philosophy

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History Debunked Refutes Critical Race Theory’s Rejection of Objective Fact

In this video from History Debunked, YouTuber and author Simon Webb attacks Critical Race Theory’s epistemology. Critical Race Theory is the theory of racial politics, devised by American Marxists, that Blacks are the victims of institutional racism. As the video states, Critical Race Theory has largely been confined to the US for the past 40 years, but is now being adopted in Britain. It was the McPherson report following the murder of Stephen Lawrence, which introduced the idea of institutional racism in Britain with its conclusion that the Met was institutional racist. Since then a number of other organisations have also been accused of institutional racism, including the NHS.

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy dealing with knowledge. There is a difference between subjective and objective knowledge. The statement that light moves at 186,000 miles per second is objectively true. It can be tested. But the statement that X hates someone is subjective, as it is difficult to prove objectively. In the West, knowledge is generally regarded as objective fact. But Critical Race Theory rejects objective fact in favour of ‘Standpoint Epistemology’. This is the view that the opinions and perceptions of minorities are what matter, and these should be accepted uncritically, as demanding objective proof or questioning them is a form of oppression. The video also states that the theory also promotes instead of facts the stories Black people tell amongst themselves. These stories, which may include myths, are to be regarded as incontrovertible truth, and should similarly not be subjected to criticism or testing.

The video illustrates this by citing the views of a young Black woman, Yomimi, in an article published by the Beeb, and the Oprah Winfrey interview with Meghan Markle. The Beeb article is about the higher percentage of graduate unemployment among Blacks. Yomimi is quoted as saying that she feels it is due to institutional racism, and that employers automatically reject applicants from Black and Asian candidates, whose names are difficult to pronounce. This was the subject of a previous video by History Debunked yesterday, in which he argued against this assertion. Official statistics show that Chinese and Indians are slightly better at obtaining jobs than Whites, but Chinese names are notoriously difficult for westerners to pronounce. However, the Chinese generally do better in education than Whites, while fewer Blacks than Whites obtain two or more ‘A’ levels. Black unemployment may therefore have more to do with poor Black academic performance than institutional racism amongst employers. But what is important about the article is that Yomimi is not asked to provide supporting facts for her arguments. It is just how she feels or sees the situation.

Similarly, Markle said little in her interview with Winfrey that could be objectively verified. Significantly, Winfrey thanked Markle for speaking her ‘truth’. This sounds strange to British ears, but it’s part of the same viewpoint that rejects objective truth in favour of feelings and perceptions.

I’ve no doubt that racism exists in this country, and the police force, especially the Met, has been notorious for the racism of some of its officers. Racism appears to be one explanation for the Met’s failure to prosecute Lawrence’s murderers, but they were also the sons of notorious London gangsters. An alternative explanation was that the cops were afraid of prosecuting them because of their fathers, or else were corrupt and on their payroll. Private Eye also stated a few years ago that an Asian and White lad were also separately the victims of racist murders, and the Met was similarly negligent about finding and prosecuting their killers but that there was no mention of this.

The rejection of objective fact, however, is a fundamental element of Postmodernism and its moral and cultural relativism. Instead, it sees every culture and viewpoint as equal. Way back in the 1990s I tried to do an MA on British Islam at my old College. As part of it, my supervisor sent me to several Cultural Studies seminars, which were thoroughly postmodern. These were on colonial or western views of extra-European cultures. The attitude really did seem to be that westerners really couldn’t understand or appreciate other cultures, who should thus be exempt from western criticism. Any attempt to do so was dangerously prejudiced and ‘othering’.

Unfortunately, parts of the women’s movement have also been contaminated by this irratrionalism. In their book Intellectual Impostures, Sokal and Bricmont, one an American left-wing mathematician and physicist, the other a Belgian philosopher, attack postmodern philosophy and particularly its appropriation of scientific concepts. These are used nonsensically to give an appearance of depth and profundity to arguments that are actually absurd and incoherent nonsense. In one chapter they attack a number of postmodern feminist writers, who refuse to use conventional logical argument because logic and objective are patriarchal concepts that mentally imprison women. I am not joking, and this is most definitely not a wind-up.

A friend of mine came across this attitude, also back in the 1990s, in the women’s committee of the local branch of the National Union of Students. He was told by someone who worked with it, that it was one of three autonomous committees, whose conclusions were automatically passed as NUS policy. The other committees were for Black and LGBTQ students. The women’s committee similarly rejected logic and objective fact. Instead their debates supposedly consisted of them largely talking about their experiences of sexual abuse before concluding with their recommendation on a particularly issue. Which was passed with no debate. This situation should have been unacceptable. I have every sympathy for anyone who has been sexually abused, but official decisions need to be based on logical argument and proper debate, not entirely subjective feelings and personal history unless these are directly relevant to the matter.

Sokal and Bricmont were highly critical of this feminist rejection of logic, not least because it was based on a very traditional view, that has been used to exclude women from authority. For centuries women were largely excluded from a number of professions and political power on the basis that they, unlike men, were emotional rather than reasonable and logical. The Nazis used the same argument to justify their removal of women from the workplace and politics. They also believed in Cultural Relativism, and what was appropriate for one race was unsuitable for others. This is shown in their denunciation of democracy as ‘Jewish’. Now cultural relativism and the rejection of objective fact in favour of feelings and perceptions is being promoted as empowering for Blacks and women.

Proper discussion of racism is entirely appropriate, especially given the continuing poverty and marginalisation of the Black community. But this has to be done through rational discussion and argument, backed up with facts and statistics. And this means a rejection of Postmodernism and Critical Race Theory’s theory of knowledge.

Arvan’s 2021 Philosophy Jobs Report

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 16/04/2021 - 11:57pm in

How many tenure track positions in philosophy were advertised during the 2020-2021 job market season?

First, it’s important to note the following:

Second, according to a report from Marcus Arvan (Tampa), who regularly tracks this information, there were just 118 such positions.

Here’s the distribution of jobs across broadly construed subfields:

  • Open AOS: 29 jobs (24.6% of all TT jobs advertised)
  • ‘Core areas’ (mind, language, metaphysics, epistemology, logic) = 7.5 jobs
  • Value theory (ethics, social, political, law) = 51.6 jobs (43.7% of TT jobs)
  • Science (including philosophy of technology & AI) = 13.8 jobs (11.7%)
  • History = 7.15 jobs (6.1%)
  • Social identity (race, gender, feminism) = 8 jobs (6.8%)
  • ‘Non-western’: 7.7 jobs (6.5%)
  • Continental philosophy = 1.4 jobs (1.2%)
  • Philosophy of Religion = 1.5 jobs (1.3%)
  • Aesthetics = 0 jobs (1 job in Art History)

For a more detailed breakdown of jobs by subfield, as well as an explanation of Professor Arvan’s methodology (including what the decimals mean), see his full post at The Philosophers’ Cocoon. As he notes, this was a terrible year, largely owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to previous years.

Related: Much Fewer Academic Philosophy Jobs Advertised This Season

Jargon & Citation in Philosophy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/04/2021 - 9:46pm in

A study of papers published in academic science journals on the topic of “cave science” found that “papers containing higher proportions of jargon in their titles and abstracts were cited less frequently by other researchers.”


