The two books discussed here join a current pushback against the concept of genocide. Nichanian focuses on the Armenian “Aghed” , inferring from his view of that event’s undeniability that “genocide is not a fact” . May’s critique assumes that groups don’t really—“objectively”—exist, as individuals do; thus, genocide—group murder—also has an “as if” quality so far as concerns the group victimized. On the one hand, then, uniqueness and sacralization; on the other hand, reductionism and diffusion. Alas, the historical and moral (...) claims in “defense” of both genocide and “genocide” survive. (shrink)
This paper describes one form of not-knowing the good that interferes with teaching ethics, namely the use of moral clichés to justify one’s moral behavior. After identifying some of the key problems with an uncritical acceptance of moral clichés , two common features of moral clichés are articulated.
Nature did not equip any of its creatures with wheels, but that means of locomotion was discovered anyway; an even swifter vehicle for the mind has been found in the atom—that irreducible unit which by virtue of its ubiquity provides reason with immediate access to alien objects, naturalizes nature, and urges an essential likeness beneath appearances so diverse that only an improbable imagination would even have placed them in a single world. The goal of atomism is to find one entity, (...) a building block which then in multiples constitutes the structures of reality and appearance. All that is needed, given this once and future One, is a set of transformational rules—and everything comes to life that has been dreamed of in the topologies of geometry, physics, history, even of metaphysics: a full representation of the world as it has been, is, will be. The ideology of atomism includes the assumption that, for structures distinguishable into parts and wholes, the parts precede the whole, temporally and logically. For the atomist, all structures can be analyzed in this way; that, in fact, turns out to be his definition of structure. This premise is already evident in the building-block universe first depicted by Democritus and Leucippus; it is no less present in the heady days of twentieth-century physics . It is slightly more pliable in latter-day atomists like Claude Lévi-Strauss and Noam Chomsky and their descendent structuralists; but here, too, atomic units of linguistic or social discourse are claimed as blind first causes of the sighted and complex structures allegedly derived from them. And if the followers of even these contemporary advocates find themselves still waiting for the promises of atomism to be kept, the imaginative turns of those promises—the binary code, the rules of an innate grammar—keep old expectations alive. In contrast to this general ideological assertion, the search for artistic atoms by poetics and aesthetic theory has lagged noticeably. We can see this disparity in the characteristic resistance to fragmentation by works of art; for many writers, the will of artistic appearance to exhibit itself as a whole, to insist on an undivided surface rather than on the elements within or beneath it, is precisely what distinguishes the structures of art from others. Even where a craftsmanlike impulse breaks into the surface of artistic unity , the pieces are usually counted teleologically: they matter as contributions to an effect, retrospectively. The artist himself, it is implied, deployed them in the first place to anticipate the unified surface; we , in turn, then understand them only in terms of that whole, not—with the atomist—by conjuring a unity from the earlier accidental joining of what then become accidental parts. (shrink)
The occurrence of earthquakes is usually ignored or discounted as an environmental issue, but the environmental relevance of the science of earthquake prediction is demonstrable. The social consequences of such predictions, when they are accurate, and even when they fail, have implications of such varied environmental issues as land-use control, building codes, social and economic costs. Lay members of the public are more directly involved in programs of earthquake prediction than in almost all other instances of scientific prediction, if only (...) because the scientific findings require public participation in order to have any effect at all. Attention must be paid, accordingly, to the effect of specific public and social values on the practice of earthquake prediction-ranging from such broadly based ones as conceptions of the general relation between man and nature to narrower ones like the cost-benefit analysis of a program of earthquake prediction itself. Because of the close connection between the efficacy of earthquake prediction and public attitudes, moreover, certain questions concerning the social character of “normal” science and the deprofessionalization of scientific institutions are highlighted in this context. (shrink)
Six questions are outlined and then responded to about Holocaust denial. These consider Holocaust denial’s view of the Holocaust counterfactually—if it had occurred; the presumed adequacy of the binary choice between Holocaust denial and affirmation; the status and credence of their own assertions among denial advocates; the often implied historiographic uniqueness of Holocaust denial; the contributions to Holocaust history of the denial position; the measures—scholarly, legislative, practical—that have been or might be directed at the phenomenon of Holocaust denial.
The history of Western philosophy is predominantly a history of written texts, but philosophers have lived in that history and looked back at it as if a dependence on such unusual and complex artifacts had nothing to do with the work of philosophy itself. The assumption behind this notion of a literary “museum without walls” is that philosophical meaning is self-generating and transparent—that both the medium and form of philosophical texts as they appear to the reader are accidental causes, with (...) no significant consequences for philosophical meaning itself. (shrink)
This paper describes one form of not-knowing the good that interferes with teaching ethics, namely the use of moral clichés to justify one’s moral behavior. After identifying some of the key problems with an uncritical acceptance of moral clichés, two common features of moral clichés are articulated.
Langer's first book, The Practice of Philosophy, is relevant to a discussion of the theory of the art work as symbol for the apparently perverse reason that it refers to the art work only tangentially. Where symbolism is mentioned, it is described in general terms that are largely indifferent to its consequences for the theory of art. It seems from this that Langer's consideration of the connection between the art work and the symbol is propagated by an early interest in (...) the symbol alone, and that only at a later stage in the evolution of her system does the idea of the symbol's congruity to the art work occur to her. This is not of itself a criticism of the system; but her eventual qualification of the description of art as symbol is pre-figured and underscored by the description's synthetic origins. What seems to occur by the time Problems of Art appears is that an over-literal adherence to a metaphor--the art work as a symbol of the life of feeling--is discerned, and gradually but severely reduced; the symbol, in short, collapses. (shrink)
ALTHOUGH THE LABEL of modernism is well-known for its elasticity, the usage may still seem stretched by the claims I shall be making here for that remarkable seventeenth-century modernist, Spinoza. But the connection can be demonstrated, I believe, at least with respect to the concept of interpretation which, whether at the level of theory or as it is applied to the "texts" of culture and experience, is an identifying mark of modernism in almost all the diverse accounts given of that (...) historical turn. Interpretation acquires not only a logical form but a constant origin and purpose in the work of Spinoza, specifically in the radical Tractatus Theologico-Politicus which Spinoza brought out anonymously, albeit still bravely, in 1670. I use the term "bravely" because Spinoza bases what we can now read as a general theory of interpretation on the dangerous text of the Bible. Spinoza's initial anonymity, moreover, did not, and could hardly have been expected to, protect him for very long from defenders of the faiths who claimed jurisdiction over authors even when they were not writing about the Bible. The Tractatus is radical because it asserts for the theory of interpretation a character which even now, three hundred years and much enlightenment later, has won only grudging acknowledgement--the view, that is, that interpretation presupposes or implies a political framework; in effect, that interpretation is itself a politics. (shrink)