Category Archives: Philosophy

More scholastoidal musings

Whatness is comprehended.

Thatness is apprehended.

  • Whoness apprehends.
  • Weness comprehends.

(The last two were experimental points. I am suggesting, if it isn’t obvious, that comprehending is an essentially social act, even if we do it solitarily. Comprehending is an act of lifeworld participation, the inhabiting of a shared intellectual environment, or what I’ve called “enworldment”. Any being we encounter that we apprehend as capable of apprehending, we experience as a “who” not a “what”, but we can only experience that being as a participant in we to the degree comprehension can be shared.)

Body : habitat :: organism : planet :: being : world

Scholastoidal definitions

Ok, this is going to be ridiculous, but I have some fundamental sorting to do. I need to clarify the relationships between thatness, whatness, whichness and whoness. Laugh away; I’m doing this.

The need for clarity began when I stumbled over this line in Schutz: “…in self-knowledge there is a sphere of absolute intimacy whose ‘being there’ (Dasein) is just as indubitable as it is closed to our inspection. The experiences peculiar to this sphere are simply inaccessible to memory, and this fact pertains to their mode of being: memory catches only the ‘that’ of these experiences.”

This is an important matter for me, because it touches on my recently-revived skepticism about how we conceive the unconscious, which ties into the ways language mediates our experiences, including that design-destroying assumption language does (and ought to) micromanage our actions. Extremely usable design makes objects second-natural extensions of our own selves. And my next book will argue that our very concepts ought to have this same quality in use: if you have to think about a concept when applying it, that’s a poorly-designed concept. A well-designed concept operates so invisibly that the thought thinks itself through the working of the concept. But I am digressing now, so I’ll get back to my sorting…

I believe thatness is raw apprehension, the registering of a particular entity as existent.

When we identify a particular existence as something, that identity is its whatness (or “quiddity”).

But even in identifying a that as some general what, the fact of its particular uniqueness remains as its thisness (or “haecceity”).

But all these -nesses are done by minds, and done in some particular way (as opposed to all other possible ways), and this capacity is whoness.

Who a person is, their very subjectivity, is their habits of attending (and neglecting) particular forms of thatness and their ways comprehending thatness as having some kind of general whatness and particular thisness.

When someone views themselves primarily as the comprehending what instead of the apprehending, comprehending who, that person becomes self-alienated in a state Sartre called “bad faith”. This is one primary reason I oppose identitarianism. Identitarianism produces a subjective vacuum where a self should be, and that vacuum suffers in a way it does not know how to conceptualize. Having no access to subjective understanding it seeks to explain its suffering objectively. The self is a suffering object made to suffer by other objects. No amount of objective action can relieve the agony of being trapped in this subjectivity-blindness, because the last place such people look for relief is in their own conceptions. To reach this way of thinking to others is to spread a fatal philosophical disease.

Yeah. I’ll never be a real Scholastic, but I’ll certainly raid it for parts.

Reconceiving the unconscious

Reading Schutz, and examining the structure of lived experience I am suspecting more and more that what we call “unconscious” and habitually conceptualize spatially as submerged beneath our awareness has been misconceived — or, to put it in more designerly language, is a conceptualization that introduces tradeoffs which might not be optimal for our purposes. And what is this purpose, I’d like to optimize for? I’ll try to pin it down: I think in popular thought (which is the thought that creates, re-creates and shapes society, through ethnomethods) we radically misunderstand the relationship between language and lived experience. We have a tendency to conflate consciousness and speech. If something resists language, and we find ourselves unable to capture it our memory with the help of words, that wordless memory of images, sounds, feelings, etc. seems to sink faster into oblivion, and to be harder to retrieve. My hunch is that words are nonverbal memory aids that condense experience from the mental environment. When we have words for what happens to us we are able to “objectify” what is going on, whether what is going on is “out there” in the world or “in here” in my memory. With language we produce sharper objectifications that go into our memories and we have mnemonic objects that will condense the sensory recollections when we wish to recall the experience later.

So in my model, the unconscious is just those mental activities that we have not articulated for objective knowing. But these are not autonomous demon-like beings who slip in the shadows and depths, who move us against our will when we ease our vigilance, hiding our under-selves from what our minds will tolerate. I see this as a nasty vestige of medieval religiosity — one that keeps popping up among people who fancy themselves secular, but whose minds still move in superstitious ruts.

I prefer to understand what we call the unconscious as that vast set of tacit perceptual, kinetic, feeling realities hiding in plain sight, but inaccessible to linguistic thought. They are there, real, tangible, important but we don’t have words for them so they evaporate like dreams after we experience them unless something happens to us that causes the vapor to condense again. One of the great benefits of words is they are reliable memory condensers.

