The Un-Veracity of Verizon’s Virtue

I went into the Verizon store in Ashland, Ohio. To make a long story short, I was quoted a price of what my monthly bill was. The sales person wrote it down, and I made sure that this person promise me the estimates. He swore by them. I shouldn’t be so naive, but in the country outside the city between Columbus and Akron things are little bit different in tempo. Or at the very least, I thought they were. My bill is now $30 more than what that sales person told me in a two year contract, and it is beyond the contract time that customer service people can do anything regular about it (but that doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to do something, even if their solution is not even close to the money I am losing every month when I pay their bill).

I extended trust to this employee. They offered me free technology, and I thought these devices were free. He repeated They are only free since I didn’t have to pay for them. In essence, the modem and the tablet have access fees that jacks your bill up $30. I was not told this when the sales person promised me the moon. I can just see this as a perfect example in keeping with teaching units on virtue ethics and Kant’s treating people as ends themselves.

Commerce requires trust. That trust must be assumed as a virtue to which all commercial actions conform. Trust facilitates that the goods or services one is purchasing will be delivered as promised. In earlier days, customers would walk into a physical space and all pay the same price. Now, there are a host of incentivizing structures that reinforce less than virtuous business practices and this also means there are host of incentives  for us to buy that service. My best guess is that the sales person will make a return on investment from deceiving me since Verizon Sales Persons make commission. Even if it is permissible to deceive a customer that doesn’t mean it is virtuous to do so. There’s no integrity then. The lack of virtue in my experience means that I am skeptical that Verizon ever can be virtuous again, and in the end, the possiblity of virtue is more important than the permissibility of the dearth of virtue.

At minimum, I should be allowed to return the devices, receive an apology from the store, and receive a $720 while still keeping my two-year contract. That would induce trust and rectify the lack of virtue Verizon has shown my wife and me.

So now, I am in contention with Verizon. I will tell 90 students today about my experience here at the University of Akron as well as my students at Kent State University and John Carroll University. At the very least, I can warn them about that store here in Ohio and to tread cautiously about dealing with Verizon in the future. It’s a shame really. I have been with them since I moved back to the United States from doing my MA in Canada and never had a problem throughout the entire Ph.D.

Frodeman and Briggle’s Socrates Untenured: Problems Going Forward?

I will not rehearse the argument. In fact, I’ve made the same argument in a different way here. If you read pragmatic philosophers, then you’ve heard the story ten times over. Following Dewey’s 1917 “The Need for a Recovery of Philosophy,” Frodeman and Briggle (I will cite Frodeman after this exclusively as shorthand) insist that philosophers take stock of their own activities within disciplinary philosophy and generate discussion about how philosophy should be relevant to those concerns larger than some problems perpetuate within philosophy.

In the end, he posits two models. Model 1 is disciplinary philosophy, the type of philosophy that I write to other philosophers, and then they read and comment on it (if you’re lucky), and model 2 consists of philosophizing for all people, not just writing to reach other philosophers. The articles I have published and am publishing on Scheler are not for the larger world. They’re written for philosophers who have the same concerns. With outreach, philosophy can partly recover itself, show its relevance to a larger public, and a host of benefits will flow from model 2. We should practice both models, but open and expand them wider such that model 1 and 2 interact more.

What Frodeman forgets, or perhaps secretly hopes in the breast of his own heart, is that philosophical engagement with the larger culture must recognize philosophy first. Philosophy must already be valuable in order to reach a wider public. Now, this outreach is not a problem if we are doctorates already in love with philosophy, French, and a Germans from a century ago. Scheler’s Human Place in the Cosmos was a 3 hour lecture delivered in Darstadt, Germany. Can you imagine, sitting, and listening to Scheler for that length of time and wanting to? I cannot. It’s one of my favorite texts, but the readability of the text in either English or German is not that great. Aesthetically, it’s not Maya Angelou or Ursula K. Le Guin. Far from it.

