October 20, 2003

Why I Didn't Major In Philosophy

I took the required Philosophy courses in Undergrad. And by required, I mean REQUIRED, as in, "in the Religion and Philosophy area, 3 courses are required for successful completion of an undergraduate degree." So I took American Philosophy, from which I vaguely recall the tenets of Pragmatism, and then I took a course in Existentialism. Oh, dear God. The only interesting thing about Existentialism was that the professor, a suitably moody little man with John Lennon glasses and an annoying penchant for striking Poses Of Deep Thought (think "hand to temple, affected grimace of rumination) had us over to his house for the final pre-exam review and discussion. During the course of our philosophical musings, as we sat upon the professor's hardwood floor whilst he pontificated from a leather armchair, one of the basketball players amazed us with a display of flatulence made all the more remarkable by the reverb caused by the aforementioned hardwoods. So that's pretty much it for my education in philosophy, or as I like to call it: My Time With the Existential Fart.

So when I say that I don't quite get how this fellow is getting all self-righteous and defensive, I'm serious. I don't get it. See, if you do an interview and say,

"In the book what I say is morally permissible is the terrorism of the Palestinians in the present situation"

then compare it to other morally permissible acts of terrorism (in your view), then why are you surprised that readers and listeners might make the appropriate leap of logic, to wit:

The Globe also said I assert what I explicitly deny, that acts of terror generally are morally justified.

In the English major, we call that parsing, and it's basically a Cover Your Ass ploy when you realize that you've shown more about yourself (and in an unflattering way) than you intended. I mean, he's asserted that two discrete terrorist movements are morally justified, so I think a reasonable person might wonder exactly how he's gonna differentiate between Palestinians, South Africans, and, oh, pick a South American guerilla group. I mean, they can all be thought of as "freedom fighters," can't they? Where's the line? A reasonable person might conclude that perhaps this fellow is an apologist for 21-year old women who strap explosives to themselves and blow up buses. On purpose. To kill little kids and their moms and dads. On purpose.

The anti-semitism thing he rails against on his homepage may have been blown out of proportion, but it may also have been the only straws those publishers could grasp to get out of a contract with someone who, for all of his high-toned deterministic ideals about terrorism, is just an existential fart writ large.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at October 20, 2003 01:21 PM

You should provide a warning to your readers. I haven't eaten yet, and having clicked through the links and read that smug so-superior being's merde, I now can't.

Posted by: Alene Berk at October 20, 2003 08:04 PM

Women don't get philosophy. It's about how you can know things for sure and the problem that you can't. The sex difference is that women aren't uneasy with that but just multiply up social relationships. It's a pretty poor woman who can't get another unresolved problem going to make life worth living. Men are more into settling things one by one, the trouble being that you can't settle even one thing. Hence philosophy and the man's interest in it. Occasionally you get an expert man who thinks he can settle things in fact, and these are there to be ridiculed by everybody.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at October 21, 2003 08:40 AM

Who is this guy? I clicked through your links and thought to myself, "He can't be a native English speaker," but the only biographical information I could find was that he's over 70 and "Canadian-British." Maybe too much philosophizin' has fizzled his language skills.

Posted by: Jack at October 21, 2003 02:16 PM

Be sure and take a look at the comments on the article at Chronicle (chronicle.com/colloquy). It seems that a high proportion of the commenters think that suicide bombing/mass murder is morally just fine...

Posted by: David Foster at October 21, 2003 07:16 PM

David -

Yeah, that's partly what inspired the post--glad you put in your .02, as well as the owner of academicgame...

This stuff makes me tired, particularly the argument that goes something like, "but who better qualified to discuss the (Pick one: root causes, underlying reality, semiotics) of these actions in order to understand them?" Hubris, much? And hubris without any sort of moral center, to boot.

Posted by: BAW at October 22, 2003 08:39 AM

"...for all of his high-toned deterministic ideals about terrorism, is just an existential fart writ large."

LMAO - that is a phrase for the ages!

Posted by: brandc at October 22, 2003 11:28 AM

That Chron article was very revealing.

[After the Terror]'s main point -- unarguable, as far as it goes -- is that first-world nations bear responsibility for third-world nations' impoverishment.

Well, I'm glad that we don't have to waste any time arguing about that. The author goes on to dispute Hondreich's contention that 9/11 was about class struggle rather than jihad, and says this was the "major problem" with Hondreich's thesis. He gives me the distinct impression that he thought poor little brown people rising up against their oppressors (using suicide bombings, if necessary) would be just dandy with him, except that's not what the Palestinians are doing. Wouldn't want the Just and Glorious Proletarian Struggle to be confused with religious fanaticism, you know.

Posted by: Angie Schultz at October 22, 2003 02:17 PM

Angie -

Yeah, one gets the distinct impression that these academics have a problem not with terror, but in finding the right combination of motivations to excuse it.

Religion? Nope, no excuse, ever.
Class struggle? Well, that's a noble cause, my friends!

The fact that even those who disagree with Honderich's arguments in the book still seem to have a sympathy for these tactics "in the right circumstances" makes my skin crawl.

Posted by: BAW at October 22, 2003 03:27 PM