Through interviews with lesbian and gay journalists in Texas, the authors consider ethical decision making surrounding the phenomenon of outing. Outing is defined as the unauthorized mediated identification of gay and lesbian public figures who are not public about their sexual identih. This article discusses theoretical issues of ethics as they relate to the phenomenon of outing and applies that framework to the analysis of the interviews and a forum. The research found that in individual interviews journalists were more likely (...) to discuss outing as it related to their personal lives and their identification with the lesbian and gay community. However, when brought together in a group, these same journalists tended to discuss outing as it applies to journalistic norms. This article concludes with a suggestion for research on the intersection between outing and AIDS. (shrink)
The most striking difference between Christian and Muslim theologies is that while, for Christians, God is a person, Muslims worship an impersonal deity. Despite the importance of this difference for a host of theological issues, it is a difference which has gone largely unnoticed by Christians and Muslims alike. Yet Christians everywhere will affirm that God is a person, while the average Muslim will readily deny this. Theism is often defined by philosophers of religion who work in the Christian tradition (...) in such a manner as to require the belief that God is a person. Thus The Encyclopedia of Philosophy has it that, ‘THEISM signifies belief in one God who is personal, worthy of adoration, and separate from the world but continuously active in it”. John H. Hick admits that, ‘ Theism …is strictly belief in a deity, but is generally used to mean belief in a personal deity”. Richard Swinburne states that a theist is one who believes that there is a God who is a ‘person without a body who is eternal, free, able to do anything, knows everything, is perfectly good, is the proper object of human worship and obedience, the creator and sustainer of the universe”, and J. L. Mackie, while arguing the case of atheism, endorses Swinburne's definition of theism. (shrink)
A fascinating collection of essays by leading scholars in the field engage with the idea of religious pluralism mooted by John Hick to offer incisive insights on religious pluralism and related themes and to address practical aspects such as interreligious spirituality and worship in a multi-faith context.
From Yorkshire schoolboy to philosopher and theologian of International renown, John Hick tells his life story in this warm and absorbing autobiography. Painting a vivid picture of Twentieth-century soceity, from 1950s America to racial tensions in England and in apartheid-era South Africa, he recounts the events that have shaped his life, including his early conversion to evangelical Christianity, his role as a conscientious objector in the Second World War, and his gradual often controversial- move towards a religious pluralism embracing all (...) the world faiths. This thoughtful reflection on the changing face of religion and insight into one man's spiritual and intellectual journey will appeal to any concerned with the great human questions, from belief in the Transcendent, to the role of faith, and the nature of death and beyond. (shrink)
In his recent article Should Trees Have Standing? Revisited" Christopher D. Stone has effectively withdrawn his proposal that natural objects be granted legal rights, in response to criticism from the Feinberg/McCloskey camp. Stone now favors a weaker proposal that natural objects be granted what he calls legal "considerateness". I argue that Stone's retreat is both unnecessary and undesirable. I develop the notion of a "de facto" legal right and argue that species already have de facto legal rights as statutory beneficiaries (...) of the "Endangered Species Act of 1973." I conclude that granting certain nonhuman natural entities legal rights is both more important and less costly that Stone and his critics have realized, and that it is not Stone's original proposal which needs rethinking, but the concept of interests at work in the Feinberg/McCloskey position. (shrink)
With his 1998 book, In Nature’s Interests? Gary Varner proved to be one of our most original and trenchant of environmental ethicists. Here, in the first of a promised two volume set, he makes his mark on another field, animal ethics, leaving an even deeper imprint. Thoroughly grounded in the relevant philosophical and scientific literatures, Varner is as precise in analysis as he is wide-ranging in scope. His writing is clear and rigorous, and he explains philosophical nuances with extraordinary (...) economy of expression. Never one to add an unnecessary clause to a sentence, Varner nonetheless constructs a formidable edifice while always dealing fairly with the authors he criticizes. His explication of the properties and moral status of what he calls near-persons is a crucial addition to the discussion of personhood initiated by Parfit in Reasons and Persons and subsequently applied to animals by McMahan in The Ethics of Killing. The comparison to McMahan is intentional for, to my mind, Varner vies with him as the most important animal ethicist since Singer and Regan. (shrink)