Model 2 can only succeed in a world in which we philosophers fight tooth and nail to get recognition, but that recognition will always come at a price of a public disconnected from the cultural heritage philosophy transmits. We are severely at a loss to find philosophy relevant since the larger public doesn’t know what philosophy is. In many ways, this puts North American philosophers at a disadvantage to the point that we cannot just call for a new recovery of philosophy without first demanding philosophers attempt to teach others what philosophy is. Already, the most famous North American philosophers are ones that are first famous amongst philosophers, the academics, and then the larger world.

So what am I saying, if not just repeating what Frodeman already knows, but fails to say. His essay is written to philosophers. However, I am saying to other philosophers that we must come together anytime philosophy is threatened with retrenchment. Anytime philosophy is put under the knife we must all be there, yet that’s not enough. We must also be dedicated to getting philosophy in high schools—very much like France. We must be dedicated to getting philosophers out in public, writing letters to newspapers, composing videos on youtube, blogging, writing op-eds to newspapers, and finding venues other than academic ones to share our ideas with the public. In the end, there will always be philosophy of some type or another. Even in the post-apocalyptic world, people will still wonder (thaumazein), and as wonder is the basis for all philosophy, philosophical discussion will never go away. The point is to show how invaluable it is as a cultural good, and there’s clearly no correct way to do that. Ultimately, Frodeman’s suggestions will ring on deaf ears until philosophers figure out how to do this collectively.

Without knowing how, I do think that if we can educate the public about what philosophy is. If we following the pluralistic emphasis of William James, we may cast our net wide such that our own biases and policing of philosophy doesn’t infect the public imagination. For James, philosophy:

sees the familiar as it were strange, and the strange as if it were familiar. It can take things up and lay them down again. its mind is full of air tat plays around with every subject. It rouses us from our native dogmatic slumber and brakes up our caked prejudices. Historically, it has always been a sort of fecundations of four different human interests, science, poetry, religion, and logic. It has sought by hard reasoning for results emotionally valuable. To have some contact with it, to catch its influence, is thus good for both literary and scientific students.

What Frodeman and Briggle have asked is how to transform people’s current attitudes that James spoke about in Some Problems in Philosophy with which the quote above appears.

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In asking that people be so transformed, we want people to find the familiar strange. Finding the familiar strange means openly questioning what should not be questioned, and perhaps contemplating the strange and seeing how such an idea might become familiar is openly questioning in the opposite direction. For instance, some philosophy friends of mine have asked the question if uncritical and undue privileging of military service really is the best way we can be patriotic. Such undue praise may have consequences for our politics that remain unthought, and so the philosopher may ask questions she wants us to consider about the virtues that really should make up patriotism.

Philosophy pulls us out of the dark, and in so doing, I want to suggest one concrete suggestion about teaching. I tend to think that philosophy teaches the skills to which the Western university took its name “university.” The university makes the universe available, and in doing so, the universe is revealed through many different fragmented disciplines. The problem is that these disciplines are not talking to the other, and in previous centuries, e.g. the 13th century, there was overall conceptual agreement. Understanding wasn’t fragmented. What if in teaching the public the subject of philosophy, we ask those attending university to synthesize it for themselves or better yet, we find that philosophy departments engage in interdisciplinary teaching with the other departments on campus. Who else but the trained philosopher to use his/her imagination and bring the disparate results of those disciplines to train and hone the fragmented experience of students and bring those insights into dialogue with each other? As such, philosophical outreach can consist of active synthesis from the undergraduate’s point of view. Rather than thinking of teaching philosophy as fulfilling service teaching to the liberal arts requirements, philosophers can host senior level classes along central themes that bring together at least three disciplines (but why stop with just three?). These classes would be taught at the end, rather than “along the way” service requirements. Such a course can be co-taught with members of the other faculty, but the point is “to bring it all together.” As such, the purpose of the course is to find coherence amongst all the sciences, social sciences, and humanities.

Explaining Postmodernism to Analytics Without Rorty, But Lyotard?

In this post, I have detailed some aspects of a chapter for my Scheler book, Being and Value in Scheler: A Phenomenological Defense of Participatory Realism. This section is the expository introduction (or as much time I have to devote to purely expository efforts since the book is pitched “across the Analytic and Continental Divide”). The question I will put to the larger blogosphere is simply: Do you think my exposition cuts ice? Does it work?