Folks who “think visually” or who take their intuitions and mind motions seriously as real and significant prior to any ability to articulate or conceptualize or demonstrate or argue them have a capacity to create thoughts outside the dominant language games of the culture. I want to articulate some of these realities and make them more thinkable. But also, I want to banish the latter-day demons of the Freudish “unconscious” that seems to have reemerge to haunt our social and political anxieties.

I also find our beliefs about the role of language in our everyday behavior to mislead designers. If we believe users verbalize instructions to themselves that their bodies obey when using software, we stop trying to directly engage our hands. If we understand that language itself is an interface that we use to help us make sense of experience when other means fail, we create two layers of interface between users and their tools. A great user interface minimizes the requirement to verbalize, so tools become invisible, ready-to-hand extensions of the user’s will.

Try these ideas on with this line of thought. The political crisis we are in now, with deep roots in the American tradition, can be seen as starting with the rise of social media. Much of our social lives, and our lives in general, became heavily word-mediated. Normally, when people gather it is around experiences. Things are enjoyed together — food drink, music, art, laughter — and experiences unfold over the course of hours. Social media is fast language. TL;DR, scan, scroll, start, stop, scroll. Not only are people’s blah-blah flipped through like TV channels, but engagement is sporadic and flitting. Written literature has time to evoke, conjure, hint, suggest and condense memories and knowings. Fast language only recalls or refers. It is spastic and explicit. Expastic language could be a good word for fast language, dittos and hashtags. But things got worse when Covid put everyone in social isolation. Then the entire world had to be strained through screens. The realm of shared tacit realities constricted and the word-world expanded explosively. I think what we are seeing now is the opposite of an eruption of the unconscious. I think the sensible wisdom our tacit understandings were removed from the public setting, and brainless verbal logic took over and is running itself to its logical extremes inside s frictionless, gravityless vacuum of collective solipsism.

Political dyslexia

The terms “far-right” and “far-left” are being used far too frequently, casually, and imprecisely — and maybe completely incorrectly.

American conservatism is right, but has rarely gotten anywhere near far-right since the disgrace of Jim Crow. And America’s own New Deal reforms were nowhere near far-left either. I’ve seen Libertarianism called far-right, but it is right-of center at most, and it is arguable the exact center-point.

Here is how I view the range.

  • Far-right seeks inequality under the law. It works to establish formally ranked classes of people, each with different rights, duties and privileges.
  • Center seeks equality under the law. It acknowledges only one class of person: citizen.
  • Far-left seeks equity under the law. It works to give every citizen the same level of wealth and power, taking from those with more and giving to those with less.

Today’s Progressivism is a tricky case. It presents itself as left, and promises equity. However the equity it promises is not equity among every citizen as leftism normally does. It promises equity to protected categories of people viewed in aggregate. All protected groups will have an equal share in the highest classes. But this movement does not does not see inequality among classes as intrinsically problematic. It almost seems to view class inequality as just as long as every group has its share of the inequality. This acceptance of class inequality is more typical of the right. If you look at Progressivism through a more typical leftist lens and see it as a dominant ideology whose function is to establish, justify and preserve the hegemony of the professional class, collective equity is a legitimation strategy, not a program of substantial reform. This would help explain why Progressivism dominates nearly all mainstream institutions, including most Fortune 500 corporations, public education, popular entertainment, the popular press and popular culture in general. If Progressivism sought individual equity, it would threaten these institutions and would meet resistance from them.

If this is, in fact, the case, our nation is suffering from severe dyslexia.

Things are truly scrambled.

Philosophy as performing art

I have been struggling hellishly with the very simple, basic question: “What is a philosophy?” This is terribly important, because if I want to persuade people that philosophies (or worldviews, lifeworlds, enworldments or faiths) are designable things, and that they ought to be designed — and that is exactly my intention — I’d better be able to explain what it is we are designing.

But I have been unable to do it, which is perplexing, upsetting and exciting. This combo has a pavlovian effect on me, and I can’t leave it alone.


Yesterday I had my weekly conversation with Nick Gall, and we had a fun argument over the significance of Golden Rule. The conversation started off rockily. It was clear that he and I were thinking about it very differently (“at cross-purposes”), in a way that went deeper than definitions or even values, into the how of the thinking. We eventually realized that he was thinking about the formula “Treat others as you would like to be treated” pragmatically but statically (maybe as a trained lawyer), as a proposition with bounded implications. I was thinking of it dynamically as a lived principle, with so that the proposition’s meaning deepens and self-transcends over time with successive recursions.

It was really tricky getting aligned on what we we talking about, and how we could approach the conversation in order to break the impasse. Three thing happened that made it work.