"Who or what is God?," asks John Hick. A theist might answer: God is an infinite person, or at least an infinite personal being. Hick disagrees: "God cannot be both a person and infinite." Moreover, he says, the distinction between being a person and being a personal being "is a distinction without a difference." Thus, God cannot be an infinite personal being either. In this essay, I assess Hick's reasons for drawing these conclusions. I argue that, even if some other (...) reasons for drawing these conclusions are compelling, Hick's reasons are not. (shrink)
A central question in the philosophy of science is: What is a law of nature? Different answers to this question define an important schism: Humeans, in the wake of David Hume, hold that the laws of nature are nothing over and above what actually happens and reject irreducible facts about natural modality (Lewis, 1983, 1994; cf. Miller, 2015). According to Non-Humeans, by contrast, the laws are metaphysically fundamental (Maudlin, 2007) or grounded in primitive modal structures, such as dispositional essences of (...) powerful properties (Bird, 2007), necessitation relations (Armstrong, 1983), or primitive subjunctive facts (Lange, 2009). This volume focuses on recent developments in the discussion of Humeanism, specifically on pragmatic versions of the view that put the needs of limited agents like us front and center. (shrink)
Since scholarly interest in corporate social responsibility (CSR) has primarily focused on the synergies between social and economic performance, our understanding of how (and the conditions under which) companies use CSR to produce policy outcomes that work against public welfare has remained comparatively underdeveloped. In particular, little is known about how corporate decision-makers privately reconcile the conflicts between public and private interests, even though this is likely to be relevant to understanding the limitations of CSR as a means of aligning (...) business activity with the broader public interest . This study addresses this issue using internal tobacco industry documents to explore British-American Tobacco’s (BAT) thinking on CSR and its effects on the company’s CSR Programme. The article presents a three-stage model of CSR development, based on Sykes and Matza’s theory of techniques of neutralization, which links together: how BAT managers made sense of the company’s declining political authority in the mid-1990s; how they subsequently justified the use of CSR as a tool of stakeholder management aimed at diffusing the political impact of public health advocates by breaking up political constituencies working towards evidence-based tobacco regulation; and how CSR works ideologically to shape stakeholders’ perceptions of the relative merits of competing approaches to tobacco control. Our analysis has three implications for research and practice. First, it underlines the importance of approaching corporate managers’ public comments on CSR critically and situating them in their economic, political and historical contexts. Second, it illustrates the importance of focusing on the political aims and effects of CSR. Third, by showing how CSR practices are used to stymie evidence-based government regulation, the article underlines the importance of highlighting and developing matrices to assess the negative social impacts of CSR. (shrink)
Mainstream economics evaluates capitalism primarily from the perspective of efficiency. Social philosophy typically applies other or additional normative criteria, such as equality, democracy, and community. This essay examines the implications of these contrasting sets of criteria in the evaluation of capitalism. Its first two sections consider the criteria themselves, assuming that a trade-off exists between them. The last three sections question whether such a trade-off necessarily occurs, and explore the claim that improvements in nonefficiency dimensions of capitalist society may enhance, (...) rather than conflict with, efficiency. (shrink)
John Hick is one of the most widely read and discussed living writers in modern theology and the philosophy of religion. This book offers students a one volume textbook on his thought. Extracts from his writings cover all the various themes for which Hick has become known: Faith and Knowledge, Philosophy of Religion, Evil and the God of Love, Death and Eternal Life, The Myth of God Incarnate, and Problems of Religious Pluralism. The extracts are preceded by an introductory essay (...) by Paul Badham on John Hick's philosophical theology, and on the integrity of his life and thought. (shrink)
This a response to D. Z. Phillips's stringent critique of theodicies, including that suggested by myself. I offer counters to his array of arguments, and point to what I see as a fundamental flaw in his philosophy of religion. He appealed to religious language as used by ordinary religious persons. But his account of the meaning of this language was not that of the ordinary religious believer. He thus claimed, by implication, to know better than they did what they really (...) meant. I conclude that he was a non-realist concerning both religious language and the reality of God. (shrink)
Drawing heavily on recent empirical research to update R.M. Hare's two-level utilitarianism and expand Hare's treatment of "intuitive level rules," Gary Varner considers in detail the theory's application to animals while arguing that Hare should have recognized a hierarchy of persons, near-persons, & the merely sentient.
