy Research Colloquium, I have put together some thoughts for how I will further develop the paper as part of my larger work on patriarchal politics. After mentioning some of the points that were raised in the discussion, I invite others to contribute further comments, feedback and suggestions.

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Sophocles in Utah

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SUNDANCE, UT – Today I participated on a panel for the honors program at the Utah Valley University, whose director, Michael Shaw, invited Marina McCoy and me to present papers for a panel dedicated to Women in Sophocles.
My paper entitled, A Father’s Touch, A Daughter’s Voice: Antigone, Oedipus and Ismene at Colonus, traces three moments of touching in Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus that mark the emergence of a politics other than that of patriarchal domination.

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The Philosophy Job Market in Today's Economy

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ARLINGTON, VA – The search for a job in any field in the midst of an economic downturn can be harrowing; for those seeking jobs in a field like Philosophy where even in good economic times, the competition for jobs is stiff, the job search can be especially demoralizing.
Here I have gathered some resources for the graduate student who attended the Graduate Student Colloquium at the 2009 Society for Phenomenology and Existentialist Philosophy (SPEP) where I spoke on a panel entitled “The Job Market in Today’s Economy.”

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Integrating Teaching and Research with Technology

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This presentation is based on two insights that have grown over time but came into sharp focus over the summer of 2009 during which time I was a faculty fellow at Teaching and Learning with Technology here at Penn State:

  1. Education is being radically transformed by technological advances that allow communities of learning to grow in ways that cut across time, space and philosophical perspective.
  2. In higher education, these technological innovations can be leveraged to integrate scholarly research and teaching at both the graduate and undergraduate levels in ways that extend the reach of research and deepen the scholarly roots of teaching.

The Project
The figure of Socrates who appears in the Platonic dialogues is shown to practice a very peculiar form of politics: he enters into dialogue with each individual he encounters, attempting to turn their attention to the question of the Good, the Beautiful and the Just. My current research focuses on the various dimensions of the Socratic practice of politics and specifically on the question of how to cultivate the excellences of dialogue that open possibilities of human relation that are socially and politically transformative.

The Structure of Integration
I use my blog, the Long Road, which has been redesigned in as three blogs in one, to integrate my research and teaching.

Socratic Politics in Digital DialogueThe blog platform offers me a dynamic digital environment in which to develop a community of learning that roots my teaching in my scholarship and infuses my scholarship with new insights and connections that emerge out of the living dialogue of the community.

The Community of Learning

On Saying the Beautiful in Light of the Good

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ALTOONA, PA – Today I gave the keynote address at the West Virginia Philosophical Society being held at Penn State Altoona.

This presentation is drawn from the penultimate chapter of the manuscript for my book, The Saying of Things: The Nature of Truth and the Truth of Nature in Aristotle. In the book, I draw on Aristotle’s naturalistic phenomenology in order to articulate truth in terms of the ability to respond to the ways things express themselves. This understanding of truth as co-response-ability is rooted in Aristotle’s recognition that human-being is natural being and its ways of saying naturally co-operate with the logoi of things, the manner in which things express themselves. This allows me to argue that truth is a question of doing justice to the saying of things.

The chapter from which this presentation is taken is designed to suggest the degree to which truth as justice must not only be rooted in concrete encounters with individual things, but that it also must attempt to articulate things within the larger context of the whole to which they and we belong. This chapter, then, attempts to account for the peculiar way in which human-being is bound up with and related to the manner in which the whole expresses itself as beautiful and good.

The Ethics of Blogging Ethics

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“… we’re in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven’t seen since Greek civilization.”

Andrea Lunsford, in Wired article “Clive Thompson on the New Literacy

Preface
The web log, or blog, opens up new possibilities for teaching and learning by cultivating social communities of education. The power of blogging as a pedagogical practice is rooted in the recognition that meaning is made and knowledge created in social interaction. As Dewey put it in Democracy and Education:

“Schools require for their full efficiency more opportunity for conjoint activities in which those instructed take part, so that they may acquire a social sense of their own powers and of the materials and applications used” (Democracy and Education, 37).

As a sophisticated yet simple publishing platform, the blog offers a powerful opportunity for conjoint activities of learning.  By opening a rich, diverse and broadly accessible site of dialogical engagement, a blog is able to cultivate dynamic social contexts of communication in which a symbiotic relationship between teaching and learning becomes possible.