  1. We recognized that we were disagreeing not only on the object of the disagreement, but how the subject should be thought. (I’m using subject and object very deliberately.)
  2. The new way of thinking (the subject) needed to be followed to be understood. It was not a process at arriving at a conclusion, but more picking up a style or acquiring a sense of genre.
  3. The following of the thought required a kind of momentum and holistic grasping of the thinking as a single event. (This is different from following an argument, which consists of a series of discrete, linked accomplishments.) This explains why, if a passage is thorny, I have to work out the difficulties part by part, then reread the passage rapidly and smoothly before I understand the material.


There is a kind of temporal holism in understanding. We see it in all performing arts — music, dance, cinema. Each moment of a performance must be experienced in flowing reference to what preceded it or the meaning gets lost.

I believe this is how philosophy works as well. Perhaps philosophy is more of a performing art than a plastic art.

Maybe this is where the appeal “stay with me” or “follow this line of thought” comes in. It means “grok this temporal whole.”

We can no more understand an interrupted, interrogated line of thought than we can hear interrupted phrases of a song as music. This is a thought I’ve had before, but the connection with this problem is new.


It has been said that a soul is a society. Let’s assume this is true. It is true.

And let’s assume that every soul, being a society, has its own internal culture, its own internal political factions, its own internal injustice, and its own persecuted, marginalized parties longing from freedom and recognition.

Every association a soul makes with the external world affects its culture and politics. It empowers, liberates, suppresses, ostracizes or enslaves some soul-faction.

(There is such continuity between the internal and external world that ignoring the distinction has some analytical value. Even denying the existence of essential self can have merit.)

Relationships between people (or, rather, between soul-factions) can overpower those relationships that hold an individual’s soul together. When this happens, the term “individual” is exposed as inadequate. Love is the most conspicuous example of this kind of turmoil.

Being “one in flesh”, or, conversely, feeling “torn”, or having “two minds” has more literal truth to it than one suspects. It takes two to know that truth.

When a person’s internal society changes, that person’s external relationships must be renegotiated, most of all the more intimate ones. Deep internal change transforms an intimate into a stranger.

Jealously is an instinctual defense against estrangement.

Spiritual folks disparage jealousy as an illegitimate attempt to possess another person. Their understanding of possession is impoverished, the consequence of a desire to be invulnerable, to be “not of this world.” We are of this world, especially when we refuse to be.

There are relationships between people and objects that affect a person’s internal culture and politics. This is one reason that design is so important.

Despite what spiritual folks insist, we are as much our possessions as we are “ourselves”.

The world we inhabit holds us together. Our efforts to physically and socially shape our worlds are as important to soul-care as so-called inner work.

Religion is taking our finite place within infinity. Infinity is, from the perspective of finitude, inexhaustible surprise. Infinity literally, etymologically, sur-prises every finite being.

Religion should, especially in these times, attempt profound enworldment. Religion should be the furthest thing from “not of this world.” Spirituality — especially “spiritual-but-not-religious” spirituality — is how we try to get our mind to feel some specific divine way, maybe blissful? or peaceful? or ecstatic? or overwhelmed with awe? And typically, its method is aestheticized solipsism.

Great summary of A. James Gregor’s Totalitarianism and Political Religion

Dennis B. Mulcare’s Amazon review of A. James Gregor‘s Totalitarianism and Political Religion: An Intellectual History is such a thorough and clear a summary of the book, I’ve decided to post it here:

Note that the subtitle of this book, “An Intellectual History”, indicates that the scholarly evolution and consolidation of ideas and strategies integral to totalitarianism are the major focus of this book. This perspective contrasts with a necessarily selective recounting of persons, events, and outcomes in the large that typify history books in general. To me, the author’s focus is a big plus: more direct and immediate engagement of the origins, motivations, and rationales regarding historical happenings versus third-party recapitulations, reconstructions, and/or interpretations of those happenings. In “Totalitarianism and Political Religion” then, far more coverage is accorded to the seminal thinkers and energizing concepts behind 20th century totalitarian ideologies than to the historical figures, activities, and outcomes involved in their actualizations.

As the central concept of this book, a political religion is a faith-based political movement that embodies an institutionalized belief system. In its essence and organization, it sacralizes a profane base of power, thereby undergirding a system of coercive governance. During the early twentieth century, moreover, each of the three full-fledged totalitarian governments enlisted a customized political religion to motivate and control its population. In my understanding, the following elements in concert characterize or explicate the concepts and modus operandi common to the three aforementioned regimes:

1. Totalitarianism is a class of ideologies that seeks to control all aspects of life, commerce, and governance within a country or politically organized unit. Its doctrine and rationale are captured in an ideology, which typically relies on a political religion for its realization and dynamism.

