Two years is a very long time from the hyper-compressed perspective of our digital culture. New content demanding our attention comes so fast and so frequently that what is pored over today will probably, and by necessity, be pushed to the periphery by tomorrow. In that sense, it’s somewhat like being the parent of a young child: each day is filled with so many new discoveries, challenges, emergencies, and triumphs, that what happened last week—or six months, or two years ago—seems so long ago as to hardly be real, or to have been the experience of a different person. The mind can only hold so much, and of course the mind is remade anew as it continues to upload, download, and delete its flow of experience.
So, anyway, I’m still here, two years later, but different. I’ve stepped away from academia to philosophize in a less formal but hopefully more rewarding manner through my work at the Gotham Philosophical Society, where you’ll fine me attempting to channel Protagoras and Socrates in the agora. Check out the website, and if you are in New York, please come to one of our events.
For those who lived through it, endured it, and ultimately absorbed it, September 11, 2001 persists in memory in an intensely personal way. Each of us owns that day and its aftermath, even when we manage to remember that so many others own it too. Some of us, far too many, lost lovers, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, cousins, colleagues, and friends. These people and their families have suffered unnatural losses by grotesque means, never to be made whole again. Others, spared this terrible, immediate grief, were nevertheless called to witness something die, and then something terribly sad and terribly wounded grow in its place inside our friends who lost someone. And there are those of us, living in the city at the time, who suffered the violation of our surroundings. To have shredded, singed office papers falling like morbid confetti in front of our homes; to continually encounter dumfounded, fearful, and farway eyes; to take ghostly quiet subway rides; to breath the choked air; to smell that burning smell, miles away, in midtown or in Brooklyn, a burning that even to the uninitiated was unmistakably more than electrical wiring, rubber, wood, and fuel, a smell that hung in the air for weeks and haunts us still. These are all elements of the pictures of that September past that we each stitch together in our own peculiar ways.
“The important point, however, is that there must be some normative principles bearing on PAs [propositional attitudes] to the effect that we ought to modify our PAs because of how they are. Rational normative principles are of the form that if one has such and such PAs then one ought to modify them in such and such ways. Unless there are such principles there is no rationality and no reasoning.” – Nick Zangwill, “The Normativity of the Mental”
This is the simplest, most direct argument for normative ‘realism’ I’ve found. It is refreshingly plain in that it wears its transcendental structure on its sleeve: believing, wanting, and the like must be normatively governed psychological processes if rationality and reasoning are to be possible, and rationality and reasoning are not only possible but abundantly actual. Moreover, it’s a wonderfully, boldly assertive philosophical mouthful, just the way I like it; when it comes to the root philosophical issues (and there is nothing more root than the normativity of the mental; everything of a peculiarly human interest stems from this) they invariably involve at their core simple, stark choice points. Capturing those choice points in simple, direct language takes philosophical talent, and Zangwill brings plenty. But what makes philosophical disputes so thrillingly interminable is that virtually no two philosophers conceive the choice points in precisely the same way: God, the Devil, and each and every Man is bound up in his own peculiar details. More on this presently. Continue reading
Sean Tevis, a forty year old self-described ‘information architect,’ suffered a setback to his bid to become the United States Representative from Kansas’ 2nd district on Tuesday, finishing third in that (rather red) state’s Democratic primary. As a New Yorker not paid to know the political preferences of Kansans in August, perhaps my mention of this event might provide Mr. Tevis with some small consolation. I say that not to flatter myself; I’m what keeps the consolation small. But that I was even aware of Mr. Tevis’ reach for Congressional glory is a certain testament to the reason he ran, namely to spread word of his ‘plan to re-balance the US political system.‘ Continue reading