Monday, September 25, 2006

Role of the Intellectual: Noam Chomsky

1. Preamble.

Important to this discussion about Noam Chomsky’s role in our society is to first note the role of nominalist epistemology. Nominalism’s origin can be traced to Immanuel Kant—history’s most prominent nominalist. It has several forms, but typically it stands for rejection of universals or integrate concepts that accurately reference facts of reality—either our concepts fail to encompass each fact it claims to subsume, or if it can it cannot be logically integrated. To a nominalist, our concepts cannot reference reality, but references resemblances between objects in its definition—but no two objects are truly similar and thus can never be classified.

Our concepts have no depth to the nominalist. Concepts are a label for a class of resembling objects. Words are concepts, or labels. Thus, one offshoot of nominalist epistemology is linguistic theory.

Linguistic theory, in my mind, begins with Hegel—and picks intellectuals from that point forward. Linguistic nominalism takes hold of philosophy by the 20th century. Linguistics is pure theory, lead by intellectual generals (Hegel), applied by intellectual soldiers (Marx, Nietzsche.) Philosophy shapes people’s minds—and it is their minds that decide actions.

Behind each political action is an activist (an intellectual soldier), and behind each activist is (through whatever intermediary party) an intellectual general. Today, the General of the Nominalist Army is Kant, his deputy is Hegel, Hegel’s deputy is Marx (and others before 1900), another deputy would be Nietzsche (contrary to pop culture, a rather unoriginal thinker placed next to his predecessors), and beyond them, a myriad of intellectuals of lower cognitive ability (typically university professors) who apply their commander’s orders upon society.

In the 20th century there have been many academic fighters for nominalism. The one I am to discuss is Noam Chomsky, a nominalist whose influence is one of the greatest in our century—he is a true academic. Highly regarded and honored by the educational institution of the western world: The University.

He began as a linguistics expert (theoretical nominalism) and the nominalist Army’s captain on the ground in political activism.

2. Chomskyan Nominalism: Generative Grammar.

Generative grammar stands as Chomsky’s work that has survived mostly intact over the years. His other works, such as those in phonology, have been superceded by more recent works in phonology. Generative grammar is not a theory likely to last beyond another century or half-century.

Generative grammar postulates a universal grammar of finite rules that underlie all languages. The postulate’s basis is that a native speaker of a language can take a finite number of rules and produce an infinite number of grammatically correct statements—characteristics between grammars of natural languages share a common structure—and these rules of grammar pass between generations of humans intact and are implicitly known. Chomsky had postulated the existence of an innate language faculty years before neuroscientists identified a section of the brain that likely retains language—whether the scientists agree that this organ can produce the universal grammar has yet to be seen. Chomsky’s own reaction to such a discovery was unenthusiastic (perhaps due to his other works quickly becoming outdated.)

To Chomsky, rules of grammar retain merely structure—a well-formed (that is, grammatical) statement is a statement in which the arbitrary axioms of grammar hold true. That is, grammar is essentially arbitrary in the sense that ANY rule of syntax is as valid as any other rule of syntax, but that humans have simply preferred certain rules—and we seem to know these rules before being exposed to reality (grammar is known a priori, in a sense.) This is all nominalistically correct: Knowledge has nothing to do with reality, thus language has nothing to do with reality.

Chomsky wrote volumes on his generative grammar, often invoking use of formalized notation to illustrate his point. His works are academic in the truest sense: Hundreds of citations per volume. He has applied his theory to multiple languages—each of which maintain the generative framework. However, the generative framework is invalid in a Freudian sense of the term: No supporting work has offered scientific validity to the theory.

Linguistically, it is likely his syntactic theories will become outdated and replaced by another nominalist-linguist member of academia.

But at least for another few decades, Chomsky has gained for himself prestige. Academics is ruled by nominalism in every aspect and today academics applies nominalism to everything. And a man of intellect who is a nominalist is respected as a matter of course, Chomsky embodies the academic-nominalist-linguist. Academics owns intellectual power over the world today, thus it makes sense that Chomsky is in the highest tier of power.

His work as a linguist is in the past. He now uses his power to work as a political activist in the ideal nominalist-academic way.

3. The Captain.

In 1974, Chomsky and Foucault met in Holland to discuss the political issues facing the last quarter of the 20th century. Around this time Chomsky emerged as a political activist—pushing a nominalist agenda and taking security in the academic way: Obscurity and re-invention. Obscurity in the sense that he chose a pre-existing system that had been a popular form of socialism over one hundred years before (libertarian socialism.) Nominalist in the sense that the great materialist-nominalists were on the left wing of social affairs—from Marxism to Anarcho-syndicalism—Chomsky himself is no doubt a member of this thought. Chomsky is likely a materialist by implication.

He has not admitted any innate human nature, the closest I found was in the 1974 debate in which he had admitted that humans simply seem to be creative—and have creative urges—and that those creative urges are being oppressed by current political systems. He is thus a “libertarian socialist” and a supporter of Anarcho-syndicalism—a form of anarchism upheld by various left-wing international associations (that is, the IWW and IWA; to which Chomsky and his parents have always had close ties with.)

His political theories have no underlying theory that is consistent enough to examine from a philosopher’s viewpoint. However, his gadfly tactics and socialist mindset have lead him to examine all areas of politics, his earliest works dealing with the war in Vietnam during the 1960s and 1970s—his “middle” works dealing with the history of (typically American) relations between political powers which, for him, seem to begin around WWII—and his latest works dealing exclusively with American policy in the Middle East.