Kay Rosen, “Echoes”

The study, “Specialized terminology reduces the number of citations of scientific papers,” by Alejandro Martínez and Stefano Mammola (both of the Water Research Institute at the National Research Council, Verbania Pallanza, Italy) focused on cave science because, according to a New York Times article about the study, “cave science is a particularly jargon-heavy field” that attracts researchers from a range of fields, like anthropology, ecology, geology, and zoology, “each of whom brings their own terminology.”

Do philosophy papers that contain a higher proportion of jargon in their titles garner fewer citations?

I took a quick, unscientific look at the question. I used Web of Science to search for articles on “mind” or “consciousness” published in philosophy journals from 1980 to 2010 to see which are the most cited. (I picked mind/consciousness because that’s an area of research that a range of scholars who aren’t philosophers also work and it does have its share of jargon.)  Below are the top 50 results. There are probably better ways to do this, but this was relatively easy; feel free to suggest alternative methods, or even better, just do them and share your results in the comments.

Authors
Article Title
Source Title
Times Cited (all WOS databases)
Publication Year

Clark, A; Chalmers, D
The extended mind
ANALYSIS
2122
1998

Rosenthal, DM
2 Concepts of Consciousness
PHILOSOPHICAL STUDIES
327
1986

McGinn, C
Can We Solve the Mind Body Problem?
MIND
303
1989

Gallagher, S
The Practice of Mind – Theory, simulation or primary interaction
JOURNAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES
297
2001

Haggard, P; Libet, B
Conscious intention and brain activity
JOURNAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES
295
2001

Rupert, RD
Challenges to the hypothesis of extended cognition
JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY
272
2004

Lutz, A; Thompson, E
Neurophenomenology – Integrating subjective experience and brain dynamics in the neuroscience of consciousness
JOURNAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES
270
2003

Thompson, E
Empathy and consciousness
JOURNAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES
217
2001

Pitt, D
The phenomenology of cognition, or, What is it like to think that P?
PHILOSOPHY AND PHENOMENOLOGICAL RESEARCH
201
2004

Clark, A; Toribio, J
Doing Without Representing
SYNTHESE
195
1994

Schwitzgebel, E
The Unreliability of Naive Introspection
PHILOSOPHICAL REVIEW
189
2008

Zahavi, D
Beyond empathy – Phenomenological approaches to intersubjectivity
JOURNAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES
184
2001

Di Paolo, E
Extended Life
TOPOI-AN INTERNATIONAL REVIEW OF PHILOSOPHY
184
2009

Thompson, E; Stapleton, M
Making Sense of Sense-Making: Reflections on Enactive and Extended Mind Theories
TOPOI-AN INTERNATIONAL REVIEW OF PHILOSOPHY
180
2009

Sterelny, K
Minds: extended or scaffolded?
PHENOMENOLOGY AND THE COGNITIVE SCIENCES
170
2010

Chalmers, DJ
The Singularity A Philosophical Analysis
JOURNAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES
168
2010

Wilson, D; Sperber, D
Truthfulness and relevance
MIND
169
2002

Putnam, H
Sense, Nonsense, and the Senses: an Inquiry into the Powers of the Human Mind  (Dewey Lecture 1 – The Antinomy of Reason)
JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY
148
1994

Dreyfus, HL
The return of the myth of the mental
INQUIRY-AN INTERDISCIPLINARY JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY
152
2007

Burge, T
Intellectual Norms and Foundations of Mind
JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY
145
1986

Sutton, J; Harris, CB; Keil, PG; Barnier, AJ
The psychology of memory, extended cognition, and socially distributed remembering
PHENOMENOLOGY AND THE COGNITIVE SCIENCES
144
2010

Makinson, D; Van der Torre, L
Input/output logics
JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHICAL LOGIC
138
2000

Menary, R
The holy grail of cognitivism: a response to Adams and Aizawa
PHENOMENOLOGY AND THE COGNITIVE SCIENCES
133
2010

Bennett, K
Why the exclusion problem seems intractable, and how, just maybe to tract it
NOUS
126
2003

OConnor, T
Emergent Properties
AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY
127
1994

Noe, A; Thompson, E
Are there neural correlates of consciousness?
JOURNAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES
124
2004

Schwitzgebel, E
Acting Contrary to Our Professed Beliefs, or  the Gulf between Occurrent Judgment and Dispositional Belief
PACIFIC PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY
116
2010

Knobe, J; Prinz, J
Intuitions about consciousness: Experimental studies
PHENOMENOLOGY AND THE COGNITIVE SCIENCES
116
2008

Chalmers, DJ
Does a rock implement every finite-state automaton?
SYNTHESE
112
1996

Hill, CS
Imaginability, conceivability, possibility and the mind-body problem
PHILOSOPHICAL STUDIES
108
1997

Dennett, DC
Who’s on first? Heterophenomenology explained
JOURNAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES
108
2003

Williamson, T
Philosophical ‘intuitions’ and scepticism about judgement
DIALECTICA
103
2004

Gallagher, S
Phenomenology and experimental design – Toward a phenomenologically enlightened experimental science
JOURNAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES
105
2003

Gallagher, S
Inference or interaction: social cognition without precursors
PHILOSOPHICAL EXPLORATIONS
98
2008

Kleingeld, P
Kant’s second thoughts on race
PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY
97
2007

O’Regan, JK; Noe, A
What it is like to see: A sensorimotor theory of perceptual experience
SYNTHESE
96
2001

Stoljar, D
Two conceptions of the physical
PHILOSOPHY AND PHENOMENOLOGICAL RESEARCH
97
2001

Lepore, E; Loewer, B
Mind Matters
JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY
98
1987

Thomasson, AL
Realism and human kinds
PHILOSOPHY AND PHENOMENOLOGICAL RESEARCH
100
2003

Clark, A
Pressing the flesh: A tension in the study of the embodied, embedded mind?
PHILOSOPHY AND PHENOMENOLOGICAL RESEARCH
95
2008

Colombetti, G
Appraising valence
JOURNAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES
92
2005

Kriegel, U
Consciousness as intransitive self-consciousness: Two views and an argument
CANADIAN JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY
93
2003

Clark, A
Intrinsic content, active memory and the extended mind
ANALYSIS
90
2005

Tucker, C
Why Open-Minded People Should Endorse Dogatism
PHILOSOPHICAL PERSPECTIVES
89
2010

Van Gulick, R
Reduction, emergence and other recent options on the mind/body problem – A philosophic overview
JOURNAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES
93
2001

Noe, A
Is the visual world a grand illusion?
JOURNAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES
89
2002

Thagard, P
Brain and the Meaning of Life
BRAIN AND THE MEANING OF LIFE
87
2010

Vermersch, P
Describing the Practice of Introspection
JOURNAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES
82
2009

Sloman, A; Chrisley, R
Virtual machines and consciousness
JOURNAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES
84
2003

Leslie, SJ
Generics and the Structure of the Mind
PHILOSOPHICAL PERSPECTIVES
81
2007

What can we learn from this, if anything? It’s hard to say. In part this is because of the nature of the sample, which is small, and because I only scanned the titles of the articles for jargon, not the abstracts. (It would be great if someone wanted to approach this more carefully!) Additionally, there is some ambiguity as to what counts as jargon. Sometimes “jargon” is used to refer not just to unfamiliar words/phrases but also to familiar words/phrases used in technical ways or as “terms of art.”