Since the 1970s Gary Watson has published a series of brilliant and highly influential essays on human action, examining such questions as: in what ways are we free and not free, rational and irrational, responsible or not for what we do? Moral philosophers and philosophers of action will welcome this collection, representing one of the most important bodies of work in the field.
I make a Quinean case that Quine’s ontological relativity marked a wrong turn in his philosophy, that his fundamental commitments point toward the classical view of ontology that was worked out in most detail in hisWord and Object. This removes the impetus toward structuralism in his later philosophy.
In their book, Roman but Not Catholic, Kenneth Collins and Jerry Walls make the case that certain beliefs central to the Roman Catholic faith are unreasonable. This article evaluates, from the point of view of Eastern Orthodoxy, some of the arguments Collins and Walls make. In particular, it argues first that Collins and Walls are correct to criticize John Henry Newman’s theory of the development of doctrine as a reason to accept otherwise insufficiently supported Catholic doctrines. Secondly, it offers some (...) points of clarification concerning the matter of sacred tradition and attempts to show the areas of agreement and disagreement between Eastern Orthodoxy and the position that Collins and Walls articulate. Thirdly, it argues that Collins and Walls rely on what is, from an Eastern Orthodox point of view, a questionable view about the interpretation of scripture by assuming without good reason that the clear meaning of scripture is equivalent to the literal interpretation. (shrink)
Is the Bible the unembellished Word of God or the product of human agency? There are different answers to that question. And they lie at the heart of this book's powerful exploration of the fraught ways in which money, race and power shape the story of Christianity in American public life. The authors' subject is the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC: arguably the latest example of a long line of white evangelical institutions aiming to amplify and promote a (...) religious, political, and moral agenda of their own. In their careful and compelling investigation, Jill Hicks-Keeton and Cavan Concannon disclose the ways in which the Museum's exhibits reinforce a particularized and partial interpretation of the Bible's meaning. Bringing to light the Museum's implicit messaging about scriptural provenance and audience, the authors reveal how the MOTB produces a version of the Bible that in essence authorizes a certain sort of white evangelical privilege; promotes a view of history aligned with that same evangelical aspiration; and above all protects a cohort of white evangelicals from critique. They show too how the Museum collapses vital conceptual distinctions between its own conservative vision of the Bible and 'The Bible' as a cultural icon. This revelatory volume above all confirms that scripture – for all the claims made for it that it speaks only divine truth – can in the end never be separated from human politics. (shrink)
We shall examine some conceptual tensions in Hick’s ‘pluralism’ in the light of S. Radhakrishnan’s reformulation of classical Advaita. Hick himself often quoted Radhakrishnan’s translations from the Hindu scriptures in support of his own claims about divine ineffability, transformative experience and religious pluralism. However, while Hick developed these themes partly through an adaptation of Kantian epistemology, Radhakrishnan derived them ultimately from Śaṁkara, and these two distinctive points of origin lead to somewhat different types of reconstruction of the diversity of world (...) religions. Our argument will highlight the point that Radhakrishnan is not a ‘pluralist’ in terms of Hick’s understanding of the Real. The Advaitin ultimate, while it too like Hick’s Real cannot be encapsulated by human categories, is, however, not strongly ineffable, because some substantive descriptions, according to the Advaitic tradition, are more accurate than others. Our comparative analysis will reveal that they differ because they are located in two somewhat divergent metaphysical schemes. In turn, we will be able to revisit, through this dialogue between Hick and Radhakrishnan, the intensely vexed question of whether Hick’s version of pluralism is in fact a form of covert exclusivism. (shrink)
This book offers a powerful response to what Varner calls the "two dogmas of environmental ethics"--the assumptions that animal rights philosophies and anthropocentric views are each antithetical to sound environmental policy. Allowing that every living organism has interests which ought, other things being equal, to be protected, Varner contends that some interests take priority over others. He defends both a sentientist principle giving priority to the lives of organisms with conscious desires and an anthropocentric principle giving priority to certain very (...) inclusive interests which only humans have. He then shows that these principles not only comport with but provide significant support for environmental goals. (shrink)
