A sentiment cannot be supposed to be anything. “In the domain of sentiments,” writes Gide, “the real is not distinguished from the imaginary. And if to imagine one loves is enough to be in love, then also to tell oneself that one imagines oneself to be in love when one is in love is enough to make one forthwith love a little less.” Discrimination between the imaginary and the real can be made only through behavior. Since man occupies a privileged situation in this world, he is in a position to show his love actively; very often he supports the woman or at least helps her; in marrying her he gives her social standing; he makes her presents; his independent economic and social position allows him to take the initiative and think up contrivances: it was M. de Norpois who, when separated from Mme de Villeparisis, made twenty-four trips to visit her. Very often the man is busy, the woman idle: he gives her the time he passes with her; she takes it: is it with pleasure, passionately, or only for amusement? Does she accept these benefits through love or through self-interest? Does she love her husband or her marriage? Of course, even the man’s evidence is ambiguous: is such and such a gift granted through love or out of pity? But while normally a woman finds numerous advantages in her relations with a man, his relations with a woman are profitable to a man only in so far as he loves her. And so one can almost judge the degree of his affection by the total picture of his attitude.

But a woman hardly has means for sounding her own heart; according to her moods she will view her own sentiments in different lights, and as she submits to them passively, one interpretation will be no truer than another. In those rare instances in which she holds the position of economic and social privilege, the mystery is reversed, showing that it does not pertain to one sex rather than the other, but to the situation. For a great many women the roads to transcendence are blocked: because they do nothing, they fail to make themselves anything. They wonder indefinitely what they could have become, which sets them to asking about what they are. It is a vain question. If man fails to discover that secret essence of femininity, it is simply because it does not exist. Kept on the fringe of the world, woman cannot be objectively defined through this world, and her mystery conceals nothing but emptiness.


It is not enough for feminist thought that specifically lesbian texts exist. Any theory or cultural/political creation that treats lesbian existence as a marginal or less “natural” phenomenon, as mere “sexual preference,” or as the mirror image of either heterosexual or male homosexual relations is profoundly weakened thereby, whatever its other contributions. Feminist theory can no longer afford merely to voice a toleration of “lesbianism” as an “alternative life style” or make token allusion to lesbians. A feminist critique of compulsory heterosexual orientation for women is long overdue.

I do not assume that mothering by women is a “sufficient cause” of lesbian existence. I believe large numbers of men could, in fact, undertake child care on a large scale without radically altering the balance of male power in a male-identified society.

Pornography does not simply create a climate in which sex and violence are interchangeable; it widens the range of behavior considered acceptable from men in heterosexual intercourse—behavior which reiteratively strips women of their autonomy, dignity, and sexual potential, including the potential of loving and being loved by women in mutuality and integrity.

Lesbians have historically been deprived of a political existence through “inclusion” as female versions of male homosexuality. To equate lesbian existence with male homosexuality because each is stigmatized is to erase female reality once again.Part of the history of lesbian existence is, obviously, to be found where lesbians, lacking a coherent female community, have shared a kind of social life and common cause with homosexual men. But there are differences: women’s lack of economic and cultural privilege relative to men; qualitative differences in female and male relationships— for example, the patterns of anonymous sex among male homosexuals, and the pronounced ageism in male homosexual standards of sexual attractiveness. I perceive the lesbian experience as being, like motherhood, a profoundly female experience.

Who can navigate the maze of ‘women’s issues’ touched on above by De Beauvoir from 1949, and Rich from 1981?

Simone de Beauvoir’s personal issues are well-known: intending to be a nun until she was 14, she had a devout Catholic mother and a free-thinking father; she was suspended from her teaching job for seducing a female student; she seduced girls and passed them on to the existentialist Sartre; one of these girls, who rejected Sartre, eventually married de Beauvoir’s male lover.

As for Rich, we have the suicide of Rich’s Harvard professor husband, father to her three children, in 1970, just as she was separating from him in Rich’s radical Black Panther days; also her shared National Book Award prize in 1976 with Allen Ginsberg, rejected by Rich, and instead ‘accepted’ with the two other woman nominees, Audre Lorde and Alice Walker, on behalf of all women.

Arnold Rice Rich, Adrienne Rich’s father, was Chairman of Pathology at Johns Hopkins Medical School.  John B. Watson, the father of Behaviorism, was fired from John Hopkins in 1920 for having an affair with his student.

Behaviorism is the philosophical component of Simone de Beauvoir (b. 1908)  and Adrianne Rich (b. 1929)

Personal crisis and Behaviorism seem to go hand and hand, and we would not be a good behaviorist philosopher if we did not point this out.  Perhaps the philosophy should be called Bad Behaviorism.  Remove the ‘bad’ and it is no philosophy at all.  It fades into custom. We anticipate a certain amount of objection to bringing in personal issues; but without the personal issues, have the philosophical issues any basis?  Behaviorism is a bold response to crisis—the “bad” behavior is owned and accepted—as behaviorism—putting aside intellectual reasons, in the spirit of either existentialism or its mirror-reverse, moralistic and religious fanaticism.

De Beauvoir says, “a sentiment cannot be supposed to be anything.”  This is the door to behaviorism.  According to some views, “a sentiment” is not to be rejected—our feelings about an issue are of paramount importance, and not to be dismissed, no matter how authoritative the radical social science branch of learning is, which attempts to dismiss it.

The door is opened and de Beauvoir walks through: “Discrimination between the imaginary and the real can be made only through behavior.”

Any philosophical system which makes “behavior” the primary tool for discriminating between “the imaginary and the real” cripples thought, and hinders philosophy itself.

What is love?  What is gender?  What is sex?  If we turn these questions into mere descriptions of discrete patterns of particular behaviors, the ‘things anyone, at any time, might feel compelled to do’ becomes the ruling animus of philosophical investigation, and we strip ‘making sense of the universe in terms of both pleasure and reason’ from the whole process; we destroy science, ideality, happiness, morality, and reason, and replace it with experience—experience which justifies itself, no matter what. 

Behaviorism is used to justify behavior, any behavior—but philosophy is the way to determine reality above and beyond behavior.

In ordinary human experience, behavior creates our reality; in philosophy, our understanding of reality determines how we behave.  The two are radically different.

It begins innocently enough, with de Beauvoir, who, as we see in the example above, takes love away from its sentiments and attaches it instead to specific forms of behavior—love becomes utilitarian, in the name of making things better for women, even though, as de Beauvoir points out, it is not the utilitarian aspect which makes things worse for women; what de Beauvoir seems interested in is erasing the differences between men and women.  Turn the tables, she says; make the woman wealthy and the man poor, and the ‘mystery’ of the woman for the man disappears; in other words, there is no ‘sentiment,’ there is no ‘intangible’ factor; put the man’s dress on the woman and she is, in fact, a man. 

If a woman behaves like a man, she is a man.  Judith Butler already exists in de Beauvoir.

The ‘radical’ nature of de Beauvoir’s argument is based on simple equivalence.

Rich, though she might be considered more radical than de Beauvoir, a radical “advancement,” to some, actually travels backwards; Rich argues for lesbianism as a sentiment, not simply as behavior; in her pornography statement, for instance, Rich pleads for a woman’s “dignity,” which is not a behaviorist (or existentialist) term at all—Rich is more traditional and conservative than de Beauvoir.

We see “radical” philosophy developing in a “step-forward, step-back” fashion: a step forward with de Beauvoir, a step back with Rich, even though, as a whole, it moves forward in the same behaviorist fashion.

What is this “compulsory heterosexual orientation” which Rich mentions, but, in her view, philosophy at odds with reality, old philosophy at odds with behaviorism?

Rich wants more than an “acceptance” of lesbianism; she believes there is an unquestioned, mysterious core value to it  (beyond behavior) worth cultivating. Rich doesn’t want to look at the issue scientifically; she is not interested in cause-and-effect. “I do not assume that mothering by women is a “sufficient cause” of lesbian existence.” The philosopher would ask, “Scientifically speaking, what is lesbianism exactly?” Rich, like de Beauvoir, is hunkered down in behaviorism—there is no interest in a philosophy standing above the behavior; but unlike de Beauvoir, Rich invests a mystery and sentiment to the lesbian existence, precisely as de Beauvoir dismantled the mystery and sentiment of the woman’s existence.

Who wins, here?  The one who began the job.



  1. Anonymous said,

    April 22, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    I’ll bypass the competition above, since that’s not the way I think about philosophy.

    Rebecca Goldstein, author of the newly released “Plato at the Googleplex,” earned her PhD at Princeton, an extremely reputable hardcore “analytic” program. And, like just about every analytic philosopher I know (and consistent with my orientation as a student), philosophy in the analytic tradition is about the argument: “an argument for internal coherence,” as she put it on public radio’s “Here and Now” today:

    In 1996, she was named a MacArthur (“genius grant”) Fellow.

    She’s married to Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker:

    A good “Atlantic” piece about the book:

    And a nicely illuminating review in the “San Francisco Chronicle”:

    • powersjq said,

      April 23, 2014 at 5:01 pm


      In all seriousness: how is naming Goldstein’s husband _not_ sexist? And how is insisting on her Ivy pedigree _not_ the most vulgar kind of name dropping? Why can’t her work stand on its own?

      • Anonymous said,

        April 23, 2014 at 5:17 pm

        I do not read Powers’s comments, and I never will again. I won’t waste my time reading him when the world is populated with so many more nuanced and decent people. He thought he’d taken down the guy who’d published a book with the University of Chicago Press. No, he just made himself look like an abusive and pompous jerk.

        • powersjq said,

          April 23, 2014 at 5:23 pm

          ” He thought he’d taken down the guy who’d published a book with the University of Chicago Press.”

          What on earth are you talking about, Laura?

          Actually, does _anyone_ know what she’s talking about? I don’t remember taking anyone down–let alone thinking that I had. I don’t recall the U. of Chi. Press having been mentioned on this blog since I started visiting it.

          • Anonymous said,

            April 23, 2014 at 5:30 pm

            Again, I don’t read comments by Powers. He is one of the most offensive people I’ve interacted with online, and I won’t waste my time with people like that.

            • powersjq said,

              April 24, 2014 at 12:29 pm

              This is trolling. Not a reply to what I wrote, and then an ad hominem comment (i.e., an argument based upon my _character_).

          • Anonymous said,

            April 23, 2014 at 7:28 pm

            (This comment isn’t a reply to anyone.)

            For anyone interested (and those who aren’t are free to politely decline):

            Anthony Gottlieb studied philosophy at Cambridge before he became the editor of The Economist, and he’s written a history of philosophy from the ancients through the Renaissance (he’s now with the New York Institute of the Humanities at NYU). Here’s his review of Goldstein’s book:


            Many philosophers read Goldstein, just as a lot of philosophers read Iris Murdoch.