1.1 What is Postmodernism?

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Magritte’s Treachery of Postmodernism

Some years ago, I attended a dinner party put on by an unnamed psychologist. She is in her years and has been teaching for more than two decades. She made a quip against what she called “postmodernism,” diagnosed it as part of larger divide between her scientific approach to truth and what she saw in the work her colleagues in the humanities. These quips are quite common: “postmodernism says that all truth is relative,” or that “truth is historical only.” If postmodernism amounts to a type of relativism or historicism, then how can it really help know and describe the world around us? At this time, I claimed the difference between phenomenology and postmodernism consisted in their treatment of truth. Needless to say, this claim was partly true, depending upon how one might conceive of both.

What I should have said is that there is nothing exactly like postmodernism simpliciter. The caricatures some maintain about their opponents are rarely ever accurate, and the caricature inspired by philosophers to those outside are extremely inaccurate. In this situation and numerous like it, postmodernism is a fancy term of art; mostly the term is used by those outside philosophy to generalize several French thinkers without coming to know their work in detail. Like William James’s idea of truth, however, postmodern thought is more than what its opponents report it to be. The deconstructionism of Derrida, the Foucault’s genealogy, and Lyotard’s death of metanarrative are all singular skeptical efforts. Better put, there are many postmodernisms, and these postmodernisms are skeptical about one or several aspects of philosophy’s pretension to think universally about what is really real. As such, Lyotard’s eventual “incredulity for metanarratives” cuts two ways. First, postmodernism is skeptical about knowing reality, but also having access to reality itself as an object for speculation. For Derrida, the target is metaphysical language; for Foucault, the target is subjectivity and power; and for Lyotard, the target is the cultural conditions of scientific inquiry itself, which by itself could absorb and subsume both Foucault and Derrida’s versions (and the reason why I pay a little attention to it here).

In each philosopher, the “postmodern project” shifts depending on the target of that discourse. To boil down these specific projects to the overall implication of what those discourses might say about truth is simply a distortion of their overwhelming complexity and beauty—even if we fundamentally disagree with them. In analytic philosophy, the parallel might be thinking that while cultural relativism in ethics leads to the classical difficulties we all teach but, surely, Gilbert Harman’s 1976 paper Moral Relativism Defended is a more refined and sophisticated piece than the relativism we teach in our introductory ethics classes. The same is true about any of the postmodern theorists.

Needless to say, one could ask am I guilty of the same distortions if I understand postmodernism as a form of anti-realism? Yet, I put to my readers that this is why I define the various postmodernisms as skeptical efforts about one or more aspects of philosophy’s pretension to think universally about what is really real. In Jean-François Lyotard’s Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, a concentrated interrogation of Lyotard’s Preface can introduce elements common enough to the various other thinkers, enough to set the stage for engaging in a lengthy discussion of Caputo’s ethics soon to follow. First, I will make some distinctions to refine our understanding of postmodernism itself.

1.2 Distinguishing the Complexity of Postmodern Critiques

Postmodernism can be divided into two distinctions: postmodern epistemological anti-realism and postmodern metaphysical anti-realism. Postmodern epistemological anti-realism is the view that epistemic agents cannot claim to know anything outside their own lived-contexts, and as such, knowing what there is created and bound to those same lived-contexts. In postmodern metaphysical anti-realism, the metaphysical thesis is that the only things that exist are the projects and fabrics of lived-contexts. The fabric of reality is a woven construction of mind-dependent factors inhering in lived-contexts. For both Lyotard (and Caputo to follow), they are both postmodern epistemological anti-realists and postmodern metaphysical anti-realists.[1] From the fact that human beings are bound to metanarratives in terms of knowing also indicates that we have no access to reality itself apart from them in Lyotard.