In ‘Religious Pluralism and the Divine: Another Look at John Hick's Neo-Kantian Proposal’ [ Religious Studies , xxx, 1994) Paul Eddy argues against the ultimate ineffability of the Real, and claims that a neo-Kantian epistemology leads to a Feuerbachian non-realism. In response I stress the impossibility of attributing to the Real the range of incompatible characteristics of its phenomenal manifestations, so that it must lie beyond the range of our human religious categories, and the distinction, which Eddy fails to observe, (...) between grounds for believing in the Divine, and reasons for thinking that the Divine can be differently conceived and experienced. (shrink)
Gary L. Francione is a law professor and leading philosopher of animal rights theory. Robert Garner is a political theorist specializing in the philosophy and politics of animal protection. Francione maintains that we have no moral justification for using nonhumans and argues that because animals are propertyor economic commoditieslaws or industry practices requiring "humane" treatment will, as a general matter, fail to provide any meaningful level of protection. Garner favors a version of animal rights that focuses on eliminating animal (...) suffering and adopts a protectionist approach, maintaining that although the traditional animal-welfare ethic is philosophically flawed, it can contribute strategically to the achievement of animal-rights ends. As they spar, Francione and Garner deconstruct the animal protection movement in the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe, and elsewhere, discussing the practices of such organizations as PETA, which joins with McDonald's and other animal users to "improve" the slaughter of animals. They also examine American and European laws and campaigns from both the rights and welfare perspectives, identifying weaknesses and strengths that give shape to future legislation and action. (shrink)
continent. 2.2 (2012): 76–81 Comments on Eugene Thacker’s “Cosmic Pessimism” Nicola Masciandaro Anything you look forward to will destroy you, as it already has. —Vernon Howard In pessimism, the first axiom is a long, low, funereal sigh. The cosmicity of the sigh resides in its profound negative singularity. Moving via endless auto-releasement, it achieves the remote. “ Oltre la spera che piú larga gira / passa ’l sospiro ch’esce del mio core ” [Beyond the sphere that circles widest / penetrates (...) the sigh that issues from my heart]. 1 The axiomatic sigh of the pessimist is in a way the pure word of philosophy, a thought that thinks without you, speaks where you are not. The live pneumatic form of the soul’s eventual exit from the dead body’s mouth, the sigh restores consciousness to the funeral of being, to the passing away that is existence. Pessimism speaks in piercing aphorisms because first it sighs. “Beyond the sphere passeth the arrow of our sigh. Hafiz! Silence.” 2 … pessimism is guilty of that most inexcusable of Occidental crimes—the crime of not pretending it’s for real. To the pessimist, the ‘real’ world—the world on whose behalf we are expected to wake up in the morning—is a ceaseless index of its own unreality. The pessimist’s day is not an illumined space for the advancement of experience and action, but a permanently and inescapably reflective zone, the vast interior of a mirror where each thing is only insofar as it is, at best, a false image of itself. Within this speculative situation, inside the doubleness of the mirror, pessimism splits into two paths, false and true, one that tries to fix pessimism (establish a relation with the mirror) and decides in favor of the apparent real, and another that totally falls for pessimism (enters the mirror) and communes with the greater reality of the unreal. These two paths are distinguished by their relation to pessimism’s guilt vis-à-vis the world’s reality-project. The first form, that which remains pessimism for the world and puts on a smiling face, stays guilty to itself (i.e. unconscious) and thus turns hypocritical, becoming at once the pessimism of the commoner who really just wants things to be better for himself and the pessimism of the elite who wants to critically refashion reality in his own image. The general form of this worldly, hypocritical pessimism is the impulse to ‘make the world a better place’, which is the global mask under which the world is diurnally made worse. The second form, that which follows pessimism away