            The Atlantic piece (which I linked to above) was written by Canadian philosopher Clancy Martin, who was trained in both analytic and Continental philosophy. If “Plato at the Googleplex” is a worthy read for him–a professional philosopher who uses the methods of philosophy that any good philosophy student uses (though I can’t speak for most of the Continental philosophers)–and if it’s deserving of Gottlieb’s consideration, then others who visit this site might think about taking a look.

            Martins’ piece is a fun read–or at least it was for me.

            He teaches at the University of Missouri, and he’s the author of a novel that got a lot of attention when it was published a few years ago (it’s been optioned for a film). In fact, he was awarded his Guggenheim for his fiction:


            An interesting essay he wrote about addiction:


            • powersjq said,

              April 23, 2014 at 8:57 pm


              I feel a little sheepish suggesting this, as I’m sure you’re aware of your options, but you could start your own blog. You could then regale the internet with your opinions without anybody wondering why you’re posting stuff in a comments section that just flat out ignores the post to which the comments are putatively directed.

              And I promise that I won’t comment on your blog.

      • Anonymous said,

        April 23, 2014 at 5:26 pm

        And in case you hadn’t noticed, Tom, I’ve gotten comments from a few other people on this site. Why would you assume that what I posted was intended only or primarily for you? (Powers doesn’t count; he’s a non-entity for me, though he did give my philosophy friends a few good laughs at his expense.)

        Those other comments were respectful and humane, though.

        Why have you become, increasingly, so angry and dismissive in your tone? I don’t see any justification for it. Mellow out, dude. It’ll be good for your blood pressure!

        • Anonymous said,

          April 23, 2014 at 5:28 pm

          (“Anonymous,” above, is Laura, in case that’s not obvious.)

          I never expected a poetry site to become so hostile in tone. Really, I think it’d be good to dial that back some. If you don’t want to read the book or the articles, you don’t have to do so. There’s no reason, though, to condemn something you haven’t even read a singles sentence of yet.

          Talk about jumping the gun…

  2. Anonymous said,

    April 22, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    She earned her PhD at Princeton, a highly reputable and hardcore analytic philosophy program. Like almost all the analytic philosophers I know (and consistent with my own orientation as a philosophy student), she sees the argument as central to philosophy: that philosophy is a technique based on an “argument for internal coherence,” as she put it today on “Here and Now.”

    Where the show can be heard:

  3. thomasbrady said,

    April 23, 2014 at 10:54 am


    These efforts to make philosophy friendly for the lay person are always very nice but really bores the hell out of me.

    Look at what Scarriet just wrote about.

    Do you agree that de Beauvoir and Rich are both Behaviorists and that Behavorism is a brain-washing anti-philosophy cult? Or not?

    That’s what I would like to hear about.

    WBUR? Are you kidding me? zzzzzzzzzzz.


  4. Sharon Samtur said,

    April 23, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    Save us from the literati. Twisted sisters both.

    • Anonymous said,

      April 23, 2014 at 5:12 pm

      Well, you didn’t major in philosophy, Tom. I did, and I knew my stuff, as my grades demonstrated. She’s a genuine philosopher. How would you know whether her book would bore the hell out of you if you haven’t read it? (She can also be extremely funny, by the way.)

      Maybe you shouldn’t leap to conclusions so quickly.

      I’m a fan of neither de Beauvoir nor Adrienne Rich. As I’ve said many times, my interest is in analytic philosophy, not the vast majority of the Continental stuff, though I’ve encountered some exceptions in the latter. Why would you think I had any interest in the work of either of these women? I took a large enough dose of each several years ago to be able to decide to move on. Have you not read my comments about Continental philosophy and critical theory, the latter of which I generally despise?

      Goldstein’s background is in so-called analytic philosophy, and she doesn’t dumb it down. You should try her. Maybe you’d learn something.

      She’s also a good writer, so why come across as such a snob?

      Behaviorisim belongs to psychology, not philosophy, and you’re oversimplifying it above, so there’s not much point in my responding to your query.

    • Drew said,

      April 23, 2014 at 10:13 pm

      Ha Ha – yes !

      Twisted. I think they like FICTION….

      • Laura said,

        April 23, 2014 at 10:59 pm

        I love fiction, Drew, but I’m not a big fan of these two “sisters,” as some have identified them!

        • Drew said,

          April 23, 2014 at 11:58 pm

          It’s just funny that you hang around a poetry blog talking about fiction.
          I don’t want to get in between you and Powers as you both fulminate…

          Personally A. Rich is the type of poetry I despise and I’m not interested in B.

          • Laura said,

            April 24, 2014 at 12:10 am

            Well, Drew, I started hanging around here because of Tom’s and Seth Abramson’s battle over MFA programs. At that time, Tom, in response to Seth, sounded like the voice of reason–calm and rather logical. (Tom, you now sound more and more like Seth in tone, and I don’t understand the transformation.) And Tom had raised questions about fiction, so I started to respond. I think that’s a pretty reasonable response, in terms of subject matter, on my my part.

            I mean, Jesus: Tom is bringing up philosophy and painting…

            So why should my responses to those topics be seen as odd?

          • Laura said,

            April 24, 2014 at 12:11 am

            P.S. I’m no fan of Rich’s poetry–just so y’know!

          • powersjq said,

            April 24, 2014 at 3:55 am


            I’d be delighted to talk about poetry again. A little bit of literary theory / philosophy of art seems reasonable leavening to me, but I’m as weary of the whole analytic philosophy thing as anyone.

            • Laura said,

              April 24, 2014 at 4:05 am

              I don’t read Powers. But, again, my philosopher buddies found him amusing as hell, though he didn’t intend to be. That was worth all the misery from dealing with him, which I’ll never do again.

              • powersjq said,

                April 24, 2014 at 12:27 pm

                A frank admission that this is not a reply to what I’ve written. Then a nasty jibe intended to sting me. This is trolling.

  5. Anonymous said,

    April 23, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    Here’s an argument that part of the problem with de Beauvoir lies in the translation. I speak some French, but I’m not fluent enough to read de Beauvoir in French, so I’ll have to defer to the author of this entry (by the way, the Stanford Encyclopedia has a new look, for anyone interested):

    But again, the Continental stuff isn’t my thing, though my one Continental course was taught exceptionally well.

  6. Anonymous said,

    April 23, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    Here’s what Harvard’s Hilary Putnam (one of the heavy hitters in analytic philosophy) has to say about Goldstein’s book:

    “Plato at the Googleplex is an important and amazing book…It is amazing because the book takes great risks—including the risk of including 21st century dialogues about Plato’s philosophy, and thereby risking comparison with the greatest writer of philosophical dialogues that ever lived—and succeeds, in part because [Goldstein] keeps the dialogues as lighthearted in tone as they are serious in intent…Goldstein beautifully combines the skills of a distinguished novelist with breathtaking philosophical scholarship. I repeat, this book is important and amazing.”
    — Hilary Putnam, John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities Emeritus, Harvard University

    So if one of the most important American philosophers alive thinks the book is “important” and “amazing,” perhaps it’s not just some watered-down and “friendly” glance at philosophy?

    Putnam did/does work in Philosophy of Science, Philosophy of Mathematics, Philosophy of Language, Philosophy of Mind–all the hard stuff that requires a very firm grasp of formal logic. He’s also a mathematician and computer scientist.

    • Diane Roberts Powell said,

      April 25, 2014 at 9:46 pm

      Yes, but many people find Zizek fascinating. While I’ll agree he’s a brilliant man, if I were forced to spend much time with him, I would probably pull a Plath and gas myself.

      • Laura said,

        April 26, 2014 at 12:54 am

        Your reply made me laugh (I mean, in a good way), Diane!

        Yes, I’d probably be tempted to pull the same thing after more than, oh, ten minutes with Zizek!

        Fortunately, from what I’ve heard, Putman is supposed to be a nice guy.

        A profile of Putnam that’s a refreshing departure from the view of major contemporary American philosophers held by physicist Freeman Dyson and certain scientists like him (I’m glad that many other scientists disagree):

        I like it that Putnam’s an “analytic” philosopher who helped lead the attack on the narrowest subtype of modern analytic philosophy we’ve seen: logical positivism, which, besides being extremely rigid, had a serious problem with self-reference; it couldn’t meet its own standards for what good philosophy was supposed to be–not exactly a trivial detail!

        • thomasbrady said,

          April 26, 2014 at 1:21 pm

          Putnam is a fool. How can he torture himself over not fully understanding “Keith drove like a maniac”? These are just words! How can one not trust words (his example of ants writing ‘I’m half sick of shadows’ in the sand) on one hand and then freak out over not understanding the ‘reality’ of Keith? What a dummy.

          • powersjq said,

            April 26, 2014 at 1:54 pm


            I couldn’t agree more. He’s obviously very bright. But I can’t really inhabit his sense of what counts as an “interesting” philosophical problem. I find a great deal of “analytic” philosophy (though hardly all) has this same weakness.

          • Laura said,

            April 26, 2014 at 5:07 pm

            Tom, I read only the beginnings of your last two comments because they landed in my inbox. I’d already decided that I’ll have to take my many productive conversations with my philosophy professors over your past observations about various philosophical thinkers. I mean, I can’t really have a thoughtful discussion with someone over whether or not a particular philosopher is a “fool,” a broad label that says next to nothing.

            Maybe you should try taking some philosophy classes. Seriously. Once you start turning in papers for those courses, you’ll find that such claims ain’t gonna fly there (nor should they).

            Besides, calling Putnam a “fool” is hardly a step toward making this site as relatively civil and benevolent in tone as I remember its having been awhile back.

            Lively discussion doesn’t need to include name-calling. I’ve been friends with a good number of philosophers, and none of them want to engage in those kinds of exchanges.

            • thomasbrady said,

              April 26, 2014 at 6:40 pm


              Defend Putnam. Use what he says. I have given my own opinion of Putnam’s published argument. Can you do the same? Back up your assertions. You don’t have to ‘write a paper.’ Philosophy sometimes fits in your pocket. It doesn’t have to be hopelessly academic. Isn’t that Rebecca Goldstein’s point?

              • Laura said,

                April 26, 2014 at 8:04 pm

                Tom, I can’t have a reasonable discussion with you about philosophy. I’ve been able to do so for several years with trained philosophers (there IS such a thing as philosophical thinking, regardless of how much philosophers differ in their specific views), but it’s futile for me to attempt to do so with you; your approach to philosophy is based on your personal opinions and passions and little more–or at least as you express yourself in your posts on the subject–which is why I read “Laura, defend Putnam” (the opening to the notification in my inbox) and no further.

