Philosophical Problems with Justice Alito’s Challenge to Roe v. Wade

I have now read the entire opinion and there is an explicit premise that unmentioned rights in the Constitution must share in the nation’s history; it is setting up an evidentiary standard that unmentioned rights must meet. While Alito states that “nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion, (62)” I’m hardly convinced this reasoning wouldn’t be applied to other progressive decisions like Obergefell or Lawrence. When he lays out the argument, this explicit premise is how one could overturn Brown v. Topeka Board of Education because the nation’s history never articulated or recognized the full humanity of other human beings. This worry is not mitigated by Alito mentioning Brown v. Topeka as a reason why Casey’s employment of stare decisis is not absolute. Regarding unmentioned rights, I find Alito’s premise extremely dubious. Let me explain why.

As an originalist, one could reasonably deny universal health care under the fact that our nation’s history doesn’t recognize that right or any progress, political or moral, under its application. One could deny the right of women’s voting because our nation’s history never recognized it until this century; Alito makes references to the 19th century. It’s appeal to tradition fallacy-wise, but also a recognizable strategy of legal reasoning for conservatives to regard the law narrowly within the confines of tradition. So here again is Alito,

“English cases dating all the way back to the 13th century corroborate….that abortion was a crime” (17).

Or the crescendo of reviewing English case law up to the 19th century, Alito writes:

“an unbroken tradition of prohibiting abortion on pain of criminal punishment persisted from the earliest days of the common law until 1973” (24-25).

Notice, so far, a woman’s full humanity was not recognized prior to the 20th century, but that has nothing to do with the evidentiary standard of unmentioned rights guaranteed by the 14th Amendment in the argument Alito is making. Alito does not even address how women have been disempowered in the same history he samples to review the history of abortion. This omission of women’s oppression throughout history is glaring, and it amounts to the fallacy of suppressed evidence. For any argument to be worth our time, we must acknowledge all relevant evidence that would bear on the conclusion, even if that evidence challenges what we most desire to be true. According to Alito, unless a right has a specific history and “is deeply rooted in the nation’s history,” there is no grounds for arguing that the 14th Amendment would protect that right. Omitting the context of women’s oppression would find that advancing equality through the 14th Amendment is a way to ensure the protection about what ought to be the case. Confronting the full history would overturn Alito’s originalist test for the 14th Amendment if ethical grounds were motivating the interpretation of the law. In other words, the abuse and appeal of history can be uncritically accepted within originalist terms while ignoring the advantages and disadvantages various groups had at the historic time a law was adopted into law.

There’s another piece of the decision I find extremely alarming. Alito argues that the law recognizes ordered liberty, a standard of liberty that establishes boundaries between competing interests that challenges the use of an appeal to autonomy worded in Casey, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Alito thinks this conception of liberty “proves too much” as far as ordered liberty is concerned, and then engages in a form of skepticism that people are not free to use this wide conception of autonomy as license or justification to do what they want. It’s not clear that the autonomy principle in Casey was used this way per se, but that doesn’t matter to Alito. Obtaining an abortion is, in fact, warranted under a wide scope conception of autonomy and so he finds justification for ending Roe and Casey under the provision of ordered liberty. It’s not clear, however, that ordered liberty secures a balance of competing interests even here. By returning abortion to the people and their representatives, we discard that it is right recognized by law based on autonomy to which states may then infringe upon the autonomy of women to live self-directed lives.

When we fail to allow people to live autonomously directed lives, we fail to respect the direction of what they most value and likewise in not respecting autonomy the law becomes tyrannical. Given that what people value is reasonable, then we should respect the course people set. At this point in time, the respect for autonomy is a timeless philosophical principle, not something rooted in the law’s history. So respect for autonomy may not be allowed in originalist terms. The larger question here is: Should we be originalists in the first place? Should we allow these conservative justices to disrespect the autonomy of how women live their lives through their power to interpret the law? For most of its history, the law has favored those with whom had the power to shape and direct it, and regular ordinary people never had the ability to fight back. It’s time to fight back and ensure that the right to live autonomous lives is a moral principle once more enshrined in our laws against those conservative justices who would take freedom away from women.


Continental Philosophy Is, Indeed, Rigorous

I grow tired of the trope that analytic philosophy (AP hereafter) is somehow better written or more clear than continental philosophy (CP hereafter). I’m usually not bothered by it and I roll my eyes. But there’s no imagination here from analytic philosophers about how wrong they could be, so here’s a reversal. Let’s develop a philosophical conception of rigor that undergirds CP and then absolutize that conception of rigor to generalize about aspects of AP. I should also say that this is a critique of the Divide as it stands in North America. With discussion from colleagues in Europe, 20 or 30 years ago, a philosopher had to be a Heideggerian or Hegelian. So the inverse in Europe may be that analytic philosophy has to vie for pride of place in much the same way the analogy could be extended to Continental philosophy in the United States. This is why I qualify these comments.

1. In many forms (but certainly not all forms), analytic philosophy reduces the complexity of lived-experience to moments only of epistemic significance. This tendency (as this is not a singular proposition generalizing to all cases where outliers and exceptions are known to even this author) means many analytic philosophers often think of philosophy as advancing truth-apt claims defended by logical argumentation about claims we know. Philosophy for them is both the assessment of claims and the idea that one essential tool for the assessment of claims is to reproduce logically the reasoning of various positions. Most often, assessing these claims requires making assumptions about how one might communicate a philosophical problem, and it is in making those assumptions that I often find the privileged position of the epistemic subject. Let me explain.

One might find examples in philosophy of action where it is understood that S will Φ if and only if S has desire D to satisfy and if S has means M to satisfy D. Such an example is written to formalize the position of “S”, the epistemic subject and most often even if the problem does not intend to be construed epistemically, this formalization assumes the implicit presence of an epistemic subject. Such a formalization is that whatever concepts are assumed in a claim, the formalization extricates the subject oftentimes outside of time and in some type of ahistoric conceptualization similar to Plato’s Forms. In this way, philosophical problems are often transformed into timeless abstractions. They are cut away from the dimensions of lived-experience in which neither the phenomenological, existential, hermeneutic, and historical dimensions of lived-experience find purchase. Such philosophical problems are about truth-apt claims and arguments that are preserved in these timeless formations, and what guides the inquiry is a commitment to which position, argument, and claims are true against other accounts that are not true.

