Mind, Language, and Metaphilosophy: Early Philosophical Papers
Richard Rorty was one of the top American philosophers in the second half of the 20th Century, and now we get to read his early work, which help sets the foundation for his later work.
This collection brings together his early philosophical papers that were published in journals, and are just now being reprinted. With this collection students and teachers of philosophy will enjoy this work, and be able to explore one of the great thinkers of the 20th Century without having to search through old journals. The essays are presented in chronological order, from the earliest to the more recent. All of them focus on his early work. While Rorty himself felt these earlier writings were not up to par with his later, more seminal work, of which there are many large collections, it is an easily accessible introduction to modern 20th Century American philosophy. Like most modern philosophy the writing is highly technical; the average reader will be hard pressed to follow along. Even in its highly technical nature, this is still an important work and should not be ignored.
Cambridge University Press
Richard Rorty, Stephen Leach, Editor, James Tartaglia, Editor
Rational Polemics: Tackling the Ethical Dilemmas of Life
The format herein is a series of essays or musings. No attempt is expended to make weighty universal pronouncements, and, in fact, no attempt is made to use “proper” language, though the vocabulary is adult and educated. Editing is of a high level, and continuity within subjects is good. Those subjects are wide ranging and not picked for political correctness. In fact, the one word I would use to describe this ramble is “refreshing.”
Most of the ideas offered, and the explorations developed, will have some familiarity to long-term libertarians and even to many people who have simply engaged in brainstorming as sophomores. That does not diminish the book’s utility. As a direct result of Devens’ fearless approaches to intimidating topics, we are presented with an invaluable stretching tool for young minds, with a stimulus to resume thinking widely for older readers.
The writer quotes some weighty sources, but frequently just skips across a subject with the alacrity of an immortal negotiating a mine field. The fact that esoterica, like the morality of cannibalism under survival necessity and the courtesies of telephone courtship, are touched upon is an indicator of the freewheeling nature of this compendium.
I don’t want to trivialize Rational Polemics in the least. Devens has grounded his musings firmly in the rationality of freedom and free inquiry. He espouses self-ownership, the necessity of self-determination, and the sanctity of individuality.
“The Universal Farce” is his first chapter, with an exploration of the fallacies, con jobs, and irrationalities of religion, wherein the first mover/creator formula is debunked without any shyness. Devens credits the genesis of his book to long-standing disillusionment with religion. He does an admirable job gutting the fraud. In other segments, common courtesy, drug legalization, treatment of criminals, and the death penalty are addressed. Sometimes delving takes a good chapter, as on racism; elsewhere, as in drug legalization, a page and a half suffice.
If you have any interest in freedom of the mind, in personal freedoms, in thinking outside the box, this would be a good candidate for your bookshelf or for your high school or college student’s next gift.
Seamless Subtleties is one man’s journey to understand the meaning of existence, and its tight connection with humanity amid inconceivable pain. Drawing from his harrowing past, Raymond explores his traumatic experiences to extrapolate what makes people tick discordantly. Zeroing in on the two-dimensional existence of human beings — the tangible (cerebral) and the intangible (spiritual). Raymond’s eclectic journey is replete with specific tools to help others (especially those in the unbelievably inhuman conditions) live beyond the temporal to become “more creative and more connected to who we are” — all for the purpose of achieving being “one with the energy of life.”
Michael Raymond’s debut book is a chilling memoir, with a philosophical twist. Raymond opens with background from his dysfunctional childhood, quickly followed by his theoretical viewpoints. A matter of much more than mere semantics, Raymond differentiates between the brain (a power tool) and the mind (consciousness), and that one needs to be wary of the brain’s trappings to overtake enlightenment that can eventually whittle one’s identity “to the point of feeling meaningless.” Raymond breaks that down even further with an explanation of very detailed tools: his “SEER TRAPS” system, “fourteen reasons why we should value our intangible essence,” and the difference between wisdom and knowledge.
While his is an incredibly sad upbringing, Raymond only begins to scratch the surface of his past, before delving into his eclectic findings. Readers may confuse Raymond’s truth-seeking observations as leaning toward another bizarre attempt at metaphysics, until they read the remainder of his story. In fact, this reviewer is certain that no one will be prepared for the succession of heartless and unconscionable situations that heavily lace Raymond’s account. A victim of covert surveillance and harassment and familial treachery, Raymond candidly shares how his successful career and happy marriage suddenly took a nosedive. What follows is a disturbing list of experiences. Besides incarceration and institutionalization, including the associated physical and mental torture, Raymond states, “I’ve been stalked, invaded, robbed, vandalized, harassed, humiliated, demeaned, defamed, emotionally and physically tortured twenty-four hours a day for more than ten years.”