The most cited article on the list, by a mile, is “The Extended Mind,” which I think counts as sufficiently non-jargony. It seems we don’t begin to see clear jargon showing up in the titles until the 7th-most cited article on the list, which contains the word “neurophenomenology.” Someone might ask, what about “extended cognition” in the title of the 6th-most cited article? Does our jargon criteria put “extended mind” on one side of the divide and “extended cognition” on the other? I don’t know. In the title at #9 we have the phrase “phenomenology of cognition,” which rings jargony to my ears. So among the top ten most cited articles on the list, we have 2 or 3 that have jargon in their titles.

In the next ten (11-20) we see jargon (such as “naive introspection,” “intersubjectivity,” “enactive”, and “extended cognition”) in four of the titles. Looking at the middle ten (21-30), we get more jargon, such as “socially distributed remembering”, “input/output logics”, “cognitivism”, “the exclusion problem”, and “finite-state automaton.” One article has a non-jargony title, “Acting Contrary to Our Professed Beliefs” but a jargony subtitle, “the Gulf between Occurrent Judgment and Dispositional Belief.” That gives us 5 or 6 articles with jargon in their titles. In the next set (31-40) we get 3 (“heterophenomenology,” “phenomenology,” “precursors”). Turning to the 41 through 50 on the list, jargon includes “valence,” “intransitive self-consciousness”, “intrinsic content”, “generics,” and possibly “reduction,” getting us 4 or 5 titles with jargon.

Going with the higher counts of jargon, the distribution looks like this (left to right = higher citation counts to lower; jargony titles marked with an X).

If we look at just the top 12 most cited articles, it does seem that more jargony titles are cited less. So: boo jargon. On the other hand, nearly half of the top 12 most cited articles have jargony titles. So: jargon, no big deal. That our conclusions about what we can learn from this little exercise depend so much on framing suggest that we probably ought to refrain from drawing conclusions until we have more, and more thorough, research on the matter.

The authors of the cave science study think that the use of jargon risks hampering communication across different disciplines, a phenomenon they dub “Wittgensteinian shortfall”:

Not without irony, we would like to conclude by introducing a new jargon ourselves: the ‘Wittgensteinian shortfall’. Since words are tools to communicate ideas, let this obscure combination of terms be used to raise awareness of the problems previously discussed by associating the philosophical ideas of the late Wittgenstein with the shortfall metaphor frequently used in used in ecology. We define the Wittgensteinian shortfall as the inability to successfully communicate specific ideas across different scientific communities. These different communities could thus be seen as characterized by different language games. 

We might wonder about the degree to which philosophy is subject to “Wittgensteinian shortfall.” To figure that out, we’d need to produce distinct citation counts based on citatations of articles in philosophical works and in non-philosophical works. It would be useful to hear if anyone is working on that or  related matters.

In general, philosophy has a high rate of uncited publications. If jargon is a contributing factor to that, it would be good to find out.

Related: “Biting the Bullet”: A Note on Style from Caspar Hare

Pyramids of lies: Some more from Stefan Zweig

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/04/2021 - 4:34pm in

I continue listening to Stefan Zweig’s description of the disasters of the twentieth century a passage of which I’ll reproduce below.

My big essay on the Productivity Commission’s Draft Indigenous Evaluation Strategy represented a bit of intellectual progress for me. As I wrote it, my previous decade of experience and reflection poured out as anecdotes all reinforcing a point which, once I had articulated it to myself I saw elsewhere. I’d read Hannah Arendt’s “Lying in Politics: Reflections on The Pentagon Papers” ages before, and been struck by her horror that the whole thing had snowballed from officials’ understanding that saving face was enough of a reason to kill millions of Vietnamese, tens of thousands of American kids and ruin the global economy. But only now did I focus on her other central point which is that a system of lies many of them small white(ish) lies had snowballed into official perceptions that were functionally unhinged from reality. A system in which, speaking or even thinking the truth was not thinkable, let alone sayable.

My essay argued in effect that the same thing was going on in Indigenous affairs – and in most other areas of ‘thick policy and practice‘ – but that it was immensely more subtle built on a thousand evasions large and small. By not putting itself or the system through the discomfort of looking the issue in the eye, the PC was effectively making itself part of the problem – and helping the system reach for its next fad-diet (evaluation) – rather than point it toward the preconditions of some substantial change.

In a teleconference with the folks from the Centre for Public Impact in London, they who told me of their own recent publication of a piece from someone in local government which puts it all more starkly:

I spent 10 years of my life writing. I wrote neighbourhood plans, partnership strategies, the Local Area Agreement, stretch targets, the Sustainable Community Strategy, sub regional infrastructure plans, funding bids, monitoring documents, the Council Plan and service plans. These documents describe the performance of local government and its partners.

I have a confession to make. Much of it was made up. It was fudged, spun, copied and pasted, cobbled together and attractively formatted. I told lies in themes, lies in groups, lies in pairs, strategic lies, operational lies, cross cutting lies. I wrote hundreds of pages of nonsense. Some of it was my own, but most of it was collated from my colleagues across the organisation and brought together into a single document. As a policy, partnerships and performance officer in local government, this was my speciality and my profession.

Why did I do it? I did this because it was my job.

And so onto Zweig below the fold:

I do not mean to overestimate these small, isolated attempts of ours [at various ruses by which intellectuals could foil quite comprehensive censorship to model a certain solidarity of respect across enemy lines when it had suddenly become fashionable to excoriate all things from enemy nations]. Of course they had no influence at all on the course of events. But they helped us ourselves and many unknown readers. They alleviated the dreadful isolation and despair in which a man with genuinely humane feelings in the twentieth century found himself, and now, twenty-five years later, finds himself again—just as powerless, if not more so, against all-powerful opposition. I was well aware at the time that I could not rid myself of the real burden with these little protests and devious literary ruses. Gradually, the plan of a book began to take shape in my mind. It was to be a book in which I did not just make a few points, but set out in detail my attitude to the time and its people, to catastrophe and war.

But for a literary discussion of war as a whole, there was something I still lacked: I had never seen it at first-hand. I had now been anchored to the War Archive office for almost a year, and the reality, war in its true and terrible aspect, was in progress far away and out of sight. I had more than once been offered an opportunity to visit the front; major newspapers had asked me three times to go there as a war reporter for them. But any account I wrote in that capacity would have committed me to presenting the war in an exclusively positive, patriotic light, and I had sworn to myself—an oath that I kept after 1940 as well—never to write a word approving of the war or denigrating any other nation. Now, by chance, an opportunity did offer itself. The great Austrian-German offensive had broken through the Russian lines at Tarnów in the spring of 1915, conquering Galicia and Poland in a single determined advance. The War Archive wanted the originals of all the Russian proclamations and placards to be collected for its libraries from the Austrian-occupied area before they could be torn down or otherwise destroyed. The Colonel, who happened to know about my collecting methods, asked if I would handle the assignment. I naturally set out at once, and an all-purpose permit was made out enabling me to travel by any military train and move freely wherever I liked, without being dependent on any particular authority or directly subordinate to an office or a superior. Producing this document led to some odd incidents—I was not an officer, only an acting sergeant major, and I wore a uniform without any distinguishing marks on it. But when I showed my mysterious permit it aroused great respect, for the officers at the front and the local officials alike suspected that I must be some kind of general-staff officer travelling incognito or carrying out a secret mission. As I avoided the officers’ messes and stayed only in hotels, I also had the advantage of being outside the huge army machine, and could see what I wanted to without needing ‘guidance’.