2. An ideology is an all-encompassing doctrine that purports to explain the essence and workings of the world, and to prescribe or to proscribe the behavior of the humans within a polity. In all, an ideology is a closed worldview that claims to be secular in nature and to have an infallible basis grounded in science.

3. The ideologies of Leninism, Fascism, and Nazism were intellectually fully developed prior to their respective articulations and implementations by Lenin, Mussolini, and Hitler. Largely, this book describes the historical trajectory of the intellectual evolution of each of these three “-isms”.

4. Sacralization is the ascription to a profane concept or object of the attributes that are normally properties or practices of traditional transcendent religions. The intent is to co-opt the natural religious tendencies if not the spiritual fervor of humans for purposes of the regime.

5. Instances of political religions examined in this book are: History as religion – per Engels & Marx; Revolution as religion – per Lenin; State as religion – per Mussolini; and Race as religion – per Hitler. All four cases in their particular manifestations share the salient characteristics of a generic political religion.

6. The de facto if implicit centrality of political religions in the above ideologies belies their claims of secular nature. Similarly, their emphatic normative prescriptions/proscriptions wholly discredit their scientific pretenses. In all cases, the various ideologies are based on faith, and not on empirical evidence or logical arguments.

7. Ultimately, the realization of a totalitarian ideology is seen to depend on a combination of: societal predispositions and circumstances; fanatical commitment to seeking power; technological resources to promote/enforce the ideological doctrine; and a suitable political religion. The latter serves to resonate with a society’s extant predispositions, to activate/sustain ideological doctrine, and to exploit the spiritual proclivities of humans in general.

For me, this book provided several novel and powerful insights, as well as learned exemplifications of some notions I had already possessed. New insights included: the seeming universal recognition among political theorists of the innate and persistent spiritual core of humans; and the force and persistence of ideas over their application, and hence the dominance of thinkers over practical or worldly political leaders (not that thinkers and leaders are mutually exclusive categories). Reinforced or exemplified notions were: the fanatical compulsion of certain activists to force their presumptuous, fatuous visions of worldly salvation on hapless populations; and the recurring reliance upon emotional appeals to engender and maintain popular support for a regime or its agenda.

Although the subject of this book would seem to be rather specialized, I believe that its treatment by the author possesses genuine appeal for many serious readers. In focusing on intellectual history, moreover, this book addresses a topic meriting broader interest, and in so doing fathoming WHY certain things can have happened as they did. Of lesser relative interest, to me at least, are general historical accounts describing factually or speculatively WHAT ostensibly did happen. Such a tradeoff reduces to addressing the core essence of a generic matter versus engaging the broader particularities of instances thereof. The former option, coupled with the author’s thoughtful and revealing exposition of a very important topic, underlies my high regard for “Totalitarianism and Political Religion”.

What would a designed philosophy look like?

I’ve been bothered by a simple question: if philosophy is, as I believe, a design discipline, what is 1) its material, 2) its specifications (“deliverables”, the plan of the designed thing), 3) its artifact (the designed thing itself), and 4) its actualization (the actual using of the designed thing), the qualities of which are the ultimate, though indirect, goal of design?

I am asking this way, not because of some compulsion for finding structural parallels, but because the problem of what a philosophy is and should do has been perplexing me. What is a philosophy? What is its nature? Is it the assertions? The logic? Is it a kind of thinking style?  When we apply the philosophy, or what is the nature of this “thing” that is applied?

It all becomes a little less perplexing (or gives me some degree of grip on the problem) when I compare it to other forms of design and make structured comparisons.

Even with the most concrete and tangible kinds of design, the ultimate intended effect is practical and experiential, and experiences are painfully indirect. The fact that designs in use disappear in the activity of using does not help matters at all.

Let’s start with some concrete examples, and see if they suggest new ways to think about philosophy. I will answer the question with two design disciplines I know well, UX and service design.

With UX, 1) the material is digital media (screens and other interfaces, and the underlying systems which enable and constrain what is possible); 2) the specifications are process flows and screen schematics (wireframes); 3) the artifact is the software or site; and 4) the actualization is a good user experience — effortless, pleasant and fruitful interaction with the software.

With service design, 1) the material is the entire extended organization (including not only the whole organization, including employees, partners, physical and digital infrastructure, practices/processes, policies, etc., but every point where value is co-created by delivery of the service, that is, with customers and users of the service); 2) the specifications are moment architectures and service blueprints; 3) the artifact is the service in its various forms across delivery channels; 4) the actualization is a good service experience for every actor involved in delivering, supporting or receiving the service.