                Take some rigorous philosophy courses that require demanding written work that meets the standard criteria within the discipline and then maybe we can talk. Before then, I won’t be investing my time in defending any philosophy or philosopher to you. Besides, a defense of Putnam would need to be lengthy and nuanced, all of which would just fall on deaf ears (figuratively speaking). Your blanket denunciation of Putnam makes me seriously doubt that you’ve even read much of his work, Tom, but either way, your mind’s already made up.

                Again, below is a good explanation of the way it’s done in the typical solid philosophy program (though these guidelines are presented for undergraduates), and I think it’s a much BETTER way of doing it than just expounding on philosophy based on one’s feelings, opinions, or biases–regardless of how they do it in many departments in other disciplines: e.g., literary theory, sociology, and cultural anthropology.

                Not that I’m dismissing the importance of emotions; emotions have played an extremely important role in my fiction writing (and so have other factors). But emotions don’t form the foundation for a well-reasoned and carefully crafted argument.

                More importantly, I’m not so black-and-white in my understanding of philosophy that I reduce it to heroes and “fools” or winners and losers. That type of response to philosophical arguments oversimplifies them to the point where I no longer find the discussion interesting.

                I mean, c’mon, how much fun is the following?

                Tom: Putnam’s a fool!

                Person who disagrees: Nuh uh!

                T: Uh huh!

                PWD: Well, Satre’s an even BIGGER fool!

                T. Oh, yeah? So’s your mother!

                * * * * *

                The one advantage to the above method: An entire semester-long philosophy course could be completed in a single afternoon. In fact, you could finish your entire degree in just a matter of months!

                * * * * *


                P.S. I chose Harvard’s guide because it’s so well done compared to several others.

                • Laura said,

                  April 26, 2014 at 8:12 pm

                  P.S. Rebecca Goldstein was trained in one the most rigorous doctoral programs in philosophy in the U.S. There’s a reason other academically trained professional philosophers read her: She’s not the watered-down version of serious philosophy you assumed she must be when I first posted something about her work. Yes, she writes for the intelligent layperson as well, but her work isn’t meant for mass consumption the way, say, a self-help book is.

                  And good philosophical thinking includes the notion that one should actually READ a book before drawing strong conclusions about its contents.

                  I have deadlines and other things to attend to now, so…

                  • thomasbrady said,

                    April 26, 2014 at 9:38 pm


                    I do love your links. You keep me up on what ‘the professional philosophers’ are doing these days.

                    Sure, maybe I’ll take a philosophy course. Why not?

                    Putnam: I just can’t get over the fact that he mourns the fact that language suffers from ‘externalization’–ants can walk across the sand and randomly ‘write’ a ‘meaningful’ sentence of random no meaning, therefore we cannot finally trust language. OK, I accept that (I guess). But THEN, Putnam ALSO says we cannot possibly KNOW all the complications of “Keith drove like a maniac.” Doesn’t Putnam see—I’m still laughing at this—that he’s tripped up by his own doubts pertaining to language? For “Keith drove like a maniac” is merely a piece of language. So why does Putnam think he is making a significant insight by saying that it’s impossible for us to understand the reality of Keith and his driving exploits??? Ha ha ha.

                    Meanwhile, you, Laura, are so indoctrinated to trust reputation and creds, you cannot POSSIBLY accept my critique of Putnam, because HE is a reputable philosopher, blah, blah. You focus on my ‘rudeness.’ I called him a fool! Horrors! You dare not—you cannot—answer with any philosophy of your own. You’ve been trained to write ‘thesis papers’ with guidelines already laid down by your profs. You CANNOT reply to me as a philosopher on your own. This MIGHT be a gender issue; I don’t know. Male professors have essentially intimidated you and bullied you so that you can’t THINK FOR YOURSELF. If that’s true, you have my sympathy. But really, Mr. Putnam, the former Maoist, doesn’t need you to defend him! Ha ha ha. I shouldn’t laugh…but this is so damn funny…

                    • Laura said,

                      April 26, 2014 at 10:51 pm

                      I really like your site much of the time, Tom, but I’m used to talking philosophy with people who have a similar background and orientation–I mean, in coursework and term papers–to mine. My friends and I don’t have the same views on everything, but that’s okay; we disagree in a way that doesn’t get too heated, which is part of what makes it fun. I can’t think of a single philosophical work I’ve read that’s perfect or even close to a 100% “right” in its arguments, and I can’t think of any within “mainstream” philosophy that are 100% “wrong.” (I say “mainstream” philosophy because most critical theory is done in other disciplines–though the few Continental philosophers I’ve met within “mainstream” departments don’t seem a huge departure from the way the rest of the faculty in those departments talk, think, and work.)

                      I’m also ending a semester of tech classes that I’m going to buried by if I don’t spend the next nine days focusing on them. I’m wondering whether I’ve lost my mind for registering for an introductory programming class in the fall. I loved certain math classes, and I loved most of symbolic logic, but I’m afraid I’m going to be surrounded in that class by computer geeks who’ve been programming since they were eight years old (like my my younger brother was at that age).

                      No philosophy professor I’ve ever had (well, except for the one unstable guy that I and a few other students dropped) ever expected me or other students to come to a certain conclusion in a paper; they just expected up to defend that conclusion, and to defend it well.

                      Goldstein has taught philosophy at the university level, and I can assure you that she assigns the same kinds of papers that she (and I) had to write; no decent department would keep someone who deviated to such a radical degree from the teaching responsibilities expected within her field. After all, when it comes to teaching, the department’s job is to train students in standard philosophical methods (or to nurture those students who already “get” those methods by continuing to challenge them). Otherwise, they’d be doing a disservice to those students. Even “baby logic” and “baby ethics” (freshman or sophomore level undergrad classes for the non-major) include exams and usually at least one paper–a paper that requires a coherent argument if it’s to earn a high grade–and those classes are, generally, by far the easiest courses a philosophy department offers. Of course she’s not going to emphasize the professional standards within the field in interviews of her and essays she’s written that are geared toward a more general audience. Bear in mind that she’s taught at Harvard, Stanford, Rutgers, and MIT, and I’m sure they would have expected her courses to be reasonably rigorous.

                      I was thinking about this last night and earlier this morning, so it’s ironic that later this morning I found this piece by Goldstein, which I found while looking for another I wanted to send a friend. I agree with the title to the extent that I think it’s one good reason for reading philosophy. Also, If someone reads philosophy with the idea of simply confirming her views or opinions, she’s probably not going to get much out of reading it.

                      Her quote from this very interview is consistent with the view of philosophical thinking that the philosophers I know hold:

                      “They could argue with me about anything. If it were a good argument I would take it seriously. See if you can change my mind. It teaches them to be self-critical, to look at their own opinions and see what the weak spots are. This is also important in getting them to defend their own positions, to take other people’s positions seriously, to be able to self-correct, to be tolerant, to be good citizens and not to be taken in by demagoguery.”


                      And if she taught philosophy of science and philosophy of mind at Princeton (which she did), where she earned her PhD: Along with philosophy of language, philosophy of mathematics, and advanced epistemology, those two courses include topics that are based heavily in formal logic, and they’re among the toughest a philosophy student can take. So it’s a very safe bet that she took a rigorous approach when teaching them.


                      Thomas Nagel was her dissertation advisor, and I’m guessing his standards for his dissertation students were and are quite high. Again, he wouldn’t expect her to AGREE with him–good philosophy teachers don’t try to indoctrinate their students–but he’d expect her to make a strong case for any position she chose to put forward in her dissertation.

                      Before I go to bed or tomorrow morning I’ll reread your post to make sure I fairly addressed the points you raised.

                      For now, though, I need to reenter the depths of TECH HELL… (Aaaaaahhhh!!!)

  7. Laura said,

    April 23, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    P.S. All these most recent “Anonymous” posts were, of course, written by Laura. I’m not sure why my name didn’t appear.

    • Diane Roberts Powell said,

      April 27, 2014 at 1:08 am

      Laura, your quote from Goldstein, concerning the benefits of an education in philosophy, is interesting. I also find it terribly idealistic and naïve. I only wish that it were true. Recall how the Nazis used the work of Nietzsche, Fichte, and Hegel, among others, to form their ideology. Also, an education in philosophy obviously didn’t inculcate Heidegger and Schmidt (and other German philosophers) from being taken in by demagoguery.

      • Laura said,

        April 27, 2014 at 2:26 am

        The difference, Diane, is that with one exception–and he was, uh, how do I put this but “troubled” (the dark side of tenure)–I never once had a philosophy professor try to tell me WHAT to think. Never. (Maybe they do that in critical theory in lit departments; in fact, based on my reading, there appears to be enormous “group think” in that world.)

        It seems clear to me that a lot of people who haven’t majored in philosophy on an undergraduate or graduate level have some assumptions about those course that don’t match my experience at all; that they think it’s some kind of indoctrination. It’s just the opposite (and it’s CERTAINLY not demagoguery), but unless students have been exposed in depth to how it’s taught to those who major (or at least minor) in it in a good department, it seems they assume one or more of the following:

        *That it’s naval gazing
        *That your professors are trying to brainwash you
        *That it’s a bunch of hippie-dippy nonsense
        *That it’s all about dead white men

        (I could go on…)

        My undergraduate advisor was a secular Jewish analytically trained Heidegger scholar. (Actually, I have some big problems with Heidegger, and those come even BEFORE his considering his politics.)

        Really, do I ever sound on this site like I’d be vulnerable to demagoguery?

        I did well as a philosophy student, and part of the reason for that is that I sucked up to no one; I was an independent thinker who never used secondary sources, and several of my professors said they wished they saw MORE of that in students.

        My view isn’t idealistic at all, and it certainly isn’t naive. And the Nazi extreme is seldom a good one example, I think, because independent mindedness combined with being able to make a well REASONED case is rewarded in most philosophy departments.

        Also, as an undergraduate, I took a course on philosophy of feminism that was taught very well, and no one in my department or the other two I was involved with attempted anything remotely CLOSE to demagoguery. (In fact, one of them is a member of the Radical Philosophy Association. But unlike Derrida, he can write clearly and doesn’t expect a “following.”)

        Here is the bottom line about a good, or even decent, philosophy program:

        The professors don’t care WHAT your conclusions in a paper (or on an exam or in a discussion) are; they care about HOW YOU GOT THERE. It’s not based on empiricism; it’s based on being able to think critically enough to set aside your own biases and make a sound ARGUMENT (not a rhetorical plea, in other words) for your position.