from the world and ceases to put on a smiling face, refuses guiltiness as itself theessential Occidental mode of pretense and turns honest, becoming at once the intelligent pessimism required of all ordinary action and the radical pessimism necessary for self-knowledge: seeing that no one is capable of doing good. The general form of this universal, honest pessimism is the impulse not to worry, to give up and embrace dereliction, which is the only real way the world is actually improved. Where worldly pessimism is the engine productive of interminably warring secular and sacred religions (good-projects), universal pessimism strives hopelessly for the paradise of a supremely instantiated pessimus: things are getting so bad that there is no longer any time for them to get worse; things are so constantly-instantly worst that this is BEST. Cosmic pessimism is the mode of universal pessimism which can yet discourse with the world, which has not chosen silence and can spread the inconceivably BAD NEWS in an orderly form ( kosmos ) that the world can understand (if it wanted to). … the result of a confusion between the world and a statement about the world. That is what the world is (the result of a confusion between the world and a statement about the world). … a generalized misanthropy without the anthropos. Pessimism crystallizes around this futility—it is its amor fati , rendered as musical form. Pessimism’s love of fate is a blind love, a love of the blindness of being human in a cosmos conceived around the human’s eclipse, a heavy levitation in the contradictory space between the inescapability of its having been and the impossibility of its will-be. Pessimism’s song of futility is a sensible way of loving fate, with a minimum of eros, by means of a kind of matrimonial love of the fatal. As music, pessimism stays open to the irreparable and the inexorable without the binding of affirmation, in the apparent absence of the radical, infinitely surplus will that absolute amor fati seems to require. Crying, laughing, sleeping—what other responses are adequate to a life that is so indifferent? “Unless a man aspires to the impossible, the possible that he achieves will scarcely be worth the trouble of his achieving it. We should aspire to the impossible, to absolute and infinite perfection [….] The apocatastasis is more than a mystical dream: it is a norm of action, it is a beacon for high deeds [….] For true charity is a species of invasion [….] It is not charity to rock and lull our fellow men to sleep in the inertia and heaviness of matter, but rather to arouse them to anguish and torment of spirit.” 3 … the impossibility of ever adequately accounting for one’s relationship to thought. “The paroxysm of interior experience leads you to regions where danger is absolute, because life which self-consciously actualizes its roots in experience can only negate itself [….] There are no arguments [….] On the heights of despair, the passion for the absurd is the only thing that can still throw a demonic light on chaos [….] I live because the mountains do not laugh and the worms do not sing .” 4 It took three attempts before she was fully decapitated, all the while she continued, perhaps miraculously, to sing. According to the earliest account of Cecilia’s martyrdom, the beheading turns out worse. After not severing her head in three strokes, “the cruel executioner left her half dead” (seminecem eam cruentus carnifex dereliquit). 5 Cecilia’s effortlessly powerful endurance of the three strokes—a fitting icon for pessimism as an art of dereliction—demonstrates the “passivity and absence of effort [….] in which divine transcendence is dissolved.” 6 There’s a ghost that grows inside of me, damaged in the making, and there’s a hunt sprung from necessity, elliptical and drowned. Where the moving quiet of our insomnia offers up each thought, there’s a luminous field of grey inertia, and obsidian dreams burnt all the way down. Like words from a pre-waking dream. There is no reason to think that they are not. NOTES 1. Dante Alighieri. Vita Nuova . ed. and trans. Dino S. Cervigni and Edward Vasta. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press. 1995. 41:10. 2. Hafiz of Shiraz. The Divan . trans. H. Wilberforce Clarke. London: Octagon Press. 1974. 10.9. 3. Miguel de Unamuno. The Tragic Sense of Life in Men and Nations . trans. Anthony Kerrigan. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1972. 305-6. 4. E.M. Cioran. On the Heights of Despair . trans. Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1992. 9-10. 5. Giacomo Laderchi. S. Caeciliae Virg[inis] et Mart[yris] Acta. . . Rome. 1723. 38. 6. Georges Bataille. On Nietzsche . trans. Bruce Boone. London: Continuum. 2004. 