So, giving philosophy this same treatment, 1) the material of philosophy is language in the most general sense (including not only words but symbols of every kind); 2) the specifications are lessons in the most general sense (books, essays, lectures, conversations, arguments, models, paradigms); 3) the artifact is concepts (understood as thought-producing mental behaviors, which is confusing because these behaviors are impossible to state directly and factually, but must be demonstrated); 4) the actualization is a thoroughly second-natural way of understanding (meaning that it becomes spontaneous and transparent) some domain of life (or the entirety of life) in a way experienced as better. By better, I mean more comprehensible, more livable and more valuable. By better, I mean we are able to avoid feeling perplexed, bewildered or indifferent to our lives.

As with all design, the work must be done with the actualization in mind, which is why the process is one of iterative experiment with direct involvement with those who will finally actualize the design. This is why human-centered design practice, or, in the case of service design, polycentric design practice are not specialized types of design but, simply, design competence. The implications to the practice of philosophy are significant. Does this help explain why philosophers crave conversation? Is the attempt to persuade an informal kind of philosophy design practice?

This is a first crack, so everything is up for discussion.

A word on extremism

An ideology that views certain traits or tendencies even in a weak, attenuated form, even in the form of a private belief,  as violent extremism in embryo — and therefore deserving preemptive attack as if it were already violent — is itself an actualized extremist ideology.

Such ideologies call many things “violent”: harboring detestable beliefs attitudes or feelings; tolerating detestable beliefs, attitudes or feelings; using words it doesn’t like; using words it does like but using them improperly; refraining from doing and saying what it believes ought to be done or said (aka “silence”); and, increasingly, failing to cooperate with attempts to expurgate unconscious beliefs and biases lurking undetected in one’s soul. A typical example of this use of the word “violence”:

“There’s this anxiety over saying the wrong thing,” says deandre miles-hercules, a PhD linguistics student who focuses on sociocultural linguistic research on race, gender, and sexuality. “And so instead of maybe doing a little research, understanding the history and the different semantic valences of a particular term to decide for yourself, or to understand the appropriateness of a use in a particular context, people generally go, ‘Tell me the word, and I will use the word.’ They’re not interested in learning things about the history of the term, or the context in which it’s appropriate.”

But miles-hercules argues that while people may not intend harm when they use identity labels inaccurately, their inaccuracy is still harmful. “People tune in to this, ‘What is the word? Do I call you African American? Do I call you Black? What is the word that people are preferring these days? I know I can’t call you Negro anymore! So just tell me the word so I can use it and we can go on from there,’” they say. “But that lacks in nuance. And that lack of nuance is a violence.”

Does it occur to miles-hercules that forcing a non-linguist to do research on other people’s latest linguistic research and understanding its theory and practice in order to acquire the skills to satisfy the requirements of one particular school of linguists (and whatever form of “accountability” or “consequences” is deemed appropriate by this group if their requirements are not met) — is itself violent? Are such questions ever asked?

Where do beliefs like these lead — beliefs which do not hesitate to take real social, physical, technological, economic and legislative action, to prevent others from doing the same in the future?

Recall the progression from 1) being expected to conceal one’s own thoughts, 2) to being required (usually by people with power)  to act according to ideological dictates, 3) to being required to make modifications to one’s own soul, even at the unconscious level — again by people with power.

The sphere of control an ideology of this kind claims has no logical limits.

It is time to call it what it is. It is a strain of totalitarianism.

Redemption by design

Rorty, being intensely Rorty:

…the intellectuals of the West have, since the Renaissance, progressed through three stages: they have hoped for redemption first from God, then from philosophy, and now from literature. Monotheistic religion offers hope for redemption through entering into a new relation to a supremely powerful nonhuman person. Belief in the articles of a creed may be only incidental to such a relationship. For philosophy, however, beliefs are of the essence. Redemption by philosophy is through the acquisition of a set of beliefs that represent things in the one way they really are. Literature, finally, offers redemption through making the acquaintance of as great a variety of human beings as possible. Here again, as in religion, true belief may be of little importance.

And redemption by design is arranging the elements of life — people, things, ideas, etc. — in systems that allow them to cooperate for mutual benefit, however benefit is conceived by the cooperating agents.


I would like to count among the number of cooperating agents, “infrapersons” — psychic components of personality whose dynamic relations produce myriad moods, feelings, experiential colorings. Different designs will engage different infrapersons. Writing with a Bic pen or a #2 Ticonderoga is a different experience because it engages different infrapersons than writing with a Pelikan Souveran M800 or a Rotring 600 pencil. Sitting in a cubicle under a cold fluorescent strobe suppresses elements of self that might come out when sitting under sparkling halogen in a studio space. We feel more “like ourselves” when more of our self — more of our own infrapersons — have an opportunity to emerge and participate in our living. An important task of designers is to acknowledge and serve neglected infrapersons. To the degree it accomplishes this, design generates excitement, newness and je ne sais quoi. Cynics might dismiss this as slaking appetites for pointless consumption, but this is an uncharitable view of the profound relationship people can have with things in the world. I view these proud “anti-materialism” sentiments as a leftist strain of “not of this world” puritanism.)