        That part of philosophy, alone, would make it valuable for undergraduates to learn.

        I agree with Goldstein on that point (along with several others).

        At the same time, regarding her references to Peter Singer: I agree with his general CONCLUSION regarding animal rights, but I see holes in his argument there, and at least one of those arguments carries a seriously troubling conclusion of another sort.

        Anyway, I got “A”s on my papers BECAUSE I was in independent thinker who was good at logic and could make a reasoned non-empirical argument that wasn’t an attempt to appeal to my professors’ particular leanings. (Well, except when I responded to an empirical claim made in a work I was evaluating).

        Really, do I seem to you like such an ass-kisser? Because I’m most definitely am not. And I value reasoning in certain realms; and I love art and, especially literary and musical art.

        But reasoning is not the enemy. We’re faced with a bunch of members of Congress who couldn’t reason their way “out of a paper bag,” to use the cliche; we’re faced with an increasing (and now slightly decreasing?) number of Americans who believe that climate change is a “hoax,” despite an overwhelming consensus among those who do climate change; we’re faced with growing support for–fomented by members of Congress–conspiracy theories about this president and his administration…

        I’m not naive at all; I just thing that the ability to make a well-reasoned argument is sorely lacking in certain sectors of this culture and that philosophy course do an especially good job of teaching student so think critically and set ASIDE their biases.

        And a point I’ll add for Tom: I also believe that many philosophical views are best responded to by more than one reasonable “answer.” For so many of the most difficult philosophical questions, my response that been that there’s more than one defensible position.

        That’s hardly the view of someone vulnerable to “demagoguery.”

        • Laura said,

          April 27, 2014 at 2:48 am

          P.S. I apologize for the typos; I was writing in a hurry. But I fully stand by the content I wrote in this post.

          P.P.S. Hell, I would’ve HATED philosophy had it been about buying into a certain academic fad (lit crit) or sucking up to faculty members. Neither has anything at all to do with the way I think.

          In fact, during a phil language graduate seminar I sat in on, everyone was scribbling away while the professor was covering a famous proof by Tarski. The proof was written in both a spoken language and mathematics.

          It was a proof that argued that linguistic languages (e.g., English) contain no truth predicates. Because I was sitting in on the class, I didn’t say anything until after the class, but I was stunned that nobody was doing anything but writing notes. After the class, I said to the professor, “Isn’t there something odd or paradoxical about a proof that, according to itself, includes no truth predicates?”

          He said, “That’s a very astute question, and it’s not clear that Tarski recognized it in his own lifetime.”

          Does that sound like someone who’s been brainwashed or is taking a course that’s merely demagoguery?


        • Diane Roberts Powell said,

          April 27, 2014 at 3:31 am

          Laura, I didn’t mean to even suggest that you, personally, were, or ever have been, taken in by demagoguery. I was specifically referencing the German philosophers. I lived among the Germans for years. If there was one thing I did notice about most of them, it was that they tended to be all head and very little heart. That can be a dangerous thing.

          If poetry can make nothing happen, then, just perhaps, philosophy has the potential to make things happen. And those things aren’t always pretty (i.e. Nazism and Marxism). Although, on paper, Marxism is a beautiful thing, I have yet to see it work in real life because Marxist Theory places so much faith in the inherent goodness of mankind, that it doesn’t allow for psychopathy and evil. I was there at one time. I finally had to wake up. So, like Goldstein, I have also been naïve, and may still be. My comment above, about being naïve and idealistic, was referencing Goldstein’s comments about philosophy education.

          It is not my job to call out Jewish philosophers for worshipping Heidegger (Arendt did as well). Although I have seen smart Jewish guys study Pound’s cantos for YEARS. It’s just sad. Maybe they are still trying to find that spark of humanity buried underneath all of the crap. They will just find more darkness.

          I agree that studying philosophy usually has the opposite effect on people (as far as opening up to new ideas and thinking for oneself).

          I would like to kick Pete Singer in the nuts for his outspoken views on euthanasia and other Nazi crap like that.

          I think that the biggest “conspiracy,” about Obama, is that he’s a communist or socialist. He bailed out the banksters without ANY stipulations as to what they were allowed to do with that money. They laid off a bunch of people and started foreclosing on everyone. That reminded me of Reagan’s “Trickle Down Theory.” If he would have been a Republican, he may have been called out on it. But because everyone in the msm was so busy calling him a commie, he gets a free pass. It’s all a dog and pony show.

          • Laura said,

            April 27, 2014 at 4:06 am

            I agree with so many of your points above, Diane. I’ll add, by the way, that my undergraduate secular Jewish undergraduate advisor hardly worshiped Heidegger as a human being, but he was interested in his phenomenology.

            I want to amend one statement I earlier made today: that philosophy , as a discipline, is less about the conclusion than about how you got there (a feature of the field I really love and still find one of its greatest features). GENERALLY, that’s true.

            But, for example, the conclusion that “all queers should be shot” would never be accepted as the thesis of a phil paper unless it were a MASTER of ironic thinking, and why? Because it’s barely conceivable that a sane argument could be made for such an overarching “policy.”

            Obama is, I suspect, more to the left than he appears, but he’s also a pragmatist–sometimes to an extreme–and he’s faced an opposition from Congress I’d never witnessed until this president’s time in office.

            There’s a part of me that understands the BIG bank bailout, on purely the effect the opposite could have had on, say, small-town banks. And I’m especially sympathetic to the Detroit auto-industry bailout.

            And yes: He’s anything but a communist!

            • thomasbrady said,

              April 27, 2014 at 10:32 am


              Ah, that dangerous formula we are always warned about: “the ends justify the means.” Similarly dangerous, perhaps, your academic philosophy mantra: “the argument justifies the conclusion.” For what if the conclusion is heinous? And yet its ‘argument’ is air-tight? Not only is this a moral problem, it’s a purely philosophical/ rhetorical one, as well.

              I have to agree with Diane, Laura; you are naive. (Though I realize Diane is not saying you are totally naive.)

              1. You constantly cite your school paper success.
              2. You assume lit-crit is not philosophy. It is. (I agree with you, however, that most modern lit-crit is bullshit)
              3. Diane is a lefty who sees through a lot of shit. You seem like one of those brainwashed party line lefties. I respect the Diane’s of the world, not the Laura’s, when it comes to politics.
              4. You don’t seem capable of arguing specific points with me. You change the subject, you throw up your hands in mock indignation and dramatic frustration. I made very specific remarks to you re: Putnam and you twice replied about Goldstein! I wasn’t talking about Goldstein, who I generally like—but unfortunately her Plato is a social Plato stripped of deeper philosophical hues and tones.

              • Laura said,

                April 27, 2014 at 7:48 pm

                You’re confusing the two, Tom.

                The MEANS in that expression are generally ACTIONS–usually BAD actions–that the actor uses to justify a certain OUTCOME, regardless of the ethical consequences of achieving that outcome.

                Supporting a conclusion with sold arguments rather than just insisting something about that conclusion is an entirely different matter. I think some part of you must know this. Don’t we want to hear or read strong arguments–using reasoning or empirical evidence or both–before we implement a major change in public policy or enter a war (like, say, Iraq) or start widely using a new medical procedure or ruin the rain forest in another country?

                Look at how poor the reasoning is of so many members of Congress? (On the other hand, some know better and are just lying.) There’s nothing nefarious about presenting this kind of argumentation unless the data is deliberately skewed, important facts are withheld, or tricks in “argument” are used to replace genuine reasoning or evidence. I sure as hell want to see well-reasoned arguments MORE often, and I wish more politicians had more of that skill. (They would have more of it if they’d taken a couple of philosophy classes and had done even moderately well at them.)

                As I said elsewhere, if Powers hadn’t dismissed my general level of knowledge and acumen in a subject in which I excelled, I wouldn’t have felt the need to defend myself. After all, there’s no way ALL my professors were wrong about my performance in their classes. Put another way: Had he behaved more like a philosopher, he can I could have had a productive exchange. He didn’t, though. Instead, he hurled insults–the opposite of doing good philosophy.

                I never said that lit crit isn’t philosophy; I said it’s not philosophy in the sense that philosophy departments do philosophy. I’ve also said that far too much of it is really BAD philosophy.

                But it actually might be replaced by something even stupider:


                Our weather has suddenly gotten really scary here, so I’m going to unplug my computer now and put the cats in the basement.

              • Laura said,

                April 27, 2014 at 9:04 pm

                This is interesting, and I wasn’t even looking for it. I accept the basic principles of Darwinism, but I know what the author means about the stridency of certain evolutionary theorists who don’t want the theory to–well, evolve. I also understand the comments about the stridency of the New Atheists. (I’m a “nontheist,” but I don’t conclude from that that only evil and ignorance are the products of religion. I’ve know too many thoughtful religious people to conclude that. I’m not reductionistic about Islam, either.)

                So, since he WAS Rebecca Goldstein’s major professor (or thesis director or whatever they called it at Princeton back then):


                I read your comment, Tom, about the Popper freak. I think Popper offered some valuable insights, but for that professor, Popper was more like a religion, and a very fundamentalist one. I was quite shaken when he called me at home and told me he didn’t want me to ask any more questions in class. I’d raised my hand, been polite… Classmates were supportive, and so were the faculty members who knew about it. I was used to having good relationships with my professors, but this guy was suddenly shunning me as if I’d committed some moral kind of indiscretion.

                I’d said to Diane that good philosophy professors don’t try to indoctrinate their students. They don’t, not in my experience. Rather, they try to get them to think independently. It should be obvious which kind of professor I considered the Popper guy to be. And yes, the story is true.

                • Laura said,

                  April 27, 2014 at 10:01 pm

                  I take issue, though, with the biologist in the Chronicle article who claims that only humans have sentience. Perhaps that’s true, but how do we know it? It seems to me that most mammals and birds, at least, have sentience; in fact, I would argue that many animals have personhood, whereas a brain dead human being no longer does. On that much, I agree with Singer. But I also saw holes in his argument in “Practical Ethics.”

                  I learned several years ago that when philosophers talk about “biting the bullet,” they mean that if they commit themselves to a certain claim in an argument, they’ve decided to live with the consequences of that claim, including implications that others might find disturbing or highly questionable.

                  Singer bit the bullet, big time, and some of those conclusions present serious ethical problems for many of us–which is ironic, given that he was was working on problems in ethics.

                  You can now get the 2nd edition (the one I read, I think) of Practical Ethics for free as a pdf (it’s on its 3rd edition now):


                  • Laura said,

                    April 27, 2014 at 10:27 pm

                    And if you read the comments, you’ll see that readers immediately start insulting one another. I consider these kinds of exchanges unnecessary and boorish, and I don’t think it has to be this way online. I don’t like this style of conflict because it tends to be unproductive, and it requires more emotional energy than it deserves. The traditional Western philosophy classes I took emphasized argumentation, but the tone and overall environment were both civil and respectful.