The Continental philosopher, by contrast, assumes that philosophy is not an attempt at formal knowledge just described, but one of understanding. In thinking this way, there are philosophical problems, but they find importance not in seeking out timeless truths from arguments, but learning how the concepts in a problem have a certain historical development and trajectory and how these various developments should be understood so that the philosopher can be guided in their act of understanding the world. By emphasizing understanding, we also understand the experiential dimension of the types of concerns generally relegated to CP. In a problem, CP often regards the analysis of a concept through paying attention to the context, history, and language as that which mediates our efforts at understanding. We are then guided by understanding to make sense of what we are experiencing.

2. This privileging tendency of AP means that epistemic significance is privileged more than the under-theorized elements of, say, subjectivity and embodiment (these are just two concepts picked at random that I feel are better articulated by CP methodology). Of course, again, one could easily defeat this proposition if we treat it like a singular proposition rather than a generalization. In so doing, by saying that analytic philosophy has taken up issues outside the formal positioning of epistemology means that those philosophers are trending to be more rigorous in the way I define rigor below in 6. One might say if we were to search the terms ‘subjectivity’ and ’embodiment’ in Philpapers, then would not we get back hundreds of articles on these themes written in analytic philosophy? Yes, we do. Again, this talk is one of tendency and perhaps the tendencies are shifting in real time to the point that what I am saying here will no longer come to pass. I hope so! I hope this post on this blog becomes obsolete someday because both AP and CP begin to merge and borrow from each other.

3. In keeping with these trends when they do occur, the analytic philosopher then privileges the epistemic subject over any other form of lived-experience, analytic philosophy is less phenomenologically rigorous and existentially relevant. The difference in methods drives this wedge, and I speculate that there are larger aspects of American culture that make these differences more prominent.

4. English monolinguists who haven’t studied the complexity of translating texts play up clarity and rigor of the one language they read and write even though they have no knowledge of philosophy written in other languages. This is so egregious that analytic philosophy programs most often do not require the study of other languages in their Ph.D. program. As Americans, we see nothing wrong with this fact. Consider the following analogy. The fact that everyone speaks Latin to a Roman is no reason that a Roman shouldn’t learn to speak other languages. The hegemony provided by our American geopolitical position (and the ownership of an active stockpile of 4000 nuclear warheads) is still no excuse to never learn languages. Because of our superpowerness, other people learn English. In finding the world learning our language, there is less motivation for Americans to learn other languages. English is the language of commerce, too. The fact that we happen to speak this language and get on fine while the world learns our language is often internalized uncritically by Americans at large. It’s even true in how we push off foreign language education until middle school or high school, and even then our foreign language educations is nothing like Europe. I think this backdrop explains why most analytic philosophy supervisors and committees do not make their doctoral candidates learn languages. In fact at some analytic philosophy departments, one might substitute a research method class from either the social or natural sciences to replace the requirement of learning another foreign language.

5. In not studying other languages, analytic philosophers typically do not have the patience to engage in exegesis of a text, so they outsource the burden of any hermeneutic responsibility for their own views (sometimes this jokingly becomes the hiring of what has now become affectionately known as the token Continental of an otherwise overwhelmingly large analytic department). They lack hermeneutic rigor and historical rigor, and often the desire to do it–though this is not true for those in analytic philosophy that engage in history of philosophy. There is a great deal of sympathy Continentals often receive from analytic historians of philosophy about this point.

6. In over-selling the falsehood that AP writes more clearly than CP, analytic philosophers are unaware that their methodologies lack:

a. phenomenological rigor

b. existential relevance

c. hermeneutic rigor; and

d. historical rigor.

By contrast, Continental philosophy offers resources for a-d. In doing so, CP is more rigorous than AP. The point of this exercise is to show that there are rigorous standards internal to CP that get missed when AP stereotypes it. A-D should be regarded as methodological reasons to study CP over AP in my opinion.

Of course, some aspects of CP writing are not understood by their analytic critics. Some deconstructionists write texts performatively and attempt to show their deconstructive commitments about language in the creative writing of their texts. Caputo’s texts seem to dissolve right before the reader. As Caputo is writing how deconstruction applies in a philosophical domain, he chooses to implement deconstructive tendencies as you read him where he is applying it.

In phenomenology, the phenomenologist sets out to describe aspects of experience that previous vocabularies have not captured (or have not attempted to capture), so often the phenomenologist must be playful with language and invent some new neologism to make sense of what has been concealed by a lack of careful attention to describing experience. So one cannot conclude that CP is committed to ambiguity without knowing the context in which the philosopher is using language.

The playfulness to which language is used also carries more leeway in terms of types of philosophical writing. Sartre’s novel, Nausea, contains existential descriptions of dread and anguish. It’s appropriate to write existential and phenomenological descriptions using novels as sites whwere that description takes place. In this way, novels, plays, and short aphorisms are accepted as possible literary presentations of philosophical insight, too.

7. I think that a pluralist conception of philosophy might try to synthesize elements from AP and CP. Synthesis is superior to one of myopic focus. Clearly, the same argument can be made that in looking at the tools provided by CP one could reverse the ambiguity of language charge often made about CP generally by analytic philosophers who often do not read or engage in it. In such a reversal, one might claim that a-d are, in fact, better. They offer more tools for what people think philosophy should be doing. From the point of view from the other humanities subjects, CP has had the greater effect in subjects like literature, religious studies, history, gender studies, African American studies, and art to name a few.

Some stereotypes of CP are perpetuated by those that inherit them from their doctoral supervisors or professors. Perpetuating this stupid AP/CP Divide is like the debate between SNES and Sega Genesis. The debate is moot as the world is changing around us. When philosophy departments are shut down and closed in a world of financial exigency that does not value its study, administrators make no distinction between AP and CP. In more practical terms, academic philosophers should be better united and embrace more pluralism about what philosophy can be from the narrow-minded thinking perpetuated by the Divide. However, if one wants to advance the claim that ‘AP is written more clearly than CP’, then it’s necessary to turn it upside down. It is very easy to do so because all one has to do is prioritize the Continental tradition’s methodological commitments like I do in 6 and contrast those commitments with how they are lacking in AP. In doing so, I am borrowing the same reasoning from when the old bias against CP rears its ugly head.

