This *actual* world – an antidote for academic philosophy (Chapter 3 – Chapter 5)


Philosophy & This Actual World – Martin Benjamin

“Let us not pretend to doubt in philosophy what we do not doubt in our hearts – Charles S. Peirce

In an illuminating metaphor, social scientist Otto Neurath compares humans as knowers to “sailors who must rebuild their ship on the open sea, never able to dismantle it in dry-dock and to reconstruct it there out of the best materials.” We acquire our capacity for critical reflection against the backdrop of a complex network of beliefs and claims to knowledge. Some elements of the network were acquired from our families, others from church, neighborhood, school, books, televisions, and so on; still others have their origins in personal experience. This network of knowledge and belief is our ship, the vessel on which we navigate the occasionally hazardous, ever-changing, only partially charted sea of life. The “ship of knowledge” is not, however, as…

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rugby hero

On the weekend, Australian rugby flanker David Pocock did a remarkable thing on the field. He complained to the referee that a player in the opposition team had made “homophobic slurs”.

Which is why Brumbies flanker David Pocock’s actions at the weekend in calling out a Waratahs player for allegedly branding a player a “faggot” in a spiteful Super Rugby clash were remarkably brave. Pocock, a passionate social justice campaigner, has long been a vocal supporter of gay rights.

But his words would mean nothing if his actions did not back it up.

It’s a simple act, but speaking as a former (schoolboy) rugby player it’s hard to describe just how transgressive Pocock’s act was.

And then there’s former Australian rugby player Greg Martin who says that Pocock will never captain Australia again as a result of his stand:

[The Australian Rugby Union] have a role to play in appointing the Australian captain because he is the voice box,” Martin said.

They’ll get worried that he will get up on his soapbox about all sorts of issues.

It would have been so easy for Pocock to remain silent, but he took responsibility and spoke clearly and loudly.

administrative purpose

It’s old news I know but Higher Education is wobbling. Marina Warner’s article – Learning My Lesson – is a taut summary of the situation in the UK and the pressure that academics and support staff are under to merely stay afloat.[1]

In the article Warner cites an anonymous Russell Group professor:

Although the department was excellent, it was freighted to breaking point with imperious and ill-conceived demands from much higher up the food chain – from people who don’t teach or do research at all, or if they ever did, think humanities departments should work like science departments … Huge administrative duties were often announced with deadlines for completion only a few days later.

My dear friend and colleague Efrosini Protopapa once said that the trick would be to make something happen[2] without increasing the amount of work that anyone has to do (including colleagues, support staff, and management). Better still, she said, would be for it to happen so that our overall workloads decrease.

Thomas Aquinas wrote that “it is superfluous to suppose that what can be accounted for by a few principles has been produced by many”[3]. This principle is known as Occam’s razor, and it suggests in relation to getting stuff done, that the least is unequivocally better than more.

On the surface, administrative work is designed to organise, clarify, sort out, communicate and even make processes transparent. But what if administrative work actually functions to halt or prevent these purposes?

In their discussion of diversity and racism in academia, Róisín Ryan-Flood and Rosalind Gill suggest that the very documents written to document racism became “usable as a measure of good performance”. They write that, “Documents that aim to reveal can be used to conceal what they reveal”.[4]

In any situation we must take the greatest of care to recognise the reason why documents and tasks take the form they do, and who they are serving.

  1. Thanks to Erica Stanton for posting the Warner article on Facebook.  ↩
  2. It doesn’t matter what this something is, it applies to pretty much any situation.  ↩
  3. Trusting wikipedia as a source:  ↩
  4. Ryan-Flood, Róisín, and Rosalind Gill. 2013. Secrecy and Silence in the Research Process. London: Routledge, p.xviii  ↩

seeing people not training

When I talk to dancers I often express how I am interested in seeing them and not their training.

Here are two quotes from Ohad Naharin that seem to get at both the problems and possibilities of technique training in dance.

Sometimes you can see them doing amazing things, but you don’t feel that they’re listening to their bodies, you feel that they’re telling them.

[Gaga is what creates the difference between a dancer and a gymnast or athlete, the choreographer argues.]

We look to unlock the treasures inside them: the ability to create sublimations of their sensuality, demons, anger, into movement. How to give up their ambitions and connect more to pleasure, research and discovery. We teach them that yielding is an advantage.