135. See Nicola Masciandaro. “ Half Dead: Parsing Cecilia .” A Commentary on Eugene Thacker’s "Cosmic Pessimism" Gary J. Shipley Pessimism is the refusal to seek distraction, the refusal to remodel failure into a platform for further (doomed) possibilities, the refusal of comfort, the acceptance of the sickness of healthy bodies, the cup of life overflowing with cold vomit. If, as Ligotti suggests when discussing Invasion of the Body Snatchers , 1 humans prefer the anxieties of their familiar human lives to the contentment of an alien one, then the pessimist, we could argue, represents some perverted combination of the two, preferring (presuming he has a choice) the defamiliarization of human life to the contentment of its unquestioned mundanity. The quasi-religious state of mind that Wittgenstein would mention on occasion, that of “feeling absolutely safe,” 2 is a state the pessimist could only imagine being approximated by death, or perhaps some annihilative opiate-induced stupor. This Wittgensteinian commingling of certainty and faith looks every bit the futile gesture, a mere rephrasing of collapse or partial collapse. The only certainty open to the pessimist is that of the toxic formula of life itself—a formula known and lacuna-free. Certainty, far from being the gateway to deliverance, becomes the definitive impediment; and the possibility of salvation, as long as it remains, becomes crucially reliant on postulations of ignorance, epistemic gaps, a perennial incompleteness: “the perfect safety of wooed death […] the warm bath of physical dissolution, the universal unknown engulfing the miniscule unknown.” 3 The height of Leibniz’s Panglossian insanity nurtured the idea that our knowing everything—via the universal calculus—could be accurately described a triumph, as opposed to a nightmare in which our every futility is laid bare. Stagnancy and boredom are perhaps two of the greatest ills of Western civilisation, and the most potent pessimism tells you that you’re stuck with both. The most we can hope for, by way of salvation, is to throw open our despair to the unknown. The fact that Schopenhauer’s pessimism stopped short of morality and allowed him to play the flute, as Nietzsche complained, highlights the predicament of a man who despite having adorned nothingness with a smiling face still found himself alive. The demand here is that it be felt: a cross-contamination of intellect and emotion. The safety net of numerous parentheses makes for a failed philosophy, rather than a philosophy of failure. Depressives make bad pessimists, because, unless they choose to die, living will always infect them with necessities of hope, forcing them to find something, anything (all the various “as ifs”) to make existence tolerable. For as Cioran observed, while “[d]epressions pay attention to life, they are the eyes of the devil, poisoned arrows which wound mortally any zest and love of life. Without them we know little, but with them, we cannot live.” 4 And even when cured of our depressions we’ll find ourselves consumed, eaten alive by the hyper-clinical (borderline autistic) mania that replaces them: a predicament captured all too clearly in the microscriptual fictions of Robert Walser, where spectral men and women stifle their depressive madness with protective comas of detail, their failed assimilations buried beneath thick crusts of remote data. Like Beckett’s Malone their stories may have ended, but cruelly their lives have not. Pessimism is an extraneous burden (a purposeless weight) that makes everything else harder to carry, while at the same time scooping it out and making it lighter. If pessimism had a sound it would be the harsh non-noise of tinnitus—the way that every person would hear themselves if they refused their distractions long enough to listen: a lungless scream from the extrasolar nothing of the self. The music of pessimism—if indeed we can imagine such a thing—is the reverberating echo of the world’s last sound, conjectured but never heard, audible only in its being listened for. The one consolation of this hollow paradox of audibility being, that “he will be least afraid of becoming nothing in death who has recognized that he is already nothing now.” 5 The pessimist suffers a derangement of the real, a labyrinthitis at the nucleus of his being: he’s the stumbling ghost relentlessly surprised that others can see him. If Cioran’s refusal is manifested in sleep (when even saying ‘no’ is too much of a commitment), then Pessoa’s resides in the dreams inside that sleep. Pessoa chooses to exploit the fact that he’s being “lived by some murmuring non-entity both shadowy and muddied” 6 by growing more voids to live him. His is a Gnostic breed of sleep, “sleeping as if the universe were a mistake,” 7 a sleep that dreams through Thacker’s cosmic pessimism (“a pessimism of the world-without-us.”, “the unhuman orientation of deep space and deep