For this article, I will discuss his policies in regard to history. In short, Chomsky has re-written history and America’s role in the world after World War II. To a nominalist, re-writing history involves manipulation of the reader and dropping all historical context—and to treat history as naturalistic (that is, treatment of historical events not as a causal entity, but as a series of often un-connected events.)

For example, during World War II, Middle Eastern countries faced invasion by axis powers to secure its natural resources (oil) which would have been a source of economic power for the axis. To prevent this, Britain and the U.S.S.R. invaded countries from Persia to Palestine. Rather than colonize or occupy these lands after the Second World War, the U.S.S.R. and other nations withdrew to allow international intervention into the political systems of those Middle Eastern nations. The governments installed were pro-democratic and had fair justice systems (by western standards.)

Over time, the governments were toppled and replaced by corrupt, mismanaged governments from the inside. This occurred by the cold war. Rather than intervene with these governments, the western bloc supported the corrupt governments and gangs on the condition that they would stop any Russian invasion. The choice was merely a decision among two evils, the west chose the lesser evil: Support thugs, so long as the economies of the middle east weren’t nationalized and cut off from the world by the soviets (those greedy communists!)

Free trade continued through the end of the cold war. The support of any Middle Eastern government was only through free trade with the US economy—no significant other support has existed.

Chomsky has re-written this history in the interest of entertaining his younger pupils. It is here, his re-write of history, that his powerful mind distorted facts and set him as a major socialist capitalist-conspiracy theorist and social commentator that would influence pop culture as we have known it.

What follows is one of the greatest historical constructions I have encountered. It has all the elements of a wonderful conspiracy theory or science fiction, but with the distinguished style of dry academia to lend credibility. Its manipulation is ingenious and its loss of historical context is seamless.

The pattern that emerges from Chomsky’s political works involves political skepticism. That is, academic skepticism much like that of Hume’s, yet oriented in a political manner. Political skepticism is relatable to most readers as it is merely a socially acceptable form of paranoia—a causeless distrust of political power centers.

This form of skepticism plays on media (symbols of information and knowledge), history (which prove the source of political policy), economic power (specifically large corporations), and world leaders and political policy. (Its key assumption is that all beliefs are equal and relative.)

Chomsky is a main source of mistrust of media, history, world leaders, and political policy—which he claims are all influenced heavily by economic powers.

Chomsky’s re-write of history begins after WWII (the events during and before WWII in the middle east are typically neglected as the causal chain of events could unravel his works.) According to Chomsky, the United States, under economic duress of large corporations, came short of colonizing the land they have never fought for during WWII but had in some way forced oppressive client states to rise and funded corrupt governmental officials to continue their tyranny and the oil supply to the United States corporations. Small Arab gangs were funded by the United States corporations to continue oppression under the guise of invasion from the U.S.S.R. The corporations of news organizations actively suppressed information flow of these atrocities to the American people so as to ensure continued oppression of Arabs for use of their oil.

In 2006, Chomsky visited Hamas militants in Gaza (video can be found on youtube.) He was asked to characterize American reactions to 9/11, which he described as anger and upset as they had merely seen a glimpse of what Islamic terrorists have apparently lived with for years—and did not like this. In other articles, he has condoned the rhetoric of Islamic terror organizations (namely, Osama bin Laden, but also Hezbollah leaders as well) as if these organizational leaders were playing to role of the intellectual in our society by exposing lies from international power centers. That is, Osama bin Laden has been attempting to show American sins in international politics that have given rise to corrupt governments and used them to oppress Arab Muslims—he has simply chosen a form to discourse that he sees as equal to what the American client states have inflicted on Arab Muslims.

Often these tyrannical client governments supported by the Americans are simply labeled “oppressive.” Take the “oppressive” nation of Saudi Arabia. Its governmental policies, especially in its treatment of women and its continued human rights violations (“human rights” as defined by American standards) are no doubt oppressive in the view of Americans. (Our support of this nation is via economic trade—a relationship which America can survive without, and this fact is known well by the Saudis.)

However, what would Osama bin Laden mean by “oppressive”? If Saudi Arabia were ruled by a fundamentalist Islamic state, it would cease relations with any non-believer of Islam (including the United States), it would revert to even more barbaric methods of justice, women would be forbidden to vote, get an education, work, get abortions, etc. Many of these things the government of Saudi Arabia either does not comply with or is moderate on—in that way, Saudi Arabia is “oppressive” of the Islamic extremists such as Osama bin Laden.

This is how Americans can be accused of not “listening” to the extreme Islamic rhetoric of bin Laden after he attacks New York city—they are correct in saying Saudi Arabia is oppressive, but for opposite reasons than what Americans might think. This is one of many similar manipulations Noam Chomsky uses to sell his books.

This is one example of a Chomskyan re-write of history—he has covered every corner of the earth, shown each country or region as a victim of American (economic) imperialism.

The facts of history show otherwise.

4. Lieutenants and Sergeants.

Chomsky’s views are not original or new. It is merely an application of 1890 labor union views to modern times—whose views died by the end of WWII (and perhaps the reason Chomsky neglects this time in history.)

He is, essentially, a third-rate labor leader. But like his century-old predecessors, he must present his version of truth with an element of entertainment. It is hard to sell people on pure socialism since the end of WWII, but it is easier to manipulate to cause dissident actions against non-socialist governments (a role American academia has taken almost exclusively.)

