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May 09, 2006


Timothy J Scriven

I wonder if Chalmers is aware of Zizek's discussion.


I should email him.


I like the new comments policy. Anyhow, pretty sure it would be fair use, even if you made money on the t-shirts. You could call it parody.


How much Broad have you read, btw? I was wondering if I was the only person alive who'd read (or was reading) The Mind and its Place in Nature.

Rich Puchalsky

Is it even worth repeating once again the bit about how parallax doesn't make things look different, how it only makes them appear as if they are in a different position against the background, and how Zizek's entire metaphor about impossible gaps is therefore laughable? (If he was getting into neurology, you'd think he might have realized from the fact that anyone with two eyes uses parallax as a cue to distance perception that maybe this phrase wasn't doing the job he thought it was.) Or has this joined the bits about quantum physics (and, for that matter, short circuits) as scientistic garble that people don't even bother to attack any more, just using it as a marker for someone who doesn't know what they're talking about and doesn't want to?

He should have consulted a scientistologist first. I might have suggested that instead of "parallax" for dialectic, he could have used "dielectric". A dielectric, after all, even resists short circuits. Plus he could have gone on about polarization, permittivity, and displacement currents (that one sounds good).


I've read quite a bit. You are certainly not alone. My neighbor, two doors down in the department, was teaching Broad to his undergraduates this semester.


Gals like cop-hypocrites, that's for sure. The J. Edgarism is hardly surprising; and the support for Squat K-mann--a real Troll, and plagiarist--is not surprising. What is slightly surprising is that great AP Holbeau did not address the real mis-rep issue of the spam-bot.

(ah suspect this will be deleted; since Holbo is all about bogus pride, and appearances and not about der ding an sich. Even a great raconteur like Zizek has a lil more integrity)

Phil. Tip of the day: on chalmers, think of the Kessler test. There are mental phenomena. And there are physical objects, including one's biological body. Does mental phenomena depend on biology? Drink a few shots of Kessler, then compare status of Kessler'ed mental phenomena to non-Kessler mental phenomena. You will note the phenomena, or sensation thereof, to be quite different. Thus mind--including higher cognitive functions--is at the very least dependent, and has some necessary relation to biochemistry. (and statutes against DUI would seem to give assent to mind as bio-dependent as well)

Back to the spam-bot. Holbeau allows a plagiarist bot to be posted shows his lack of an understanding of academic ethics. Some little bitter yapdawg (K-mann) goes about the web pulling some random quotes mostly from comment boxes devoted to chit chat, banter, and he assumes they have been written by the "Troll of Sorrow"--and not all of them are; creates some cheasy xml spam-bot (found on hacking sites everywhere), posts some quotes (of course leaving out many more serious quotes/sections), and also allows people to not only plagiarize and post quotes, but to invent ones, submit them, AS IF WRITTEN by ToS. Of course, that is a type of misrepresentation: someone starts a site, JOhn Holbeau.com, and then posts sheiet up there that he didn't write--you would say that is an ethics violation, even one of a fairly serious sort . But you have no interest in ethical consistency.

ah suspect this will be deleted shortly, by that great liberal thinker and progressive Holbo.

Adam Kotsko

If only there were some brief review of the book already available online, perhaps in some kind of non-academic publication, so that people could get a handle on the basic premise and arguments of the book before turning to John's more detailed criticisms....

I've also been comissioned for an academic review in the Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory, so maybe we can coordinate here? I can play like Zizek does with Badiou: "In John Holbo's (forthcoming) review of The Parallax View, he argues [x] -- but what if precisely the opposite is the case?" (I'm assuming that my review would come out first since it's an online journal.)


And if only that brief review answered my Heidegger question, Adam. Alas, the world is a very imperfect place.

Speaking of which: Dave, what are you complaining about? I am not moderating my comment box assiduously enough? You find our company too bumptious and coarse for your tender sensibilities? YOUR stated view, may I remind you, is that it is categorically unethical to moderate comments in any way, no matter how offensive or abusive. I take it it is only on this theory that you are still here, against my expressed wishes.

This bot-project (in which I take no part) is very milk and cookies compared to the sorts of toxic, distruptive stuff you dish out, and expect mild-mannered blogfolk to swallow (apparently). Let me quote you: "Additionally, I dislike blog-moderation and feel it is proper to voice my opposition to moderation/censorship/deletion--perhaps you remember the old USENET chats where nothing was ever censored, even the most rude and obscene or violent posts--and there's still something to be said for that pure libertarian perspective."

I'm sorry other people have been giving you a mild lesson in ethical consistency - it IS mild. But only because you seem to be mistaking the lesson for an exhibition of ethical inconsistency.

Also, I think you are somewhat shaky on the concept of plagiarism. Plagiarism is saying that someone else's words are your own, not saying that someone else's words are that other person's. The technical term for saying that Smith's words are Smith's, or Jones' words are Jones', is 'quotation'. (This stuff is gold, you should be writing it down.) The thing you don't like is more like a quote-bot, therefore. (And even if the worst you say is true - namely, the quotes are invented - it is not a plagiarism-bot. If plagiarism is really what worries you: rest easy.)

I am not in a position to verify whether the quotes it pops out are the genuine article, but they all SEEM genuine, and I frankly don't care. I think people in the niche market for 'things like the ToS would say' will be happy enough with this engine. (I am not in that market myself, nor have I studied its peculiarities, so carpe diem.) But you'll have to take this up with the big brains behind the bot.

As to philosophy of mind: good heavens! Every philosopher of mind knows that alcohol makes you drunk. Most of them have actually drunk alcohol themselves, I suspect. (Of all the silly kids!) The only issue is HOW to explain the effect, not WHETHER to do so.

OK, let me try this. I'm modifying our comment policy AGAIN. And will presently update the sidebar accordingly. Anyone who leaves a comment to this site consents to any comment they have left to this site, or any other site, at any time in the past, being quoted with attribution on a coffee mug or t-shirt or any other product - said product to be sold, by anyone who cares to take the trouble, through café press, or any other suitable outlet.

Also, anyone who leaves a comment to this site consents to allowing anyone whatsoever to make a silly bot to recycle their comments - and even consents to the invention of new comments for the bot to spew, provided a reasonable person would regard the invented comments as consonant in tone and content with a significant body of real comments by that person. (It's true that we wouldn't want anyone's reputation to be damaged, unjustly.)

Also, all this stuff is probably fair use anyway, and none of this 'you must permit if you want to comment' is intended to imply that I think seeking permissions is even strictly necessary. No one owns 'college squid', I'll wager. All this obligatory permission granting, as a condition of commenting, is intended to make very clear that no one who chooses to comment at J&B has any grounds for complaints about bots. Crikey. (It's not my bot. Take it outside.)

I'll just put this up as a draft for now. Does anyone have any problems with it? It seems very liberal and even progressive to me.

Adam Kotsko

"This is where the topic of finitude in the strict Heideggerian sense should be mobilized:"

As a hypothesis, Heideggerian finitude is not just about death, it's about thrownness in general.

"if we try to conceive of consciousness within an ontologically fully realized field of reality, it can only appear as an additional positive moment;"

This part is not supposed to be Heidegger -- it's what he's arguing against, as evidenced by the "but" to follow:

"but what about linking consciousness to the very finitude, ontological incompleteness, of the human being, to its being originally out-of-joint, thrown-into, exposed to, an overwhelming constellation?"

Finitude is constitutive of Dasein. Heideggerian.

It's a sloppily written sentence.

Also, Spinozist materialism (such as Deleuze, etc.) is the main kind of intellectually serious materialism that Zizek opposes -- by vulgar, he mainly seems to mean "non-dialectical." Something like "vulgar Marxism" would be a brand of Marxism that is just sheer unilateral economic determinism.


I think it's important to note that I misread a phrase as "Hiedigger on Infinite Crisis" initially, and got really irationally excited.


Also, I think it is rather sloppy form of Zizek to footnote only Chalmers' whole bloody book, The Conscious Mind, rather than - say - a section, page, or even chapter...

If only everybody could be as rigorous as Zizek. In a footnote to the first book of Logiques des mondes, the sequel to his magnum opus Being and Event, Alain Badiou writes that a certain section was inspired by the works of François Nicolas, and for those who want to know more Badiou suggests googling that name.


Alcohol, drugs, lobotomies, as well as brain science (say electrical stimulation of cortical areas resulting in various sensations) are non-trivial objections to any Cartesian dualism or non-material "idealism". The "how" of a shot of Kessler affecting human consciousness, including higher cognitive functions, is far more easily explained by biochemical means than by idealist or mystical methods/speculations. If there are some grounds for immaterialism, the immaterialist must first prove that these various biochemical and causal relations--alcohol, drugs, brain stimulation--somehow do not interfere with a remote or occult functioning of mind. At just a basic level, one's cognitive skills are affected by alcohol. If mind includes/is defined by cognitive functions, then mind is biochemical--at least to a very significant degree--and that biochemical basis does not preclude conceptualism or necessarily equate to behaviorism (remember Searle?). It is only anachronistic metaphysicians who think otherwise, anyways; or theocrats, either xtian, jewish, or mooslim.


Actually, I'm in Yahoo advanced chess lounge 8 right now, Dave (honestly; table 21 host:davidsneek), so if you want to take on my Platonism with your empiricism, this is your chance.


doing monkey dance, hoping for coffee mug stardom.