The Pedagogy of Blogging
This presentation is illustrates the power of blogging as a pedagogical practice by focusing first on what a blog is, second, on the dynamic structure of a blog, and third, on how this dynamic structure can be leveraged to cultivate robust learning communities. 
In the context of ethics education, this presentation seeks to articulate how blogging allows faculty not merely to deliver content to students about ethical theory and practice, but also to perform the virtues of inter-human ethical interaction with students in light of the theories and practices under consideration.

Blogging thus allows us to perform the ethics we teach.

The Virtues of Blogging

Some Examples/Possibilities

The Ethics, from the Rock blog seeks to engage in public deliberation concerning pressing ethical questions with students, faculty, alumni and the broader local and global community:

Diversity of Expression 

Other Resources



Learning Design Summer Camp Panel

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STATE COLLEGE, PA – As one of the Teaching and Learning with Technology summer faculty fellows, I am on a panel at the 2009 Learning Design Summer Camp that focuses on new forms of digital scholarship.

The panel is designed to think about and discuss the possibilities for academic scholarship that emerge with new social technologies.  The panel includes Carla Zembal-Saul, Ellysa Cahoy, and Stuart Selber.
During the course of the panel, a number of themes emerged.  First, new technologies challenge faculty to relinquish control of content and open opportunities to empower students to give voice to their own perspective. We talked about how modeling good pedagogical practices can cultivate dialogue and responsive discussion. 
Second, new forms of digital expression are challenging the traditional conception of authorship and ownership.  Assessment tools have to be adapted to these new forms of digital expression.
Third, with the emergence of new forms of digital expression come new forms of literacy; indeed, different media require different skills.  We emphasized the importance of rooting the use of new technologies in concrete pedagogical objectives.

To follow the discussion, see the twitter feed here and watch the online discussion tool here, you can see some notes taken by TK, a member of the audience, here.
To view the entire panel, a recording of the live stream is embedded below:

Blogs and Assessment

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This post is designed to facilitate a round table discussion of using blogs for assessment at the 2009 Penn State Assessment Conference: Putting Your Assessment Plan to Work.
Over the past four years, I have used blogs regularly in my classes to facilitate philosophical discussion and assessment philosophical writing. I have used two implementations models:

  1. Multiple Blogs – student owned and operated blogs with a course blog that aggregates material from the student blogs.
  2. Common Course Blog – one blog with students either posting through comments or set up as editors.

There are positive and negative dimensions of each model and the assessment techniques differ in each case.

Multiple Blogs
Pros

  • Student Ownership
  • Diversity of Perspectives
  • Student Work easy to Identify & Evaluate

Cons

  • Difficult to Establish Community of Discussion
  • Lack of Cross Fertilization of Ideas
  • Aggregated Community

Assessment for Multiple Blog Model
Individual Assignments/Individual rubrics; see:

Ongoing Assignment, single rubric; see:

Common Course Blog
Pros

  • More Organic Community
  • Centrally Managed
  • Facilitates Cross-fertilization of Ideas through Posts and Comments
  • Unified Discussion
  • Cultivates Social Learning

Cons

  • Work of Individual Student is More Difficult to Access and Evaluate
  • Minimizes Idiosyncratic perspectives, creative outlets
  • No Individual Student Ownership

Assessment for Common Course Model
Ongoing Assignment with a single, comprehensive scoring rubric:

The Metaphysics of Truth

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PHILADELPHIA, PA – Today I presented a paper entitled The Metaphysics of Truth at the annual meeting of the Metaphysical Society of America at the American Philosophical Association’s 2008 Eastern Division meeting in Philadelphia, PA.

The paper was part of a panel with Vincent Colapietro, my colleague at the Pennsylvania State University, and Brian Henning from Gonzaga University.  My paper focused on the many ways truth is said in Aristotle, arguing that the two fundamental ways in which Aristotle speaks of truth–as noetic touching and as declarative saying–must be thought together as part of an organic and unified understanding of truth. 

The panel as a whole was very well received and the discussion was lively and insightful.  I am grateful to the MSA for inviting me to be part of this panel.