                    I want to see more of that online.

                    And if I say I’m not reading someone’s comments, it’s just to make it clear that my lack of a response isn’t because I’m UNABLE to respond but that some exchanges are less healthy and productive than others and probably shouldn’t be pursued.

                    Is this the way we’re going to remain in the Age of the Internet? I can’t stand the idea of it getting even worse than it already is.

                    Even when people use their real names, it can get out of hand (though anonymity and “handles” seem to worsen it):



              • Laura said,

                April 28, 2014 at 5:32 am

                Tom, for one thing, where I intend to write my comments doesn’t always determine where they appear, and I have no control over that. I responded separately to things you said about Putman (that he’s a “fool”) and to certain remarks you’ve made about Goldstein, all of which appear to me to be based on very limited information about her.

                Given how angry and emotional you sometimes get in your own remarks, I don’t think you’re in a position to be accuse me of being dramatic in my own responses. You and Powers have repeatedly made comments that seem intended to put me in a position of defending myself, and you seem to find amusement in doing that , despite my having asked you more than one to stop it. I don’t find amusement at others’ expense, especially not in a public online forum.

                And I never engage in “mock indignation.” Your style of arguing DOES frustrate me, and I can’t take full responsibility for that because I don’t have the same problem with a number of other people whose experience with philosophy is closer to my own. (And anyone who’s seen a conversation within a group of philosophers or former philosophy students will see enough dissent among them to be convinced that no brainwashing takes place in your typical philosophy class.) How am I supposed to respond to someone calling a philosopher a fool? I can’t meaningfully respond to such a declaration when I can’t find any organized argument attached to it. All I can do is disagree. It’s stupid for me to even try to make a case for my position anymore, though I still sometimes try to with the thought that someone out there shares at least some of my thoughts or you’ll maybe sometime read them with a more charitable attitude. But since you’ve said you don’t even believe that arguments are central to philosophy, there’s not a hell of lot I can lot I can say in response to your calling someone a “fool” (or “idiot” or whatever).

                If someone’s going to tell me that most literary fiction is autobiographical and he can’t tell me why he thinks that (what, it’s just a gut instinct?), I’m going to ask for some reason why I should accept that view. I can do my best to provide some evidence to the contrary, but you didn’t seem at all open to persuasion about it. So we hit another impasse.

                You didn’t need to express such outrage over my posting links about Goldstein’s latest book. You ddn’t need to rail against making philosophy “friendly.” Is that kind of dismissiveness supposed to make a person look sophisticated? Because if full-fledged philosophers can read her, why do you think it’s beneath you to even give her a try?

                Some have speculated that the reason so few women enter philosophy is that it’s too aggressively combative. I know that some “macho” phil departments are out there, but mine weren’t like that. I apparently made persuasive cases in my papers, we challenged one another, and it was fun–and it was NEVER as aggressive as exchanges here can get. I see no point in that level of combativeness when discussing PHILOSOPHY, of all things.

                I felt myself tense when I saw the very beginning of your comment above in my inbox. Before I opened it, I thought, Oh, no, is he going to ridicule me this time, mischaracterize me or my motives, mock me, tell me that so and so is a fool, mock academic philosophy, tell me what Goldstein REALLY thinks even though I’m more familiar with her, yet again disparage the book I wanted to let people know about…?

                By the way, how could you know what Goldstein’s Plato is like? Based on an interview? Have you read the book? (You ridiculed it the day I posted anything about it, and you characterized it as the sort of book that “bores the hell out of you.”) If you haven’t read it, how could your response to her Plato be anything other than leaping to conclusions on the basis of very limited information?

                I just wish you’d lay off some in your tone toward me. You could have just thanked me for the links and left it at that. Instead, I felt both denigrated and humiliated by your reply, and it’s not the sort of response I would have had to someone passing along information about book and its author.

                Sorry I didn’t reply to your question about behaviorism, but it’s a broad category and calling it “brainwashing” is too crude a definition for me to have much to say in response. I don’t think cognitive behaviorism is anything close to brainwashing, and it requires a willing participant. I don’t know what else you wanted me to say about it, and I was afraid of yet another battle over something I didn’t have the will or energy to fight about.

                The storm outside has gotten bad again, but I needed to check my email. The lights flicked several minutes ago, so this is probably a good time to go offline.

            • Laura said,

              April 27, 2014 at 4:13 pm

              I’d meant above, by the way, “those who work on climate SCIENCE” rather than climate CHANGE (the restaurant where was was was pretty dimly lit); I also meant “masterpiece,” not “master”). Again, I apologize for the typos.

              My undergraduate advisor, the one who was a Heidegger scholar, is too cynical to have worshiped him; one can be a scholar of someone and, in fact, be quite critical of certain moves that thinker makes. Like it or not, Heidegger has had an enormous influence on contemporary critical theorists and Continental philosophers, and for that reason alone, it’s good that some other thinkers study him and his work.

              And all I can say in that regard about myself as a philosophy student is that I wasn’t pulled by my professors in any particular direction. I still have no “favorite” philosopher, and I still think a lot of the critical theory I’ve read is horribly written, full of ridiculous jargon, and unnecessarily obfuscating. (My professors also valued clear writing.)

              That’s the irony of Heidegger: that the “academic left”–and, as I’ve said before, I lean strongly left politically, but I have several problems with the academic left–sees itself as so heavily influenced by him. The critical theory-inclined see him as an intellectual forebear of their movement. Well, the most charitable view of Heidegger’s politics is that he was merely a Nazi SYMPATHIZER, and that makes me pretty confident that he wouldn’t have sympathized with critical theorists’ “identity politics.”

              I haven’t seen the mainstream media call Obama a communist (I’ve never seen that in the New York Times, The New Yorker, the Atlantic, etc., and I’ve never heard it on NPR or seen him referred to as a communist on NBC news, etc.

              The right-wing media, however, calls him a socialist, a tyrant, and a threat to “our” way of life.

              All I can say to anyone who hasn’t taken any of the typical Western philosophy courses but thinks those courses brainwash students is this: Take some!

              In the many wonderful courses I took, I was free to draw any conclusion I wanted as long as a) it was relevant to the topics in the course and b) I could defend it.

              (By the way, I can’t remember whether the course I referred to last night was called Philosophy of Feminism or Feminist Philosophy–the latter being the term feminist philosophers use in reference to themselves.)

              Rebecca Goldberg is quite savvy in much of her writing, so I’m not inclined to see her as at all naive.

              The one Continental philosopher I took a class under is a Marx scholar (which is why he’s Hegel scholar); he’s also politically inclined in that direction. He was one of the best professors I had, he NEVER pushed his views on his students, and he expected from our written work what all my other philosophy professors did: make a case for your overall conclusion (which should be reasonably narrow in scope), anticipate CHALLENGING objections to that conclusion, and respond to those objections. I think a lot of people get out of college having no idea how to do that.

              Anyway, please trust me on this much: Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m not all that malleable. Make me a good argument, though, and I’ll listen, and listen closely. My take on it is this: If you’re easily influenced by your philosophy professors, then you’re not thinking philosophically.

              P.S. I don’t think we need to choose between philosophy and poetry, or between philosophy and any of the literary arts,

              I need to reside primarily in Tech-land between now and May 8th, though, so I’ll temporarily need to choose my tech courses over philosophy and just about everything else!

              • Laura said,

                April 27, 2014 at 4:45 pm

                And now for something completely different:

                Like around 2 million other people, I’m in that huge swath of the United States that’s at risk for bad storms today and tonight. I hope everyone on Scarriet either lives elsewhere or takes precautions to stay safe.

            • Laura said,

              April 28, 2014 at 12:39 am

              To clear up any confusion, since my political views were mischaracterized earlier: I’m pretty far to the left, but I’m not lockstep about it. For example, I don’t think Glenn Greenwald is a good or even honest journalist, regardless of his ultimate goal (HE’S an ends-justify-the-means kinda guy, and he loves name-calling).

              Regarding Rebecca Goldstein: All philosophers with advanced degrees are specialists to a certain degree, and not even the best generalists among then can’t keep up with everything, so I don’t fault the exceedingly bright Goldstein for not sharing my views on Singer, who’s been, I think, far more far more influential than he should be–and I say that as someone who’s been a pretty consistent advocate for animals. It’s also possible that, because the Atlantic interview was intended for a broad audience and didn’t go into great depth, she was being charitable. I can’t know based on just on the interview.

              Regarding Marxism: As probably most people who visit this site know, no pure capitalist or socialist system on any significant scale exists on this planet. “European socialism” is simply better regulated capitalism (“better” from my non-libertarian perspective). I don’t know whether socialism could work on a large scale, but a growing number of thinkers believe that Marx was right on the money (pun intended) regarding the frailty of capitalism. It certainly seems to me that we’ve seen signs that it might be collapsing under its own weight, and that the collapse might be inevitable. If that’s the case, SOMETHING’s going to have to replace it, though I don’t pretend to know what that might be.

              I can’t say that these opinions are unbiased, but some might find them interesting nonetheless:


              By political philosopher John Gray:


              A direct link to the article:


              We’re going to have bad storms again, it appears, so I think I’ll unplug my computer again. My cats don’t like this weather, and neither do I.

  8. thomasbrady said,

    April 23, 2014 at 9:41 pm


    For one in love with deep, focused, philosophical ‘argument,’ you seem rather enamored of fluff. All your links, save the lengthy piece on de Beauvoir, are absent of substance. And the de Beauvoir piece was not very critically astute.

    You need to relax re: Powers. Let your guard down. Get into some playful argumentation. That’s what Scarriet is for.

    I don’t think I’m simplifying. You have to hold these philosophers to what they say. You have to start somewhere. You can’t keep deferring critique, by saying ‘well, de Beauvoir actually says more about this in later chapters, etc etc’ You’ll never get started. Just jump in.

    There’s enough to chew on just in her comments on how only behavior can determine truth… You have nothing to say on this???

    Do you agree with me that Behaviorism is anti-philosophical?

    Or do you have to go ask your teachers first?


    • Laura said,

      April 23, 2014 at 11:36 pm

      You don’t even know what “fluff” is in philosophy, Tom.

      (Richard Fumerton and Chris Hill were encouraging of me, by the way.)

      There IS a method to philosophical thinking, and if you don’t know that, I’m sorry. But it’s your lack of knowledge, not the discipline’s failings.

      Get over it..