His manipulations are easy to see through for the developed intellectual, but for those less developed or less intelligent, they idolize Chomsky for his seemingly original and exotic rhetoric. One good example is Eric Reed Boucher, known better as “Jello Biafra.”

Jello Biafra was a punk rock artist with the group Dead Kennedys, through which he gained status in American pop culture. His subsequent spoken-word albums have become canonical to American pop culture. He is admittedly a strict follower of the Chomskyan form of socialist doctrine.

Michael Moore, a documentary film producer is another follower of this doctrine—often appearing next to Chomsky in various doctrinal films.

Both Michael Moore and Jello Biafra have brought views influenced by “Chomskyan doctrine” to a massive audience. (And many in this audience, new to this doctrine, are easily manipulated and often agree with the films.)

Chomsky’s work and the works of his followers have the manipulative quality of a simple conspiracy theory (essentially with the truth value of UFOs and Spontaneous Human Combustion.) That is, Chomsky and his followers assume and attempt to know more than what can be reasonably allowed. Their approach to re-writes of history and distortions of international policy usually involve comic-strip evil, greedy capitalists trying to enslave the world through corporate oppression whose corruption of the American government allow them to enslave the entire world.

Chomsky portrays the motivations of his comic-strip characters (that is, political figures) as shallowly as a sci-fi B-film might. As with any manipulation and historical re-writes, things are lost, one such item is causality—to be specific: Volitional causal attributes: namely, political motivation. The simplest fool might conjecture Bush’s motivation in the Iraqi war to be simply “greed” for Arab oil (whatever that might mean is yet to be shown.)

Given historical context, it is more likely that Bush is simply a naive Christian altruist—attempting to “free” Iraqi citizens from mob-rule. (The mob’s only defense is that it is a religious mob and thus has some sort of precedence over any other kind of mob—and is above reproach by virtue of American political correctness.) If Bush were simply greedy for Iraqi oil, he would withdraw from Baghdad and patrol Iraqi oilfields with special forces. We simply cannot presume to know (based on conjectured economic relationships) that simple “greed” accounts for president Bush’s approach to international relations. The world is not so simple—but Chomskyans would rather you think otherwise.

I urge that everyone, especially Americans, attempt to see through the socialist revamp that is Chomskyan politics and use common sense in their search to understand our history and political relationships.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Kant and Mathematics a Short Essay

Synthesis of Synthesis and a priori Concepts

This is a story of a 282-year-old man and his struggle to understand a science thousands of years older: Mathematics. If I were asked to name a philosopher who culminated and influenced the preceding centuries of the modern philosophy of mathematics, and yet be least understood, it would be Immanuel Kant. The 282-year-old man.

A philosopher's starting point is always knowledge—the central branch of philosophy being epistemology. (Logically speaking, metaphysics precedes epistemology; but to reach an understanding of metaphysics, one must first realize what establishes an “understanding” is and only a study of epistemology can help us.) Kant's starting point was his famous “analytic-synthetic distinction” in the introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason. Kant's motivation was largely a response to Hume-esque skepticism preceding his time—and called, by the end of the introduction, for a synthesis of the a priori - a posteriori dichotomy in epistemology in the form of a “synthetic a priori” knowledge.

To clarify terms, “a priori” refers to knowledge true before or independent of experience; “a posteriori” means knowledge predicated on experience. In section four of the introduction to Kant's Critique, “analytic” and “synthetic” judgments are defined: “Analytic judgments (affirmative) are therefore those in which the connection of the predicate with the subject is thought through identity; those i which this connection is thought without identity should be entitled synthetic” (48). “Analytic” therefore means statements true only when the predicate of a statement is contained in its subject; “synthetical” then means a statement where the predicate is not within the subject, depending upon a greater context to be true. “Greater context” means, necessarily, a context empirical in nature—synthetical judgments are strictly empirical in nature. “Judgments of experience, as such, are one and all synthetic.” (p. 49).

The economic way of describing synthetical and analytical judgments is that analytics are known a priori; synthetics known a posteriori. In essence, the differences between analytic and a priori are negligible and are essentially the same—the same is true for a posteriori and synthetic. (I attribute insistence from philosophers that the differences among these terms are substantial to philosophical tradition and not to any rational basis.)

“All mathematical judgments, without exception, are synthetical.” (Kant 52) Kant goes on after this statement opening section five of the introduction to the critique to show how all mathematical judgments are synthetical. Euclidean geometry, arithmetic, and presumably calculus were deemed synthetic—and by extension, empirical. Kant uses as an example the judgment that “7+5=12” to explain that no where within the concepts of “7,” “5” or even “+” (analyzed individually and combined) do not contain the concept of “12.” Thus to prove this statement, we must appeal to knowledge perceptual in nature; with graphing, for example. Later, Kant claims that only pure mathematics is synthetic a priori (55).

But before I proceed any further with Kant, I want to focus on the metaphysical aspect of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy. Its metaphysical presupposition is that the universe is composed of facts either necessary or contingent—that is, facts logically necessary or facts not logically necessary. If we were living in a necessary world, analytic knowledge would grant us knowledge of reality. If we were to exist in a contingent world, synthetic knowledge would be our window to reality.

Kant spends much time on the contemplation of a necessary existence—if reality is necessary, we have no means of knowing so, as only the contingent is perceptible. Only a priori knowledge can apprehend a necessary being, and because a priori knowledge cannot connect in any way to reality (as a posteriori knowledge does), we can only conclude a possibility of a necessary being. But the evidence exists for the contingency of reality in all other perceptions. The nominalism of Kant renders metaphysical contemplation impossible—interestingly, Kant claims in section five of the introduction that metaphysics is a priori synthetic.