My real task of collecting the proclamations was not difficult. Whenever I went to a Galician town, to Tarnów, Drohobych or Lemberg, there would be several Jews at the station, known as ‘factors’, whose professional business it was to supply anything a visitor might want. It was enough for me to tell one of these jacks-of-all-trades that I would like to get the proclamations and placards from the Russian occupation, and the factor would scurry off quick as a weasel, passing on the job in some mysterious way to dozens of sub-factors, and three hours later, without moving a step myself, I would have the material all collected and as complete as it could possibly be. Thanks to this excellent organisation I had time to see a great deal, and I did. Above all, I saw the wretched state of the civilian population, whose eyes were still darkened by the horror of what they had experienced. I saw the misery of the Jews in their ghettos, something of which I had entertained no idea, living eight or twelve to a room on the ground floor or in the basement of a building. And I saw the ‘enemy’ for the first time. In Tarnów, I came upon the first transport carrying Russian prisoners of war. They sat penned up in a large rectangular space on the ground, smoking and talking, guarded by two or three dozen middle-aged Tyrolean reservists, most of them bearded, looking as ragged and unkempt as the prisoners, a far cry from the smart, clean-shaven soldiers in their neat uniforms pictured at home in the illustrated papers. There was nothing at all martial or draconian in their manner. The prisoners showed no inclination to escape, and the Austrian reservists obviously had no idea of strictly observing their guard duties. They sat with their prisoners in a comradely fashion, and the fact that they could not communicate in each other’s languages amused both sides inordinately. They exchanged cigarettes and laughed. One Tyrolean reservist took photographs of his wife and children out of his dirty old wallet and showed them to the ‘enemy’, who all in turn admired them, asking questions with their fingers—was this particular child three or four years old? I had an irresistible feeling that these simple, even primitive men saw the war in a much clearer light than our university professors and writers; they regarded it as a misfortune that had befallen them, there was nothing they could do about it, and anyone else who was the victim of such bad luck was a kind of brother. This was a consoling realisation to accompany me on my entire journey, past towns that had been shot to pieces and shops that had obviously been looted, because bits of furniture lay about in the middle of the street like broken limbs and gutted entrails. And the well-cultivated fields among the war-torn areas made me hope that within a few years all traces of the destruction would have disappeared. Of course at the time I could not yet guess that, just as quickly as the traces of war would disappear from the face of the earth, so too the memory of its horrors could be blotted out of human memory.

And I had not yet seen the real horror of war in those first days; when I did, it was worse than my worst fears. Almost no regular passenger trains were running, so I travelled sometimes on open artillery carriages, sitting on the limber of a field gun, sometimes in one of those cattle trucks where exhausted men slept in the stench among and on top of each other, looking like cattle already butchered even as they were taken to the slaughter. But worst of all were the hospital trains, which I had to use two or three times. How different they were from those well-lit, white, clean hospital trains where the Archduchesses and high-born ladies of Viennese society had undergone training as nurses at the beginning of the war! What I now saw, shuddering, was ordinary freight carriages without real windows, only a narrow vent for air, and lit inside by oil lamps black with soot. Primitive stretchers stood side by side, all of them occupied by groaning, sweating men, pale as death, struggling for air in the dense stink of excrement and iodoform. The soldiers acting as medical orderlies were so exhausted that they swayed rather than walked; there was no sign of the immaculate white sheets of the official photographs. Men lay on straw or the hard stretchers, covered with bloodstained blankets, and in every carriage there were already two or three dead among their groaning, dying comrades. I spoke to the doctor who, as he admitted to me, had really been only a dentist in a small Hungarian town and had not done any surgery for years. He had already telegraphed ahead to seven stations for morphine, but it was all gone, and he had no cotton wool or clean bandages left to last the twenty hours before we reached the Budapest hospital. He asked me to assist him, because his staff were so tired that they couldn’t go on. I did my best, clumsily enough, but I could at least make myself useful by getting out at every station and helping to carry back a few buckets of water—impure, dirty water, meant for the locomotive, but now it was a blessing to help us at least wash the men a little and scour the blood off the carriage floors. And the soldiers of all imaginable nationalities, cast up together in this moving coffin, were in additional personal difficulty because of the Babel of different languages. Neither the doctor nor the medical orderlies knew Ruthenian or Croatian. The only man who could do anything at all to help was a white-haired old priest who, in the same way as the doctor feared running out of morphine, lamented his inability to perform his sacred duty because he had no oil for the sacrament of the Last Unction. He said he had never administered it to so many people in his life before as in this last, single month. And it was from him that I heard a comment I have never forgotten, uttered in his harsh, angry voice. “I am sixty-seven years old. I have seen a great deal. But I never thought humanity capable of such a crime.”

The hospital train on which I travelled back came into Budapest early in the morning. I went straight to a hotel, first to get some sleep; the only place to sit in the train had been on my suitcase. I slept until about eleven, for I had been exhausted, and then quickly dressed to go and find some breakfast. But after taking only my first few steps I kept feeling that I ought to rub my eyes to see whether I was dreaming. It was one of those bright, sunny days that are still spring-like in the morning but are summer by midday, and Budapest was as beautiful and carefree as I had ever seen it. Women in white dresses promenaded arm-in-arm with officers, who suddenly looked to me as if they belonged to some army entirely different from the one I had seen only yesterday and the day before yesterday. With the smell of iodoform from the transport of wounded soldiers still clinging to my clothes, still in my mouth and my nostrils, I saw them buying little bunches of violets and presenting them gallantly to the ladies, I saw immaculate cars being driven down the streets by immaculately shaved, well-dressed gentlemen. And all this eight or nine hours by express train away from the front line! But did anyone have a right to blame these people? Wasn’t it the most natural thing in the world for them to be alive and trying to enjoy their lives? Wasn’t it natural for them to seize on everything that they still could, a few nice clothes, the last happy hours, perhaps out of the very feeling that all this was under threat? It was precisely when you had seen what frail, vulnerable creatures human beings are, lives capable of being shattered in a thousandth of a second, together with all their memories and discoveries and ecstasies, that you understood how the prospect of a morning spent promenading by the shining river brought thousands out to see the sun, perhaps more keenly aware than ever before of themselves, their own blood, their own lives. I was almost reconciled to what had shocked me at first. But then, unfortunately, an obliging waiter brought me a Viennese newspaper. I tried to read it, and now revulsion did overcome me in the shape of real anger. I saw all those phrases about an inflexible will to victory, the low casualties among our own troops and the huge losses suffered by the enemy—the lies of wartime leapt out at me naked, gigantic and shameless. The ladies and gentleman casually parading in that carefree way were not the guilty ones, the guilty were those using words to stir up bellicose feeling. But we too were guilty if we did not do our best to counter them.