So the next time when a scholar of CP finds themselves at the end of this clear writing charge from proponents of AP, my advice is to reverse that criticism. Show how it is that CP is, indeed, rigorous.

This old bias against CP in total requires some implicit commitments on behalf of those making it. These dismissive persons against CP typically offer up that ‘AP is written more clearly than CP’ as a way to police the boundaries of what is proper philosophy. Because of the rigor of clear writing, the claim is that generally educated adults with no background training in philosophy could understand analytics better than Continentals. When put to scrutiny, it’s not clear that generally educated smart adults reading H. P. Grice on meaning, Russell on logical atomism, or Tarski’s T-conditions would understand it any better than what being-in-the-world is for Heidegger. Instead, what’s true for even very intelligent people is that both AP and CP have invented neologisms, rhetorical styles, and methods that are internal to each tradition. Being trained in one is not a reason to discount the other and while many pay lip service to this idea, very rarely do people commit to it in practice. It’s a good idea to be trained in both and to read across the Divide.


My Story with King and the Meaning of MLK Day for the United States

Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday was two days ago, though we observe it today publicly as a Federal holiday. Until recently, many states observe both King and General Lee’s birthday on the same day–some still do. Soak that in for a second, the Confederate General who fought a war to ensure the permanence of slavery attached to the man most credit with ending slavery by another name–segregation. That’s racism at its most passive aggressive form explicitly displayed.

Beyond that, I would like to say a few things if I can about King and my journey in taking up some themes in his work. What follows doves in and out of my story and it is tad bit stream-of-consciousness, so don’t expect clarity or sophistication in a blog post.

I started studying his philosophical significance for personalism when I was first invited down to the King and Bonhoeffer Personalism Meeting at WCU in 2014. At that point, I had only made it as far as personalism in Stein, Clark, JP2, and Scheler. My dissertation was about Scheler’s incomplete value ontology. I was still thinking like an analytic metaethicist trapped in a phenomenologist’s body. I had read Mounier around this time without weighing the significance of those ideas for WWI. The Methodist personalists were not on the radar as of yet.

After that conference, I abided the advice of a mentor I thought who was more virtuous than he turned out to be, but he did introduce me to the beauty of who taught King for a short while before dying during King’s attendance at Boston University. I was shown Brightman’s Moral Law system. After reading that work, I noticed similarities in Brightman and Scheler, but also differences. My own exploration, however, led me to searching for personalism in King and to Muelder and to the excellent work of Rufus Burrow.

Immediately after that King conference, I set out to write about the moral law in King at the Black Male Summit Conference at the University of Akron in the same year. Burrow’s scholarship was new to me. It was this talk that saved myself. King saved me. Without giving this talk, I would have never been on the radar of the first HBCU that hired me and after that I have been writing essays on his thought and am now more curious about the history of Black intellectual life for the purposes of teaching them. Going this way with King has opened up more curiosity about how philosophy has been shaped and the history of its omission.

I have published a little on King. There are other articles in the pipeline. The point is, however, if I had not been open to King at all others would not have been open to me. King is part of this vastly weird and lucky story. King was a new beginning, in part, because someone told me about how King was convinced somewhat by Gregory Davis to study with Brightman and the historical openness of Boston University to educate others in the fulfillment of their university mission, an open acceptance and difference to someone’s otherness.

The story of personalism as a form of metaphysics and ethics in Christian social ethics and American philosophy is almost dead, a footnote or at most a chapter in something Gary Dorrien is writing. However, its deep power comes when we encounter this day. Personalism more generally was a philosophical way in the 19th century that affirmed the absolute moral dignity of all Black Americans. It was personalists that supervised the first Black male his doctorate in theology–John Edward Wesley Bowen. This affirmation was necessary since the culture of white supremacy existed then as it does now in terms of mass incarceration, generational poverty due to redline-ing, voting rights, and poor quality school education. These are not all the challenges and historically Northern Methodists were radical abolitionists.

Today is a day where we honor a life of service, but also think on how we must affirm universal dignity of Black persons. We can think on how the objectification of persons more generally is transgressed in the name of profit and money. While both important, I want to urge another way. In King’s work, the notion of Beloved Community establishes that we ought to accept every person’s difference through unconditional love, the type that is powerfully Christocentric. On this point, King was not so much Christian as praising the power of the creative force that enters and alters our concrete interpersonal relationality with each other. What affects one affects another. This purpose is the third reconstructive moment of our Republic. This is the other way. The Civil Rights movement is our third reconstructive attempt to guide the American political and social imagination. We must think of King’s philosophical work as a replacement for the Lockean justifications used by Jefferson. Beloved Community is a normative ideal for both the secularist and the Believer all at the same time. The Declaration of Independence is replaced by the “I Have a Dream Speech”. So when you think about what this country means, think (or experiment in your mind) that America is shaped by how we choose to act as a whole. This is not a post-racial state of the United States, but one of tapestry — “a garment of destiny” woven from our differences. Let me explain.

If one of the threads is weakened in the here and now. and pulled out of place or frayed, we all come to help because of that thread’s absolute dignity. The thread is one person. If a community is hurt by racist cops, then we do something about it because of that dignity transgressed. If a school is failing Black children in Savannah or Baton Rouge, we fix it. So when these things continue today, then we know that today is our failure to live up to a dream, so think hard and fast about what you can do. But make no mistake, King’s dream and notion of Beloved Community are the bare minimum of the work we ought to do. That’s what today means concretely for America. It is the reckoning of a reconstructive moment long delayed and a promissory note deferred. Such work only starts with A. the personalist maxim that Black persons have absolute dignity and B. love operationalized as a social ethic is at the heart of that work. How to make A and B concrete…that’s part of my story and my teaching, a legacy I am very conscience/conscious of.