The Saying of Things

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NEW YORK CITY – Today I returned to the New School to present what will be the first chapter of my forthcoming book, The Saying of Things: The Truth of Nature and the Nature of Truth in Aristotle.  It was wonderful to return home to the New School to present my latest work and to engage in the tradition of rigorous and lively dialogue that makes the New School such a rich site of intellectual development. The questions were welcomed and pressed me to think through more rigorously my understanding of “doing justice to things” and “ontological response-ability.”

I was happy to know that although the building has changed, the spirit of the New School for Social Research endures.

The Ethics of Truth

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HARTFORD, CT — Today I gave a paper here at Trinity College on the nature of truth in Aristotle entitled, “The Ethics of Truth: Saying It Like It Is”.  The presentation sought in part to link the way Aristotle speaks of the truthful person in the Nichomachean Ethics to his more strictly theoretical understanding of truth which has traditionally been identified as the first articulation of the so-called correspondence theory of truth. This is part of a larger project that attempts to rethink the correspondence theory in terms of co-response-ability.

The presentation was well received and the ensuing discussion with a group of very intelligent and thoughtful undergraduates and faculty was stimulating and helpful to me as I continue to work on this issue for my book, The Saying of Things.

Between Natality and Mortality

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PITTSBURGH, PA – A panel on the work of Reiner Schürmann entitled “Philosophy-to-come: Reading Reiner Schürmann” was held today at the 47th Annual Meeting of the Society for Phenomenology and Existentialist Philosophy.  The panel included a paper by Emmanuela Bianchi entitled, “From (Sexual) Difference to (Sexual) Differend: A queer feminist reading of Broken Hegemonies,” one from Richard Lee entitled, “A Break in the Middle: From Epochal Principles to Hegemonic Fantasms,” and a paper from me entitled, “Between Natality and Mortality: The Torments of Autonomy.”

My paper traced what Schürmann calls the “double comprehension of being” in Kant in which the sense of being as pure givenness is said to be recognized but denied by Kant as his thinking undertakes its Copernican turn.  Schürmann suggests that this can be heard in the ambiguous ways two German terms that mean “posit or position” are used by Kant.  The terms are “Position” and “Setzung.” Schürmann shows that these two terms point at various moments in Kant either to the notion of being as a category that arises from the transcendental operations of the subject or to being understood as pure givenness external to the transcendental subject.  Schürmann insists that this second sense of being threatens to undermine the entire transcendental project and so must be denied by Kant.

Drawing on this reading, I attempt to show that Schürmann’s own deep skepticism about philosophical language and particularly his insistence that language always involves the violent supression of singularity is itself undermined by Schürmann’s own suggestion that the singular comes to language in the tension between Position and Setzung that gives voice to the two comprehensions of being in Kant.   

Designs on e-Learning

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This September I will be presenting at the Designs on e-Learning Conference held here at Penn State.  My presentation is entitled Blogging and Podcasting the Liberal Arts (the link is to the blog post on which the presentation is based).

The abstract is as follows:

Over the past two years, I have worked to incorporate podcasting and blogging into my First-Year seminars in Philosophy. This session will present some of the best practices I have found to be particularly effective in the effort to use technology to expand the classroom experience and encourage the active engagement of my students in their own education. The presentation will touch upon my valiant failures as well as substantive successes. Some of the issues discussed will include: integrating podcasting and blogging, using RSS feeds to facilitate online community, example blog and podcast assignments and a discussion of the place of technology in the classroom. Attendees should come prepared to engage in a substantive discussion of both the concrete, practical issues associated with blogging and podcasting in the classroom and the more theoretical questions surrounding the use of technology in the pedagogical process.

Ontological Response-Ability and the Ethics of Truth

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FREIBURG, GERMANY – Today I present a paper entitled Ontological Response-Ability and the Ethics of Truth at a conference jointly organized by the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg and the Pennsylvania State University.

The paper will outline some of the basic idea underlying my book project entitled The Saying of Things: The Nature of Truth and the Truth of Nature in Aristotle.  The central argument of the paper is that the question of truth is fundamentally a matter of doing justice to the expression of things.  Justice in this case is ontological: it concerns the logos at work in everything that is.  Thus, to do justice to the expression of things is shown to involve an ability to respond to the ways things speak that is rooted in an ethical community of communication with nature.  