 

Now I really did feel a powerful urge to do something against the war! I had the material ready to hand; to get me started I had needed only this last visible confirmation of what instinct told me. I had recognised the enemy whom I must fight—the false heroism that would rather send others to suffering and death, the cheap optimism of unscrupulous prophets promising political and military victory, keeping the slaughter going, and behind them the chorus they had hired, the “wordsmiths of war”,2 as Werfel called them in his fine poem. Anyone who expressed reservations was disturbing them in their patriotic business; anyone who uttered a warning was derided as a pessimist; anyone who opposed the war which inflicted no suffering on them personally was branded a traitor. It was always the same, the whole pack throughout history who called cautious people cowards, humane people weak, only to be at a loss themselves in the hour of disaster that they had rashly conjured up. Because the pack were always the same. They had mocked Cassandra in Troy, Jeremiah in Jerusalem, and I had never before understood the tragedy of those great figures as I did now, in a time so like theirs. From the first I had not believed in ‘victory’, and I knew only one thing for certain—even if victory could in fact be gained at the expense of countless victims, it did not justify that sacrifice. But I was alone among my friends with these warnings, and the wild howl of triumph even before the first shot was fired, the division of the spoils even before the first battle, often made me doubt whether I myself was mad among all these clever heads, or perhaps was the only person to be shockingly sober amidst their intoxication. So it was only natural for me to describe my own situation—the tragic situation of the ‘defeatist’, a word that had been coined to impute a wish for defeat to those anxious for reconciliation—and I did it in the form of a play. As a symbol, I chose the character of Jeremiah, the prophet issuing warnings in vain. But I was not setting out to write a ‘pacifist’ drama, expressing truisms in verse to the effect that peace is better than war; I wanted to show that a man despised as weak and fearful in a time of enthusiastic feeling is generally the only one who, when defeat comes, not only endures but rises above it. From the time of my very first play, Thersites, I had constantly turned to the question of the mental superiority of the defeated. I was always attracted to showing how any form of power can harden a human being’s heart, how victory can bring mental rigidity to whole nations, and to contrasting that with the emotional force of defeat painfully and terribly ploughing through the soul. In the middle of war, while others, celebrating triumph too soon, were proving to one another that victory was inevitable, I was plumbing the depths of the catastrophe and looking for a way to emerge from them.

Unconsciously, however, by choosing a Biblical subject I had touched on something that so far had lain in me unexploited—my common ground with the Jews and their story, founded in either blood or tradition. Were not they my people, who had been defeated again and again by all other nations, over and over again, and yet had endured thanks to a mysterious power? And was that power not the one that, through a strong effort of the will, could overcome defeat by always enduring it? Our prophets had known in advance about the constant persecution and exile that still keeps us apart today, like chaff thrown into the street, and had taken defeat as an affirmation and even a blessed way to God. Had a time of trial not always been a gain to society and to individuals? I felt that was so as I wrote my play, the first of my works that I myself thought was really worth something. I know today that without all that I went through then in the Great War, without that fellow feeling and anticipation of the future, I would still have been the writer I was before the war, con moto—with emotion—as the musical term puts it, but gently so, not intensely moved to my very heart. Now, for the first time, I had the feeling that I was really speaking for myself and for my times. In trying to help others, I helped myself to write what is my most personal and private work, together with Erasmus, in which I made my way out of a similar crisis in 1934, the period of Hitler. From the moment when I began trying to construct it, I did not suffer so deeply from the tragedy of the times.

I had not expected any visible success from this play. Tackling as it did so many questions posed by prophets, by pacifists, by Jews, and through the choral construction of the closing scenes, rising to a hymn by the defeated to their fate, the extent of the play had grown so far beyond the usual length of a drama that in performance it would have occupied two or even three evenings in the theatre. And then, how was anyone going to produce a play on the German stage that spoke of defeat, even praised it, while every day the newspapers were urging, ‘Death or victory!’? I could consider it a miracle if the text was ever printed, but even in the worst case, that is that it was not, it had at least helped me through the worst of those times. I had said in my dialogue everything I could not say in conversation with those around me. I had thrown off the burden weighing on my mind and recovered my true self. At the very moment when everything in me was saying, ‘No’, to what was going on, I had found a way of saying ‘Yes’ to myself.

$2 Million Gift Endows Kierkegaard Chair at St. Olaf

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 14/04/2021 - 10:28pm in

Tags 

News, philosophy

The Department of Philosophy at St. Olaf College will soon have a new endowed position—the Kierkegaard Chair in Christian Philosophy—thanks to a $2 million gift to the school.


[Portrait of Soren Kierkegaard by Fabrizio Cassetta/LAUTIR]

“We are thrilled to know our resources for teaching Christian philosophy, as well as 19th-century continental philosophy (including critics of Christianity), will soon be greatly enhanced,” associate professor of philosophy and department chair Danny Muñoz-Hutchinson said, according to a university press release.

St. Olaf College is home to the Howard and Edna Hong Kierkegaard Library.

The donors have chosen to remain anonymous.

Mini-Heap

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 13/04/2021 - 9:43pm in

Tags 

Links, philosophy

More links for the Heap…

  1. What should you do as the commenter on a philosophy paper? — some common and not-so-common options, from Jonathan Ichikawa (UBC)
  2. What’s the use of impostor syndrome? — Stephen Gadsby (Monash) thinks it may be motivating
  3. “He is much more than an intellectual, he is an adventurer of ideas” — “Voltaire in Love” is a new four-episode Franco-Belgian mini-series
  4. “Pro-choice advocates have deliberately avoided engaging moral or ethical questions about abortion” — they shouldn’t, argues Nathan Nobis (Morehouse) and Jonathan Dudley (JHU)
  5. “All I knew was that it was interesting” — Stephen Darwall (Yale) interviewed by Connie Rosati (UT Austin) about his life and work in philosophy in PEA Soup’s “Mentees Interviewing Mentors” series
  6. “A surprisingly underexplored question is whether many people have thoughts” — so they did a study. The good news is “The results were consistent with everyone having thoughts,” but there might be worries about the methodology
  7. “Social robots might change the social moral order by changing the metaphors that humans use to understand themselves” — with the upshot that we will be more likely to think in utilitarian ways, argues John Danaher (NUI)

Mini-Heap posts usually appear when 7 or so new items accumulate in the Heap of Links, the collection of items from around the web that may be of interest to philosophers. Discussion welcome.

The Heap of Links consists partly of suggestions from readers; if you find something online that you think would be of interest to the philosophical community, please send it in for consideration for the Heap. Thanks!

Devastating Cuts at Laurentian University To Philosophy & Many Other Programs

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 13/04/2021 - 7:50am in

Following years of extraordinary mismanagement by administrators, Laurentian University is attempting to address its current financial insolvency by eliminating a shocking number of academic programs and tenured positions. The Department of Philosophy and several of its faculty are among those slated for elimination.


[“Here’s what’s left of the Faculty of the Arts at Laurentian University” – Christian Pelletier]

100 professors at Laurentian received termination notices today, and 58 undergraduate programs and 11 graduate programs will cease, the CBC reports. In addition to philosophy, programs in mathematics, physics, political science, anthropology, environmental science and studies, and many other fields were cut. The full list of canceled programs is here.

The Globe and Mail provides the background against which the cuts are taking place:

Laurentian declared insolvency in February just as it was on the verge of being unable to meet payroll. It has debts of nearly $100-million from a building spree that didn’t produce enrolment gains and it ran deficits in the range of $2-million to $5-million a year for several years, according to its court filings. It also spent millions in grants earmarked for research to keep the lights on, owing in part to the practice of having just one bank account where incoming funds from various sources were mixed. [emphasis added]

The university is effectively declaring bankruptcy, seeking protection from creditors as it restructures itself. The Globe and Mail reports:

It’s the first time a publicly funded university in Canada has used a court process normally reserved for private corporations, the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act, which gives the court wide latitude to achieve a settlement. The Laurentian Faculty Association, which represents about 380 professors at Laurentian and its federated universities [Sudbury, Huntington and Thorneloe Universities; see here], has criticized the use of this court process for a public institution. The provincial government has so far refused to heed calls to step in to help, despite protests in Sudbury…

Laurentian has made clear it intends to reduce teaching costs through the insolvency process, rather than through the financial exigency clause in its collective agreements. Faculty say they tried to negotiate with the university for months before the insolvency was triggered, but the university refused.