Oh my god, I think I have to steal your comment policy!


The comment policy is free for all, Saheli. Enjoy

Hmmmm, that's interesting Adam. But Spinoza actually ISN'T a materialist, whether one finds his geometrical method 'vulgar' or not. (It's true that he could inspire materialists, but that is something else. It's like 'Kantian vulgar materialism' that way. It sort of seems necessary to mention that Kant didn't ask for this.) Chalmers isn't a materialst AT ALL, so it is hard for me to see that he is a 'vulgar' materialist. also, I am not sure why someone who starts with 17 positions, and winnows then to 7 three reductionist (materialist) views, four non (including dualism and a couple flavors of neutral monism) is 'non-dialectical'. By contrast, Zizk just starts his big book by saying Lacanianism is obviously valuable/valid, because it produces such fruitful readings. Now there's non-dialectic for you, because we just have a tight circuit of self-confirmation. This is what people don't like about 'vulgar' Marxist, no?

That is, it really does seem pot calling the kettle black for Zizek to call Chalmers 'vulgar', and have this term index something about 'taste for dialectic.' (I'm not just being snarky about this.) There are many things you could say on Zizek's behalf - that he is brilliant at capering from point to point, high to low, that no one is his equal at philosophic pastiche. But that he engages is dialectic - i.e. seriously considers intellectual alternatives and attempts to resolve them philosophically rather than by fiat - does not seem a likely charge to lay at his door. He's a 'by fiat' man. He pretty much admits as much himself. He's also pretty 'vulgar', in the ordinary sense. There is actually a serious point here. Zizek attempts to posture as though he is upholding some sort of Hegelian high seriousness, against callow analysts like Chalmers (who are presumably just strayed, small-minded scientists or something). But Zizek isn't SERIOUS. He's clowning. That is a possible philosophic mode, but not one from which you can lob charges of 'vulgarity' with an air of superiority.

One last point: "if we try to conceive of consciousness within an ontologically fully realized field of reality, it can only appear as an additional positive moment;" I did realize this wasn't supposed to be Heidegger, exactly, but thought it was supposed to be the basis for Heideggerian critique, per the 'but' that follows. So I thought the terminology might correspond to some form of Heideggerese. But I guess not. That's ok, but I still don't get 'realized ... reality', so I'm not sure why Chalmers is committed to thinking in these obscurely plenitudinal terms.


Does anyone see any potential problems with the new, proposed, more expansive, coffee cup-based comment policy? If not, I'm going to run with it.

belle waring

our new comments policy is teh r0xx0rz!


You're correctomundo on one point: Chalmers is no materialist, vulgar or not. He's no idealist, either, in Berkleyan sense (and I don't think one can definitely claim Kantian "idealism" as immaterialist, but maybe u know more about than I): more like strong dualism. The first objection is that there are no zombies of the type C. imagines: yeah they could logically exist, but they don't, any more than a flying pig--not logically impossible--exists. And that cog. science cannot presently account for all mental phenomena or experience (say why people feel a certain emotion hearing Chopin) does not at all mean it will always be unable to do so. Besides, as ah think Dennett argues, one can do all sorts of mind experiments (Descartes the most famous) which seem to prove the existence of a transcendental subject, but that is just how it seems, or appears: 1000mgs of thorazine and that subject IS zonked out.

But the game is already set up by idealists, or platonists, or Cartesians: simply object and you're in with the vulgar or potentially vulgar crowd, the skeptics, "English" , mere empiricists, marxist rabble. Ah think Hobbes had the same problems when he poked fun at Descartes' arguments. Descartes was Hobbes' superior most likely in terms of mathematics, but Hobbes the superior physiologist and inductivist in many ways.

And however vull-gar it may seem, a sort of Hobbesian materialism, which takes physiological cause for granted--i.e you don't eat, you starve and die, and life is over, including conscious, mental life--has hardly been refuted; indeed if anything Darwin confirms Hobbesian materialism nearly completely--(tho' not really accounting sufficiently for mathematical knowledge). Descartes could, if he so chose, quit eating, and think himself deceived about his own starvation; or he could, perhaps, drink a quarts of moonshine and think himself deceived about his drunkenness as he dies from alc. poisoning (tho' his thinking would be affected to any other observers), but to any non-subjective observer he will appear to have died. Yes very obvious: but what does a Chalmers say to this? That there is still a mental substance which was not at all affected by the starvation, or drunkenness? --and that this mental substance was innate, or preceded D's own early existence. Yet as D. dies by starvation, and loses the ability to speak, function or apparently think, there is a conscious res cogitans still functioning, somewhere, tho' not physically detectable? (the very small electrical charge of the brain is not at all enough to be a sort of construct). Strange and quite archaic mysticism. But materialism, whether biological, economic, and/or historical, has never been great for the philosophy bidness.


Your comment policy is going to make me want to post all sorts of things like "John and Bella make my snout wet" just in hopes of their ending up on coffee mugs or, even better, thong panties.


New comment policy now posted to the sidebar. (There. That oughta hold 'em.)

ben wolfson

John and Belle make my snout wet.

Adam Kotsko

John, My apologies. I didn't read your critique closely enough.

With the Spinoza thing, Zizek is reacting primarily to Deleuze and Negri's reception of him, so... whatever. Maybe this Spinoza connection is a blind alley for this discussion in the first place -- I certainly can't follow up on it, anyway, since I don't care one way or the other about Spinoza.

Also, people I know who are heavily invested in dialectical thinking (among whom I would not count you, unless you're hiding something up your sleeve) consider Zizek to be a good example of it. So, I mean, there's that.

Adam Kotsko

Also, fully realized reality would presumably be a version of reality without the horizon of Being, meaning without the "ontological difference" between Being and beings -- thus a reality that was fuly self-consistent.

But Zizek himself probably explains that better... in the 100+ page section of The Parallax View in which he outlines his perspective on Heidegger, which is not identical to the standard reading, but is nonetheless based on decades of study on his part.


Hmmm. Now I go: "Good sir, we here in analytic philosophy are so far from being heavily invested in dialectical thinking that we don't even know what it is - whether it is involves argument, or spontaneous display of insight, or some other thing. Tell me, then. What do these others of whom you speak say is 'dialectical thinking' - but say only if you yourself believe what they say is right."

And then YOU go?


OK, OK, I'm going to tuck into that hundred pages of Zizek.

Adam Kotsko

You'll be pleased to learn that you already read a few of those pages in The Ticklish Subject!

On the other thing, I'll get back to you once I'm finished with the Greater Logic. Or if I could somehow lure Brad into this thread, he could answer you.


I promise not to put Brad on a coffee cup if he shows - whoever he may be. If he behaves himself.


A broad hypothesis: if Zizek is not a dialectician, then Schelling wasn't either.

Neither were interested in reading the history of philosophy "straight"; neither were taken taken seriously for too long -- i.e., Schelling was dismissed as a mystic, Zizek as a clown; and neither bothered to adhere to the praxis of Hegelian seriousness, and instead framed their discourses around the (dialectical) unseriousness of that which is excessiveness/unthinkable/unethical -- which is to say, they may not have been that different from the serious rigor of Hegelian dialectics, inasmuch as their their unseriousness fit their conclusion.

Nevertheless, both were consumed with articulating a subjectivity, and thus an absolute freedom, that becomes itself through objectivity (vs., say, Spinoza's absolute object or Hegel's Spirit); both recognized the problems that this becoming-itself of freedom in objectivity posed to subjectivity qua absolute (undifferentiated) freedom; and the conclusion reached by both was neither an ode to obscurantism nor indeterminacy, but to an excess that emerges from the dialectical movement between subject and object.

For better or worse, Zizek's (and Schelling's) is a kind of dialectic. Like his forebear, though, his rejection as such is not surprising. This is, depending on how you regard Schelling, either a plus or a negative on his scorecard.

Rich Puchalsky

Still no takers for dielectrical thinking? Come on, displacement currents even sound Lacanian.

Adam Kotsko

Rich, If you don't think that Brad's comment addressed John's question, then our uneasy truce is OVER!!!!


Just to make sure... I'm NOT saying here that Zizek & Schelling are identical, that if you layed them on top of one another, there'd be a 1:1 match. In fact, I am far more willing to defend Schelling than I am Zizek -- & not simply because the former is dead, but because I think his dialectical thinking thinks through some of its potential pitfalls better than Zizek's. That, however, is neither here nor there. Both are, for my money, dialecticians.


Dialectic: generally the response of the dogmatist-- what did Russell say about the dialectic? something like dialectic demonstrates that "the worse your logic, the more interesting will be the consequences it gives rise to", or something to that effect. Even Marx had doubts about the idealist dialectic;(see intro to Capital and Gr. ideology--Hegel turned on his head, etc.). Is Kant's 3rd Antinomy--generally accepted as sort of der Grossevater of hegelizing dialectics-- a valid account of "Freedom" and nature ? Yes, it may be sublime, sort of like Beethoven's 3rd symphony, but a confirmable proposition the 3rd Antinomy is not: there's more to it than that, but merely invoking dialectic doesn't prove anything. There were, in fact, soviet intellectuals who attempted to reconfigure dialectic in organism/environment terms, did they not--so then it becomes nearly behaviorist. Dialectic may serve as a model--say the understanding using sensations, phenomena for its conceptualizations, synthesizing knowledge--but even then there are no real precise definitions; indeed the continuation of the H. dialectic into class struggle may be one of the great shortcomings of m. theory. We'll see "dialectic" when oil reserves start running out.


