Monday, January 28, 2013


The French polymath is about to turn 300. Let's party! Or at least let's follow his example and question our own beliefs.
"An ardent empiricist, Diderot also took pride in questioning his own beliefs. In “Rameau’s Nephew,” Diderot gave life to a character who assailed the author’s deep-rooted humanism. One of the most memorable eccentrics in all of literature, the hedonistic protagonist preached the beauty of evil, the joys of social parasitism and the right to be a self-seeking individual.
This same ability to think beyond his own perspective also generated Diderot’s most prophetic work of fiction, “D’Alembert’s Dream,” a text that conjures up a godless world of speculative “genetic” manipulation and proto-evolutionary theory, 90 years before Darwin.
After rejecting Diderot for panthéonisation 100 years ago because of his atheism, the French now seem ready to bestow upon their countryman the high honor he has long deserved. No doubt Diderot himself would have been pleased. “Posterity is for the philosopher what the next world is for the man of religion,” he once wrote..."
Diderot, an American Exemplar? Bien Sûr -

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Philosophy Lyceum in TN

On Friday February 1, 2013, the MTSU Philosophy Department will inaugurate its spring Applied Philosophy Lyceum with Richard Shusterman’s presentation, “Pragmatism, Somaesthetics, and Contemporary Art.”

Richard Shusterman, currently the Dorothy F. Schmidt Eminent Scholar in the Humanities and Professor of Philosophy at Florida Atlantic University, is internationally known for his work in pragmatist aesthetics. He is the author or editor of twenty-two books published in fifteen languages, including Body Consciousness (2008); Surface and Depth (2002); Performing Live (2000); Sous l'interprétation (1994), Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty, Rethinking Art (1992), and T.S. Eliot and the Philosophy of Criticism (1988). Shusterman has also reviewed books for The Nation and contributed catalogue essays for prominent art museums.

Drawing upon his recent experiences curating an exhibit of artworks at the Sorbonne, held in conjunction with a conference at the University of Paris celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the publication of his Pragmatist Aesthetics, Professor Shusterman’s lecture will focus on what he calls “somaesthetics,” articulating a critical perspective for engaging with the culture’s growing preoccupation with the body, as well as employing the insights of American pragmatism to explore new directions for the visual arts.

The lecture will be held February 1, 2013 at 4:00 in James Union Building, Room 304 on the Middle Tennessee State University Campus. The lecture is free and open to the public. A discussion period and an informal reception will follow. For more information, contact the MTSU Philosophy Department at 898-2907.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

"One Today"

I thought that was a terrific Inaugural yesterday, I hope my teenager was not representative of the general populace in preferring "Cake Boss" to the televised proceedings in front of the capitol building. Our pragmatist-in-chief was in strong voice, the music was great, the parades were festive, and the poem was profound.
One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows...

Friday, January 18, 2013

Philosophy, science, and pragmaticism (sic.)

We talked a bit on Opening Day, yesterday, about the relation between philosophy and religion. We'll continue that discussion all semester, along with the question of how philosophy relates to science and to everything else. As for science... 

Every Opening Day every semester,  it seems, I follow my colleague Mary into James Union Building Room 304 and find this on the board:
That’s Charles Sanders Peirce, the “pragmaticist” (“ugly enough to be safe from kidnappers”). In case you find either Mary or CSP (or both) difficult to decipher, here’s what he said… followed by what I think of what he said:
Philosophy is that branch of positive science (i.e., an investigating theoretical science which inquires what is the fact, in contradistinction to pure mathematics which merely seeks to know what follows from certain hypotheses) which makes no observations but contents itself with so much of experience as pours in upon every man during every hour of his waking life.  CSP

I think Charles & Mary are on the right track, to call attention to everyday experience as the raw material of philosophy. Quotidian, commonplace, ordinary experiences and exceptional, rare, out-of-the-ordinary experiences happen to people. What has existence must have its reflective moment.
But, must philosophy aspire to the status of a science? I say no. (Think of Emerson, or for that matter Emily Dickinson.) This may just be a semantic hairsplitting, depending on how much of the vast range of possible-plus-actual experience the “scientific philosopher” is prepared to reflect on, and how much she is prepared to jettison in the name of positivity.

My view: there are many diverse and legitimate forms of philosophical reflection. Some look less like science than like poetry. They all have their place.

And maybe Peirce thought so too. He definitely had his poetic/metaphysical flights: agapism, cosmic love, firstness and secondness and thirdness, his metaphorical likening of philosophy to an impassioned marriage (“The genuis of a man’s logical method should be loved and reverenced as his bride”-Fixation of Belief 1877).

“It will be seen that pragmatism is not a Weltanschauung but is a method of reflexion having for its purpose to render ideas clear.” As James said: philosophy and metaphysics are just an “unusually obstinate attempt to think clearly.”

The consensus here is kind of Thoreauvian, isn’t it? “Simplify, simplify.” And how do you do that, in our discipline? Clarify, clarify. Science can help, and so can the poet.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


1st day of the new semester, I'm sure to be asked about due dates and deadlines. But I don't want to talk about them today. They'll arrive soon enough.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Ban college football

I've been baiting my new students, sight unseen, about the de facto southern pastime. All in fun, so far. Some of my best friends really are football fans.

Ban College Football from Intelligence Squared U.S. Debates on

I object to how college football in particular drives the culture of youth sports leagues, compromises the integrity of higher ed, and generally wrecks lives. In the Fall it diverts attention from what really matters: the MLB pennant races and postseason. (Just kidding, sorta.)

In short: baseball's better. But who really wins? George Carlin.

[Bissinger: Universities have wrong priorities (SI)... Slate... npr...wsj... nyt...espn... Gladwell: Offensive Play]

Monday, January 14, 2013

Even thinking?

When is the last time you did absolutely nothing for 10 whole minutes? Not texting, talking or even thinking? 
That's a tough one. One person's "nothing" is another's deep thought.

Sometimes I sits and thinks, sometimes I just sits... I forget who said that, but I get the point of Andy's TEd question. I try to blank out for at least ten minutes every time I go for a walk. It's thera-petic.

As Professor James put it:

“We are stuffed with abstract conceptions, and glib with verbalities and verbosities; and in the culture of these higher functions the peculiar sources of joy connected with our simpler functions often dry up, and we grow stone-blind and insensible to life’s more elementary and general goods and joys.”
And that’s why he praised ”the happiness of both thinking of nothing and doing nothing.”

I’ll keep practicing.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A good question

from my talented musician friend Dean Hall. I'd like to forward it to all our legislative "leaders" in Nashville and in Washington, as we prepare to hear the conclusions of the Veep's commission on gun violence.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The new cards came!

but as with the old ones, I'll probably forget to carry them and give them to people. So here:

Monday, January 7, 2013


Back on the grid, after a two-week holiday hiatus, but trying to be smart about it.

“The future will belong to the nature-smart—those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.” Richard Louv Accelerating Intelligence News