Laurentian University’s president and vice-chancellor is Robert Haché; the members of the Board of Governors are listed here. Other information about the Laurentian University administration can be found here.

The faculty terminations are effective April 30th. Philosophers Brett Buchanan and Gillian Crozier are among those who have publicly shared that they are among the faculty to be laid off.

(via Ben Hale)

UPDATE (4/15/21): A group of students is working on raising funds for students affected at Laurentian University in both Undergraduate and Graduate programs to assist them during this difficult and unprecedented time.

 

 

The Battle for Philosophy in Serbian Schools (guest post)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 12/04/2021 - 10:30pm in

Recently, the Serbian government eliminated philosophy from its required courses in high schools, replacing it with a set of electives (one of which is “logic and ethics”), and raising concerns not just about the education of students but also about those responsible for teaching the philosophy courses losing their jobs.

In the following guest post, Ivan Vučković, who earned his degree in philosophy from the University of Niš, and who works as a philosophy teacher in a few secondary schools in Serbia, calls upon fellow philosophers and teachers in Serbia and around the world to fight for philosophy’s place in the education of today’s youth.


[Lana Vasiljevic, “Silent Talk”]

The Battle for Philosophy in Serbian Schools
by Ivan Vučković

In a few years, philosophy as a subject in high schools will no longer exist in Serbia. Since I teach this subject in several high schools, I will lose my job in ten years’ time. Unfortunately, however, not only myself, but also all of my colleagues from Serbia are in the same situation.

Obviously, philosophy has begun to seriously bother someone. The question is who and why (especially now)? Why do we want to exclude the basis of all sciences from schools? Who are the “sages” that decided that such an “education reform” should be implemented?

In addition to the problems concerning job positions, an even bigger and more salient problem is that future generations, if the situation remains unchanged, would be deprived of the option to obtain an understanding of what it means to think argumentatively and, therefore, look at one and the same topic through infinitely many lenses, bearing in mind many options and possibilities.

Being at least somewhat familiar with the existence of one of the earliest civilizations of this world, we are aware that some of the most important minds of all time (mathematicians, physicists, scientists, etc.) were in fact philosophers (such prominent minds include Pythagoras, Leonardo da Vinci, Descartes, Leibniz, Newton, etc.). It is clear that society cannot give rise to true intellectuals if people are not ready to examine the implications of their work more widely and deeply, and constantly improve their thinking by reflecting on what they do—which are some of the central skills and habits taught in philosophy.

Having recently discussed this issue with Professor Noam Chomsky, as well as with several of my colleagues from Austria and Switzerland, it became clear that everyone agreed on one thing: we are in a problematic situation, but these are our problems, and we have to face and resolve them ourselves.

Therefore, teachers will have to stand united in order to save what can be saved. Some have already begun to do so. However, in this fight, institutions and all the media in this country must get involved as soon as possible.

I have been working on the promotion of philosophy and philosophical thinking for a long time. However, this particular struggle concerns all of us. I urge every person to take this problem seriously and consider it carefully. It is not too late to save the children trapped in everyday hyperbanality today—but tomorrow, it might be.

Undoubtedly, this is an ongoing issue in Serbia and even the bigger part of Europe. Modern society seems to eliminate the need for critical thinking and individuality. Destroying the institutions that stand against this trend and that help us examine our current situation and developments, like a school curriculum that requires philosophy, will take a severe toll which will not be merely local. The expulsion of philosophy indeed is a global issue.

The more things change … Stefan Zweig on the difference in mood attending the outbreak the two World Wars

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 12/04/2021 - 5:02pm in

I’ve been listening to The World of Yesterday, the memoirs Stefan Zweig. Zweig was probably the best-known author in 1930s Europe and produced a mountain of material. Essays, fiction, history, poetry, translations, you name it. Today few know of him, though that may be different in the German-speaking world. He was known to my Viennese grandmother so it seemed like a great book to transport me into the world that produced my Dad. The memoirs was produced shortly before departing this world by suicide in Brazil (of all places) in 1942. Zweig was a great advocate for, and optimist about the European project. How you manage that from the late 1930s on is a bit beyond me, but there you go. As Manning Clark used to say “who knows what goes on in the heart of a mango?”.

Be that as it may, I was fascinated to hear his description of the blind optimism before WWI, the conviction of the educated classes that progress was ineluctable, that nothing really serious could ever really happen to Europe as its culture grew in sophistication, it’s economy grew in wealth, and its policy transformed towards ever more democratic governance. And then it all changed. There was genuine horror that war was breaking out, but then a sublime moment of calm and unreality as war was organised in front of people’s eyes and the propaganda started gearing up.

I’ve reproduced below Zweig’s musing on the change in atmosphere as WWI breaks out and how utterly different things were 25 years later when it all happened again. It struck me that there’s a pretty direct analogue between what we thought we might be able to achieve as a society at the height of the optimism of the 1960s with its War on Poverty and the various crusades to build the Great Society and the endless disappointments of today. In both cases there’s been a largely deserved collapse of what sociologists now call ‘vertical trust’ – the trust the people have in the institutions and the people ‘above them’, while their horizontal trust – their trust in each other continues on its fairly happy way.

And then there’s the keenness the educated classes feel to be propagandists – just like today – though in peacetime they’re neatly arranged into advocates of the left and right.

Next morning, in Austria, there were notices up in every station announcing general mobilisation. The trains were full of recruits who had just joined up, flags waved, music boomed out, and in Vienna I found the whole city in a fever. The first shock of the war that no one wanted, not the people or the government, the war that, contrary to the intentions of the diplomats who had been playing games of bluff, had slipped out of their clumsy hands, had now turned to sudden enthusiasm. Parades formed in the streets, suddenly there were banners, streamers, music everywhere. The young recruits marched along in triumph, their faces bright because they, ordinary people who passed entirely unnoticed in everyday life, were being cheered and applauded.