Thiessen and Guelzo’s Falsehoods Concerning Critical Race Theory and Philosophy

Thiessen cites Professor Allen C. Guelzo, a historian. My entire philosophical community on Facebook and Twitter laughed at Thiessen citing Guelzo below,

Critical race theory, Guelzo says, is a subset of critical theory that began with Immanuel Kant in the 1790s. It was a response to — and rejection of — the principles of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason on which the American republic was founded. Kant believed that “reason was inadequate to give shape to our lives” and so he set about “developing a theory of being critical of reason,” Guelzo says.[i]

The reason for laughter is quite evident in philosophical circles. Kant’s critical project did not inaugurate “critical race theory.” Instead, Kant’s criticism targeted theoretical reason and speculation in metaphysics and thereby sought to reign in what philosophers thought possible with theoretical reason (reinen Vernunft). A critique of theoretical reason is entirely confined to Western metaphysics. By critique Kant meant something different than simply what the Frankfurt School called critical theory. In Kant’s own words, “I do not mean by this critique of book and systems, but the faculty of reason in general, in respect of all knowledge after which it may strive independently of all experience.[ii] This reason in general has only a theoretical orientation, and Kant concerned himself with the rationalist philosophers only. This critique limited theoretical reason to operate within bounds of experience. The question was given that knowledge is limited within the bounds of experience then how is metaphysics, which draws upon notions that are beyond experience, even possible? What’s more, the critical theorists identified Kant with Enlightenment values and bourgeoise morality. Kant was never the starting place of such a tradition, but one they took their point of departure. In fact, Herbert Marcuse mentions Kant alongside Locke in agreement with “justifying revolution if and when it has succeeded in organizing the whole and preventing subversion.”[iii] In other words, these ideas never prevent the pain and misery and injustice of the structures that cause them. They just change hands in revolution. Kant was also as racist as Locke. Kant is hardly the intellectual source of critical race theory.

Kant affirms the principles of the Enlightenment. He does not reject them. Kant locates our moral capacities not from God, but from practical reason, a faculty we all have and one deserving of a separate book and treatise altogether. For this reason alone, one can regard Kant as a type of humanist. So, if the American Republic is founded on Enlightenment ideas, then Kant is found wanting and part of the problem for the Frankfurt Critical Theorists. Guelzo basically merged them together in error without knowing any better because of a common name. It’s clear he hasn’t read them or if he did, then he did not understand them very well.

Then still consulting Guelzo, Thiessen in no position to know any better. He launches into more falsehoods regarding critical theory. We are told that critical theory is a branch of totalitarian ideology without even once noting the fact that the critical theorists philosophized because some were Jewish escaping Nazi persecution. Much of critical theory is a response to totalitarian conditions under Nazi rule. It is a strawman to simply think and present them as regarding relationships are all a form of power and that there is no claim to morality. What stares Guelzo in the face is critical theory’s resolve to address power structures that further exploit people. If Guelzo read any of it, then he would realize Kant is different from critical theory and critical theory is different from critical race theory. This is the second time that an educated man is simply lumping everything together because of a common word in the title. Again, read some philosophy to get basic facts of its history right.

By now, critical race theory has yet to be defined. Critical race theory is a form of legal analysis taught in law schools stemming from among other things Derrick Bell’s experience in post-Civil Rights Movement America. It posits that structural and institutional racism are baked into the apparatuses of many institutions, and yes, this means that consciously or unconsciously there are inherent structures that may be racist in the United States. As an attorney and law professor, Bell fought hesitant whites who failed to live up to the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Topeka v. Brown (1954) almost his entire career. The effects of racism in schooling still persist to this day. Bell’s life and development of critical race theory would only confirm what King rightly asked in 1963 in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail of his fellow white moderates and white clergymen, “Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws.” Or in May 1967, King remarked of his intention to keep racism, economic exploitation and militarism mixed and together. If we wanted to change society, then to deal with any of these was to engage them all. King would have agreed with at least with Derrick Bell one of the founders of critical race theory.

I have left Marc Thiessen my number on a voicemail at the American Enterprise Institute if he were to debate me on these falsehoods. These falsehoods are not true, but written as propaganda. On the one hand, I am disappointed that they made it into the Washington Post. On the other hand, we have both Guelzo and Thiessen on record making false statements about the world and theories at large. In the mad rush to perpetuate the call for danger of critical race theory, we now have Republicans who have passed laws without much knowing what these ideas are about. They would rather outlaw discourse and think that a form of legal analysis is being taught in public schools. They will not read these ideas. They will not debate them. Instead, they simply rush to present ambiguous and fear-mongering abstractions that can move and manipulate people to enact the same institutional racism they seek in their denialism. What’s more, they have no qualms with tearing down universities with the apparatus of state power and preventing honest discussions of race to occur in public education. In a speech in Orlando before the National Conservatism Conference on November 2, 2021, Rachel Bovard – whose credentials range from Senior Director of a conservative institute to working for Rand Paul, Pat Toomey and Mike – made her hostility about universities well-known.

In her speech, “What the New Right Must Do the Next Time It Earns Power,” Bovard claimed, “Cut the Gordian Knot woke elites have tied around education policy: get the masks off the preschoolers, get Critical Race Theory out of our classrooms, and ask the campus socialists where they would like us to redistribute their universities’ endowments.” In this passage, she clearly motivated her the attendants by propagating that a form of legal analysis exists throughout high school curriculum and university endowments support woke elites who are responsible for woke brainwashing young people without addressing the more critical question. Why are conservative elites willing to lie about philosophical positions and social theory? Far from woke-ism, this type of fearmongering has won some over.

The test of these critical race theory laws is their implementation to avert actual real teaching of history because white children get upset of the suffering their ancestors caused and in some cases still cause. The Tennessee Board of Education refused to investigate a claim from the Williamson Country Moms for Liberty that second grade materials such as the autobiography of Ruby Bridges adapted for young people and Frank Ruffin’s Martin Luther King Jr and the March on Washington are a “narrow and slanted obsession on historical mistakes [revealing] a heavily biased agenda, one that makes children hate their country, each other, and/or themselves.” What’s more interesting is that, the author, Robin Steenman writes, “Without seeing all the materials in this module, one cannot begin to grasp the high level of manipulation being contacted upon the young minds of impressionable second graders who do not yet have the level of maturity or capacity to think critically.” With astonishing irony, one cannot make an informed decision about curriculum without studying the materials so as to support one’s conclusion regarding the materials. The reasoning, however, is that it makes white children and their parents uncomfortable, so it shouldn’t be taught. That’s the test and danger of these laws. They will be used by mediocre and ideologically-obsessed parents to fight the teaching of how racism has shaped this country rather than teachers and scholars trained in the content area being offered.  