Since Raymond’s well-written memoir reads more like a creatively gripping thriller, one may momentarily forget that his first person narrative is a work of fact, not fiction. Unfortunately, “sicken” and “sordid” are but a few descriptive words that capture the essence of Raymond’s story. Yet amidst extreme duress, Raymond miraculously finds solace in silence by seeking mental awareness (via his tools) as a means of survival.
In closing, this reviewer believes that Raymond pens it best when he says, “writing this was the only way to get anyone to actually become fully aware of my whole story. The reader can select how much pain they can tolerate and when. This was my only avenue of expression left.” While highly recommended as a must-read, readers, pay heed to Raymond’s words since Seamless Subtleties is undoubtedly not intended for the faint of heart.
The Book of Eli
One day, an ordinary American male––working, married, with kids––wakes up in Heaven. The surprise comes because Eli Canaan has led a less-than-saintly life. True, he’s a nice guy: he recycles, coaches his kid’s team, helps his wife with the laundry and his children with homework, walks the dog. But he cheats on his wife regularly. So what’s he doing in Heaven?
In Moffie’s Heaven, adulterers are sent back to Earth as alley cats. Groucho Marx, smoking a cigar, cracking jokes, and arching his eyebrows, is the tour guide. He shows Eli around Heaven, explaining, among other things, that the absence of cats or dogs is not because D-O-G is God spelled backwards, but because people reincarnate as pets: Good people as well-treated pets, bad ones as abused animals.
Eli’s tour of Heaven provides a humorous framework for discussion of serious fundamentalist Christian theology, as well as popular psychological and conservative political ideas. Sigmund Freud, for example, analyzes Eli and uses AA vocabulary to lecture him genially about sex addiction. A shimmering Jesus reviews the Ten Commandments, scoring Eli’s performance, chastising him for his fixations, and urging him to observe the spirit, as well as the letter of the law. But Jesus, laughing in the symphonic tones of Mozart, reminds Eli to keep things light; after all, even the Twelve Apostles were cut-ups.
Eli’s meeting with Madalyn Murray O’Hair, an atheist for whom a stint in Heaven is pure Hell, opens a discussion of sex education and the ban on prayer in public schools, followed by the Catholic Church’s obligation to pay property taxes; Eli’s meeting with Ayn Rand initiates a forum on libertarian political ideals. Eli even gets advice from Moses, Mohammed, and Buddha.
Moffie’s jokes add spice to topics that some readers might otherwise find tedious. Some jokes are a bit discomfiting. Eli’s Jewish, for example, yet he does not seem bothered by Jesus’ jokes about Jews, like this one: “Why don’t Jewish mothers drink wine? Answer—Because it will interfere with their suffering.”
Throughout Eli’s tour and meetings with dignitaries, Eli dreads being sent back to earth as an alley cat—the fate of adulterers. But God, speaking in the voice of Orson Welles, has other plans for Eli.
The Philosophy of History: Naturalism and Religion
Here’s a challenge for you- combine a lengthy discussion of philosophy, naturalism, and religion and come up with a means to effectively explain the basic tenets of historiographical research to those who are unfamiliar with any of these topics. No, wait- James Stroud has already done all of the work for us. Our mission, (should we decide to accept it)is to develop a better understanding of the interplay of these subjects by reading the book, The Philosphy of History: Naturalism and Religion: A Historiographical Approach to Origins.
Author James Stroud explains the differences between naturalism and science, and how the concept of miracles as referred to within the religious arena cannot be measured using scientific methodology, and also cannot be logically explained using traditional scientific methodology. Stroud observes that it is pre-suppositional beliefs that form the basis for many traditional scientific conclusions regarding human origins, rather than empirical evidence. Science rejects supernatural concepts and explanations yet cannot objectively disprove phenomena via the laws of science, Stroud maintains that “…any closed- philosophical paradigm that does not allow the inference to the best explanation should be abandoned or at least challenged…”
In discussing the philosophy of history, Stroud encourages the reader to consider the nature of historical evidence, in light of the fact that history cannot be repeated. The reader is encouraged to question the degree, to which objectivity is possible, the challenges to correctly determining the accuracy of past historical reports and current inability to verify the absolute truth, due to human philosophical bias.
Stroud contends that the theory of naturalism is untenable and confines one to “… a strict pre-suppositional interpretation of the data.” Ultimately, Stroud supports an “open philosophy of history” as a science, rejects the current “closed philosophies”, and believes that the theories of deism and theism are plausible explanations to be considered and supported as viable alternatives to philosophical naturalism.
In support of his argument, Stroud submits four historic events for consideration: Historic Event number one: Origins of the Universe and Cosmological Constants; Historic Event number two: Origin of Life- Cambrian Explosion and Human Origins; Historic Event number three: Origin of Civilization before the Common Era; Historic Event number four: The Common Era of the Historical Jesus.
