The Wittgenstein Project

My project is simple but demanding. I am trying to reread Wittgenstein from the beginning without, however, relying on any established interpretations. My question is whether we can look at his work with fresh eyes. Ignoring the halo of secondary writing that now surrounds that work does not mean that I will always end up disagreeing with what previous interpreters have said. But my plan is to re-discover their insights where they are such and otherwise go my own way.

In doing this, I want to look more thoroughly at Wittgenstein’s own words than has previously been done. I don’t know how far I will get with this but completeness is not my goal. It is rather to start with the first sentence of the Tractatus and work myself forward from there as far as I can manage.

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Wittgenstein on the Puzzle of Privacy

“In what sense are my sensations private? – Well, only I know whether I am really in pain; another person can only surmise it. – In one way this is wrong, and in another nonsense. If we are using the word ‘to know’ as it is normally used (and how else are we to use it?), then other people often know when I am in pain. – Yes, but all the same not with the certainty with which I know it myself! – It can’t be said of me at all (except perhaps as a joke) that I know I am in pain. What is it supposed to mean – except perhaps that I am in pain.”

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There goes philosophy — Claremont Graduate University closes its philosophy program

The humanities are increasingly in a beleaguered position in Universities and Colleges across the country. Academic philosophers like to think that their place is still secure because their subject is the most ancient of the so-called humanities; it is a discipline devoted to promoting basic intellectual skills; and it has connections with a diversity of other fields. But the turbulence that is affecting our institutions is not making halt before philosophy departments.

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Disinformation: An Epistemology for the Digital Age

Our epistemologists are used to ask some very general questions: What is knowledge? What is the relation between observation and theory? How do we justify claims to knowledge? Digital technology is changing how information is collected, organized, and disseminated. The proliferation of claims to knowledge in the Internet highlights moreover the issue of error, mis- and disinformation, of “Fake News,” of its distribution and the question how to disarm it. We need an epistemology for the digital age that looks at knowledge not only in the usual timeless fashion but takes into account the changing landscape of human knowledge.

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And how about democracy?

"Is our democracy in danger? It is a question we never thought we'd be asking? … We have spent years researching new forms of authoritarianism emerging around the globe. For us, how and why democracies die has been an occupational obsession. But now we turn to our own country."

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in How Democracies Die

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Political Realism vs. Political Realism

Trump must be a puzzle to our political realists. He certainly shares their scorn for seeing politics in moral terms. Unlike George W. Bush, he doesn’t speak of an axis of evil in the world; and unlike Obama and the Democrats, he is little concerned with the issue of human rights. As an amoral capitalist he believes in self-interest and the exercise of power, in the use and pursuit of money in politics.

But he is also not much interested in the actual political realities. He sticks to a simple picture of what the world is like, despises experts, and ignores advice. In his factual claims he is often quite unrealistic.

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Donald Trump’s Biggest Mistake

Donald Trump has already made a number of serious mistakes in his political career. I am not talking here of decisions over which the political parties might disagree. I am talking rather of mistakes due to his incompetent handling of political matters. Politics is also a craft which can be employed in the service of different policies. Trump is proving that he is not a master of this kind of skill.

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Politics in an age of advanced technology

Technology has transformed and deformed our long-evolved political order and it is likely to do more of that. A technologically enabled economic and financial system has certainly diminished the regulatory power of the state. Goods, services, and people can now move easily across continents, not always under the control of governments. Pictures, words, ideas, and information are massively channeled within and between political systems, often defying the power of states but also often abetting it. At the same time, the state’s tools of surveillance and repression have become definitely more effective. Its military strength has vastly increased and can be projected over wider distances. We notice, thus, a diminution of state power in some respects, but also an increase in others.

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The Battle for Hegemony in the Middle East

The current American administration appears set on all out conflict with Iran. In this endeavor it has allied itself unconditionally with Saudi Arabia. Is this a clear-sighted policy? In an uncompromising speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation, Mike Pompeo, the new American Foreign Secretary, today, May 21, 2018, threatened that "Iran will continue to feel the 'sting of sanctions' if its doesn’t change the 'unacceptable and unproductive path it has chosen. These will be the strongest sanctions in history by the time we are complete'.” Bloomberg News adds in its report on the speech: "The former CIA director essentially demanded Iran’s total submission without offering anything in return aside from the hazy prospect of sanctions relief at some future date." There is no doubt that the Iranian authorities will find this offer as unacceptable as it is meant to be. Thus, the stage is set for more confrontation.

Here is an exceptionally insightful critique of this course of policy from May 2017 by an Israeli analyst.

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How many is too many? Do we still need to think about overpopulation?

Our politicians do not like to speak about overpopulation out of fear for the pious who believe that human beings ought to multiply. Left-wing ideologues argue that there is no such thing and that every apparent problem can be solved through a more equal distribution of resources. Enlightened progressivists are confident that there will be a technological fix. Economists tell us that we need continuous growth and hence more consumers. And the statisticians are confident that the growth of the human population will eventually slow down. We are, in reality, already bursting at the seams; numerous ecological problems are due to the fact that there are already so many of us. We need to think harder about the problem, something we find hard to do. We need to consider what the size of the human population should ideally be? And if we are already overloaded, we must also ask how we can reduce the size of the population in a humane way. We need to ask what obligations we have to coming generations.

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The caves of Cappadocia

Cappadocia in the southern corner of Turkey is a region of unearthly beauty, far removed, so it seems, from the currents of modern life. But it has a turbulent past and perhaps even a message for our own day. Syria and the Kurdish areas of the Middle East are close by. Cappadocia was once a crossroads for conquerors, Hittites, Persians, and Romans, Seljuks and Turks. Early Christianity took roots here but eventually was forced to hide away in the caves that pockmark the region.

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