Easy, Anthony, easy.

I guess I take Brad's comments as a partial downpayment on half the story about Zizek as dialectician. But, per the terms of Adam's comment, I'm waiting for an explanation of how Schelling is a dialectician and therefore, say, Socrates is not. I take it what precludes Socrates' manner from being dialectic is its essentially dialectical character (in the Greek etymological sense). That is, I take it with Zizek (and maybe Schelling) we are looking for a sense of dialectic that is monological - that excludes the practice of giving and taking reasons across the line separating two views. Pace Rich's quite reasonable complaint about 'parallax view', the title is supposed to indicate an incommensurability. There is no meeting and mediation of two sides. Zizek writes monologues. Great long gushing ones. His own image of the moebius strip, to express his procedure, implies the absence of dialogue, in a strict sense. "This there is no rapport between the two levels, no shared space - although they are closely connected, even identical in a way, they are, as it were, on the opposed sides of a Moebius strip" (p. 4).

So would you accept this - Adam (I don't think Brad pushes it quite so far): dialectic is essentially monologic, and this is why Zizek is a dialectician and I (and Chalmers) am not? (I'm kidding, of course. But then again I'm not.)


I don't read Zizek as suggesting the tree falling style of argument. So far as I can make out, he's saying something like: if we attempt to understand consciousness within a naturalistic ontology, then it must be understood as itself as itself something that can be naturalistically grasped ("an additional positive moment"). But consciousness is,as we all know, negation: it's the nothingness that noths. So understanding it within this kind of ontology means missing its very essence.

The real question is: why? That's a question for you, not Zizek (it's clear why he does the things he does). Thinking about this stuff is about as rewarding as reading comments by a troll. I think you need a hobby.


We all know that consciousness is the nothing that noths? I think that's a whole nother question, Neil.


I deleted a case of Anthony and the troll attacking each other. Please no more of that.


A certain type of empirically-minded progressive could conceivably take issue with the entire set-up and political sub-text of the consciousness debate; mind may not have been completely accounted for by scientific means, but so what: the preoccupation with mind at the expense of other issues--economics, broadly speaking--is itself a sort of deception and indulgence, the idle pleasure of rich college boys (or perhaps foolish ones). Consciousness-chat does not magically transport anyone away from other physical realities and requirements, whether food, housing, employment, transportation, sanity, sex, etc. And Cartesian subjectivity (which Chalmers at least implicitly affirms) has always been a stumbling block for a type of political-economic awareness; i.e. why say Chalmers (or even Zizek) instead of say Galbraith.

Timothy J Scriven

Crow, a lot of pure mathematics butters no bread but that's no argument against it. While we are at it I notice that many areas in the humanities butter no bread. Anyone who attacked these areas of study would, quite rightly, be called a philistine and be dismissed as a troll.

The point is of course that immediate practical usefulness is not the determiner of value. To my mind at least the attempt to gain knowledge of something so central as consciousness to the human condition is valuable in itself.

Besides it's arrogant of you to try to mark out what areas of science will and will not lead to advancement in practical fields, if a certain kind of interactionist dualism is true that could have important implications for neurological research and bio psych among other things. Issues of consciousness are also relevant to a wide range of issues in ethics, Chalmers says ( from memory) that his views about consciousness made him a semi-vegetarian.


a lot of pure mathematics butters no bread but that's no argument against it.

It could be an argument for some--say in a debate between biochemical researchers and pure mathematicians, and one could easily attack say, departments devoted to "consciousness studies" or to pure instead of applied mathematics when say oil reserves are being rapidly depleted, or other Malthusian scenarios are being played out (i.e. threats of nuclear war). Philistineness is largely a matter of perspective: someone who objects to theology as a means to truth instead of say biology or economics might be denounced as a philistine but that doesn't amount to a real critique. Applicability and Usefulness of some type does (and should) have a bearing on many academic and political situations--however interesting a Chalmers' speculations are, it's unlikely the university where he works regards his material highly enough to say replace the Dept. of Medicine with a Dept. of Consciousness studies; additionally, Chalmers theories are not established in the sense that many academic subjects are--whether the calculus or chemistry.

Another issue here is that theologically-minded people have made use of Chalmers' theories of "emergence" to substantiate various theological claims. I am not sure of Zizek's perspective on this, but Zizek is not a theist and has made rather disparaging remarks about religion, quite correctly. There are obvious shortcomings in Chalmers' arguments--such as the use of fictive entities, "zombies," for argument purposes, as well as the suggestion that since cog. science has not as of yet provided a complete account of mental experience, then mind is not reducible to materialism or purely biological processes--but any implied theology has all sorts of problems as well--the omniscient "God" of monotheism being hardly disguishable from a diabolical force for one (i.e. if God exists, He knowingly created/allowed WWI, WWII, and nuclear weapons).



I'm not completely ready to concede the monologic point. But, neither am I prepared to dismiss it either. There is certainly something to it -- and perhaps even something that Zizek (& along w/ a host of Continental thinkers) might gladly agree with.

What makes what he is doing dialectic, as opposed to Socrates (and, I guess, you & Chalmers) is that Zizek is not approaching the two "sides" of the parallax as merely opposing perspectives. In the grand dialectical fashion, his point is that each "side" or "perspective," or whatever, is itself only through the short-circuiting of its opposite. Where he deviates from Hegel, though via Lacan he insists he isn't really, is his claim that this "is itself only through . . ." does not describe a relationship of mediation & negotiation, and thus of serious engagement (of the sort you, at least, would seem to prefer); the failure of mediation, and thus the failure of any given perspective being itself, is its being itself. On every level, even w/out the orthodox Hegelian mediation, this seems pretty palpable dialectical thinking, as it was w/ Schelling, even when it apparently deviates from the Master, Hegel.

If you, Socrates, & co. are not dialectical thinkers, it is only because you do not (apparently?) explore how the two "perspectives" are not simply in dialogue; that is, for the dialectical thinker, the engagement is not that of a dialogue. It is not simply a matter that opposing perspectives are in a relationship with, and thus contextualized by, one another. For the dialectical thinker, the perspectives can never be torn asunder, and as such can never be regarded as individual perspectives or agents of dialogue. The adherence to this individuality that makes dialogue possible is the kind of vulgar materialism Zizek is talking about.

Adam, don't trust everything I say on this. You've read your Zizek as much as I -- and certainly his latest book more closely. So, if I'm playing too loose, feel free to call me out.

Adam Kotsko


It does seem unfair for you to implicitly insist on definitions that you know very well do not apply in the case you're dealing with. Zizek is a dialectical thinker insofar as he uses the dialectical style of thought arising out of German Idealism (Hegel, Schelling, et al.). If you are going to be picky about this and insist that the Socratic dialogues -- which do really degenerate into monologues in the end anyway -- are the only possible use of the word "dialectic," then it seems to me that Kierkegaard would also be wrong-headed to call Fear and Trembling a "dialectical lyric."

The same would apply for your definitions of materialism and idealism (which came out in the Spivak discussions and seem to be returning here) -- you insist that the continentalist use of those terms is just wrong, yet you don't cite your source for where you're getting your own definitions. Meanwhile, Spinoza is taken as being the very definition of materialism in many strains of continental philosophy.

Kodam Atsko

Holbo's being overly nice, or he's doing the pussyfooting game again, when he should pull out Popper or Quine 101 and blast the marxist dogmatists back into Hades. Those who assert a dialectic operates not merely as historical description (History as Reason), but as nature of reality, would seem to hold that there are predictive insights attending to that dialectical process: given thesis/antithesis/synthesis operating throughout reality (whether phenomenally or physically construed) then the dialectician should be able to make not only descriptions but predictions about historical and/or political events--a type of dialectical Laplacianism if you will. Of course as analytical people have pointed out for decades, no hegelian or marxist has ever done that; moreover, the events of the 20th century sort of demonstrate that if there is some impersonal Idea, Der Geist, operating dialectically, he's probably, you know, a close cousin to El Diablo. You might as well like uphold Hinduism. (ize got the crystal ball!)


Adam writes: "If you are going to be picky about this and insist that the Socratic dialogues -- which do really degenerate into monologues in the end anyway -- are the only possible use of the word "dialectic,"

No no, I wasn't insisting this was the only possible use, rather I was hinting that you should reconsider your implicit denial that socratic dialectic was A possible form of dialectic (though, of course, there may be others.)

Step back. Say it again. My point was that you (but not Brad) were implying, in effect, that Zizek-type stuff ( Hegel and Schelling stuff?) is dialectical, whereas Socratic-type stuff, e.g me, is not. I wanted to work that final clause for leverage. The first wiggle coming from this: Hegel and Schelling themselves would certainly never say so. I was being more ecumenical, then, opening the door to multiple senses of dialectic, whereas you seemed to be trying to restrict the term to keep me out (even though my sense seems more historically standard, frankly.) Perhaps Zizek is 'dialectical' in some sense, I am 'dialectical' in another. Then: what are those senses?