To be perfectly honest, I must confess that there was something fine, inspiring, even seductive in that first mass outburst of feeling. It was difficult to resist it. And in spite of my hatred and abhorrence of war, I would not like to be without the memory of those first days. Thousands and hundreds of thousands of people felt, as never before, what they would have been better advised to feel in peace—that they belonged together. A city of two million, a country of almost fifty million, felt at this moment that they were witnessing history being made, experiencing a moment that would never return, and that everyone was called upon to fling his tiny self into this ardent fire to be cleansed there of all egotism. Differences of social station, language, class and religion were submerged at this one moment in a torrential stream of fraternal feeling. Strangers spoke to one another in the street; people who had avoided each other for years shook hands. Every single individual felt his own ego enhanced; he was no longer the isolated human being he had been before, he was a part of the whole, one of the people, and his person, formerly ignored, had acquired significance. Every little post office worker who usually worked from morning to night, Monday to Saturday, sorting letters without a break, every clerk, every cobbler suddenly saw another possibility lying ahead—he could be a hero, the women were already making much of men in uniform, those who were not going to the front respectfully bestowed the romantic term of hero in advance on those who were. They acknowledged the unknown power that was raising them above their ordinary lives; even their grieving mothers and anxious wives were ashamed, in these first hours of elation, to show their only too natural feelings. But perhaps there was a deeper, more mysterious force at work in this intoxicating frenzy. The great wave broke over humanity so suddenly, with such violence, that as it foamed over the surface it brought up from the depths the dark, unconscious primeval urges and instincts of the human animal—what Freud perceptively described as a rejection of civilisation, a longing to break out of the bourgeois world of laws and their precepts for once and indulge the ancient bloodlust of humanity. And perhaps these dark powers also played their part in the wild intoxication that mingled alcohol with the joy of self-sacrifice, a desire for adventure and sheer credulity, the old magic of the banners and patriotic speeches—an uncanny frenzy that eludes verbal description but is capable of affecting millions, the frenzy that for a moment gave wild and almost irresistible momentum to the worst crime of our time. Today’s generation, who have seen only the outbreak of the Second World War with their own eyes, may perhaps be wondering: Why didn’t we feel the same? Why did the masses not burn with the same enthusiasm in 1939 as in 1914? Why did they simply obey the call to arms with grave determination, silently, fatalistically? Wasn’t it the same as before, was there not even something higher and more sacred at stake in the war now being fought,4 which began as a war of ideas and was not just about borders and colonies?

The answer is simple—they did not feel the same because the world in 1939 was not as childishly naive and gullible as in 1914. At that earlier time people still blindly trusted the authorities governing them; no one in Austria would have ventured to think that, in his eighty-fourth year, the venerated father of his country Emperor Franz Joseph would have called on his people to fight without extreme necessity, or would have asked men to sacrifice their own blood if evil, malicious and criminal adversaries were not threatening the peace of the realm. The Germans, in their turn, had read their Kaiser’s telegrams to the Tsar, in which he strove to keep the peace. Ordinary men still felt a great respect for those in high places, government ministers and diplomats, and were sure of their insight and honesty. If war was upon them, then it could be only have happened against the will of their own statesmen, who could not themselves be to blame in any way; no one in the entire country was to be blamed at all. Consequently the criminals and warmongers must all be on the other side; it was in self-defence that they were taking up arms, self-defence against a villainous and malicious enemy who had attacked the peaceful countries of Germany and Austria for no reason whatsoever. In 1939, on the other hand, this almost religious faith in the honesty or at least the ability of your own government had disappeared throughout the whole of Europe. Nothing but contempt was felt for diplomacy after the public had watched, bitterly, as it wrecked any chance of a lasting peace at Versailles. At heart, no one respected any of the statesmen in 1939, and no one entrusted his fate to them with an easy mind. The nations remembered clearly how shamelessly they had been betrayed with promises of disarmament and the abolition of secret diplomatic deals. The least of French road-workers mocked Daladier; in Britain any faith in Chamberlain’s vision had gone after Munich, when he brought home “peace for our time” from negotiations, and in Italy and Germany the people looked apprehensively at Mussolini and Hitler. Where, they asked themselves, will they drive us now? Of course they could put up no resistance—the fatherland was at stake, so soldiers must bear arms and women must let their children go, although not now, as in the past, believing firmly that the sacrifice was unavoidable. They obeyed, but in no spirit of jubilation. Men went to the front, but not dreaming of becoming heroes; nations and individuals alike felt that they were merely the victims of either ordinary political folly or the power of an incomprehensible and malicious fate.

And what did the people as a whole know about war in 1914, after almost half-a-century of peace? They had no idea what it was like, they had hardly ever thought of it. War was a legend, and its distance in time from them made it seem heroic and romantic. They still saw it as it was shown in school textbooks and the picture galleries in museums—daring attacks by cavalrymen in immaculate uniforms, fatal shots always obligingly fired straight through the heart, the whole campaign an exultant triumphal march. “We’ll be home for Christmas!” cried the recruits in 1914, smiling at their mothers. Who in the whole country still remembered what war was really like? At the outside, a few old men who had fought in 1866 against Prussia, now our ally, and what a swift, bloodless, faraway war that had been, a campaign of three weeks ending before anyone had stopped to draw breath, and without too many casualties! A quick excursion into the realms of romance, a bold and virile adventure—that was how the ordinary man imagined war in 1914, and young people were genuinely afraid they might miss out on this wonderfully exciting event in their lives. That was why they impetuously flocked to join the army; that was why they sang cheerfully in trains taking them to the slaughter. A red wave of blood surged feverishly through the veins of the entire Reich. But the generation of 1939 knew about war. They no longer deceived themselves. They knew that war was barbaric, not romantic. They knew it would last for years and years, a part of their lifespan that they would never get back. They knew that you did not set out adorned with oak leaves and coloured ribbons to attack the enemy; instead, thirsty and infested with lice, you vegetated for weeks on end in trenches and military quarters waiting to be smashed to pieces or mutilated from a distance, without ever having set eyes on your adversary. You knew in advance from the newspapers and cinema newsreels about the new and terrible arts of technological destruction, you knew that huge tanks crushed the wounded in their path and aircraft blew women and children to pieces in their beds, you knew that a world war in 1939, thanks to its soulless mechanisation, would be a thousand times worse, more bestial and inhuman than any earlier war mankind had seen. None of the generation of 1939 believed in a just war with God on their side any longer, and yet worse, they did not even believe in the just and lasting peace that it was supposed to usher in. They still remembered only too clearly all the disappointments the last war had brought—poverty instead of prosperity, bitterness instead of satisfaction, famine, hyperinflation, riots, the loss of civil liberties, enslavement to the state, nerve-racking insecurity and the mutual suspicion of all and sundry.

That was the difference. The war of 1939 had intellectual ideas behind it—it was about freedom and the preservation of moral values, and fighting for ideas makes men hard and determined. In contrast, the war of 1914 was ignorant of the realities; it was still serving a delusion, the dream of a better world, a world that would be just and peaceful. And only delusion, not knowledge, brings happiness. That was why the victims went to the slaughter drunk and rejoicing, crowned with flowers and wearing oak leaves on their helmets, while the streets echoed with cheering and blazed with light, as if it were a festival. …

My position within my circle of friends proved … difficult …. Most of our Austrian writers, who had little European experience and saw life entirely from the German point of view, thought their best course was to reinforce the enthusiasm of the masses, promoting the alleged glories of war with literary calls to arms or scholarly ideologies. Almost all the German writers, headed by Hauptmann and Dehmel, thought it their duty to imitate the bards of ancient Germanic times and inspire the advancing warriors, by singing lays and casting runes, to go willingly to their death. Poems rhyming Krieg—war—with Sieg—victory—and Not—necessity—with Tod—death—came thick and fast. Writers swore to have nothing to do culturally with a Frenchman or an Englishman ever again. Indeed, overnight they took to denying that there had ever been any such thing as British or French culture. It was all slight and worthless, they said, by comparison with German art and the German nature. Scholars were even worse—all of a sudden philosophers could think of nothing better than to call the war an “immersion in steel”, which would have a beneficial effect by keeping the strength of the nations from being sapped. They were joined by the medical doctors, who sang the praises of their new prosthetic limbs so eloquently that you almost felt like having a healthy leg amputated, so as to get it replaced by an artificial limb. The clerics of all religious faiths were not to be outdone and joined the chorus. Sometimes it was like listening to the rantings of a horde of men possessed, yet they were all figures whose reason, creative power and humane attitudes we had admired only a week or a month ago.