Members of the Republican party and their pundit bedfellows would rather go to war with public intelligentsia without reading the source material that they rail on and on about and then dictate such policy to us professors rather than trust our own epistemic expertise. The maddening thing is that I can challenge Guelzo or Thiessen publicly to debate the merits of their statements accordingly because as an academic I must always justify my points with evidence. If I make a claim regarding William James’s religious philosophy, then it must be supported. If I am challenging some academic interpretation of his works, then not only must I get the object of my criticism correct in a charitable reconstruction, but I must be completely transparent regarding my reasons why such interpretations need to be challenged. In propaganda, you do not have to do justify your claims. Hannah Arendt offers some wisdom regarding propaganda in her Origins of Totalitarianism, “Before mass leaders seize power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such.”[iv] In the public media, one can get published without fact-checking and one can see these efforts as trying to win over a public complicit in conservative populism. This conservative populism is an effort to direct a manipulated public that is plagued by extreme contempt for facts regarding racism and the systemic neglect of our African American brothers and sisters. Instead, these conservative populists are stoking the fires of blue collar alienation that is forever present in the forces that organize American life. In stoking the old fires of racial resentment of white blue collar workers, the Republican party has emboldened the project of promoting ignorance regarding our shared racist history. The end result of promoting ignorance is nothing more than a white ethno-nationalist state. Trump was merely a manifest symptom of this promotion of ignorance as a virtue and it coalesced into the violence of January 6th, 2021. This is why the dangerous falsehoods of Thiessen and Guelzo must be challenged. They promote falsehoods that would damage the conditions under which honest history and Western thought could be used to better the health of our nation. The conception of Socrates as a new model of citizenry will always challenge any Thrasymachus who would argue about politics from a false starting point. Socratic citizenry must therefore respond to any challenge to the integrity of how history should be taught and what example any public intellectual should set for engaging it. So let it be known, I formally challenge Thiessen and Guelzo next semester or some time beyond to debate the actual presence and impact of critical race theory and what King would have endorsed based on nothing more than the expertise of an academic philosopher who has read and researches some authors that neither Thiessen or Guelzo understand and read very well, if at all. I will meet them any reasonable time and any venue provided they aspire to support claims with evidence and employ reasoning with logic as I do daily. The more important feature of that challenge rests on a commitment to sustaining a public sphere where such mass leaders and ignorance cannot come to power.

[i] Marc Thiessen, “The Danger of Critical Race Theory” in the Washington Post Nov. 11, 2021). Retrieved from:

[ii] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason trans. N. Kemp Smith (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), p. 9

[iii] Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1991), p. 15.

[iv] Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Harcourt and Brace Co, 1976), p. 350.


My Favorite Phrase in French

“Sois Sage”.

I love this phrase. It is commonly translated as “Be well” and “Be wise.” The phrase is uttered on occasions of goodbye and in truth means both. What’s poetic about it is that in wishing someone well part of that wellness consists in wisdom. Being wise is also being a sage in English.

In Latin, the root is salvus. It means safe. Salvia in Latin is also a healing plant. To be wise is both restorative and safe. There is no equivalent in English. I just think that is beautiful. There is a deep beauty in practical wisdom.


The Dearth of the Humanities and the Curriculum at Hogwartz

Dear Ms. Rowling,

I am here to object to the lack of humanities education at Hogwartz School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It has come to my attention that like so many institutions focusing on professional wizard training that the lack of ethics and philosophy indicate that newly graduating wizards barely know or have any practice in moral reasoning. This lack of ethical training and the type of self-reflective reasoning one engages in philosophy and the humanities more broadly means that wizards have no practice exercising their intellectual imagination to question the necessity of how one ought to apply magic. You teach how to transform animals into water goblets, but your students do not question whether they should. During the uprising of Voldemort, nobody bothered to question whether or not such a young man should be taught about horcrux creation. As historians now know, the lack of ethical principles in curriculum engendered the very environment that produced Voldemort. The lack of practicing self-reflection in these subjects means that young wizards and witches never question whether or not the exercise of magic ought to be done.  What’s more, by not studying muggle philosophy and ethics, your wizards and witches become more and more insulated from the real world. This insularity means that on one occasion a fellow employee of the ministry of magic did not know what a rubber duck was for. In addition, students are never taught how they know about magic in terms of epistemology, what exists in magical metaphysics, what political arrangement is just in both muggle and magical worlds, and how aesthetics might be informed by people who can shapeshift.

Cuts to the humanities in the muggle world produce smallminded individuals who offer shallow reasons and arguments for why they do what they do. Such individuals cannot be the type of desirable citizen who takes responsibility and vote. Such people can never question the tyranny of institutions when such institutions betray democracy and the public trust, so too is the lack of principles in Hogwartz curriculum. Instead, in 1997-1998, muggle studies was introduced and it barely scratched the surface of non-magical persons. It was merely muggle ethnography.

While I am making a case for philosophy at Hogwartz, there’s also a lack of foreign languages. Like American universities, it seems that Hogwartz relies on the cultural hegemony of the English-speaking world to emphasize that English magical students do not need to learn Muggle languages. Wizards graduating without an ability to speak more than one language is atrocious, especially for Europeans! English wizard and witches are then culturally isolated from other magical schools and cultures and they are always expecting the world to speak to them. This expectation, then, fuels an arrogance that further divides magical and non-magical worlds.

To end my letter, I am at least proposing that I, Dr. J. Edward. Hackett, be offered a visiting professorship during sabbatical at Southern University in the Muggle Studies Department. I can at least introduce the subject of ethics to your students. Such an education is sorrowfully lacking unlike Roke Knoll where they learn that balance must be maintained.