time” 8 ), through the critical error of there being anything at all when there could be nothing. The metaphysical pessimist is someone who, however well life treats them, still desires to wake from it, as from the poisonous air of a bad dream. Pessimism is a paradox of age, being simultaneously young and old; its youth residing in a refusal to accept the authority of existence (its rich history, its inherent beneficence), a refusal to “get over” the horror of what it sees with its perpetually fresh eyes, and its maturity in the unceremonious disposal of the philosophical playthings (those futile architectures) of adolescence. As Thacker remarks: “Pessimism abjures all pretenses towards system—towards the purity of analysis and the dignity of critique.” 9 A sentiment shared with Pessoa, who duly categorizes those that choose to enact this futile struggle: “The creators of metaphysical systems and of psychological explanations are still in the primary stage of suffering.” 10 If the pessimist has shared a womb with anyone, it’s with the mystic and not the philosopher. As Schopenhauer tells us: “The mystic is opposed to the philosopher by the fact that he begins from within, whereas the philosopher begins from without. […] But nothing of this is communicable except the assertions that we have to accept on his word; consequently he is unable to convince.” 11 The crucial difference between the mystic and the pessimist is not the latter’s impassivity and defeatism, but his unwillingness/inability to contain in any way the spread of his voracious analyticity, his denial of incompleteness, his exhaustive devotion to failure. The truth of our predicament, though heard, is destined to remain unprocessed. Like the revelations of B.S. Johnson’s Haakon (“We rot and there’s nothing that can stop it / Can’t you feel the shaking horror of that?” 12 ) the pessimist’s truths are somehow too obvious to listen to, as if something inside us were saying, “Of course, but haven’t we gotten over that?” Pessimism is simple and ugly, and has no desire to make itself more complex or more attractive. The true moral pessimist knows that the Utilitarian’s accounts will always be in the red. He can see that for all his computational containments, his only honest path is a negative one, and that such a path has but one logical destination: that of wholesale human oblivion. Thacker notes how at the core of pessimism lies the notion of “the worst,” through which death is demoted by the all-pervasive suffering of a life that easily eclipses its threat. And so with doom made preferable to gloom, death begins to glint with promise, “like beauty passing through a nightmare.” 13 But even among pessimists suicide is, for the most part, thought to be an error. Schopenhauer, for instance, regarded suicide a mistake grounded in some fundamentally naïve disappointment or other. Pessoa too thought suicide an onerous escape tactic: “To die is to become completely other. That’s why suicide is a cowardice: it’s to surrender ourselves completely to life.” 14 There is a call here to be accepting of and creative with the puppetry of your being, an insistence that it’s somehow a blunder to attempt to hide in death from the horrors you find inlife. 15 Tied up with this perseverance is the slippery notion of the good death, for maybe, as Blanchot warns, suicide is rarely something we can hope to get right, for the simple reason that “you cannot make of death an object of the will.” 16 “Even in cases where the entire corpus of an author is pessimistic, the project always seems incomplete,” 17 and this is not simply because the project itself belies something yet to be disclosed, but because the project itself is a thing waiting. It waits on a cure it knows will not come, but for which it cannot do anything (as long as it continues to do anything) but wait. NOTES 1. See Thomas Ligotti. The Conspiracy Against the Human Race . New York: Hippocampus Press. 2010. 91. 2. Ludwig Wittgenstein. “A Lecture on Ethics.” Philosophical Review . (74) 1. 1965. 8. 3. Vladimir Nabokov. Pale Fire . New York: Vintage. 1989. 221. 4. E. M. Cioran. The Book of Delusions . trans. Camelia Elias. Hyperion. 5.1. (2010): 75. 5. Arthur Schopenhauer. The World as Will and Representation. vol. 2 . trans. E .F J. Payne. New York: Dover. 1966. 609. 6. Eugene Thacker. “Cosmic Pessimism.” continent. . 2.2 (2012): 67. 7. Fernando Pessoa. The Book of Disquiet . trans. Richard Zenith. London: Penguin. 2002. 35. 8. Eugene Thacker. “Cosmic Pessimism.” continent. . 2.2 (2012): 68. 9. Ibid. 73. 10. Fernando Pessoa. The Book of Disquiet . trans. Richard Zenith. London: Penguin. 2002. 341. 11. Arthur Schopenhauer. The World as Will and Representation. vol. 2 . trans. E .F J. Payne. New York: Dover. 1966. 610-11. 12. B.S Johnson. “You’re Human Like the Rest of Them.” in Jonathan Coe. Like a Fiery Elephant: The Story of B.S. Johnson . London: Picador. 2004. 177. 13. Fernando Pessoa. The Book of Disquiet . trans. Richard Zenith. London: Penguin. 2002. 415. 14. Ibid. 199. 15. “Suicide is, after all, the opposite of the poem.” Anne Sexton. No Evil Star: Selected Essays, Interviews and Prose . ed. Steven Gould Axelrod. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 1985. 92. 16. Maurice Blanchot. The Space of Literature . trans. Ann Smock. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. 1989. 105. 17. Eugene Thacker. “Cosmic Pessimism.” continent. . 2.2 (2012): 75. (shrink)