But the worst of this madness was that the majority of its proponents were honest men. Most of them were too old to do military service, or physically incapable of it, but felt it was their right and proper duty to make some kind of helpful contribution to the war. They owed what they had done in life to their language and their country, so now they wished to serve the country with its language. They would tell people what they wanted to hear—that right was entirely on one side in this conflict and wrong entirely on the other; Germany would triumph and the enemy be shamefully defeated—with no idea that they were betraying the writer’s true mission of preserving and defending values in common to all humanity. It is true that, once the fumes of that first intoxicating enthusiasm had dispersed, many of them were soon nauseated by the bitter taste of their own words in their mouths. But during those first months, the more wildly you raved the more of a hearing you got, and so writers on both sides shouted and sang in a crazy chorus.

To me, the most typical and distressing case of such well-meant yet pointless ecstasy was embodied in Ernst Lissauer. I knew him well. He wrote succinct, cogent and harsh little poems, yet he was the kindest man imaginable. Even now I remember how I had to tighten my lips to hide a smile when he first visited me. Instinctively, I had pictured the author of those pithy verses, which aimed for the utmost concision, as a lean, bony young poet. But into my room waddled a stout little man, fat as a barrel, with a friendly face above two double chins, bubbling over with enthusiasm and a sense of his own importance as his words tumbled over themselves. He was possessed by poetry; it was impossible to stop him quoting and reciting his own verses over and over again. For all his absurdities, you couldn’t help liking him because he was warm-hearted, honest and a good friend, and had an almost daemonic devotion to his art.

He came from a prosperous German family, had been educated at the Friedrich Wilhelm Grammar School in Berlin, and he was perhaps the most Prussian or Prussian-assimilated Jew I knew. He spoke no living language apart from German, and had never been outside Germany. Germany was the whole world to him, and the more German something was the more enthusiastic he felt about it. His heroes were Yorck, Luther and Stein;5 the German War of Liberation of 1813-1815 was his favourite subject. Bach was his musical idol; he played him very well in spite of his short, stubby, thick and doughy fingers. No one knew more about German poetry; no one was more in love with the German language or more enchanted by it—like many Jews whose families came to German culture only quite late in the day, he believed more fervently in Germany than the most fervent of native Germans.

When the war broke out, therefore, the first thing he did was hurry to the barracks and volunteer. I can imagine the mirth of the recruiting sergeants and their men as his stout form, panting for breath, made its way up the steps. They sent him straight away again. Lissauer was in despair, but now, like other writers, he wanted at least to serve Germany with his pen. As he saw it, everything the German newspapers and military communiqués said was Gospel truth. His country had been attacked, and the worst offender—this was how they had staged the scenario in Wilhelmstrasse6—was Lord Grey, the perfidious British Foreign Minister. Lissauer vented his belief that Britain was chiefly to blame for opposition to Germany and for the war in a Hymn of Hate For England, a poem—I do not now have it before me—which in cutting, succinct verse raised the writer’s abhorrence of that country to an eternal oath never to forgive England for its ‘crime’. Disastrously, it was soon obvious how easy it is to set the forces of hatred working, for here the stout, deluded little Jew Lissauer was anticipating Hitler. His poem had all the effect of a bomb thrown into an ammunition depot. Perhaps no poem made the rounds of Germany as quickly as his notorious Hymn of Hate, not even The Watch on the Rhine.7 The Kaiser was enthusiastic, and gave Lissauer the Order of the Red Eagle; the poem was printed in all the newspapers, schoolteachers read it to their pupils, army officers at the front recited it to their men until everyone knew the litany of hatred by heart. But even that was not enough. The little poem, set to music and arranged for a chorus, was performed in theatres; soon there was not a single one of the seventy million Germans populating the country at the time who did not know the Hymn of Hate For England from the first line to the last, and not long after that so did the whole world—if with rather less enthusiasm. Overnight, Ernst Lissauer had won the most fiery reputation that any poet ever did in that war. Later, it was to burn him like the shirt of Nessus. For no sooner was the war over, businessmen were beginning to trade again and politicians were genuinely making efforts to achieve a rapprochement, than they did all they could to disown a poem calling for eternal hostility to England. And to absolve themselves of any blame, they pilloried poor Lissauer, the ‘England-hater’, as the man solely responsible for the crazy hysteria of hatred that in point of fact was shared by everyone in 1914. All who had praised him then now turned ostentatiously away from him. The papers stopped printing his poems, and when he appeared among his literary colleagues a dismayed silence fell. Finally, deserted by one and all, he was exiled by Hitler from the Germany he loved with every fibre of his heart and died a forgotten man, a tragic victim of that one poem that had raised him so high, only to dash him down to the depths again.

NDPR to Publish More Reviews; New Editor Named

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/04/2021 - 4:05am in

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (NDPR), the well-known philosophical book review site whose production schedule had slowed owing to the death of editor Gary Gutting in 2019, will soon be ramping up its publication of reviews, and will be doing so under a new editor.

Jc Beall, current NDPR editor and O’Neill Family Professor of Philosophy at Notre Dame, will be turning over the editorship to Christopher Shields, the George N. Shuster Professor of Philosophy at Notre Dame, this coming June. Professor Beall sent along the following explanation of the changes:

Prof. Gary Gutting and Dr. Stacie Gutting created NDPR around 20 years ago. They ran the entire journal as a true labor of love, with advice and help from the NDPR Board, and with help from a part-time editorial assistant.  Very much like the SEP, which was created and run by Dr. Ed Zalta, NDPR soon became a prominent part of the philosophical profession — a venue to which all  philosophers turn, and one to which many outside of philosophy turn for updates on philosophical work and debate. After Gary Gutting died, Stacie Gutting continued to run the journal with help from a part-time editorial assistant. Eventually, Stacie stepped down, and — after just landing at Notre Dame — I agreed to take on the editorship. I spent the first 6 months learning and, in significant part, making explicit the NDPR system, and then turned towards running the process — only to be hit by the heights of the pandemic, which brought incoming reviews to a standstill, and incoming books from publishers to a trickle, not to mention the havoc the pandemic played in other respects.

At this stage (April 2021), I am very happy to say that NDPR is ready to run at its expected capacity again, as books are now regularly coming in for review, reviewers are able to reliably navigate their deadlines, and the NDPR system itself is well-defined. In addition to working with Notre Dame to update the website so as to accommodate mobile-device viewing, I worked with Dr. Tobias Flattery (Managing Editor), Prof. Jeff Speaks (Head of ND Philosophy), and the ND Arts & Letters Dean to install a more viable longterm staff structure, now involving the Editor, Managing Editor, and an Editorial Assistant. This is still a light staff for such a large production, but it is a viable one that should keep the journal smoothly running for years.

Despite the exciting place at which NDPR now sits, I myself am stepping down from the NDPR editorship to finish a handful of forthcoming books and papers. The very happy news is that Prof. Christopher Shields, the George N. Shuster Professor of Philosophy at Notre Dame, will be taking over as NDPR Editor. The official change will take place in June 2021. 

You can check out the current reviews at NDPR here.

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