What is important is Kant's effect on western thought from that point in history. Having resigned himself from the search for a synthetic-a priori understanding of existence by the end of his life (and having destroyed perhaps the only possible way in which such knowledge may be discovered, that is, through metaphysical theorizing)—he provided the clearest distinction between the necessary and the contingent. It is the metaphysical basis for the a priori-a posteriori, the metaphysical basis for the divorce of mathematics from the rest of the natural sciences with mathematics being an analytic science of the a priori (the idea that math is analytic is from the perspective of western culture, no Kant himself.) And thus we approach the “reflection” stage of this essay.

Although it is downright illegal for an undergraduate student to challenge Kant or to think he or she knows anything substantial or both (as in my case), I prefer to live dangerously and I will risk being honest.

I sensed that many of my fellow mathematics students were disturbed by the fictionalists—and probably even threatened to a certain degree by these thinkers. But in the grand flow of philosophy, Kant's philosophy has a far greater influence and a far more radical implication on the epistemology and ontology of mathematics than the fictionalists. For example, if we were to ask a person what they noticed to the greatest epistemic difference between the nature of mathematics and physics, they might say that physics deals with things (that it is “synthetic”) and mathematics deals with relations of ideas (Hume's actual term for a priori concepts.) This way of thinking is no doubt a product of all the philosophers after Descartes. But it was Kant drew the sharpest disctiontion between them and explicitly defined their metaphysical basis—and only one man is responsible when the next question we ask the person the ontological status of mathematics versus physics: The person won't know.

After all, there is no way of establishing a necessary being and thus no way to connect our non-empirical concepts to reality. The problem of induction becomes a real concern when we know we can only establish a contingent existence (which is phenomenal and not certain either.) We cannot apply a priori knowledge to a contingent world, and we cannot universalize a posteriori-synthetic concepts with absolute certainty as we can with pure concepts. In that regard, can we even establish an ontological status for physics? Our hypothetical person ought to be uncomfortable by this point.

The analytic-synthetic distinction lost its trendy status when Willard Quine wrote his “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” essay (which utilized linguistic philosophy, whose strongest basis is phenomenology—a philosophy inspired by and fully compatible with Kant's philosophy)—but the analytic-synthetic dichotomy lives on, seemingly unharmed by Quine. And other ideas considered antiquated regarding his philosophy of math is that he considered Euclidean geometry to be a priori synthetic and that it were The Geometry—but rather, Kant’s acknowledgement that geometry is chiefly a synthetic science, relying on a priori axioms, implies that Kant did not rule out (and possibly predicted) the later discovery of non-Euclidean geometry. Kant is still very much alive in this sense.

Kant haunts the world of philosophy and provokes the questions integral to the philosophy of mathematics: What is mathematics (ontologically speaking)? What epistemic status does math have, being an a priori science? And most importantly, is it even real? Many schools in the philosophy of mathematics are simply responses to these Kantian provocations.

And now for my so-called “sweeping generalizations” and flagrant “over-simplifications.” Is this Kant-centrism The Rational Alternative in our philosophical inquiries? Or must we re-examine how we got to our Kant-centrism? When has the a priori-a posteriori concepts been primary to epistemology?

The idea of a split between pure and empirical concepts can be traced to before the Enlightenment—but only after Descartes’ time can we see an explicit separation between the concepts. And each philosopher acknowledging the a priori-a posteriori distinction has treated the distinction as a philosophical primary not to be question—Kant himself presupposes it in the critique and in all other of his works.

It can be said that genius is often in the ability to prove or state the obvious, and with regard to the analytic-synthetic dichotomy, Kant comes short of genius (or perhaps deceivingly beyond genius.) The distinction has never received a serious critique or proof of necessity in epistemology. Also, the injection of “logic” into metaphysics with the necessary-contingent distinction has yet to be justified—there is no cause for us to evaluate reality in terms of logic; it is merely a twist on our quest to discover if reality is ours to understand.

What do I know of reality? First, it must exist apart from the mind—or else consciousness itself becomes impossible. As such reality’s independence from consciousness necessitates an absolute existence. Our connection to this reality is through our senses—which, once processed by the mind, provide perceptions of both quality and quantity. Perceptions are not in the object, but have no other source but reality itself to draw on. Any seeming alterations are due to the absoluteness of reality of the sense organs themselves, and are testaments to the accuracy of perception. Our initial concepts are perceptions without specificity—and beyond this are logically-coherent, but contextual inferences granted on virtue of our concepts and perceptions previously established to be correspondent truths.

Abstractions are a matter of cognitive science and epistemology. Concepts of quantity are derived just as those concepts of quality philosophers have spent much time analyzing (such as our concept of a chair.) What I see as the greatest difference between a science of the concepts of quantity (mathematics) and a science of concepts of quality (physics, biology, geology, et cetera) is with regard to theory-formation and induction, not metaphysical status.

Mathematics requires quantitative abstractions made early in life and relies on fewer observations than other sciences—but this by no means restricts math as a priori, if such a term were valid. Further abstractions must be made by logical inference, but such inferences do not separate mathematics from reality. Beyond this, little more can be said as scientific induction itself has been neglected due to acceptance of the necessary-contingent distinction, the analytic-synthetic distinction, and the problem of induction predicated on the previously stated distinctions.