Kind Regards,

Dr. Hackett


Pondering Religious Language in Various Moral Phenomenologies and a Video of Voltron

I keep wondering about the role of religious vocabulary in moral phenomenology and existential literature, especially when it concerns suffering and vulnerability. In Levinas, Scheler, Marcel, King, and Buber, I wonder what the vocabulary of transcendence, Levinas’s otherness, Marcel’s mystery, King’s Beloved Community, and Buber’s You/thou are chosen to articulate the function of moral phenomenological experience. I am attracted to how these concepts are employed to understand themes like community, suffering, incarnation/embodiment, values, and persons. However, I wonder if more Eastern concepts of relationality (specifically Zen Buddhism and co-dependent origination) are more coherent than how these phenomenologists and existentialists have conceived of persons. In some ways, religious language might just preserve and sustain an awareness of what I call the aesthetics of suffering to which religious concepts are employed to understand and mediate in one’s life. This understanding of religion is thoroughly pragmatic and the focus, then, is on the orthopraxic dimensions of religiously-minded existentialists and phenomenologists.


Some Observations Regarding the Writing of Philosophy

One of the more annoying things about academic philosophy is how much a paper must breakthrough to what others deem worthy. In this way, slow methodical reflection and journeying with an author are not usually recognized as a legitimate way to encounter a text, let alone write about it. Unless one is Heidegger, the allowance to use, interpret, and get right a thinker are not seen as legitimately worthy of time. Too often journal reviewers want to know why it is that someone is journeying with a thinker rather than appropriating that use for some other end outside the text one has dubbed worthy of attention. Understanding an author is not an intrinsic reason to write journal articles.

I love slowly crafted and detailed interpretations of books I have been reading all my scholarly life. Alas, I think the analytics won the metaphilosophical and professional game that hermeneutics done well is not real philosophy. Even though for me it is philosophy done well, plenty of trained Continentals have been conditioned to write mostly in English and write in such a way that other readers are not invited to read with you. Hell, even so called “Continental philosophers” in Europe host their conferences in English. Instead, analytic philosophers want the logic of a thinker spilt out on the table. Philosophical texts become like entrails spilt onto the augur’s table. There is no more building up of phenomenological descriptions, no more flirtatious waltzes with Sartre, and no more Roequentin observing the inauthenticity of people on benches. Instead, philosophical writing is putting forward one narrow thesis and carefully articulated arguments about that thesis such that an entire piece cannot seek to understand a possible unifying ground to so many disparate ideas in one thinker. One is left reconstructing James because of how unsystematic he was. The system is there; the same is true of Emerson. You have to reconstruct it slowly. But that’s not doing philosophy.

Contrast that with Charles Taylor’s engagement with James. See how he inhabits James’s Varieties in his Varieties of Religions Today (2002). See how he builds and waits for others, and how a lecture builds up until the crescendo that James was a way into understanding secularism since James echoed the individualism of contemporary religious experience. I or you cannot do this because we are not Charles Taylor. Part of my problem is I am still worried about getting James right. I am not interested in being Taylor or Heidegger. I’ve accepted that this is, of course, me doing the history of philosophy to others, but for me, reading James animates so much more of my spirit that I cannot inhabit other intellectual spaces very easily.

I seek to understand religions plural. I do not inhabit any particular one, and of the one I did inhabit for so long turned out to conceal injustice that I cannot in good conscience participate in it. With that said, I am also very metaphysically different than even when I wrote my dissertation. During my dissertation, there were phenomenological essences. Now, the world is growing, in process. The only way to understand Being is in our transactions and relations with it in time. The same is true of religion. I come to James because of these metaphilosophical assumptions about what it is that I am doing in philosophy. Given that there is a whole world that accepts different assumptions of what philosophy is, I often wonder if I should study religious literature instead. Maybe I would be more happy engaging in literary criticism of a philosophical text or jump ship to religious studies or something like that.

In many respects, professional philosophy has become…boring. It is a place where an analytic philosopher of religion can balk at my criticism that they didn’t get Rorty right. In getting Rorty right, however, his embrace of naturalism and skepticism of religion is so basic that to get that wrong should be embarrassing. Other analytics, then, say to me: What should I have done right? Either A. they want their hermeneutics done for them (outsourced hermeneutics), or B. such an analytic author can simply dismiss such hermeneutically-centered criticism and say…yeah but my argument (much like the playful naivete behind “Yeah but her emails.”). Of course, this is only one example. Both A and B presuppose that hermeneutics only matters to philosophers so as to A get their arguments about other matters right in which the appearance of competency matters to the one appropriating themes from some author or B. hermeneutics never mattered at all. Only the arguments matter.

So what to do with this short blog rant? I guess I will only say that maybe writing books is the answer. Not individual articles. Maybe books that can take their time and develop an idea are the last vestige in which someone may meticulously develop an interpretation and ideas.


A Phenomenological Description of Enduring Hurricane Ida

Hurricane Ida makes landfall as an extremely dangerous Category 4

Here is the phenomenology of enduring a hurricane. I wanted to write this for posterity since I may never get another chance like this again.

To be systematic, I will investigate the following modes of givenness in this experience: temporality, affectivity, embodiment, self-to-other relationship, the givenness of the environment’s wildness, and the human world’s loss of normalcy.

1. The temporal mode of givenness of enduring a hurricane and the day building up to the hurricane’s arrival

In the temporal mode of givenness, I endured time in episodic and weirdly disjointed spurts oriented around the completion of tasks. The build-up and sense of time of the hurricane was a ton of shopping for supplies and water preparation. Putting freshly filtered tap water into jars. Throwing out food from our fridge. Attempting to preserve my wife’s irreplaceable medication in coolers, we needed ice for the cooler at any cost. Attempting to get gas involved a type of sociality that one might simply call Hobbesian in which once someone found gas in their truck, they would pull out these huge containers to fill for their own domestic generators. The build-up and sense of time lasted forever because of my attention’s focus on nearly every single moment of enduring an unwanted experience. When I would look at my cell phone, the time moved incrementally slow.