  9. Laura said,

    April 23, 2014 at 11:18 pm

    I didn’t read Power’s most recent comment, but I got a response from someone else. Everyone else on this site has been polite to me, regardless of whether they agree or not with me.

    He has not been polite, or even civil. And I’m not the only person for whom this has been the case in their interactions with him.

    I never asked my teachers what to think, Tom. That should be obvious in my comments. I did, however, have multiple philosophy professors (including one who was SUMMA cum laude at Botston College) tell me I was a “natural” at analytic philosophy. Sorry if you embrace the stereotype that they’re part of “the man.” The truth is that those courses just came fairly easily to me, and I wrote papers and essay exams that my professors told me were exceptional. Period.

    Some people are naturally good at, say, computer science. I was naturally good at philosophy. (For one thing, I’m good at logic.) So what?

    You have brought up topics far beyond poetry on this site, but your Continental buddy seems to think that only his view of the world is worth exploring there. I disagree.

    I was known as an independently-minded student. Should that surprise you? Based on my comments, I think not. There was no “fluff” in my written work.

    Your “analyses,” on the other hand… You come across as more of an ideologue than a philosopher. That’s okay, but let’s not confuse the two.

    And yes, I’ll trust all but one of my philosophy professors any day over Powers. Why? Because they make ARGUMENTS–the foundation of analytic philosophical reasoning.

    That last sentence of mine shouldn’t even be a point of contention.

  10. Laura said,

    April 23, 2014 at 11:56 pm

    Oh, P.S. The only bad philosophy professor I had was one who was almost in love with Karl Popper. When I raised the question of whether or not Popper’s falsification actually solved the problem of induction, he got really angry. I’d always raised my hand in class, but I’d apparently raised the “wrong” question. He called me at home the next morning and told me he didn’t want me to ever ask a question in his class again. I dropped the class. (He also wanted to persuade students of the nonexistence of god. I’m a nontheist, but I don’t think a class in the philosophy of religion class shouldn’t be about indoctrinating students to a particular point of view.

    The faculty members who found out about this were extremely supportive.

    The dark side of tenure,,,

    But I took the risk. So, c’mon, my going along with professors… Seriously, does that sound like me?? No, what you’re doing instead of attacking my POSITION is attacking my PERSON. Your bad.

    And one of the biggest practices regarding analytic philosophy:

    You don’t read into the text what it isn’t there. You can DISPUTE what’s there, what it means, but you can’t just make sh*t up,’ and you can’t interpret it to mean what you WANT it to mean.


  11. Laura said,

    April 24, 2014 at 12:22 am

    PS. If I could rewright this–which I will, correcting the errors (I hope!):

    Oh, P.S. The only bad philosophy professor I had was one who was almost in love with Karl Popper. When I raised the question of whether or not Popper’s falsification actually solved the problem of induction, he got really angry. I’d always raised my hand in class, but I’d apparently raised the “wrong” question. He called me at home the next morning and told me he didn’t want me to ever ask a question in his class again. I dropped the class. (He also wanted to persuade students of the nonexistence of god. I’m a nontheist, but I don’t think a class in the philosophy of religion class should be about indoctrinating students to a particular theistic point of view.)

    The faculty members who found out about this were extremely supportive.

    The dark side of tenure,,,

    But I took the risk. So, c’mon, my going along with professors… Seriously, does that sound like me?? No, Tom, what you’re doing instead of attacking my POSITION is attacking my PERSON. Your bad.

    And one of the biggest practices regarding analytic philosophy:

    You don’t read into the text what it isn’t there. You can DISPUTE what’s there, what it means, but you can’t just make sh*t up,’ and you can’t interpret it to mean what you WANT it to mean.


    • thomasbrady said,

      April 24, 2014 at 1:43 pm


      It wasn’t necessary to rewrite. You were understood the first time. This strikes me as obsessive/compulsive behavior from the ‘goody-goody’ who got all A’s to please her professors. It was Alexander Pope of all people, in his ‘Essay on Criticism,’ who told critics: the spirit or gist is important; don’t sweat the small errors.

      • Laura said,

        April 27, 2014 at 9:32 pm

        I’ve worked as an editor. On principle, I like to correct my errors when I can, but this blog site doesn’t provide an editing feature for comments. Not the end of the world, but I tend to cringe when I find errors like those above.

  12. anonymous said,

    April 24, 2014 at 4:34 am

    ‘Laura’, whoever you are, you’re hilarious! The fact that nobody here can seem to figure out that their leg is being pulled has to be one of the greatest spoofs I’ve ever seen on the internet. First fiction, now philosophy…anything but poetry. What next, internal medicine? This is great!
    I still think, as I said before, that this is most likely the conception of a conceptual poet. I’m sure it will end up in a book someday. If the people here don’t get it yet, then they deserve to look like the fools you have shown them to be.
    Carry on.

  13. powersjq said,

    April 24, 2014 at 12:25 pm


    There’s no longer a meaningful distinction between Laura’s responses to me and trolling. She doesn’t respond to what I write (proudly claims, in fact, not even to read it), then says nasty things about my character (classic ad hominem).

    Let me be clear that I have no problem with her other comments. I think her non sequitur comments are substantive, if willful, contributions. Likewise, her responses to you seem to me real responses, if arrogant in tone.

    Laura’s trollish behavior is making me reluctant to visit Scarriet. Might you ask her—since she won’t even read my posts—to cease and desist with the trolling? I won’t mind if she simply doesn’t engage with me. I know that Scarriet has an open comment policy, which I respect. I would suggest that trolling undercuts the very basis for such a policy, making it important to address the problem proactively.

  14. thomasbrady said,

    April 24, 2014 at 1:33 pm


    Her links are useful. I hate the word ‘troll.’ Those labeled ‘trolls’ are often highly intelligent, highly sensitive, people who need a little understanding and love.

    Her Popper professor anecdote sounds legitimate to me, because Karl Popper was a Socrates-hating cretin.

    I do think she’s gone way overboard in her dislike of you, and that upsets me, because you are Scarriet’s ideal reader. I would hate it if you left because of her.

    Laura: please leave Powers alone. He loves ideas. I admire your energy, Laura, but it clashes with Powers’ more objective temperament. You may ignore him, but the sniping sounds childish, and it’s really getting old.

    Laura, if you are the creation of a conceptualist poet, that’s okay. I enjoy all kinds of rhetoric. 99.9% of the the things we read are shadows to the sun.

    • powersjq said,

      April 24, 2014 at 1:44 pm


      Thank you. That’s all I wanted. Let me emphasize again: it’s only a specific behavior that I’m complaining about. I don’t think Laura is a troll. I think that those nasty replies to my comments are trollish.

  15. thomasbrady said,

    April 24, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    It is silly for poets to confine themselves to poetry. How actual poetry should be confined to ‘poetry’ is an important question, yes, but the answer lies outside of ‘actual poetry,’ even as ‘actual poetry’ is the real goal. The trick lies in what shadows to admit to the peripheral views. A big part of Scarriet is exploring this balance.

    The New Republic piece Laura linked: Pinker’s plea not to reject science. We agree. Going forward, good-natured acceptance of science and religion both will help humanity in all sorts of ways— too much short-sighted arrogance on both sides. Pinker doesn’t quite see how he is being arrogant, but in the spirit of good will, he does seem sincere, and we understand where Pinker is coming from. “Science gave us the atom bomb! Don’t trust it!” is a pretty stupid view and we agree with Pinker here.

    • powersjq said,

      April 24, 2014 at 9:57 pm

      “It is silly for poets to confine themselves to poetry.”

      This is the nub of Gioia’s critique, isn’t it? The purview of poetry is the purview of those reading and—perhaps more importantly—writing it. If we poets read only or even mostly poetry, it’s hard to see how we’re going to be able to produce something worthy of the attention of an audience beyond ourselves.

    • Laura said,

      April 27, 2014 at 6:40 pm

      I never have said that poets should confine themselves to poetry, Tom. But in response to Drew asking me why I was bringing up philosophy on a poetry site, I wanted to point out that a) it was you who not only brought up the subject but who have focused on it this month and, therefore, b) he’d need to ask YOU why it was brought up in the first place and then emphasized for a month.

      I obviously don’t think fiction writers should limit themselves to writing fiction, so why would I think that poets should limit themselves to poetry? The greater the breadth of knowledge, the better for the writer, I think. (Just don’t be Jori Graham and include the Latin botanical names of common plants or references to quantum theory in your poems to make yourself look smart.) I never majored in English, I like science, and–regardless of what you or Powers think of me–I loved logic and my other philosophy courses. And yes, as a female in one the most male-dominated disciplines on the planet, one that’s more male-dominated than even mathematics, I’ll proudly defend my record as a philosophy student when I’m attacked by someone like Powers. He was among the best examples I’ve seen of attacking the person instead of the person’s argument, yet he was quite touchy and indignant when others did the same to him. If he hadn’t done it to me, I wouldn’t have been put in a position to defend myself, would I have? I have no ill will toward him now, but I don’t want to ever experience that again, so I won’t risk enduring it again. And the only way I can avoid that risk is by skipping over whatever he writes. I say the above in response to your request that I avoid offending his delicate sensibilities.

      There’s a lot of news out there about a crisis of sexist behavior in certain philosophy departments. I never experienced that. Maybe I was really lucky in that regard. Yes, I’m damn proud of having been encouraged to pursue graduate work in my major, especially given that there are many more people with PhDs in philosophy than there are jobs, and the tendency has been to DIScourage further study. If Powers (“Anonymous”?) doesn’t like my saying that, he can just go jump in a lake as far as I’m concerned.

      And yes, philosophy professors in “traditional” philosophy departments are, in general, always happy to see CLEAR writing in their students’ papers, and I admired them for that. You’ll sure find the opposite in the prose in many literary-theory journals–a sad state of affairs, from my perspective.

      Oh, and the idea that I was a “goody-goody” is laughable. I was never afraid to challenge my philosophy professors; that’s what most of them wanted students to do if they could. But then, that was a much more respectful environment than many online,

      • Laura said,

        April 27, 2014 at 7:16 pm

        I’ll add something before I have to disappear in Adobe projects:

        At first I INFERRED that the philosophy professors wanted students to challenge them or the claims of whoever we were reading, and I based that inference on how, after a long moment of silence, a philosophy professor would suddenly light up when I or someone else would raise our hands. The better the objection or question, the better the class would go after that. Not everyone was comfortable participating in that way. Some students remained silent all or most of the semester, even though we might have only 20 students in a class.

        But saying what you think a professor wants to hear is a worthless enterprise.

  16. Laura said,

    April 24, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    Along with Powers’s comments, I also don’t read or respond to anonymous comments.