This 'Spinoza is a materialist' thing I need to wrap my head around. But he ISN'T. That's the thing I think the proposition that he IS will keep breaking on. How not? I guess you can define 'materialist' to mean what Spinoza says, but it seems perverse. Then you have no term for those who think that 'everything is just matter', or 'everything reduces to material stuff'. And you have a very misleading term for those who dissent from this position in very characteristic fashion, preferring a neutral monist (dual aspect) position. I guess it could be some sort of plot to blindside the idealists, but I'm more of a straightforward fellow myself. (God heavens, if you can't fool an idealist, who can you fool? Just use your bare hands.) Just say what you think.

WHY do people think that Spinoza is the quintessential materialist? I'm completely serious.

Adam Kotsko

John, I don't really study Spinoza -- I'm just citing the received wisdom, based on friends who have studied Spinoza/Deleuze/Negri.

I feel like Brad has sufficiently outlined what the relevant meaning of "dialectic" is for Zizek's case. It's just a non sequitur for you to apply the Socratic definition of dialectic to argue that Zizek is not dialectical, when it's about as obvious as possible that Zizek is a Hegelian.

This is making me angry, so I should just stop.


In the The Pantheism Controversy uproar of the late 18th century, which destroyed many a career & led to a few suicides, was not Jacobi's beef w/ Spinoza (via Lessing) that his monism led into something like "'everything is just matter', or 'everything reduces to material stuff'"? -- i.e., if the absolute could be reduced to conditionality & determination, and thus to reason, then the absolute is reduced to shit. This is what prompted him to resist reason & privilege sentimental faith.

Although Schelling hated Jacobi for his reductionistic solution -- sentimental faith -- he, mostly via Hamann -- also thought that Spinoza's version of reason qua monism was too tightly wound to a dogmatic objectivity that knows nothing of subjectivity & freedom. In the end, he devices a way to 'redeem' Spinoza, and even Spinoza's sense of substantality & objectivity, while at the same time thinking the unthought vitality & subjectivity of the Good.

So. In short, there were & remain a lot of versions of Spinoza. And one of them is that of "materialist par excellence." -- Indeed, for Schelling, Spinoza remains the materialist par excellence, but in such a way that his materialism has a dialectical twist that prevents substance from being only itself. (Which explains, too, where Deleuze's version of Spinoza came from.)

 Okstok Mada

Ah yass that greatest of metaphysical swindles from Plato to Billy Sunday: The teleological Good! Spinoza's God is all, mind and matter, and God is Good (let us thank 'em phor our wood); and there are then various manifestations of Goodness always occuring, brethren--be it the the goodness of the Black Plague, or concentration camps. Entropy the Good.

z zzzzzzzzzzzzzz

The Troll of Constant Sorrow

Your sophomoric, dull, unsophisticated prose provides ample evidence of your irrational and churlish nature. Not only incapable of providing any sort of analytical or political insights, you also lack any traces of the wit and irony of the parisians.


(I am not in that market myself, nor have I studied its peculiarities, so carpe diem.)

I think you mean "cave canem."

Anthony Paul Smith


Sometimes I wonder if your real beef with Zizek is the beef of an American in Paris - "Why don't the fucking speak English?!" That is to say, we're speaking different languages, aren't we? The history of philosophy is, in many ways, the lingua franca of philosophy. Ah, but philosophy is said in many ways! And so the lingua franca is also said in many ways. In your area Spinoza might mean something that I just don't get (and often times, it is just a matter of figuring out what they mean when they talk about a "Popperian" or a "Deleuzian" something, rather than knowing what Popper or Deleuze were actually talking about) because in my language Spinoza, same word, means something different (immanentist, materialist, etc.). We can argue about who has the better language, I guess, but that's always going to come down to a matter of what prior commitments we have before hand and we'll get no where.

This is all very troubling to me, really it is. I don't see any hope of the different schools of philosophy coming together (for, like, dinner and hand-jobs) until we learn to respect the others language, but then there are lines that each of us will not cross (that is to say, respect that each of us cannot give to another in good conscience). In some bizarre way, this is really a diversity issue. But... that may be something you can't respect in good conscience.

To me this is more interesting than your specific problems with Zizek.

Rich Puchalsky

For what's it's worth (i.e. nothing) I agree that Zizek uses dialectical thought in the contemporary sense of that phrase, which has been its main form since the heyday of Marxism. That being, when someone writes an essay that refers to either Hegel or Marx, this is labelled "dialectical thought" as a matter of *genre*. It has nothing to do with either dialogue or synthesis.


Look, Adam ... ah hell with it.

As to the Spinoza point. Sorry to keep picking but it's interesting. Brad responds reasonably, but ... well, you ask for cites so let me quote a bit from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, not because it's omniscient but it is fairly standard: "The two attributes of God of which we have cognizance are extension and thought. This, in itself, involves what would have been an astounding thesis in the eyes of his contemporaries, one that was usually misunderstood and always vilified. When Spinoza claims in Proposition Two that "Extension is an attribute of God, or God is an extended thing", he was almost universally -- but erroneously -- interpreted as saying that God is literally corporeal. For just this reason, "Spinozism" became, for his critics, synonymous with atheistic materialism." It is understandable, within the theological conflicts of his time, how he got in trouble for this. But, in retrospect, it is just WRONG to say that someone who says that the one thing that exists is ONE substance, with infinite attributes, including matter and mind ... is a materialist. Let alone a 'vulgar' one. Jumping ahead to, say, Chalmers vs. Dennett (or the Churchlands.) If you don't distinguish Spinoza and Dennett - they're both just 'materialists', let alone 'vulgar' - you are mapping the terrain in only the grossest terms. It seems to me that Zizek is probably projecting crude typological distinctions onto the likes of Chalmers, then blaming Chalmers for that. Whether he gets these from, or shares these with, Deleuze and Negri, I don't know. But it seems unfair to Chalmers.

Dear Troll of Sorrow (not YOU, Dr. Slack): you ARE aware that, by the terms of our comment policy, you ARE granting permission for me to release your entire blogospheric comment ouevre under a CC license? You are cool with that? (obviously you are, or you wouldn't still be leaving these silly comments.)

Hogan, in standing up for Spinoza's God-intoxicated neutral monism, against readings of him as a materialist, I may be saying: cave deum, or however it should go. Beware of God. You get the point. (But point taken.)

Anthony, I like to think of myself as a rather tolerant fellow, style-wise. I'm not asking Deleuze and Negri to speak English about Spinoza. I'm suspecting them of not speaking Spinoza about Spinoza. I'm not using 'Spinozist' as a thumbnail for some position in analytic philosophy. I'm speaking as an intellectual historian. I'm trying to understand how they could possibly think that Spinoza is a PARADIGMATIC materialist, i.e. someone who is your go-to guy for saying something like 'everything is really just matter.' My distinct mpression is that only a 17th century theological polemicist determined to get Spinoza burned at the stake could seriously believe that. I'm tolerant but I'm not a relativist. Just because a community of thinkers keep saying Spinoza is a materialist doesn't guarantee it makes sense. I'm skeptical.


Let me underscore that last point. It isn't standard in any way to categorize Chalmers as a Spinozist in analytic circles. That's just me. Because I'm a Spinoza buff and I see a similarity.

Doctor Slack

Rich Puchalsky writes:

I agree that Zizek uses dialectical thought in the contemporary sense of that phrase . . . That being, when someone writes an essay that refers to either Hegel or Marx, this is labelled "dialectical thought" as a matter of *genre*.

I find this curious, because it seems to me that, at least in the Zizek I've read, he's pretty specific about integrating the dialectic into his arguments as... well, as dialectic (of the Hegelian variety via Lacan). Why do you feel he's using it as a matter of genre?

Adam Kotsko

Until such time as I can invest serious effort in the study of Spinoza (which may well have to wait until I'm trying to pass the time in purgatory), I'm going to have to defer to Gilles Deleuze over John Holbo on this matter.

Anthony Paul Smith

"I'm speaking as an intellectual historian."

John, please, stop. Among other things, their brand of materialism is not the same thing as "Everything is matter." Materialism is a living thing that has developed since Lucretius (and, even if it's weird to you, I don't see how it's invalid). These people, who may be insane for doing so, include Bergson (who is more of a pluralist than a monist) in this line of thinkers.

And, to be fair, people have different opinions on this, just as they have different histories. You don't seem to want to accept that, as it does go beyond style. "Just because a community of thinkers keep saying Spinoza is a materialist doesn't guarantee it makes sense. I'm skeptical." It does within that language (or whatever you want to call it). It doesn't if you have a differently nuanced view of materialism. This isn't relativism, or at least it doesn't carry with it the same moral problems. These are tools for the kind of thinking they are doing. Just like your faux-objective historian position is a tool for the work you are doing.

Rich Puchalsky

doctor slack: "I find this curious, because it seems to me that, at least in the Zizek I've read, he's pretty specific about integrating the dialectic into his arguments as... well, as dialectic (of the Hegelian variety via Lacan). Why do you feel he's using it as a matter of genre?"

Because in order to have Hegelian dialectic, you need to make implicit contradictions explicit (or, in Fichtean terms, the whole thesis/antithesis/synthesis thing). Zizek doesn't do this except in a form of performative-by-assertion sense, because there's no thesis and no contradictions, just a sort of extended ramble spiced up by constant references to short circuits and deadlocks and so on (which is still unquestionably in the right genre, don't get me wrong).