On the news, the hurricane made landfall sometime around 11 AM local time. Hurricane Ida hit the mouth of the Mississippi River and outlying Louisiana islands first. Hurricane Ida would not be around us until 10:30 PM that night. We live in Baton Rouge and if memory serves, though still a category 4 hurricane, Ida was moving between 8-10 miles per hour. We knew this throughout the last day of electric power, and again time moved incrementally slow as if every moment seeped with an unwanted inevitability. I could also locate this unwanted inevitability in an overall tenseness throughout my body.

When a hurricane hits, you first experience the outer bands. The sense of time is rushed internally from the subjective want of these outerbands to be all there ever was of this experience because you seem to be experiencing simply a bad thunderstorm or tropical storm at that point. Cognitively, you know the experience of a hurricane is just starting, but no matter how much you would want to rush this experience over, the impending sense of time lurked on. It was not helped that every model of prediction had the hurricane paths crisscrossing Baton Rouge. Knowledge of those prediction models steered in my head and popped up in my awareness during the time passing between chores and tasks. Time loomed in this experience all day, and I cannot tell the difference between the memory of this stress and the sense of time recalled. Time certainly did not flow as one might experience typically, nor was it normally disjointed like enduring an academic meeting that could have been handled through email. Burdensome time that lasts forever is not the same as a hurricane. Instead, the disjointed and episodic temporality is given with constant attention and stress of an impending threat.

When a hurricane really hits is distinguished from the outer bands. At that point, you cover your bedroom window with a mattress. You bring in as many creature comforts you can and think you might need. These creature comforts are not comforts at all. They are emergency supplies. You bring in your cats and your wife, and you wonder if you will have to retreat to an inner wall. You do not dare look outside. The window is a thin sharp membrane between you and the outside. Being a Midwestern American, you know that while a Hurricane Ida is a category 2 or category 1 as predicted, it’s still similar to an F1 or F2 tornado. You hunker down and do not dare approach the window.

During a hurricane, temporality bleeds into other forms of givenness. You hear the creaking of wood holding your apartment complex together. You hear gusts and howls of air brush up and against the structure. You imagine the worst in those moments. Images of the roof being torn off enter your mind. The structure sways. Then, the gusts go away. They come again. They go away. Each time is an unwanted inevitability. This goes on for hours. When you look at your phone, only twelve minutes has passed. The flow of time is perpetually broken and episodic with what might be an impending consequence with each jolting howl of wind, creak of wood, and swaying of your building. This episodic sense of time doesn’t go away until it cascades in exhaustion of stress and anxiety.

Since Hurricane Ida moved about 8-10 mph, it took hours in objective clock time to move while you are caught in episodic disjointed ruptures of time.

2. The affective mode of givenness of enduring a hurricane

The affective dimensions of an impending threat are many. The first major insight is that with some threats, a person attempts to gain control of their environment in some way. In some threats, you can exert some influence or control. You can rush the man with a gun. You can dash away before an attacker grabs you. In and during a hurricane, agential control is shattered. There is only the reckoning of the choices you’ve made to endure something that’s power outstrips you completely. Did you make the right choice and stay? Did you prepare enough?

Once inside the experience of the hurricane, the physical structure’s possibility you inhabit becomes as felt as your own body. Each burst of wind, swaying, and creaking is felt as moments of unwanted possibility that return again as another moment of a loss of control. In this way, the hurricane is given in the outer bands as impending threat and then looming anxiousness once it is overhead. At that point, the howling wind could be heard over those you care about next to you.

The looming anxiousness swirls above almost as if I had projected upon the hurricane the motion of my feelings. Every wish that this was not happening returned again that it was. Anxiousness, then, pervaded the space of my apartment and filtered all perceptions of my wife and cats. This is a looming anxiousness unlike anything I had ever felt. I’ve lost jobs due to low enrollment and this experience is not like whether or not I will work in philosophy again. Instead, this looming anxiousness is mortally jarring in a way that pangs of humanly induced anxiety are not the same.

Somehow, fear is also part of anxiety and also not. Fear disrupts the pervasive sense of anxiety, At the time you did have agential control, you fear whether or not you did right by staying here in terms of your own sense of self and those you care about who are enduring this with you.

3. The embodied mode of givenness of enduring a hurricane

The looming anxiousness correlates to modes of givenness in the body. In between the gusting and howling winds, one could feel the stress in between the diaphragm, the sternum, and the lungs. As the structure endures the howling winds, you hold your breath in between. The stress between breaths is embodied affective awareness and time coalescing together. The muscle tenseness does not go away for hours on end. It’s there in your chest. You carry it with you throughout the entire night. You exhale only after that perceived gust or sway, but those episodic exhales are never relaxing. You lose focus on your present field of consciousness and the looming anxiousness, tenseness of breathing, stress in the chest, and episodic disjointness of time all come together in an experience you never want to undergo again.

Eventually, there is a collapse. The entire stress and anxiety of the day come over you inside your body. There was a time that I left the safety of those inner walls and fell asleep on the couch. I resigned myself to the gusts of wind outside. I knew cognitively that Hurricane Ida had bent northeasternly in its path towards Hammond, Louisiana. I knew that we would not get the likely formation of tornados radiating outward from being on the Eastern-side of Ida’s eye. I took those facts with me to bed. Somehow, I fell asleep as a hurricane gusted outside. Ashley could not sleep until several hours later.

4. The Self-to-other mode of givenness of enduring a hurricane with my Ashley and our cats: Olive and Lulu

The self-to-other mode of givenness is characterized first and foremost by the fact that other persons transcend your possibility in unpredictable ways. For the purposes of this short essay, neither I nor Ashley make a distinction between persons and cats. Cats are persons just as much as Ashley is to me and I to her. Regardless, there is a special awareness of your spouse’s otherness. When it is your wife of fifteen years, there are serious attachments and habituated patterns of care and love that fuel your productivity throughout the day and inside the storm. You carry on these burdens because eventually the threat is no longer impending. This is probably the hardest mode of givenness to capture in language. Let me explain.