As philosophers and mathematicians, the time has come to move beyond Kant and his time. To work with facts and not propositions; cognition and not the elusive, antiquated synthetic and analytic dichotomy; metaphysics and not the denial of it.

Works Cited

Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Pure Reason. Trans. Norman Kemp Smith. New York: St. Martin’s. 1965.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


Well we approach our final hit on this subject. The subject of causality is massive no doubt. And my choice of which details to include has taken a time. Before I begin there is one point I want to point out more clearly: Volition is a type of causality. Purpose in (living) nature is a product of final causation—and consciousness merely beckons volition so as to remain within the teleological (causal) bounds of a living, conscious organism.

Art deals only with evaluative (non-cognitive) abstractions. Evaluative concepts are the “ought” and not the “is”: For Example: “We should leave Iraq”—Evaluative; “My car is red”—Cognitive; “The derivative of cosine is negative sine”—(fill in the blank.) Like teleology, evaluative concepts exist only in relation to living beings, and only those with volitional consciousness comprehend them in explicit & implicit form.

So to begin, we will approach the causal aspect of the artistry of the novel—how does causality and like concepts apply to the artistic formation of evaluative concepts in a literary work? What role does it play as a device, a tool, and a standard for literature?

As volition is the key to morality—and in turn to the evaluative content of art—it is the meter of aesthetics. Romanticism versus Naturalism is the division I am speaking of—the former has volition (final causation) and the latter is devoid of volition (final causation).

Romanticism shows volition (final causation) and all that is requires and implies. The author's function is to compose a world and people within it for his own purpose. The character's personality, choices, and values are things open to selectivity by the author—not one aspect can be overlooked, it must be purposeful, not a causeless (purposeless), random clash of events and things. The author is like an engineer, creating a structure with precision, economy, perfection. The plot must display a causal chain (not a determined chain) of actions by the characters; not one minute of the readers' time must be wasted on deterministic drivel or purposeless motion. Every person has a separate style—if we were to read three separate works of philosophy or literature, it would take only a short time to realize which of the works were done by separate authors. Music is a great example of style, us pop culture freaks know that the Ramones sound very different from Elliott Smith which sounds very different from Denali which sounds very different from Belle and Sebastian (which is closer to Elliott Smith), etc. The details Dante includes in the Inferno would probably be very different from the details George Eliot would have included—but this is pure conjecture, as the subject of the Inferno is one that could only belong to Dante in the first place.

The whole work is a work of purpose—each part must serve that purpose, and they must all be compatible with one another—they must be an integrated whole, with no part lacking.

If Emile Zola wrote a film—it would be Requiem for a Dream; I could never see it as original for that reason; and I didn't consider it a meritorious work of film at all, I shall explain.... Emile Zola—a deterministic writer, the father of naturalism. Things that happen without cause, a string linked together only by the binding of the book it comes in. Characters without purpose—tragic figures in lives of poverty and without the drive or means to survive or find happiness. They are trapped in a senseless world of fear and loathing, out to destroy them, with no causal conception it is impossible to manipulate or escape. Whiny pathetic-isms--purposeless pathetic figures...actually, I'll pass on that for something greater, something of aesthetic causal beauty: Romanticism.

Feminist Theory and the Classics: A Modified Review

Here is a modified (i.e., significantly shortened) work I wrote not long ago....

Weighing the Phallocentrism of the Classics

I. Feminist Motivation

Feminist Theory and the Classics is a book of essays from various authors written in 1993; relatively long after many cardinal works of feminism and feminist theory had been spoken. Feminist theory is the philosophical explication of the values and ideals of feminist civil rights activists of the mid-20th century. Taking the route of most post-modern (“post-modern” referring to a period in the early to mid-1900s) philosophies, a major vessel for feminist theory was in linguistics with noticeable strains of post-structuralist thought.

Post-structuralism is a reaction to structuralism in the academic disciples, such as philosophy, philology, and history among others. Structuralism was first introduced as a hypothesis in psychology, but more formatively to structuralism, it was the work of Ferdinand de Saussure in linguistics that breathed life into structuralism. Structuralism, in a post-structuralist interpretation, represents a reinforcement of traditional, inhumane power structures. Post-structural thought attempts to identify power structures and deconstruct them by dissolving “binary oppositions” (for example, existence/nothing, light/dark, black/white.)

Feminist theory is post-structural in that sense; it represents a gender-oriented approach to deconstructing pre-existing power structures oppressive towards women. In feminist theory, where there exists a privileged or favored term within a binary opposition—such privileged terms are representative of a phallus. This is called phallocentrism—the favoring of the phallus over the vagina; or, the domination and privilege of the phallus in western thought. A function of feminist theory is to deconstruct phallocentrism in order to shift or destroy the misogynistic power structure that is western thought.

Helene Cixous, a prominent French feminist, provides important insight into the feminist psyche regarding this deconstructive aspect of feminist theory: “What would become of logocentrism, of the great philosophical systems, of world order in general if the rock upon which they founded their church were to crumble? If it were to come out in a new day that the logocentric project had been, undeniably, to found (fund) phallocentrism, to insure for masculine order a rationale equal to history itself? Then all the stories would have to be told differently, the future would be incalculable, the historical forces would, will, change hands, bodies, another thinking, as yet unthinkable, will transform the functioning of all society.” (Cixous 314). Here Cixous seems to say that the success of the feminists goals would necessitate a re-examination and a re-telling of the formerly phallocentric text of western history.