The goal of perceptual systems is to allow organisms to adaptively respond to ecologically relevant stimuli. Because all perceptual inputs are ambiguous, perception needs to rely on prior knowledge accumulated over evolutionary and developmental time to turn sensory energy into information useful for guiding behavior. It remains controversial whether the guidance of perception extends to cognitive states or is locked up in a “cognitively impenetrable” part of perception. I argue that expectations, knowledge, and task demands can shape perception at multiple (...) levels, leaving no part untouched. The position advocated here is broadly consistent with the notion that perceptual systems strive to minimize prediction error en route to globally optimal solutions :181–204, 2013). On this view, penetrability should be expected whenever constraining lower-level processes by higher level knowledge is minimizes global prediction error. Just as Fodor feared cognitive penetration of perception threatens theory-neutral observation and the distinction between observation and inference. However, because theories themselves are constrained by the task of minimizing prediction error, theory-laden observation turns out to be superior to theory-free observation in turning sensory energy into useful information. (shrink)
Two leaders in the field offer a compelling analysis of the current state of the art and reveal the steps we must take to achieve a truly robust artificial intelligence. Despite the hype surrounding AI, creating an intelligence that rivals or exceeds human levels is far more complicated than we have been led to believe. Professors Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis have spent their careers at the forefront of AI research and have witnessed some of the greatest milestones in (...) the field, but they argue that a computer beating a human in Jeopardy! does not signal that we are on the doorstep of fully autonomous cars or superintelligent machines. The achievements in the field thus far have occurred in closed systems with fixed sets of rules, and these approaches are too narrow to achieve genuine intelligence. The real world, in contrast, is wildly complex and open-ended. How can we bridge this gap? What will the consequences be when we do? Taking inspiration from the human mind, Marcus and Davis explain what we need to advance AI to the next level, and suggest that if we are wise along the way, we won't need to worry about a future of machine overlords. If we focus on endowing machines with common sense and deep understanding, rather than simply focusing on statistical analysis and gatherine ever larger collections of data, we will be able to create an AI we can trust--in our homes, our cars, and our doctors' offices. Rebooting AI provides a lucid, clear-eyed assessment of the current science and offers an inspiring vision of how a new generation of AI can make our lives better. (shrink)
Purely parallel neural networks can model object recognition in brief displays – the same conditions under which illusory conjunctions have been demonstrated empirically. Correcting errors of illusory conjunction is the “tag-assignment” problem for a purely parallel processor: the problem of assigning a spatial tag to nonspatial features, feature combinations, and objects. This problem must be solved to model human object recognition over a longer time scale. Our model simulates both the parallel processes that may underlie illusory conjunctions and the serial (...) processes that may solve the tag-assignment problem in normal perception. One component of the model extracts pooled features and another provides attentional tags that correct illusory conjunctions. Our approach addresses two questions: How can objects be identified from simultaneously attended features in a parallel, distributed representation? How can the spatial selectional requirements of such an attentional process be met by a separation of pathways for spatial and nonspatial processing? Our analysis of these questions yields a neurally plausible simulation of tag assignment based on synchronizing feature processing activity in a spatial focus of attention. (shrink)