Stroud also invites readers to consider such profound questions as the place of religion in history, the objective meaning of history and what drives that meaning, the proper unit of study of the human past, broad historic patterns, cycles and irregularities to be discerned and objective measures of historic progress. There is also a consideration of many of the ways in which western thought’s linear path opposes the mythical conception of history and time.
Those who seek a deeper understanding of the basis of theories of human origin will very much enjoy the insights provided within this book. The theories of great philosophers such as Hegel, Nietzsche, and Focault may not be the usual fare for novice philosophers, and one must certainly put a “thinking cap” on before settling into this most provocative read.
There is much that is mystifying in Daniel M. Harrison’s Butterflies: The Strange Metamorphosis of Fact and Fiction in Today’s World. Mystifying, but far from edifying. For instance, why is Butterflies classified under “Philosophy?” To characterize the book as such implies that thought-provoking analyses bolstered by the promise of plausibility might be contained within its pages. Not so. With its concatenation of logical fallacies, factual inaccuracies and cheap, drugstore mysticism doubling as ersatz vatic insight, Butterflies is an insult, rather than a contribution to that discipline. Moreover, it is difficult to decide which is more unsettling, that Butterflies has enjoyed commercial success or that this sham of a book was published—and not by a vanity press? Butterflies has been called “ambitious” and “challenging.” Those adjectives apply, but not on account of staggering insight, complexity, or originality—what makes the Harrison’s work challenging is its conceptual aimlessness.
The author often muddles recklessly through concepts and fields he does not fully grasp, from hard sciences to the humanities feigning a knowledge that his claims and blatant absence of legitimately cited research bely. In its prologue, Butterflies promises readers access to “hyper-reality,” defined as a “zone of hard-core truth.” This slighting treatment of a concept supposedly foundational for the narrative is symptomatic of the diseased superficiality that pervades Butterflies. Harrison’s definition of “hyper-reality,” elides the term’s place in intellectual history, overlooking how “hyper-reality” was a contested term of semiotics that surfaced most visibly in French Structuralism of the 1960s, a movement that would influence fields from musicology to history for decades to come. It still does. Harrison’s shameful oversimplification is either an intentional erasure, a sign of unpardonable ignorance, or tacit assumptions about the audience’s ignorance.
Butterflies has its virtues, however. Harrison brings 20th century geopolitics, globalization, and recent economic trends together with skill and in approachable, conversational prose. Also, the structure of Harrison’s work is creative. Each chapter oscillates, forming a braid between chapters on non-fiction and fiction. This interlacing of the two gradually becomes a chiasmus — fact comes to seem as improbable as fiction, while fiction adopts a degree of unrelenting brutality generally reserved for reality. Moreover, this structure harmonizes with a key theme in the book about the notional separation of those two categories.
Still, creative structure cannot forgive the lack of intellectual rigor, coupled with counterfeit certitude that pervades Harrison’s roughly non-fictional chapters. In one non-fiction passage, Harrison challenges the theory of relativity. Sadly, his obvious ignorance of basic physics makes his posturing as a Wunderkind- juggernaut ready to crush basic precepts of the field ridiculous. Elsewhere, Harrison alludes to historical moments and figures with varying degrees of inaccuracy, at one point presenting what is little more than a simplistic, unconvincing inversion of the Platonic Theory of Forms, as if it were a revelation. Is the author indulging in parody at his own expense or is Harrison merely delusional? The fiction chapters, which often glamorize a dissipated elite, high on ephemeral pleasures and hollow successes, are nearly unbearable. The reason for discomfort is not related to explicit sexual content, but because it is written so poorly (and exhibits a peculiar obsession with grounding description of girls [eerily] and women by their breasts, cup size, and all). Perhaps Harrison believes that what is provocative is, a posteriori, compelling. If the author had demonstrated the ability to use, rather than abuse, language (errors are not merely stylistic, but grammatical), these chapters might have been less agonizing to read. Though one might object that Harrison is transcending the conventions of the English language, that defense would only be valid if he had first demonstrated mastery of it. One press release advertised Butterflies as a “manifesto of the millennial age.” If so, Harrison’s work is little more than an inadvertent, likely unearned, condemnation of a generation and an epoch.
This reviewer fervently hopes that Harrison has not captured a new Zeitgeist–one where charlatans are sages and ‘wisdom’ is spouted by the ignorant or, worse, by those who prefer to pander to ignorance, rather than erase it. Perhaps he is merely constructing a vast cautionary tale. At least the Lost Generation, poised at the start of the 20th century, produced some writing that one hopes is as lasting as Butterflies is ephemeral.