    To more thoroughly respond to your comment, Drew (I was about to meet someone when I saw your comment last night):

    Scarriet–which I’ve always seen as a condemnation of the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet site (though I don’t have a negative view of everything the poetry Foundation does) hasn’t been about poetry for most of this month, except for a few poems by Tom he’s posted.

    When Tom and Seth Abramson were going at it over MFA programs (Seth being overly in favor of them and Tom rejecting their value entirely, though he’s never attended a workshop), Tom came across, to me, as a voice of reason, which is why I became interested in the site, but in recent months, his tone has reminded me more and more of Seth’s. Traffic has gone down some on the site, and I suspect that part of the reason for that is that many people don’t get a thrill following angry or hostile exchanges. (Well, actually, I know that to be case for at least one person.) Some people get off on it, but that’s probably not what people come to a poetry site to see.

    Since April 3rd, Tom’s main project has been what I’ll call his “philosophy contests,” in which he speaks for various thinkers and decides which one is the “winner.” Some of those he’s included in his method (though I prefer the academic approach, which I find far more fun and in-depth–I liked writing 20-page philosophy papers, and I liked reading long philosophical essays, though I also enjoyed writing papers that had a 250-word limit in my 17th Century Philosophy course). I haven’t commented on most of Tom’s posts this month. Among those thinkers:

    Nietzsche and T.S. Eliot, Augustine and Addison, Maimonides (whom I haven’t read) and Vico, Kenneth Burke (though I would have preferred Edmund) and Cixous, Aquinas and Behn (whom I haven’t read), Schiller and Emerson, and several others, though the individuals in the pairings are often so different from each other that they’re hard to compare.

    Two of these figures are poets: T.S. Eliot and Adrienne Rich.

    You’ll have to ask Tom why he’s at times switched topics from poetry to philosophy (or fiction or MFA programs or physics…).

    Tom thought it was elitist of me to say that I don’t consider Camille Paglia a philosopher except in an extremely broad sense of the term. (A couple of people agreed with me on that assessment.)

    I consider the dismissal of a book one hasn’t read a form of snobbery.

    But I wanted to share the title of that book with other readers here. The gesture could have been taken graciously, but it wasn’t.

    I’m hoping Scarriet will become a more mild-mannered place again, because angry people make me uncomfortable, and I don’t even see a reason for that level of anger here. (At the same time, so far, only one visitor to this site has led me to avoid him altogether.)

    Beside, there are only so many ways to say that all of contemporary poetry sucks. Not one of the good poets I know believes that, so they’re probably less likely to come here if that’s a primary purpose for the site.

    I hope someone out there will enjoy Goldstein’s book or the interview of her, if you take a look or listen. Few women enter philosophy. The Chronicle of Higher Education has done a series of articles on sexism within the discipline of philosophy. I have no reason to doubt the existence of those instances, but honestly, I never encountered any sexism in the philosophy departments at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, or the class sessions I sat in on at the University of Arkansas. Maybe I was lucky. Most of my philosophy professors were great, and only one of them was blatantly bad–a widely held view of him, it turned out.

  17. thomasbrady said,

    April 25, 2014 at 5:44 am

    All the excerpts in the philosophy tournament are from Norton anthology of Theory and Criticism. This is just another way to look at poetry. It is absolutely relevant to poetry. Why would anyone think it’s not? Poe and Wilde believed the critical faculty is just the creative, in reverse. Even if you don’t believe this, philosophy is still relevant to poetry, even if, or especially if, like Plato, you have doubts about poetry. And Scarriet absolutely does not believe “all contemporary poetry is rubbish.”

  18. thomasbrady said,

    April 26, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    I just read Rebecca Goldstein’s opinion piece in the Times on Plato and while she is endearing in her attempt to understand the virtue-through-social-activity of Plato, has she never read ‘The Symposium?’ Immortality was everything to Plato. Goldstein sounds a bit naive. The Hebrew religion assimilates very well to Plato, despite what she says.

    • powersjq said,

      April 26, 2014 at 2:08 pm


      From the closing graph of Gottlieb’s NYTimes review of Goldstein’s _Plato at the Googleplex_:

      “Another way to see it [philosophy] is as a fountain of eternally youthful questions, with which we shall always be grappling because they expose unresolvable tensions in our beliefs and concepts, and stimulate our intellectual appetites.”

      This is a view of philosophy that I endorse entirely. I believe that Goldstein’s attempt to “do” philosophy through literature–which is how she characterizes her own novels–takes up precisely this view of philosophy, as an attempt to wrestle with questions. I’ve read one of Goldstein’s novels, and I liked it a great deal. I find her a bit narrow in her thinking, but only because her grasp of history seems to me a bit thin.

      Insofar as poetry takes up the same challenge to wrestle with perennial questions–which is not quite the same as treating perennial themes–it is explicitly philosophical. The ancients saw literature–“letters” as the called it–as entirely of a piece. I note that what makes this work, what makes Goldstein’s entire project feasible, is that there is nothing about arguments or argumentation in her view of philosophy. That’s the _part_ of philosophy that they sell to undergrads.

  19. Laura said,

    April 28, 2014 at 4:05 am

    Rebecca Goldstein on the importance of reason:

    “Spinoza’s dream of making us susceptible to the voice of reason might seem hopelessly quixotic at this moment, with religion-infested politics on the march. But imagine how much more impossible a dream it would have seemed on that day 350 years ago. And imagine, too, how much even sorrier our sorry world would have been without it.”

    “There are encouraging signs that the third culture now includes scholars in the humanities who think the way scientists do. Like their colleagues in the sciences, they believe there is a real world and their job is to understand it and explain it. They test their ideas in terms of logical coherence, explanatory power, conformity with empirical facts. They do not defer to intellectual authorities: Anyone’s ideas can be challenged, and understanding and knowledge accumulate through such challenges. They are not reducing the humanities to biological and physical principles, but they do believe that art, literature, history, politics—a whole panoply of humanist concerns—need to take the sciences into account.”

    None of us are mindreaders, but I try to avoid drawing conclusions about a thinker or ascribing motives to her in the absence of clear evidence, and that kind of suspension of judgment requires a degree of humility. Whether one agrees with Goldstein about the importance of reason (I tend to LARGELY but not entirely agree with her), it would is patently false–unintentionally or not–to claim that reason isn’t significantly important to her. It is, both in and outside the classroom.

    That’s why I like sticking to the TEXT rather than speculating about a philosopher’s views based on my own preferences, tendencies, or desires, and it’s why I’m glad that’s the way we did in “philosophy school”–or at least in the more analytically oriented programs I attended. In orientation, my programs were like the vast majority of American philosophy departments, including the one where she wrote her dissertation and later taught. (We do need good Continental people as well in the analytic departments.) But don’t shoot the messenger. Like it not, I’m just reporting what I know.

    She’s made similar remarks about science and reasoning numerous times over the years.

    Like me, she also sees great value in emotions, which isn’t terribly surprising since she’s a fiction writer:

    “Reading literature, the phenomenology of reading literature, separates you from your own identity in some strange way. It allows you to really inhabit other points of view. One gets emotionally involved, one laughs, one weeps, one’s heart pounds. This ability to detach from our own experience and plump ourselves down into the world as it exists for someone else is the magic, the enchantment of fiction.”

    * * * * *

    We’re having a lull in the bad weather, but more’s coming overnight, so it’s probably a good time to unplug again. My cats will be happy when this storm system moves on (so will I). Maybe it will weaken as it heads east.

  20. thomasbrady said,

    April 28, 2014 at 12:43 pm


    I argue by gist, not by text. The lawyer requires the text, the philosopher only the gist. If an argument is a thousand page text, then what sort of argument would that be? An impossible one. A ‘literary’ one, which is precisely why so much of lit-crit is crazy.

    As to your emphasis on argument: conclusions already contain the argument.

    • powersjq said,

      April 28, 2014 at 2:06 pm


      * “The lawyer requires the text, the philosopher only the gist.”

      This is an astute comparison. I think you’re entirely right about lawyers _requiring_ the text. As for the philosopher needing only the gist, I think it’s more that philosophers _require_ neither the gist nor the text. The difference is in the verb, not the noun. The lawyer cannot escape the text. The philosopher may invest herself in a careful reading of a key passage or she may sweep up the thought of a whole epoch in an incisive sentence or two. Summarization is as important a philosophical skill as logical analysis. Or to put it differently, no can _hold_ a philosopher to any text because the _truth_ is not absolutely bound to any text.

      * “[C]onclusions already contain the argument.”

      I know that Aristotle would say this is backwards: in his view, _premises_ contain conclusions. The middle position of arguments—troweled between premises and conclusions—makes their status curiously uncertain. We know premises; we know conclusions; but we _make_ arguments.

      During a speech in which he argues that training in rhetorical, creative thinking is a better basis for civic culture than training in critical, mathematical thinking, Vico (recapitulating Boethius, who is channeling Aristotle), remarks: “Traditional ‘topics’ is the art of finding ‘the _medium_,’ i.e., the middle term: in the conventional language of scholasticism, “medium” indicates what the Latins call _argumentum_. Those who know all the _loci_, i.e., the lines of argument to be used, are able (by an operation not unlike reading the printed characters on a page) to grasp extemporaneously the elements of persuasion inherent in any question or case.”

      Arguments must be “found” and “made” on a case by case basis. They connect premises and conclusions, but are themselves neither true nor false. In the broadest sense, then, arguments are not absolutely bound by logical rules, but are rather constrained by the situation in which they are adduced. In the domain of argumentation, the rules of logic are guidelines for good practice. Some forms of argumentation regard logic as sacrosanct, some hew closely to it, and some see it as merely expedient.

      Because argumentation is a _craft_, it lies close to poetry, which is after all the epitomic form of “making” (poesis), One key point of contact between philosophy and poetry is that both are forms of linguistic _practice_. They use different linguistic resources and activate different human capacities, but they’re sisters just the same.

      • thomasbrady said,

        April 28, 2014 at 2:55 pm

        Thanks, Powers, I hoped you would weigh in.

        Scarriet is going to publish a piece on the whole issue of Argument v. Conclusion.