In Lyotard’s Postmodern Condition, Lyotard develops a conception of postmodernism as a report on the status of knowledge in the post-industrial age from the 1950s even until today.[2] In this way, his work could be understood as either a particular discourse in either social epistemology or the philosophy of science, but more broadly, his work could capture the spirit under which the other French thinkers might embrace. Ultimately, however, Lyotard’s project amounts to a type of sociology of knowledge about science as it is practiced in today’s ethos. Specifically, science seeks truth within its own discourse, but the legitimation of science, its contents, theories and practices is what Lyotard defines as philosophy.[3] Furthermore, Lyotard defines the modern “any science that legitimates itself with reference to a metadiscourse of this kind making an explicit appeal to some grand narrative.”[4] For example, Kant’s first critique provides the possible conditions of possible knowledge such that it legitimates Newtonian mechanics. Put another way, Kant’s transcendental critique defends why we experience objects of experience that Newtonian mechanics studies. In another example, Descartes removes the uncertainty about God and souls from 17th century natural philosophy’s domain in the res extensa, securing certainty of their existence in a realm untouchable by physics in his res cogitans. The grand/meta narrative is that which grounds and motivates a particular discourse. The ground and motivation are often implicit in a discourse and only after some reflective distance has been gained from a particular discourse’s the implicit details do we even become aware of how those implicit details –the metanarrative – become operative. What is implicit is brought to the surface. Lyotard attributes several examples to this role historically: the dialects of spirit, the hermeneutics of meaning, the emancipation of the rational or working class, or the creation of wealth.[5] One could easily imagine Hegel, Gadamer, Kant, Marx, or Smith in those examples.`

By contrast to the modern, the postmodern is “an incredulity toward metanarratives.”[6] Each metanarrative is an apparatus of legitimation that justifies the sciences at that particular historical moment. The purpose of what Lyotard labels postmodern knowledge is in the cultivated “sensitivity to differences and reinforces our ability to tolerate the incommensurable.”[7] In this way, the postmodern condition explains the condition under which information is controlled since the practices of legitimation are interlinked with the normative problems of ethics and politics. For Lyotard, the interlinkage between science and values (ethics and politics) “stem from the same perspective, the same ‘choice’ if you will, the choice of the Occident.”[8] By that “choice,” The West (since Plato) has always linked the normativity of what is just with the expectations of what knowledge can serve. The metaphysical and epistemological projects are tied to the social dimensions of knowledge and power—“revealing that knowledge and power are two sides of the same question: who decides what knowledge is and who knows what needs to be decided?”[9] In addition, since both metaphysical and epistemological efforts can secure the social dimensions of knowledge and power, this inextricability of the social underlies both metaphysics and epistemology, and that provides evidence to the view established above, namely, that Lyotard is both a postmodern epistemological anti-realist and a postmodern metaphysical anti-realist.

Lyotard’s method for assessing the condition of postmodernism is Wittgenstein’s conception of a language game. For him, there are three features of language games and these features best elicit how the social dimensions of knowledge and power are at play in any particular discourse. First, the rules of language games are by no means insular; “they do not carry the within themselves their own legitimation.”[10] Second, “if there are no moral rules, then there is no game.”[11] In other words, even a slight modification of the tiniest rule changes the nature of the language game and if the participant makes a move not beholden to the current rules, then that participant is not playing that particular language game. Finally, “every utterance should be thought of as a ‘move’ in a language game.”[12] In other words, every utterance made in written and spoken form takes place within a specific language game, in a particular discourse interlinked to the dimensions of knowledge and power.

[1] I really have to thank J. Aaron Simmons of Furman University for a discussion on this point.

[2] Jean-François Lyotard’s, Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 3.

[3] Lyotard, Postmodernism, xxiii.

[4] Lyotard, Postmodernism, xxiii.

[5] Lyotard, Postmodernism, xxiii.

[6] Lyotard, Postmodernism, xxiv.

[7] Lyotard, Postmodernism xxv.

[8] Lyotard, Postmodernism, 8.

[9] Lyotard, Postmodernism, 9.

[10] Lyotard, Postmodernism, 10.

[11] Lyotard, Postmodernism, 10.

[12] Lyotard, Postmodernism, 10.