Feminist Theory and the Classics is at least part of that re-examination of early history. How did the fathers of western thought consider the issue of gender differences? Of women's rights? How did they implement phallocentrism? Where were the mothers of western thought? How were they marginalized by phallocentrism? “Using contemporary theory, we hope to press the classics community to question itself; reviewing ancient material from new perspectives, we hope to enter the ongoing dialogue in feminist theory.” (Rabinowitz 2)

II. Feminist Readings of Classicism and Classical works

Structural and post-structural philosophy generally treat all subjects and objects as a text. That is to say, the methods one uses to critically read a text may be used in the treatment of other subjects. For example, a deconstruction of history, a Marxist reading of one's personal experiences, a Freudian examination sociology, and the subject of Feminist Theory and the Classics: A feminist reading of the Classics.

The politics of feminist beckon an identification of pre-existing power structures: What power structures are at work in the discipline of Classicism? Author Shelley Haley defines an elitist sexism common to the students of the classics: “Anna Julia Cooper and Mary Church Terrell were members of the Oberlin class of 1884 and they too received B.A.s. The curriculum for this degree was classical and usually taken by men only; for that reason it was called the 'gentlemen's course.' Women took the 'ladies'' course, a two-year literary curriculum, which led to a certificate.” (Haley 25) Later, as Haley discusses her experience at the University of Michigan as a graduate student she mentions the sexism of the faculty: “I noticed, though, that while male faculty in conversation with students would refer to their [male] colleagues as 'Mr. ____,' and their female colleague as 'Gerda.'” (Haley 26). The general attitude towards the discipline of classicism by the feminist theorists is that it has been dominated by wealthy white males—and ancient history, Greek culture, and Roman culture has been written by them—thus marginalizing women and racial minorities.

Identification of power structures is part-one to the feminist strategy—part-two is the re-writing of the discipline of Classicism. Shelley Haley starts the book's first attempts at re-writing:

This same symbol-making process has led to a physical stereotype, which has been applied to ancient African women even by twentieth century scholars [italics mine]. A good example is Frank Snowden's translation of the physical description of Scybale, an African woman who appears in the Moretum (a short Augustan poem of unknown authorship):

Erat unica Custos Afra genus, tota patriam testante figura, torta comam labroque tumens et fusca colore, pectore lata iacens mammis compressior alvo, cruribus exilis, spatiosa prodiga planta (Moretum 31-35)

African in race, her whole figure proof of her country—her hair tightly curled, lips thick, color dark,chest borad, breasts pendulous, belly somewhat pinched, legs thin, and feet broad and ample (translated by Snowden 1970: 6).

Snowden's translation reminds me too much of the physical stereotype of black women in the nineteenth century. He does not treat this passage elsewhere in his work, nor does he seem aware that his translation is stereotypical. Can we read the Latin another way? It seems to me that here is a place where classicists can use a Black Feminist perspective and Black feminism can rehabilitate the reading of a text. What would a Black feminist translation of this passage look like? Still using a standard Latin lexicon, here's what I came up with:

She was his only companion, African in her race, her whole form a testimony to her country: her hair twisted into dreads, her lips full, her color dark, her chest broad, her breasts flat, her stomach flat and firm, her legs slender, her feet broad and ample.” (Haley 30.)

Haley identifies a classicist who had been in the midst of culturally-imposed racist and sexist themes. She then identifies the time period in which the classicist works (twentieth century)—which presumably happens to be a time where such themes are unexpected—and proceeds to re-write the Moretum excerpt in terms different from those of Snowden's choosing. The Moretum excerpt is certainly anatomic in nature, but Haley later submits that only with Snowden's bias could the excerpt be written as it was—and that it is evidence of such bias.

Marilyn Skinner, a notable feminist (often cited by other authors for previous works) who seemed to be a highlight in this volume, wrote an essay titled “Woman and Language in Archaic Greece, or, Why Is Sappho a Woman?” She begins with an explanation of linguistic theories by prominent feminist theorists, a Miss Irigaray in particular—then arrives at a word that forms her thesis: Gynocritics. “Gynocritics[sic], defined by Elaine Showalter as the investigation of the 'history, themes, genres, and structures of literature by women' (1985a:128)” (Skinner 128) Skinner then proceeds to take a gynocritical approach to reading Sappho of Lesbos.

Skinner writes: “Applying gynocritic methods to these texts readily illustrates how books by women 'continue each other' (Woolf 1957: 84)” (Skinner 129) The best and earliest starting point for such study is naturally in the classics. And in Ancient Greece, the lyrist and poet Sappho fills the mother role to women authors in later times. Sappho was a Greek canonical figure with numerous female followers including “Erinna and Nossis expressly looked back to Sappho as their exemplar (Rauk 1989; Skinner 1989.)” (Skinner 129). Skinner reveals this fact to explain the large flow of feminist classicists towards the recovery of female Sapphic followers throughout Greek history. She also attempts to explain why Sappho had appeal in anceint Greece; to paraphrase Skinner, the emotional quality of Sappho's songs made female desires emotionally and conceptually accessible to men and women. And it is this, theoretically, which allowed Sappho in the patriarchal canon. Skinner concludes that female writers of any civilization contribute something similar—and it would therefore be a loss to men, as well as women, to suppress female literature.