    • Laura said,

      April 28, 2014 at 3:56 pm

      I think I know what you mean by “gist,” Tom, but if so, I don’t regard gist as an argument. Lawyers use logic AND, more importantly in many cases (e.g., the courtroom), rhetoric; legal scholars rely more on logic (except for those occasional times they’re in the courtroom). Plato established a tradition of reasoning and argumentation that analytic philosophy uses to this day. Did Plato ever misstep in those arguments? Hell, yes! But REASONING one’s way to a conclusion is far better than just throwing out “conclusions”–a term that does’t even make sense in the absence of argument or empirical evidence because a conclusion FOLLOWS something. So, I have to firmly disagree with you about the meaning of “conclusion” unless you’re referring only to the word’s definition: A conclusion doesn’t magically “contain” an argument unless you can SEE the argument. Just CALLING it a conclusion doesn’t MAKE it a legitimate conclusion. That’s why I use the word “assertion for ungrounded opinions, proclamations, and pseudo-truisms. Not everyone argues well or is even comfortable with arguments, but it’s a useful skill. As I said, I’d like to see more of it in the political sphere in this country.

      As far a Powers’ weighing is concerned: He’s so thoroughly arrogant about his own pseudo-conclusions (even to the point where presumes to know other thinkers’ motives) that he reminds me of a cocky teenage boy who’s full of bluster. That can be endurable in a teenager because you expect that he’ll grow out of it. The problem is that Powers is NOT a teenager. He doesn’t think like any good or even decent philosopher I’ve known, and I’ve known some extremely good ones. Maybe he CAN, but I haven’t seen it much here. Given his many earlier comments, there’s no way I can possibly take him nearly as seriously as I take them. If I didn’t know better, I’d conclude that his Continental philosophy programs must do a terrible job of teaching their students to reason. But I know that can’t be true–not unless one of them has declined in more recent years; my Continental professor graduated from Boston College (Powers’ alma-mater–it wasn’t hard to look that up) summa cum laude, got his PhD at Rochester (another Continental program), and he was able to reason beautifully. Again, it just doesn’t make sense that all of us who embrace an extremely useful tradition of well-reasoned arguments are wrong but Powers is somehow the “real” philosopher. You can fall for that if you like, but I can’t.

      Besides, if he’s such a great philosopher, why does he spend so much time here? So he can be a big fish in a small philosophical pond? Why doesn’t he visit good (and rigorous) philosophy blogs and forums? Because in case you haven’t noticed, most of your readers don’t appear terribly interested in the topic–or at least this particular approach to the topic.

      Yes, you can get powerful insights through other means, such as literature (I do it all the time); how could a writer think otherwise? I’m just not going to regard that phenomenon as an argument in the sense that the term is normally used in philosophy as it’s practices in most American and Anglophone universities. (The worst Continental philosophy and critical theory I’ve read plays by different “rules”–if the can even be called rules. When I read those kinds of texts, I always felt like a certain amount of sleight-of-hand was being employed.)

      I appreciate your not writing anything harsh or sarcastic in response to my most recent post and comment; I think by now I’ve endured more than enough of that here. Last night I had a nice exchange with someone in response to the Chronicle article on Thomas Nagel. It remained very civil. I mentioned on this site last night how rude commenters were to one another in the Chronicle thread, but then it turned calmer and tamer. And I must add: At its worst, it wasn’t nearly as aggressive as it’s gotten at its worst here.

      I’m going to focus on finishing my classes and then completing several projects this summer before I’m in classes again, so I expect I’ll be here far less often this summer.

      In any event, Happy Gisting!

  21. thomasbrady said,

    April 28, 2014 at 4:35 pm


    Apparently you survived the storms—where are you, Arkansas? Anyway, glad you’re okay.

    I deem Powers likes it here because Scarriet is good. I’m sure he is welcome in other places. He knows his stuff. You have Powers all wrong, Laura, but that’s your free choice.

    Aristotle says ‘premises contain conclusions.’ I would agree, Powers, and yet this still indicates a triumph of conclusions—because this is what we want. I will talk more of this anon.

    • Laura said,

      April 28, 2014 at 4:57 pm

      Thanks, Tom, for asking. No, fortunately for me, I’m in Iowa rather than Arkansas–and I don’t mean that as cultural put-down of Arkansas (I loved Fayetteville); I just mean that they got (as you obviously know) slammed really hard down there. All I had to endure was a mostly-sleepless night. It never got as bad here as the forecast said it might, but it started to get close at times, then calm down, then start to get bad again, then die down… I need to get a weather radio that will wake me up so I can sleep.

      With Respect to Powers, I know MY stuff, according to people who are in a position to know that sort of thing. He doesn’t have to agree, but with one crazy exception, once I declared philosophy as a major (after getting some nice encouragement at Iowa)–I took eight philosophy coursed in two semesters–every single one of my professors praised my work. I trust their judgment over his. He comes from a different tradition, though, so that alone could cause a gulf that’s too wide for us to meet somewhere in between. Anyway, a couple of my analytic friends (PhD philosophers) took a look at some of these discussions a few months ago, and I made much more sense to them than he did. In my own training, I have something to compare with Powers’ “style” (for lack of a better word), so that could account for the difference between your and my assessment of his approach.

      Yes, Scarriet is good, but I think it should become more humane than it is at times; it gets far too heated, and then insults are hurled, and that’s not my idea of a productive discussion. The hostility is largely a product of the Internet, but people can work to change that. Not all sites get so intensely contentious.

      Anyway, thanks for the inquiry!

  22. Laura said,

    April 28, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    Thinking back on it, actually, I took NINE philosophy courses in those two semesters (I was one of two female majors). I absolutely loved it. And in general, my male classmates were great; some asked me to study with them. With the exception of the tests in symbolic logic, all the exams were essay exams, and with only a few exceptions, we never used secondary sources, which is the way I liked doing it.

  23. anonymous said,

    April 29, 2014 at 2:07 am

    There are only two options here.

    A) ‘Laura’ is a conceptual spoof trying to chase off Scarriet’s readership, or

    B) The institution in which she lives is kind enough to allow its inmates access to the internet because she is obviously nuts.

    • Laura said,

      April 29, 2014 at 3:28 pm

      Thanks, Tom. I actually read this anonymous comment by mistake because it was in my inbox and I didn’t see at first that it was by “anonymous.” Anyway, I appreciate your kind words in response to whoever wrote the comment.

      (I wonder whether this person has ever heard of the fallacy of the excluded middle–also referred to as “false dichotomy,” “false dilemma,” and by several other names.

      P.S. I’m not normally preoccupied with my philosophy classes, not in most contexts, but I’ll admit that they became important to me after Powers’ first especially-harsh response to one of my comments, which included some generalizations about ME, though I hadn’t had online contact with him for that long. Because his view of my thinking so profoundly differed from that of a dozen or so phil professors I greatly respect to this day, my educational background suddenly seemed relevant–especially after he brought up his own educational background. In any case, I’d rather people critique my views or arguments instead of me, and I’ll try to do the same. I generally follow that practice, but I let it slip when I was feeling especially defensive.

      Here’s a dose of the chit-chat (socializing) you refer to above, Tom:

      We’re supposed to get both rain and snow tonight and tomorrow here in central Iowa–one day before the first day of May.

      Again, thanks for your reply.

      • Laura said,

        April 29, 2014 at 9:56 pm

        I’ll add to “but I let it slip when I was feeling especially defensive”:

        and I regret it.

  24. thomasbrady said,

    April 29, 2014 at 11:51 am


    Some people like to chat on ‘idea’ blogs. It’s multitasking, and it’s what intelligent people do. Your reaction is that Laura is writing irrelevant, personal material on an ‘idea’ blog, and therefore she must be ‘nuts.’ But my thought is that Laura is socializing as herself in addition to reading and responding to ‘ideas.’ This is actually the sign of a certain kind of successful intelligence: one sees it in offices all the time, where strong personalities use the personal to make things smoother for them at work. If you knew Laura (I don’t) this is what you’d get in conversation. Is she a little obsessed with her school days? Yes. But don’t we all have our dramas and little obsessions and bones to pick, etc? Yes we do. That Laura is putting a lot of herself on Scarriet is just an indication that shes comfortable enough here to socially multitask, which is okay by me. Scarriet welcomes comments and socializing can be part of the ‘idea’ mix. It’s okay.

    • Laura said,

      April 29, 2014 at 10:45 pm

      I’ll add one more thing, Tom, that I’ve been thinking about off and on today: the notion of a “strong personality.” I vividly remember living in northern New Mexico in the early 2000s where people politely referred to a certain local woman as having a “strong personality.” In her case, she was overly confident, self-promoting in every social setting she was in, told people she was an artistic genius without providing evidence for that claim, and that she had a great operatic voice (which we never heard, though we heard her sing “Me and Bobby McGee”–great song–over and over).

      Where I differ from her:

      I can lose considerable sleep over offending people. I feel confident in my ability to reason, but I don’t always feel confident about my presentation of it, especially after the fact, I’m guessing that truly confident people with consistently strong personalities don’t worry all that much about what others think of them. They think highly enough of themselves to make up for whatever others think.

      I do worry about offending people, though I make statements that could very well do so (which is partly why my philosophy classes were a safe haven for me). And, yes, the social element is a way of trying to adjust for that (not that I think social interaction is trivial or just some social device).

      Regardless of the details, I think that was an astute observation on your part, about the social element in–but not limited to–the office environment.

  25. Laura said,

    April 30, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    We didn’t get the snow, Tom, but I think the northern part of the county did; instead, it was a soggy drive to the Des Moines area and back today, though I can’t complain much after seeing images this morning of the Florida Panhandle, which looked like a horrible, and dangerous, mess.

    (That’s right, “anonymous”; the local loony bin gives us driving privileges, as long as we’re not too heavily medicated.

    Actually, the nation is facing a shortage of psychiatrists. Around five years ago, I wrote a series of articles about that for two small weekly newspapers that were owned by the Omaha World Herald at the time.)

    I thought I’d pass along this link on this last day of April:

    I didn’t even know about this until this morning.

    By the way, speaking of Kris Kristofferson (Since I’d brought up “Me and Bobby McGee” earlier): I didn’t know until a few months ago that he was a Rhodes Scholar. How’d I miss that all these years??

    But I knew, Tom, that he’s a William Blake fan.

  26. anonymous said,

    May 1, 2014 at 2:10 am

    For Laura, who appears to actually be human.

    The Tyger

    Tyger Tyger. burning bright,
    In the forests of the night;
    What immortal hand or eye.
    Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

    In what distant deeps or skies.
    Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
    On what wings dare he aspire?
    What the hand, dare seize the fire?

    And what shoulder, & what art,
    Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
    And when thy heart began to beat.
    What dread hand? & what dread feet?

    What the hammer? what the chain,
    In what furnace was thy brain?
    What the anvil? what dread grasp.
    Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

    When the stars threw down their spears
    And watered heaven with their tears:
    Did he smile His work to see?
    Did he who made the lamb make thee?

    Tyger Tyger burning bright,
    In the forests of the night:
    What immortal hand or eye,
    Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

    William Blake

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