Anthony is right about about the kind of stuff that he's referring to. (I prefer to describe what Anthony's talking about as Theory rather than continental philosophy, since it's by no means all of continental philosophy -- as illustrated by the way in which Anthony is describing his terms to a continental philosopher -- but I digress.) It's really just a matter of what genre you study, complete with its discipline-specific rules and terms of art. And the rules say that what Zizek writes is "dialectic", no matter what dialectic is supposed to mean outside the discipline.

Adam Kotsko


John Holbo is not a continental philosopher! He does history of philosophy in an analytic department! This is not a hard distinction to draw.

Also, the much-lauded "thesis-antithesis-synthesis" format is not actually used by Hegel nor made explicit by him as a method.


One needn't be an 18th-century God-fearing German to regard Spinoza's philosophy as being -- if nothing else, implicitly -- materialistic, as witness (again) Schelling, who was happy to bury any semblance of a moral God. As he points out Ideas Towards a Philosophy of Nature, Spinoza's amore intellectualis dei is always the love of MY eternity and anxiety before MY dissolution into/under the infinite. Schelling writes: "Hardly could a mystic think of himself as annihilated. This necessity always still to think of oneself helped all Schwärmer and it also helped Spinoza. When he intuited himself as submerged, he still intuited himself. He could not think of himself as annihilated without at the same time thinking of himself as existing."

He was, as such, a kind of stoic metaphysician whose aim is to be free from all differentation and sensuality -- but who "became a physicist because his abstraction from all sensuality could only happen gradually in time."

I'm not attempting to argue from authority here. Not even saying Schelling is right. Just saying, Schelling's reading of Spinoza actually revived Spinoza, who had hitherto been regarded as a "dead dog," and did so w/ a much more generous, & ultimately very compelling (as attesting the likes of Heidegger, Bergsen, Deleuze, etc.) reading. Calling everyone who regards Spinoza a materialist "wrong," or simply a product of their theologically conservative age, seems a little blinkered.

Rich Puchalsky

Adam, I've probably read as much Hegel as you've read of, say, Spinoza. Nevertheless I should point out that I did refer to the thesis-antithesis-synthesis phrase as "Fichtean terms", as you can read above. That's an important part of what some people mean by Hegelian dialectic. (Compare, for example, Marx and Marxist.)

As for "what John Holbo is", I'll let him argue with you about that. Still, I wonder how you describe what _On Zizek and Trilling_ is. History? Analytic philosophy? Both together?


Perhaps, if we wish to maintain the notion of different uses of "dialectic thinking," we might say of post-Kantian dialectics, i.e., that which is done in the explicit wake of Kant, "critical dialectical thinking".

Scott Eric Kaufman

I have to admit--and this betrays my bias as an intellectual historian--but I'm finding the conversation about interpretation far more illuminating than any of the various turf wars about the legitimacy of one or another mode of interpretation.

And, lest it go unremarked, the Troll of Sorrow is as boring as ever, clogging up the thread with his tedious observations about verification. The question, however, is whether I take this boredom passively or go to Cafe Press and order me a t-shirt with one or another of his drunken "witticisms" on it.


Still, I wonder how you describe what _On Zizek and Trilling_ is. History? Analytic philosophy? Both together?

I'm going to publish a book on Melville & Theology, but I hardly think that qualifies me to be called a Melville scholar.

Scott Eric Kaufman

You may have, but I never take a single fucking word you say seriously, so I wouldn't know. This is the problem with being a troll, Troll: even if you happen to say something germane, no one listens to you. Because no one ever does. If I were of the pop psychology sort I'd say that your appearance in locales in which your input is patently unwanted extends to all aspects of your life. Or do the "ladies" you "schtup" love it when you talk verification to them?

Scott Eric Kaufman

For the record, I'm obviously not responding to Brad--whose contribution I just praised--but to the Troll of Sorrow, whose constant companion informs me that we're "a bunch of talentless, desperate morons too fucking lame to understand either analytical phil. or marxism." (It must really bite to be someone whose one-note is so predictable a hastily coded bot can replace him with ease.)

Anthony Paul Smith

"I prefer to describe what Anthony's talking about as Theory rather than continental philosophy, since it's by no means all of continental philosophy -- as illustrated by the way in which Anthony is describing his terms to a continental philosopher -- but I digress."

Can you explain what you mean here?

BTW, does anyone else find it helpful that the troll is being a real dick here, thus taking the pressure off the rest of us to respond to each other as dicks? I mean, I'm really genuinely interested in what Rich means and I figure, hey, the Troll will call both of us bad names so he and I can just talk!

Anthony Paul Smith

Oh, you mean that John is the real continental philosopher and I do something like theory? You really think that or are you just being silly?

As to what John is, well, I always figured he was an English speaking philosopher with serious issues with contempoary figures in the contiental 'school' (in English speaking countries), but I've never seen him do pure analytic philosophy (and who does now days!) either. Could it be that there are more dimensions to philosophy than these two?! Horror!

Honestly, I've always kind of thought of him like a literay Isaiah Berlin without the knighthood.

Doctor Memory

Anthony: actually, I'm fascinated by the fact that other than being baited by Sean, the ToS was mostly actually participating in the discussion. (Heck, he and I appear to agree about Spinoza; I may need to lie down.) Apparently the new comment policy is having odd consequences.

Anthony Paul Smith

Dr. Memory,

No, that's normal. He always tangentially partcipates, but only as a means to deploy the ad hom and lame insults. To be honest, I don't look at his comments anymore (it's been two years of this). As soon as I figure out it's him, I pass over them.

ben wolfson

Has it seriously been two years since the advent of the ToS?


I enjoyed the Zizek interview here, which I supsect was conducted via correspondence:


(You have to download the entire thing.)

His remarks about the Heidegger seminars were interesting to me, though I am not exactly au courant here.

Scott Eric Kaufman

Dr. Memory, he likes to try and participate, but always fails because he's a drama king: easily flustered and given to online equivalent of waving his hand in front of his face and saying "Oh my! Oh my oh my! Lord, no! Oh my!" at the first non-mention of the Halting Problem. (As you can imagine, it's not mentioned at an alarming rate.) His insults, in addition to being counterproductive, also fail to make sense. For example, he acts as if he wouldn't be afraid of a 70 lbs. hydrophobic poodle attacking him. Lions, tigers, and bears ("Oh my oh my!") would, but he expects us to believe he wouldn't. Pffft.

Now, proceed with the conversation. No, not you, "friend" Troll. You should leave.


Am I the only one reading along with this who's wondering why Hegel and interpretations of Spinoza keep being mentioned, but no one seems to be mentioning Hegel's take on Spinozism? I always thought he did a pretty good job clearing Benedict of the pantheist/materialist charges, what with that whole "acosmism" angle. Spinoza isn't a pantheist because he doesn't believe in a "pan" and he's not a materialist because he doesn't believe in any material substance (his substance isn't divisible, while matter is).

(I'm also confused how there are theologians who haven't read the Politco-Theological Treatise. It's short, a fun read, and very important historically (one of the earliest efforts at biblical criticism in the modern age) -- and it gives you the cliff's-notes version of Spinoza's metaphysics when Benedict has to talk about miracles. Everyone wins!)

Adam Kotsko

I have read Theologico-Political Treatise -- twice, in fact!

Rich, I agree with Anthony here: what John does (particularly in that essay) does not fall into either the "continentalist" vein or else into the straight "analytic" vein. (I would also count "Theory" as a separate category from straight "continental" scholarship in the US, the kind of stuff that they do in departments like DePaul or Villanova.) It is just bizarre that you could read, say, a work of David Krell or some undisputed Anglo-"continentalist" and conclude that he and John Holbo are up to basically the same thing.

It is transparently and obviously false to claim that John is a "continental philosopher" in the relevant sense -- "a historian of European philosophy working in an analytic setting" seems to me to be the best description, since he obviously shares the general culture of analytic philosophy. You can say that "John claims to be a continental philosopher," but it's pretty clear that he's just doing that for polemical reasons, or more charitably put, to attempt to cloud the waters of those distinctions. Which is fine, but it still doesn't make him a continental philosopher.

I wouldn't say that I'm strictly a continentalist, either -- you know, the whole "theology" thing. Today I'm procrastinating on a paper about the role of the Holy Spirit in Augustine's De Trinitate, if you can believe it. (I assume there will be no comment fork following up on the details of said paper.)

Jeff Rubard

Two points:

1) Finitude for Heidegger is not synonymous with being towards death. As far as I can tell, it is an ontological characteristic of Dasein (something like a second-order property of existentialia) negatively inspired by Hegel's "infinite" (which is nothing like Cantor's) and positively related to developments in mathematics limiting the "space of reasons" like finitism and intuitionism.

For example, the kind of time which is so integrated into our lived experience as to be misleadingly unobtrusive is not the kind of time we represent using tense logic, an infinite sequence of moments: it is finite, limited to permutations of the concrete contents we actually have in our mind. So finitude is more like a property of cognition, its being unsupported by ideal structures, than an essayistic inevitability of the human condition.