Philosophical images

Ancient Greece gave us the concept of philosopher-king.

The classical 18th century contributed the image of the philosophe, the philosopher-liberal.

The romantic 19th century created the ideal philosopher-poet.

The rationalist 20th century specified many species and sub-species of philosopher-specialist, each with its own technical vocabulary, incomprehensible outside its own specialized discourse.

I hope the 21st century will instaurate a great variety of philosopher-designers.

Moral meta-judgments

I have (in agonistic dialogue with Nick Gall) found a way to distinguish a relative value from a universal moral principle in pragmatic terms. What, precisely, is the difference that makes a difference if we believe in universal moral principles?

My short answer is that if we believe a universal moral principle applies to a judgment, we assign moral value to agreeing with the judgment.

If we believe our judgment is a relative value judgment, we do not assign moral value to agreeing with it.


I initially framed this as a thought experiment. Imagine Witness A who witnesses an act committed by Actor B, and later reflects on the act with Co-witness C.

Witness A judges Actor B’s act as abhorrent. Co-witness C judges it as okay.

If Witness A understands her judgment as one of relative value, she will still see actor B’s behavior as bad, but will view Co-witness C’s judgment as merely different from her own.

However, if Witness A understands her judgment as one of universal morality, she will judge actor B’s behavior as bad, and meta-judge Co-witness C’s judgment as also bad.


The universality of a universal moral principle applies less to the object of judgment than to the judging subject. What is universal is the meta-judgment, the belief that here all competent judges should agree.


Now, of course, what I am saying sets up an infinite regression. But now I’ll get all tricky and say that willingness to keep regressing is also a sign of holding universal moral principles, and refusal to even begin, makes one a value relativist.

We can also do the Rortian move and break apart our naive moral realist reaction from our account of why we are having the reaction. (“I, for one, will act on my feelings of indignation toward injustice, even though I know they are just socially-contingent feelings.”) This move seems aimed primarily at weakening our meta-judgments. (“Because my emotions are socially contingent, it is acceptable for you to not share them.”)

The move could be made to work not only on our judgments, but also our meta-judgments (and our meta-meta-judgments). (“I will act on my feelings of indignation toward injustice and also tolerance of injustice, even though they just my socially-contingent feelings.”) But now what does this line of thought do?

So far, I cannot see any pragmatic consequence for this move unless it nullifies our meta-judgments. All I can come up with we might adopt this strategy for the sake of conceptual coherence — keeping our understanding of how things hang together hanging together better.

For me, this move is an unacceptable tradeoff — of sincerity for theoretical coherence. I am unable to avoid having negative judgments of nonjudgmental attitudes toward certain clear cut cases of viciousness. However much I call them epiphenomenal, I believe these judgments and meta-judgments are valid, and act on their validity.

I can’t say way — not yet, anyway —but this prioritization of sincerity over coherence strikes me as being a matter of relative values, of philosophical taste. I do not expect everyone to prioritize sincerity over coherence, and I do not meta-judge those with different priorities.

Philosophy adoption

Susan asked: how is the philosophy design you envision different from Kuhnian paradigm shifts? The answer she extracted from me gets to the heart of my project, and I will need to emphasize this point in Second Natural: The physical sciences, and the attitude toward truth inspired by the physical sciences places all emphasis on epistemic and practical knowing (“what” and “how”) and trades off moral (valuative) knowing (“why”), which becomes a sort of ethic of scientificality. “The truth hurts” and being scientific means embracing the pain of sacrificing all other values.

But if we accept that we live in a truly pluralistic reality, and embrace the consequence that no single philosophy is capable of accounting for reality without strategically excluding, distorting or underemphasizing some realities in favor of others, we are freed question this tradeoff. A new scientific paradigm may give physicists a new way to conceptualize some stubbornly puzzling corner of their field, but these advantages might not be worth what is given up for ordinary people whose conceptual needs differ from those of physicists.

Once we see concepts as tools for selective perception, categorization and reasoning which permit some kinds of response and suppress others, we are freed (to a degree) to think of philosophies, components of philosophies and philosophical implications as matters of adoption. We can say physics theories what the best atheists say of God: “I have no need of that hypothesis.” If our concerns do later come in contact with theological or scientific problems, we might have to rework our personal philosophies in order to faithfully contend with their claims. This is especially true if we wish to win the respect of those communities and persuade them to accept our own beliefs. But this is not all that different from the adoption of any other technology that integrates with its design context.