The final section of Feminist Theory and the Classics, titled “Epistemology and Material Culture” skirts the previous sections in an unexpected way. Dealing with Marxist theory and gynocritical analysis, feminist archeology, and a female ethnographer's “dilemma.” I could find no way of integrating these essays into the rest of the volume without writing awkwardly—and thus I must mention this section independently of the book.

III. Possible Response

Feminist Theory and the Classics has been out of print for an indeterminant number of years. In my personal research of the book I have found the essays within cited only a small number of times by other works—and most were by feminist journals and speeches for philological groups. For that reason, I found it difficult to find any serious criticism or commentary on the volume—I can only imagine the possible reaction to Feminist Theory and the Classics. And so I will attempt to construct a possible reaction from various groups.

Theorists—whether Marxist, psychoanalytical, post-colonial, or feminist—tend to work exclusively and tightly in academic circles, and thus a feminist comment to the book would perhaps be an idle “interesting.” The original works offer a titillating springboard from which feminist writers can elaborate or construct new ideas upon the ones established by the writers of Feminist Theory and the Classics.

A classicist, as a philological thinker, would find Feminist Theory and the Classics a good insight into feminist theory—a solid bridge from which a philological thinker unacquainted with feminist theory might become introduced to the subject. There is no better way to learn of an ideology than to hear such an ideology speak evaluatively to one's intellectual pursuits.

But a general opinion, that which the classicist and perhaps even the feminist might provide of Feminist Theory and the Classics is that it like all theory, and is therefore work towards a purely academic, impractical, and idealistic end. It is the nature of theory itself to ultimately be discarded by general opinion (that is, ultimately everybody's opinion, including many theorists) as an intellectual pursuit that perhaps serves no greater purpose than to achieve tenure for a professor of English. After all, any book with one thousand forty seven citations over the course of less than two hundred and fifty pages of actual text, making an average of approximately four citations per page, of which less than a quarter cite anybody other than like-theorists (many of which include citations of co-writers within the same volume)—and use many these citations to form their theses—is probably not a book to say anything groundbreaking or original. And so we will probably put it back on the shelf for an indefinite time.

Works Cited

Cixous, Helene. La Jeune Nee. As cited by Gold.

Rabinowitz, Nancy, ed. et al. Feminist Theory and the Classics. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Haley, Shelley. "Black Feminist Thought and Classics: Re-membering, Re-claiming, Re-empowering." Feminist Theory and the Classics. Ed. Rabinowitz, Nancy. et al. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Skinner, Marilyn. "Woman and Language in Archaic Greece, or, Why Is Sappho a Woman?" Feminist Theory and the Classics. Ed. Rabinowitz, Nancy. et al. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

II: Causal Explanation of Volition & Satisfactory Segue Into Art

There are many other writers who have handled this subject systematically—and I'd recommend those authors (I mentioned them in the last post on the subject.) This is more for fun.

Volition: Ability to choose between two or more alternatives. Choice: The selection of an action out of two or more possible actions. Volitional consciousness: All consciousnesses have volition to some extent, the reason is because consciousness is awareness of the world, and any apprehension of reality requires volition. Law of Causation: The action of an entity is in accordance with its identity. Combining these concepts gives us the following causal explanation of volitional action: An entity of volition acts upon its knowledge reality through manipulation of causal mechanisms to meet a purpose; or, the manipulation of “final cause.”

For example, I exercised volitional-causation when I was younger (whenever my dad showed me his ground school books from college and showed me how to play the very first Microsoft flight simulator ever made) and decided I wanted to fly for a living—and that I wanted to be a military pilot and fly fighter/attack jets. I selected a central purpose for myself when several other viable life purposes were available. I was unsure of how to become a military pilot—I asked around and read the world book encyclopedia numerous times to gain knowledge of how this could be done. I confirmed from several sources (including my father, a US Navy vet) that a college education was needed. I decided then to go to college. Later in life I learned that the US Navy did not guarantee fighter jets to people—and that it is a risk to join them with aspirations to fly fighters like the F-14 or F-18. From this I learned something I hadn't known before—this knowledge increased my volitional efficacy. So I decided to learn more about other services—the best way to get into the USAF and fly their fighters is to join ROTC or the USAF Academy. I did not like being controlled—I didn't like required PT three times a week, regulation hair and face, wearing a damned uniform (I got sick of these things from CAP.) So I decided not to join ROTC. I also wanted to do some writing and perhaps try being a chef, and I'd also want to travel on my own time. By this time I learned about the Air National Guard, and that one can be a part-time or a full-time fighter pilot. This has come to be the best fit for me—I also learned that mathematics was important, and so I've studied that.

None of these things can happen WITHOUT a volitional consciousness. Values cannot exist or be achieved without volition. Our lives hinge on volition and our use of it.

Art is the subject dealing with evaluative abstractions—as opposed to “cognitive” abstractions. This is basically like the “is-ought gap.” Example: Non-fiction books deal with the “is”—fiction deals with the “ought.”

Values exist in relation to volition, thus volition is the point of divergence on art. The art which is predominantly opposed to the idea of volition can be classified as naturalism—art which is for volition is classified as romanticism.

Next time I shall address the aesethetic importance of causality. But until then, have a good time, ladies and gentlemen.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Personal Interlude: God and Reason

"No progress will be made. Neither of us will change our views. It is highly unlikely that you will ever believe in God, and I will not stop believing in Him, either."