2) What is probably an important historical point: the *locus post-Pantheismus* for Spinoza as materialist god is Althusser, who is probably so integrated into Zizek's worldview as to be misleadingly unobtrusive. A Russellian insistence on neutral monism as something quite other than "Ohne Phosphor kein Gedanke" is kind of missing the Marxist point about Spinoza, which is that non-reductionism is groovy (perhaps you aren't chastened by this).

Rich Puchalsky

Anthony: "Oh, you mean that John is the real continental philosopher and I do something like theory?"

No, not at all. What I wrote was "I prefer to describe what Anthony's talking about as Theory rather than continental philosophy, since it's by no means all of continental philosophy". In other words, I think that Theory is (mostly) a subset of continental philosophy. That doesn't mean that it's in some sense unreal. It does mean that I think that you're being somewhat hegemonic in trying to assert that someone who works on Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and the German Idealists is not doing continental philosophy, merely because they are not doing Theory.

If you also read what I said about Holbo carefully, I didn't say he was a continental philosopher. (I think that the idea of defining him -- as opposed to his work -- on his own site to be rather insulting, actually.) I do find it odd, though, that you don't want to say that he's done even one essay's worth of continental philosophy. Zizek is not a historical figure, after all.

Mostly, what these replies often seem to come down is an answer based on "general culture" -- you've either got the general culture of analytic philosophy, or the general culture of continental philosophy. You either define Spinoza as a materialist because that's just how it is / what important people said in your field, or you don't. That's OK, I guess, if you favor a very strong form of disciplinary boundaries, such that ideas can not really be communicated past them. But Theory doesn't.

Anthony Paul Smith

Well, I don't exist in the culture of theory, Theory, or The(or)y. Ask Scott about that. I work in continental thought, specifically in philosophy of religion and political philosophy. Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and German Idealism are not continental in this sense. Jesus man! We've had this conversation before. We're being un-hegemonic here! I don't care who does theory, I only care that one's criticism of theory doesn't become just another analytic power play to keep continental philosophy from doing it's work free of stupid debates that fundamentally alter it not though arguments, but through politics. David Krell, to keep with Adam's example, does not do theory anymore than Peter Steeves, Michael Naas or any number of actual continental philosophers at DePaul. Bill Martin, who teaches analytic philosophy at DePaul, is not an analytic philosopher (we don't have a one!).

"I do find it odd, though, that you don't want to say that he's done even one essay's worth of continental philosophy."

Umm... are you being serious? So when I write an essay on how Peter Singer's newest book is complete crap using a set of ground rules that Peter Singer doesn't adhere to, do I get to say I've done one essay's worth of analytic philosophy?

"That's OK, I guess, if you favor a very strong form of disciplinary boundaries, such that ideas can not really be communicated past them. But Theory doesn't."

Umm, no. Above I stated that we are facing a very difficult situation. So, yes there are strong boundaries, but perhaps this isn't a good thing and perhaps it doesn't have to be.

What's the grinding sound?

Adam Kotsko

Perezoso, The ontological argument, properly understood, is a way of indicating that any God worthy of being called God will exceed any a priori concept of perfection. The idea of "than which no greater can be thought" does not require any positive definition of perfection, because it is itself not a positive definition.


I have turned off all the troll's recent comments and will continue to unpublish any new ones, no matter how termporary sensible. I'm tired of this whole 'behave reasonable for a short time/abuse everyone' cycle. So anyone who responds to the troll will risk looking like they are talking to the wall, as it were.

Rich Puchalsky

"So when I write an essay on how Peter Singer's newest book is complete crap using a set of ground rules that Peter Singer doesn't adhere to, do I get to say I've done one essay's worth of analytic philosophy?"

If it's of high enough quality so that you can get it published in a philosophy journal, perhaps. Then the question concerns what kind of philosophy it is. For this particular essay, there are two central points that I see:

1. "The reader is beginning to take the heavy hint that Zizek does not understand “teleological suspension of the ethical.” Indeed, he does not. He tries to help the reader by offering two literary illustrations that are almost identical to illustrations
Kierkegaard uses to illustrate what he does not mean."

2. "Because liberalism suffers from this paradoxical tendency to selfbetray, a healthy liberal is one who dialectically tacks and trims, in pursuit of liberty, between extremes of illiberal arch-rationalism and anti-rationalism. I have been tunneling to this exact point from the opposite direction: an unhealthy anti-liberal is one, like Zizek, who ticks and tocks in unreflective revulsion at liberalism, pantomiming that he is de Maistre (or Abraham) or Robespierre (or Lenin) by turns, lest he look like Mill."

You've got first a claim that Zizek gets Kierkegaard wrong, then a dialectical argument. But I guess that this isn't continental philosophy because John is at an analytic department or something?

Adam Kotsko


We've sufficiently established that Kierkegaard qua Kierkegaard is not a continental figure in the relevant sense. I would also argue that "mediating between two poles" is not "dialectical" in the sense that Zizek is trying to do dialectical thought.

John Holbo is not a continental philosopher in the relevant sense. He just isn't. I don't think that he would claim that he is doing the same type of thing as someone like David Krell. The approach to past philosophers and to philosophical texts in general is just radically different in what John is doing. It's not to say that what John is doing is not valuable (though my feelings on this particular article are well-known) -- but, my God man, John got a fairly basic point of Heidegger incorrect in his post! That alone should indicate that the man is not a continental philosopher!!!!

If it's rude for us to point this out on his blog, then it's equally rude for you to presume to speak on his behalf on his blog.


Anthony writes, in response to my claims of interest in intellectual history.

"John, please, stop. Among other things, their brand of materialism is not the same thing as "Everything is matter." Materialism is a living thing that has developed since Lucretius (and, even if it's weird to you, I don't see how it's invalid)."

Look, Anthony, their brand of materialism is in fact a DIFFERENT WAY of understanding 'everything is matter'. Do you see the difference? And I should think materialism goes back farther than Lucretius.

"These people, who may be insane for doing so, include Bergson (who is more of a pluralist than a monist) in this line of thinkers."

It is perfectly standard, within many traditions - including the post-Hegelian continental line - to regard 'materialism' as the name of a monistic metaphysical position. This isn't just how Chalmers uses the term, or just the way analytics use it. It appears to be the way Zizek uses it. And he uses it to describe Chalmers' position.

Brad is right to invoke the existential atmosphere of Spinoza's work - his whole philosophic personality - as a reason why he got pinned as a materialist. And as a reason why others have been attracted and repulsed by him. But the crucial consideration here - the reason why I am not the one wearing the blinkers, I think - is that you can't then go accusing Chalmers of being a 'vulgar materialist' if by that you are only saying, in a vague sort of way, 'you've got attitude'. Materialism, if you want to argue materialism vs. idealism vs. neutral monism, as Chalmers does, is NOT the sort of thing Brad talks about. Although of course that stuff is related, and you are free to talk about it. But don't allow yourself to get in a position where you are saying 'this materialism is wrong' and having it translate, in effect, as 'I don't like your attitude'. And also pretending the issue is whether some such claim as this is true 'everything is just matter'.

Back to Anthony:

"And, to be fair ..."

I'll just pause and smile at that one for a moment. Right. On we go.

" ... people have different opinions on this, just as they have different histories. You don't seem to want to accept that, as it does go beyond style."

No, I'm just saying that, just because people have different opinions about this, due to divergent traditions, I do not AUTOMATICALLY have to accept what they say as sensible. Example, you yourself do not just assume that everything I say makes sense. Nor should you. This 'Deleuze saying so deesn't make it so' point is all I need to make my point.

"'Just because a community of thinkers keep saying Spinoza is a materialist doesn't guarantee it makes sense. I'm skeptical.' It does within that language (or whatever you want to call it)." No, Anthony, this doesn't make sense. This is incoherently strong conceptual relativism. For one thing, if no one is allowed to criticize, from without, then surely no one from within is allowed to discuss what's going on outside. If their sense of 'materialism' is so insulated from what Chalmers means that they can't be critiqued in anything like the terms he would use, then they can hardly themselves just start talking about 'Chalmers' materialism'. This is really a very elementary point about how you do intellectual history, or talk across lines of intellectual traditions, Anthony. It is impossible that you are not familiar with these thoughts, so I suspect you are just needling me with arguments you yourself don't believe.

"It doesn't if you have a differently nuanced view of materialism. This isn't relativism, or at least it doesn't carry with it the same moral problems."

We aren't talking about MORAL relativism, surely. We're talking (I thought this was obvious) about conceptual relativism. Some sort of view of conceptual schemes as mutually incommensurable bubbles. My point is that your bubble view seems to be incoherently strong.

"These are tools for the kind of thinking they are doing. Just like your faux-objective historian position is a tool for the work you are doing."

But how can it be 'faux', by your own account, if my little tribe thinks it's 'objective'? (Let me jolly you along for a moment by pretending we are a proud lot, trumpeting our 'objectivity'.) Aren't you committed to thinking that, if we think it is 'objective', it must be. It must have some special meaning which makes this ok? I realize that trying to get you hung up on your own relativist claims this way is about the hoariest chestnut in the whole philosophy toolkit. It's the dustiest bust of Socrates there is (cough, cough). But that's a good reason not to say things which give me good reason to pull out bust of Socrates and waggle it before your eyes, like some sort of gorgon head, to turn your relativism to something more solid.