APS Presentation on Schürmann

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In April, I will give a paper entitled “The Duplicity of Beginning: Schürmann, Aristotle and the Origins of Metaphysics” at the Eighth Annual Independent Meeting of the Ancient Philosophy Society, which will meet this year at my alma mater, the New School for Social Research in New York City.


The paper is a engagement with the work of Reiner Schürmann, a former professor of mine at the New School, who died in 1993.  Schürmann tends to read Aristotle as the father of a way of thinking he derisively dubs “metaphysics” in which being is understood primarily in terms of technological production.  I seek to show how such a reading of Aristotle does not do justice to Aristotle’s own attempts to address nature on its own terms.  

In the process, the paper suggests that Aristotle was himself more attuned to the ways principles function both as forces of domination and principles of beginning.  The paper ends with an attempt to shift Schürmann’s emphasis upon the trait of mortality and the nature of human tragedy in order to recognize also the significance of the trait of natality and the more comic dimensions of human-being. 

SAAP 2008 Presentation

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My paper on Woodbridge’s reading of Aristotle entitled “The Natural History of the Soul” has been accepted for the 2008 meeting of the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy. The paper is part of a panel with Daniel Brunson, a graduate student here at Penn State and Rose Cherubin of George Mason University. The panel is entitled American Philosophy and the Legacies of Greek Thinking. The panel abstract is below:

Greek thinking has historically been engaged by American philosophers in at least three (not always mutually exclusive) ways. Roughly speaking, the first involves the discussion and interpretation of specific Greek texts. The second involves the development, often in new contexts, of ideas inspired by or rooted in Greek ideas, but not necessarily identical to them. The third way is the apparently independent development of ideas and ways of thinking that parallel those found in Greek thought, where there is no evidence of direct influence. The papers in this panel illustrates all three modes by which Greek thinking has been engaged by American philosophers.

The first paper, entitled The Natural History of the Soul, takes up the first and second modes by focusing on a set of lectures Fredrick Woodbridge gave in 1930 on Aristotle’s De Anima in which he reads Aristotle as concerned primarily with the being and meaning of nature. The paper is divided into three sections. The first considers Woodbridge’s innovative account of Aristotle’s method, which is guided by Aristotle’s own theoretical practice of attempting to put the natural phenomena he encounters into words. This methodological commitment to the articulation of things suggests the importance of Aristotle’s own ontological orientation toward language, which is the focus of the second section of the paper. Finally, drawing on Woodbridge’s account of how, for Aristotle, it is natural for things to go into language the paper will conclude with a discussion of Aristotle’s understanding of the intelligibility of things that links Aristotle’s naturalism to both Woodbridge’s conception of cooperation and Dewey’s understanding of transaction.

Illustrating the first and third modes, Peirce’s Account of Pythagoras explores the speculative biography of Pythagoras written by Peirce on multiple occasions. Primarily, Peirce offers it as a methodological example of abduction based upon meager evidence, and which offers few predictions regarding possible future experience. Peirce considers his method both distinctive and superior to others because it demands an explanation of all the evidence, even, or especially, known falsehoods. That is, one should explain why a false testimony would be asserted as true, and why in one way rather than another. More broadly, Peirce implicitly argues that we should engage with the ancients seriously, rather than assigning them to the “infancy” of thought. In fact, Peirce’s account concludes with an intriguing hypothesis as to the secret behind Pythagorean “mysticism,” based largely on a supposition regarding Pythagoras’ travels outside the Greek world.

The final paper of the panel, Inquiry, Truth, and Normativity in Parmenides and Peirce, addresses the second and third modes of the American engagement with Greek thinking by drawing Peirce’s conception of philosophical inquiry into dialogue with that of Parmenides. In his search for alternatives to aspects of modern philosophy he found to be misguided, Peirce often independently took up Greek notions also used by Parmenides. The thematic study of inquiry was central to Peirce’s conception of philosophy. In this his closest philosophical precursor was Parmenides. Both investigated what it is that inquiry might enjoin and require, and what its success might consist in and imply. Both also explored the normative or evaluative dimensions of the search for truth. This paper looks at these two areas of common interest. The paper examines the convergences and divergences between Peirce and Parmenides on the theme of inquiry, with the aim that the reflection of each on the other might illuminate both and further our understanding of the questions they addressed.