My primary tradeoffs

To me, preserving fidelity to reality (as I experience it) is more important than coherence, consistency or completeness of any explanation. I will make pronounced tradeoffs, and leave explanations in extreme states of disrepair to preserve this fidelity, especially to the subtle signals of my genuine conviction.

Three quotes form a chord that reinforces this commitment.

The two principles of the new life. — First principle: life should be ordered on the basis of what is most certain and most demonstrable, not as hitherto on that of what is most remote, indefinite and no more than a cloud on the horizon. Second principle: the order of succession of what is closest and most immediate, less close and less immediate, certain and less certain, should be firmly established before one orders one’s life and gives it a definitive direction.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

“We cannot begin with complete doubt. We must begin with all the prejudices which we actually have when we enter upon the study of philosophy. These prejudices are not to be dispelled by a maxim, for they are things which it does not occur to us can be questioned. Hence this initial skepticism will be a mere self-deception, and not real doubt… Let us not pretend to doubt in philosophy what we do not doubt in our hearts.” – Charles Peirce

What… are the characteristics of a good scientific theory? Among a number of quite usual answers I select five, not because they are exhaustive, but because they are individually important and collectively sufficiently varied to indicate what is at stake. First, a theory should be accurate: within its domain, that is, consequences deducible from a theory should be in demonstrated agreement with the results of existing experiments and observations. Second, a theory should be consistent, not only internally or with itself, but also with other currently accepted theories applicable to related aspects of nature. Third, it should have broad scope: in particular, a theory’s consequences should extend far beyond the particular observations, laws, or subtheories it was initially designed to explain. Fourth, and closely related, it should be simple, bringing order to phenomena that in its absence would be individually isolated and, as a set, confused. Fifth — a somewhat less standard item, but one of special importance to actual scientific decisions — a theory should be fruitful of new research findings: it should, that is, disclose new phenomena or previously unnoted relationships among those already known. These five characteristics — accuracy, consistency, scope, simplicity, and fruitfulness — are all standard criteria for evaluating the adequacy of a theory.” – Thomas Kuhn

Ingredients of political evil

  1. The incapacity to reason from any perspective but my own is ideological narrowness.
  2. The need to explain the complexity of life by reducing them to simple concepts is intellectual stuntedness.
  3. To undermine beliefs, judgments, feelings or actions of others using theories which I do not accept when used to cast doubt on my own beliefs, judgments, feelings or actions is intellectual hypocrisy.
  4. To judge others by different standards than those by which I judge myself is moral hypocrisy.
  5. Indifference to pain except that which I and my kind feel is empathy failure.
  6. The desire to make myself feel better by making another person feel worse is sadism.
  7. To listen only to those who agree with me, and to revile anyone who disagrees with me is tribalism.
  8. To attribute concealed malevolent motives to others despite their claims to believe and intend the opposite is paranoia.
  9. To see myself as exceptional, endowed with exceptional abilities, and entitled to exceptional treatment is hubris.
  10. To believe my own faith is ultimate and that there is nothing I can learn from my enemies is spiritual blindness.

These are all the ingredients of political evil I can think of.

Genre Trouble

Thank you Richard Rorty:

“The more original a book or a kind of writing is, the more unprecedented, the less likely we are to have criteria in hand, and the less point there is in trying to assign it to a genre. We have to see whether we can find a use for it. If we can, then there will be time enough to stretch the borders of some genre or other far enough to slip it in, and to draw up criteria according to which it is a good kind of writing to have invented. Only metaphysicians think that our present genres and criteria exhaust the realm of possibility. Ironists continue to expand that realm.”

1) I love this quote. I have extreme trouble coloring inside the lines of preexisting genres, given the fact that my worldview is a synthesis of an esoteric and Nietzschean perversion of Pragmatism, a hall-of-mirrors reflective design practice, and an idiosyncratic take on religion bordering on universal heresy (which is why I’m Jewish). Consequently, I have little hope of (or interest in) writing a book that does not generate a genre. This is why I will need to continue to self-publish. I feel a combination of impatience and panic when it is suggested that I need to nail down my audience, as if they already exist, and write to them, for their sake.) Also, nobody is going to craft a book to my standards. I may need to buy letterpress and bookbinding equipment.

2) To find a use for a new kind of writing… The above passage was embedded in an extended pragmatic exploration of Derrida’s writing. Rorty suggested that we forget what Derrida was asserting, and instead ask: what was he doing with his writing? I like translating this to: Forget the content — what does his genre want to do, and why? He is doing something new with writing, and to allow it to do its new thing for us we have to release it from the purposes and rules governing the genre(s) of philosophy.