In short, you are pinning a cartoon position on me - one in which I am blind to any sort of 'organic relativity', due to differences between traditions. Democritus is not QUITE the same sort of materialist as Dennett. Obviously so. But, in pinning this cartoon view to me, you are also pinning an equally and oppositiely absurd view to yourself: a PURE sort of conceptual relativism, according to which all claims within a tradition make sense if everyone within the tradition says they make sense. Even if those outside say it doesn't.

Which just doesn't make sense. Why doesn't it make sense? Well, mostly because these hermetic bubbles don't exist.


"John got a fairly basic point of Heidegger incorrect in his post! That alone should indicate that the man is not a continental philosopher!!!!"

Adam, what was my basic error in the post? I asked a question about Heidegger on 'finitude'. What's wrong with that? You aren't seriously suggesting that to ask questions about Heidegger is tantamount to getting Heidegger wrong, are you? So what ARE you saying? (Asking questions is important, man.)

I suggest you might consider calming down.

Besides, I never claimed to be 'a continental philosopher'. But I do study continental philosophy - and not from an 'analytic' standpoint either. For what it's worth.

Adam Kotsko

Asking questions is important. That doesn't change the fact that the statements you put out there initially, asking for confirmation ("Right?"), were incorrect. And the very fact that those points were incorrect seems to me to be evidence (damning evidence!) that Being and Time is not a primary reference for you, philosophically. Right?

The four exclamation points were an exaggeration. I was actually quite calm while writing that comment, despite the fact that I was responding to Rich. The Heidegger reference was, ultimately, a joke. And the fact that you don't get it shows that you're not a continental philosopher!


In order to raise the tone, let me thank Jeff Rubard for his very helpful contribution, struggling like a salmon against the current in this thread.

But I guess the bad tone is due to me, in part. Write a snarky post, get a snarky response. (Not to mention trolls.)

Anthony Paul Smith


You need to put away the Holbonic blender of doom and destruction. I don't want to continue a discussion if it's going to become a flame war. Look, you're not Socrates and the deck isn't stacked against every other participant here. To say that it makes sense internally to call Spinoza a materialist is not to advocate conceptual relativity. Look, I'm trained in phenomenology (and it is perhaps this difference that makes you preciously not a continental philosopher) where it is taken that a thing is all the ways in which it can appear while remaining a coherent whole. Spinoza can appear as a materialist and he can appear as a pantheist and he can appear as a Jew and a heretic and all these cohere in the name of Spinoza. The usual smart ass thing is to say, "Well, can't he appear in any way whatsoever?" No, the way he appears is mediated above other things by the community one finds oneself in (hence something like madness). Appearance, value, meaning – these seem to be things that change while remaining coherent. Like a child becoming aware of itself or a person whose cells undergo complete change yet the person remains the same person (I wish I could remember the psychologist, sorry). As to the outside, well, it's obvious that it affects any community but it affects it precisely as the outside. That was partly my point above. We are speaking to each other poorly and not recognizing our position of being outside one another and thus not doing the decent thing and extending any hospitality to one another.

My whole point had nothing to do with your criticism of what Zizek calls this Chalmers guy. It may have been wrong. (I don't know and I don't particularly care - I'm not married to the idea of reading people I think get everyone else right. I think Zizek's reading of Deleuze to be real half-assed, but I'm more interested in what creative thing he can come up with after doing such a reading.) My problem was with your criticism of his being able to be described as a dialectical thinker and then by saying that one can't consider Spinoza a materialist.

Re: the continental thing. If you mean you study philosophers from the continent, that's one thing, but these are people that belong to all the traditions of philosophy. I have no interest in assigning you a identity (though I do think the Isaiah Berlin thing works on a few levels) but Rich was trying to pull a power play that isn't valid. You should know that I don’t assume what you do is bad simply by virtue of it not being within the continental tradition, but I’m also not really willing to say you’re doing the same kind of thing as friends of mine. The continental label is a pretty piss poor term to describe a multiplicity of work anyway.

If you'd like me to sit out the rest of the discussion let me know. But, if you would be fine with me saying, extend a bit of charity in reading.

Anthony Paul Smith

I'm rather insulted that you really think this has been all that bad of a discussion. Near as I can tell no one has been all that uncivil (I don't read the ToS' comments) and I feel like we've gotten at a really key problem in the long standing arguement over this stuff. Sure, people are frustrated, but that happens in such situations and the fact that Adam and Rich have basically gotten along should be some kind of barometer.

But, please, just sit back and smile while that sinks in. That's real helpful.

Scott Eric Kaufman

Hi Wall, I'm Scott. Pleased to meet you.

Seriously though, despite being supremely out of my depth, I agree with Anthony. This is leaps and bounds--by which I mean, actually educational--above the lightiness which typically passes for heatiness in these discussions.

Adam Kotsko

Anthony and I were just discussing this verbally, and it seems to me that this "Zizek does cognitive science" thing is kind of a missed opportunity, particularly for a person who is not interested in the analytic/continental divide -- see, here is a leading continental philosopher who is really interested in cognitive science! And even though I don't agree with what he comes up with, isn't it cool that he's doing it? Couldn't it be that Zizek "getting it wrong" is just the unexpected results that naturally follow when an active intelligence lays his eyes on a new body of text, without having been disciplined first? And even if this particular point John raises is a flat-out "wrongness," well, why not encourage more cautious "continentalists" to come join the party?

I personally feel this way about the theologian John Milbank -- I think that he gets a lot of contemporary philosophy substantially wrong, but in principle I think his work is really valuable in that the discussion at least needs to take place.

But anyway, I'd like to join the chorus of people who don't think that a fight has really been going on here, at least not in the second half of the thread (or so). I did admittedly get mad early on, but that point has passed. And just like over at The Valve, Rich and I continue to be civil to each other. So much to celebrate, John! Don't be upset! Grab a drink!



I'll join the chorus of people who say this has been on the least annoying online discussions of this sort -- all of which I tend to avoid.

Also ... a couple of confessions. I've not yet finished reading The Parallax View, and it is not really a priority to do so; and I'd only ever heard the name Chalmers prior to your post. As such, I will avoid trying to defend (or pile on) Zizek's use of "vulgar materialist" when it comes to him. As I've already presented, I doubt it is simply a matter of "attitude," and I think he has reasons for saying it like that, dialectical reasons even (as I described briefly above); but, since I've nothing invested in Chalmers, and because I'm down with what I at least think he might mean by the characterization, I thus see no reason to defend him from Zizek either.

None of this, I realize, is compelling evidence to keep you from criticizing Zizek -- whose treatment of Chalmers, I take it, is merely symptomatic of far greater problems. Ultimately, though, this problem seems to come down to the precise matter of by what criteria does one judge Zizek's dialetical thinking. For my money, for no small reason because of my own commitments to critical dialectical thinking, I think your critique would ultimately be better, and ultimately more productive, i.e. less defensive (all manner of offense in your spirited review[s] seem precisely that), if that criteria of judgment emerged (dialectically) from Zizek's (dialectical) thinking itself. But that's just me, perhaps.


Well, alright, maybe it's not going so badly as all that.

Here's something: Zizek describes Spinoza's position on p. 42. And he describes him not as a materialist but as a neutral monist - that is, he makes him sound a lot like Chalmers. (This bringing in Spinoza there is coincidental, in that he doesn't actually bring Spinoza in about the Chalmers stuff later. That was all me.) I'll post about this later because it's sort of interesting. I think the proper conclusion to draw turns out to be this: Zizek has got to be just completely confused to say what he says about what Chalmers says - it's just a clean miss, as a reading of Chalmers. But what Zizek has to say about Spinoza is actually a bit more interesting. And sort of confirms my CT suspicion that the strict nonsenicality of the title 'the parallax view', is intended as a kind of sneaky joke.


And sort of confirms my CT suspicion that the strict nonsenicality of the title 'the parallax view', is intended as a kind of sneaky joke.

Either that, or it accords with the spirit & content of his dialectical thinking. (Though perhaps your suggestion isn't necessarily incompatible w/ that -- even if I suspect your intent is to go a much different direction than give him any such credit.)

Rich Puchalsky

Adam: "We've sufficiently established that Kierkegaard qua Kierkegaard is not a continental figure in the relevant sense."

We have? I've seen the assertion, yes, but no establishment. The particular essay that I quoted isn't discussing Kierkegaard as a historical figure, it's saying that Zizek has adopted a Kierkegaardian idea of the "teleological suspension of the ethical", which he has misunderstood. Kierkegaard's ideas when used as part of a contemporary philosophical analysis are part of continental philosophy, pretty much by definition.

"I would also argue that "mediating between two poles" is not "dialectical" in the sense that Zizek is trying to do dialectical thought."

Well, it doesn't matter whether it's specifically Zizekian. The question is whether it's specifically continental. Phrases like "paradoxical tendency to selfbetray" put this use of dialectic within that tradition, I'd guess.

Why does it matter? Because your and Anthony's implicit definition of what continental philosophy is seems highly and situationally nonstandard, and it leads straight back to the bit in which you claim that no one can understand it who hasn't been brought up in the tradition. Which brings me to:

"my God man, John got a fairly basic point of Heidegger incorrect in his post! That alone should indicate that the man is not a continental philosopher!!!!"