I have heard that many times. I stand back in many arguments regarding God--for one, I respect myself too much to become a cynical atheist shit who bastardizes any serious attempt to understand metaphysics and epistemology. I took the time to really understand those subjects--and I don't believe in God, I am an "atheist" only as far as I never really think about God. I don't go on militant crusades to obliterate any person who claims that God exists--only fools who think "atheism" is a formal type of metaphysics do that. I am no fool.

However, in many discussions I read or hear in classrooms at my Christian Liberal Arts University I have heard theologians of every caliber attempt to reverse the idea that "the unreasonable cannot be swayed by reason; irrationality cannot be defeated by rationality." (For sure religion is irrational; and for sure a rejection of invalid concepts in the interest of keeping a consistently rational epistemology is rational.)

But when that statement is invoked by the "atheists" when in the heat of battle, the theists catch it can toss it back as: "You are limited by reason, and this faith in reason will ultimately keep you blind to God." Or, "The rational cannot be persuaded by the irrational." Or can they?

Reason is not an algorithmic process; reason is not an elaborate trick performed by automata. Reason takes effort and thus requires a purpose. There are paths to be chosen, characteristics to be isolated, concepts differentiated and integrated, the maintenance of consistency, logical connections, noncontradiction--none of these processes can occur without careful effort.

Unreason is the default of effortlessness; irrationality is a simple nothing: blankness: stillness: inaction: boredom: purposeless. Irrationality does not require careful effort--it does not require consistency, logic, noncontradiction.

So who is more vulnerable of losing his or her "religion"? The atheists who expend great effort in the creation of consistent and noncontradictory concepts as the basis of his or her argument and who do so without a solid metaphysical or epistemological basis? Or those theologians whose beliefs require no effort whatsoever and who do so with a solid metaphysics and epistemology which perpetuate effortless irrationality as a central, founding principle?

Inertia of the brain is more likely to take hold of those aimless athiests than for a brain already halted by it to escape into motion.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Notes on Causality, Aesthetics, and Teleology Part I

Here is part one of a discussion on the subjects of Causality, Aesthetics, and Teleology. It isn't meant to be exhaustive--just some observations I've made on the subjects. So one might find a couple of small errors, nothing to be frightened of. For more in-depth (and exhaustive) discussion on Teleology, I would refer you to Dr Binswanger's book, The Biological Basis for Teleological Concepts.


Aristotle makes four major divisions of causal explanation in Physics. Aristotle notes that of all existents none contain all four causes except in relation to living entities. Telos is the cause that exists only in relation to living entities—telos is the final cause; that purpose which the object can and does fulfill.

Aristotle later comments on the fact that all parts of a living entity's body serves a purpose. In the context of modern biology, this is partly true—but the fact remains that the bodies of living organisms serve some ultimate purpose, whatever it may be. The functions of the human hand, for example, developed from our need of them and thus the hand contains purpose. Purpose means a designed and deliberate intent to complete a goal. Not only bodies but actions too can be purposeful. We observe living organisms to be “goal-directed” or oriented purposefully toward a goal or value. The cause of these goal-directed actions is that the form of a living organism—that is, its life and “formal” existence—depend on the attaining of goals.

A tiger has legs to chase game—sharp teeth to consume its quarry—and does so in order to sustain its life. Humans, however, rely on the power of the mind to accomplish such purpose.


We have established that purpose is inherent in life. Let us now turn to human nature and the role of determined action.

Volition is the ability to choose among two or more alternatives. There are two important facts to take note with regard to volition: 1. Volition is an axiomatic concept—it cannot be denied without assuming a contradiction, and 2. Volition is within the causality of teleology.
1. Ayn Rand points out the axiomatic nature of volition—she explains it best. Instead, I will focus on the contradiction contained within a major denial of volition: Determinism. Several psychologists and philosophers have noted that it is impossible for one to declare that determinism were true—the best one could claim is that one has been “determined” to believe its truth. As Ayn Rand notes, only volition allows concepts such as truth, validity, and proof to exist—all such epistemic concepts presuppose that a mind is not automatic. Determinism maintains that the mind is automatically driven by material causes—and so to claim determinism is true is to presuppose that the mind is not automatic; a direct contradiction. Determinism is an invalid concept.

2. The mind is not automatic—this is true axiomatically. But this immediately raises more questions: But how can something that is not automatic function and still obey “every event has cause [popular definition of causality]”? The brief answer to that is that “every event has a cause” is invalid—if we are to take causality as a true corollary to identity, the proper definition (to paraphrase Ayn Rand and Dr Peikoff) is: All entities act in accordance with their respective natures.

From this aspect, it is entities which act. From this aspect, determinism—where one action is followed by another, followed by another, and another, and another—is an invalid chain. The reason is that one is not establishing causal explanation by recording patterns—one establishes causal explanation by apprehending the identities of all entities involved to determine. Thus to say that all human actions can be explained through a “machine” analogy—either through biological “mechanisms” or through neural algorithms—is invalid and inadequate to causally explain human action.

Human action can be causally explained—but only by taking volition as an attribute of human consciousness, as part of human identity. How, then, do we causally explain volition?

To Be Continued....

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Introduction to The Philetica

The general purpose of this blog is to exhibit some of my philosophy notes/thoughts for others to read and even critique. I will write short essays on various philosophical subjects--perhaps even post some of my college essays in philosophy. Most of this is commentary and just general thoughts...I don't expect anything exhaustive or grand. I should mention that I am an Objectivist and I owe much of intellectual fuel to Objectivism and Objectivist writers. I am not in any way a part of the Ayn Rand Institute and I definitely do not speak for Objectivism itself.

-Tom J.