3) Point 2 is getting very close to my interests (which is hardly surprising given that Rorty is the proto- pragmatist pervert). To create a new kind of writing, then find a use for it — is very much, to my designerly eyes, like intellectual R&D. This follows the pattern of how many technologies are developed, especially very new and unfundable ones. Some playful or obsessive technologist in love with a problem or a material intuits a possibility and follows hunches to produce some ingenious invention. This invention inspires other similar types — lovers of engineering problems — to push it further, just to see what they can get it to do. Eventually, the inventing proliferates, refines and develops to the point where it attracts the attention of some practical mind who sees in this invention the key to solving some specific real-world problem. Now a technology is ready to cross the threshold between technology and product.

4) What kind of mind escorts a potentially useful technology through the journey that transforms it into a useful, usable and desirable product and out into the marketplace? Lots of people try to do this work. The ones who are best at shaping technologies into products (a.k.a. goods or services) that fit human needs, desires and life-practices are designers. Designers (whether they are called that or not) are the people who see human life as vast, complex, often messy, systems, and understand that products are subcomponents of these human systems. The success of a product hinges on how readily it integrates into these human systems. (Increasingly designers are considering more than end-user integration, and are getting involved in manufacturing, distribution, promotion, merchandising, purchase, use, service, disposal, recycling, etc.) Wherever human and nonhuman systems are meant to integrate, designers increase the chances the integration will succeed. Some designers see a technology and immediately grasp its product potential, others keep up with technologies of various kinds so when they are given a human problem they can play matchmaker between this problem and the solutions in their imaginations, still others start with a thorough understanding of people and their lives and learn to define these problems so they inspire solutions from more technological minds. The best designers do all three, and effectively straddle and blur (or, rather interweave and entangle) the lines between technological and human systems.

5) What if we view philosophy as it is done today as technological development? And applied philosophies as slightly more focused technologies carried a step closer to problem types? Is there not room for a discipline that uses design methods (especially HCD, human-centered design methods) to apply philosophical technologies to very particular cases. Such a discipline would research problematic situations and the people, things and contexts that constitute them, define problems to be solved with the help philosophical “technologies”, shape conceptual systems that resolve these problems and develop materials to help an organization adopt the improved, more useful, usable and desirable philosophy? What if we use deep HCD to throw organizational business-as-usual thinking into crisis, so that it clears the ground and opens it into perplexity (what Wittgenstein identified as the philosophical negative-space of “here I do not know how to move around”), upon which a new philosophy can be designed (“to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term.” as Sellars put it).

6) If I view my problem as a genre problem, I can say I want to write a book outlining a new discipline as the first (at least first self-conscious) product of this discipline. I want to design a philosophy of philosophy design. It will be erected on an assumed metaphysical foundation — a faith — that doing such a thing is not only permissible, but necessary. But, being a designed conceptual product, it will seek voluntary adoption instead of argumentative coercion. It will try to demonstrate that this discipline, viewed in this way, viewed from this carefully designed perspective will be a useful, usable and desirable way for certain kinds of people to live their lives and make their livings, and that (this will be secondary) that organizations that hire and support people who do this kind of work will help generate more usefulness, usability and desirability for its employees, partners and customers.

7) Whatever we call them — Organizational Philosophers? Concept Designers? POV Framers — they will be responsible for:

  • Understanding how different people involved in an organization or part of an organization (department, office, team, etc.) think;
  • How these ways of thinking converge, diverge, harmonize and conflict;
  • What tradeoffs each of these ways of thinking make in terms of what domains of knowledge they do a good job of comprehending and communicating, versus what they must deemphasize, ignore, suppress or neglect in order to have clarity?
  • What tradeoffs these ways of thinking make in terms of values — what values do they elevate and serve, and what must they deprioritize or sacrifice in order to focus their sense of purpose?
  • What tradeoffs these ways of thinking make in terms of method — what kinds of action does it guide effectively and what kinds of action does it misdirect, encumber or fail to support?
  • Analyzing what the organization wants to be and to accomplish, and determining what an organization’s thinking needs to help it comprehend, do and care about.
  • Leading the development of conceptual frameworks the organization can use to think together in order to better be and do what it aspires to.
  • Communicate and teach the new conceptual frameworks using various vehicles such as visual models, verbal and visual explanations, taxonomies, glossaries of shared vocabulary, reference materials and training programs.
  • Testing and iterating both the frameworks and the communication/teaching vehicles.
  • Socializing and encouraging adoption of concepts across the organization.

This is what I want to do with my life, and this book will be a justification, a description of how it should be thought about and done, and be a proof on concept of what the profession produces.

Now, this is just me writing about a possibility. I cannot guarantee it will stick, and I’m not even sure I didn’t just derail my original plan for Second Natural, but it is at least getting me closer to what my intuition seems to want me to talk about.

I did not start off meaning to write this post, but here we are.

This is why we read Richard Rorty.