Adam, here is what you wrote about the "finitude is death" bit when John wrote it: "As a hypothesis, Heideggerian finitude is not just about death, it's about thrownness in general." Really? That doesn't sound like the kind of answer given to someone who got something basic wrong that should be immediately obvious to anyone who has studied continental philosophy as much as you presumably have despite your theology degree.

"If it's rude for us to point this out on his blog, then it's equally rude for you to presume to speak on his behalf on his blog."

Except that I'm not speaking on his behalf.

Anthony Paul Smith

"Kierkegaard's ideas when used as part of a contemporary philosophical analysis are part of continental philosophy, pretty much by definition."

Where is this definition?

"I've seen the assertion, yes, but no establishment."

What would it take for it to be established for you? Someone you actually like saying it?

"Because your and Anthony's implicit definition of what continental philosophy is seems highly and situationally nonstandard, and it leads straight back to the bit in which you claim that no one can understand it who hasn't been brought up in the tradition."

Highly and situationally non-standard? What? No, really, what? When did anyone make that claim? You've added quite a bit to what I actually said with this whole "brought up" and "understand" thing.

"As a hypothesis, Heideggerian finitude is not just about death, it's about thrownness in general." Really? That doesn't sound like the kind of answer given to someone who got something basic wrong that should be immediately obvious to anyone who has studied continental philosophy as much as you presumably have despite your theology degree."

You're right, he should have said, "John, you moron! Finitude is not just about death, but about thrownness in general. How fucking dare you get that wrong!" Nice crack about the theology degree. Can I say something about your pony tail now?

"Except that I'm not speaking on his behalf."

I've seen the assertion, yes, but no establishment.

Good night Snarky McSnarkerson.


Brad quotes me: "And sort of confirms my CT suspicion that the strict nonsenicality of the title 'the parallax view', is intended as a kind of sneaky joke.

And then writes: "Either that, or it accords with the spirit & content of his dialectical thinking."

I think I can see a possibility for higher synthesis here. In saying Zizek is a joker, I'm not insulting him in his own terms. I'm reasonably certain he would be glad I got the joke - if it's a joke. Of course I'm sure you are all sure I've just got some brickbat hidden behind my back. But actually I think Zizek has been genuinely clever on this occasion. And THEN I'll hit him with a brickbat. But I'll have given him some credit for this one.


And I'd just like to say: isn't there a pretty good case to be made that "As a hypothesis, Heideggerian finitude is not just about death, it's about thrownness in general," just carries us around full circle: Because what's thrownness about, for Heidegger? Death. (Or am I wrong?)


Sorry guys, but I spent too much time on that other thread (the one that led to the comment policy) to contribute in a timely fashion. It's all your fault, as it was too entertaining (hats off to the comment from "Foghorn, Shatterer of Worlds," which was classic – with the glaven, indeed).

However, this will not stop me. I see that w/r/t the original question Adam K said pretty much what I was going to say, but let me try. I should add that I don't know a whole lot about Zizek, or Heidegger, or Chalmers, or Spinoza, and nothing about Schelling. So there's that. Skip ahead if you must.

I basically want to defend, or at least make sense of, Z's point (and, tangentially, Anthony's) concerning his (Z's) lumping together of Chalmers and his opponents (as "vulgar materialists"). I'm not sure why this should provoke such an unbending response (complete with accusations of incommensurability, relativism, and whatnot). As a Davidsonian I will roll my eyes at any such accusations turned against me.

As I see it, from a distance (a somewhat shorter one than that from which Z sees it, I imagine), Chalmers and his opponents share a (very general! but all of a piece from a distance!) conception of the material world, the one into which they are trying (or not) to fit consciousness. That part is settled, modulo their outstanding disagreement, which concerns not that world itself, or its ontological status, but the place, and status, of consciousness – a distinct thing, conceptually speaking – within it (or outside it, or whatever we decide to say). That part – the part they share – is what it looks to me like Z is objecting to in the quoted passage. Once you have that conception it doesn't matter what you add to it (or where or how you add it) in order to account for consciousness, even if it isn't a distinct substance in the (original) Cartesian-dualist sense.

So, the passage: if we try to conceive of consciousness as part (in this sense) of the (already self-sufficient, ontologically speaking) material world (ie. an "ontologically fully realized field of reality"), as (even) Chalmers does qua defender of consciousness from materialist reduction/elimination (and thus not a "materialist" in that sense), then all consciousness can amount to is, well, whatever you think is missing from (or "escapes") the account we have so far (ie of the material world), whether that thing be an "elementary (self)-sentience" or whatever "additional positive moment" you prefer.

So instead (the thought continues), given that consciousness (or Dasein, if you like) is indeed ontologically ineliminable from any picture of the world that could possibly make sense to us (so Chalmers is right that what he calls "materialism" is no good), there's no point in constructing that picture by agreeing on the settled part and squabbling about what if anything to add to it. (Just to show where I'm coming from, I could, following McDowell talking about something else (or is it?), call the rejected picture a "highest-common-factor" conception of the relation between world and mind. I remind/inform you that he references Hegel explicitly in making this point. But we don't have to go there.)

Start over. Think of consciousness as neither some stuff nor even an aspect (whatever that may turn out to mean) of material (or "neutral") stuff. Consciousness is not (simply) the object of our inquiry, but also the subject. The question of what our object is is not simply not to be separated from, but is identical to the question of what we are, that we may see ourselves as pursuing such an inquiry in the first place. In Heideggerian terms (now I'm stretching, as I do not speak this language), Dasein is that thing for which its own essence is an issue. Or something like that. So, the finitude of our understanding (of the object) just is the finitude of the object itself.

[warning: next part rather speculative - mocking is permitted] Using that identity to flip back again from subject-of-inquiry to object-of-inquiry, we see that that same finitude applies now to the latter qua object-of-inquiry, no matter what the object. Again, this is an ontological, not simply epistemological, finitude (which Z contrasts with a supposedly "ontologically fully realized field of reality"). So even the supposedly settled issue between C. and his opponents, which denies this finitude, has to be rejected. This isn't (just) a result of inquiry, you understand, it's a constraint on its fruitful continuation (even if this means it will never end). (Perhaps a Wittgensteinian might be coaxed to sympathize, with Z, or H, against C et al, with the anti-dogmatist, that is anti-doctrinal, tone here?)

Holbo: "Chalmers [is] nothing like a vulgar materialist." Not so, if by that you mean not the Churchlandesque position Chalmers rejects, but, more broadly, the ontological orientation (towards the material world) Chalmers shares with his opponents. You may not want to call this "materialism" at all. I can see why. But that's the term Z uses, and some of the reasons have come up already. For us it's a bit confusing; but in other cases of ambiguity ("realism," anyone?), we shrug it off, or roll up our sleeves and make a further distinction – not dig in our heels.

The point, again, is that from a certain perspective (now no longer held solely by Heideggerians, I would hope), there's not a dime's worth of difference between materialism and dualism (or, in other words, "idealism coincides with vulgar materialism" – that is, the position Chalmers takes himself to be opposing, and a position which takes itself precisely to be opposing idealism). As I would put it, "materialism" in this broader sense, whether that of Chalmers or Churchland, is as Cartesian a doctrine as they come. Chalmers is simply more upfront about it (that is, in copping to a form of dualism), although I don't know how he feels about the term ("Cartesian," that is, which tends in these circles to mean narrowly "substance dualism").

Sorry to go on so long, esp. since people seem to have moved on to whether Kierkegaard was a continental philosopher (as a pragmatist I say: preface your remarks, whether yea or nay, with an explanation of why it matters to you what we say). It's okay not to reply. I just thought that since I worked on it so long it I should at least post it.


I'm coming rather late to the party, but (unless I've missed something in the comments thus far), there's something still worth pointing out about the notion of "finitide": The concept and the term both derive from a scholastic tradition that comes to Heidegger through Kant. The root idea is one of "ontological dependence," where that property divides entities into those whose nature and properties are explained entirely by their own nature and those of whom that's not the case. Thus, a finite being is one whos estates (esp. representations) can only be explained by reference to how it is with another entitiy.

In the case that most moden phiosophers were concerend with, that meant that that the representations one creature had of another had to be explained by some relation (usually, for want of a better explanans, causation) between these creatures. And indeed, beginning with Wolff (IIRC), you see the beginnings of what became a rather standard view that it was definitional of sensation that it was the kind of representation that is constituted by causal relations between entities: if some of its representational states are explained by reference to the states of another creatures, then that entity is ontolotically other than self-sufficient. One the other hand, you have an metaphysical argument for, e.g., the standard theological conclusion that a creature that is infinite (viz. God) does not experience sensation, for (by assumption) the explanation of none of God's states can be dependent on the other entities.

Along the same lines, having an necessary attitude toward death is, from one point of view, obviously necessary to not being an ontologically self-sufficient being. But it's a symptom thereof, not the definition.

Like I said, this line of thought has old roots. It goes back to Aquinas, certainly, and I think (although I haven't investigated this very much) further back to the neo-Platonics.

In the case of Heidegger, in particular, the Kantian origins of his concern with the topic are evident if you look at the first few chapters of _Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics_.

Apologies if this read like ravings; It's a bit late for me.


Thanks, bza and dave (just wanted to know that I read your comments, far down the thread though they be.)

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