The other’s transcendence is not only given in the face-to-face relation as Levinas warns. More than that, the spousal person is given as a locus of care and attention and that locus of care and attention is reciprocated. That reciprocation is the givenness during a hurricane, but it manifests as fear that the loss of that reciprocation may be threatened physically by the looming anxiousness of the hurricane. The hurricane threatens your soulmate and you get angry at an externalization of the hurricane. You get mad at the hurricane for putting your loved ones in danger, and if you’re religious, then you may get mad at God. This externalization doubles and intensifies that the others for whom you care are put in harm’s way because it was you, Ed, that decided to place Ashley, Lulu, and Olive in harm’s way. They followed your lead.

What’s more, you may not notice the habits of care that structure the day. I do the dishes. Ashley does meal prep. Even during the several days lead up to the storm, it’s not just these patterns are steady and reliable. Without this steadfastness and reliability of a partner, even our shared mortality comes up in the sudden jolts of the impending threat of the storm and the loss of the most important and valuable persons to you. You imagine your life without the persons you care about because you blame yourself that this looming anxiousness swirls above you and them.

5. The givenness of a wild environment and the loss of normalcy after enduring a hurricane

The correlate to my personal act sphere is a world of possibility beyond which I have no agential control. Certainly, a person may exert some influence upon the world. Following Dewey, I consider technology an augmentation of the body’s capacities. In this way, any valued technology that underlies our habitual being in the world may be viewed as an extension of the person. The person is an onto-relational being for many reasons, and this is just one of those relations.

Earlier I said that the physical structure that houses you and others may feel like an extension of your own body. There is more to this peculiar mode of givenness. Where you make a home in the world is the place where you naturally feel most at home in the world. You can be as you are inside the sanctum of your own home and being at home in your very being in a world without any unease generates a sense of normalcy. The humming of refrigerator, the activation of the air conditioning, the white noise of a television, and the habits of home particular to you and your lifestyle—all of these things occur here. There is what we might call a certain lifestyle that these habits at home and your being constitute the physical space of that structure. These habits underly the range of expected possibility.

The looming anxiousness of a hurricane intrudes upon the sanctum of habits. It completely ruptures both you and the extension of yourself. All habits of home and safety become immediately threatened. Each creak, sway, and jostling of the home is given as the thin membrane between you and nature as pure wildness. Wildness is the givenness of nature beyond that which cannot be controlled. Wildness overcomes all boundaries of technology. Wildness of nature disrupts the human artificial boundary between you and the forces of nature that outstrip your agency. Wildness in the face of your mortality revives your awareness of a primal relation human beings have long forgotten. As we move into cities and practice agriculture, we have created a world of control around a few possibilities. The assumption is that whatever may threaten this human world, we can put it back together. In that moment facing Hurricane Ida, this assumption was and is ripped asunder. In a flash, in all actuality, the wildness of nature can threaten and undermine the human world. As we remake the planet in the age of anthropocene, the wildness of nature may continue to constitute a threat to the delusion of safety that inhabiting the human world almost always seems to generate.

Now, the human world is subjected to that wildness. Baton Rouge is largely out of gas; supplies are far and few between. New Orleans will have no power for weeks. Entire institutions have been destroyed. Tulane University shipped its students to Houston and is flying them home. They will go online. Face to face instruction is over. Complete loss of homes and normalcy has occurred for people in Laplace, Louisiana as their town is no more. The entire town is swept away in that wildness of flood and wind.


A Few Observations Regarding Netflix’s The Chair

'The Chair' Is Netflix’s Best Drama in Years

A few themes I noticed in The Chair (Spoilers below):

1. The normative constraints of neoliberal university management consume any enlightened intention a person of color or minority person put into the position of Chair at a PWI such that those normative constraints work as de facto whiteness. This renders Sandra Oh’s academic appointment as a type of proxy for the white privilege and power that protected her even when she is well-intentioned and feels she is working against the status quo.

2. While Sandra Oh’s character Ji-Yoon Kim rubs up against the way in which the study of literature and the presence of canon privileges certain themes that seem irrelevant to the older white faculty, as soon as Sandra Oh is perceived to be an agent of ageism and the demands/normative constraints of neoliberal university management manifest, the alliances that protected her are torn apart. In this way, neoliberal university management desires the conflict amongst the faculty such that no progress or unified front are possible. The administration clearly knows what it is doing, and in doing so, this is the most believable part of the show.

3. The optics of naive undergraduates who think they are making the world better by protesting the sarcasm of Professor Dobson and how Professor Dobson fails to understand the context of how his sarcasm is understood through identity politics are two sides of the same coin. I find this a regrettable reality of being a professor in an age where everything you say and do could be taken out of context with disastrous results. More than that, however, neither Professor Dobson nor the undergraduates actually talk to each other. They both misunderstand each other with no nuance whatsoever to the point that nothing is resolved and that lack of resolution allows for the same optics to repeat again and again. This part is quite believable since we can expect another incident like Dobson to occur again.

4. What I do find unbelievable is the disconnect between academic prestige in the minds of people who write these types of shows that imagine professors in dark-stained wooden offices. In my experience, faculty offices and student dorms still are stacked with cinder block. Old dorms are turned into faculty offices. Buildings at public universities are often in disrepair. Tiles are missing from the ceiling. Faculty are not dressed to impress. What most of us know is that there are two tiers in American higher education. There are the universities for the privileged and some near-ivy small liberal arts colleges (SLACs) like to think of themselves as a continuation of that world. The rest of us teach at the public universities where the humanities are almost all but dead. So the show is at least prima facie right to depict an English department teetering at the edge of oblivion all the while the same professors insist on doing things as they have always done them to the point that they may be made obsolete by their unwillingness to change. What’s unrealistic is that this would happen to an English Department currently. The only way English Departments have preserved themselves is the teaching of freshman composition that places a huge burden on them. If it were any other department other than an English Department, the trials and tribulations of the show would be more believable.

This disconnect is probably a product of the co-developer, Anna Julia Wyman who replicates the near-ivy and ivy prestige bias in the show’s writing. This replication assumes many things about how universities work that contrasts against all of us who were not produced by that world nor work in that world. She has degrees in literature from Stanford and Harvard. She also teaches exclusively in that world, so unless Dobson is forced to teach at an area community college (I am only on the fourth episode), I do not trust the show to get these challenges depicted accurately.