The Murder of Tamir Rice and the Subjectivity of His Murderers

I tried to publish a shorter version of this essay closer to the actual murder of Tamir Rice. I e-mailed both the Akron Beacon Journal and The Plain Dealer. The Northeast Ohio Media Group is the corporation that owns both major newspapers in Cleveland and Akron, and they didn’t even want to have anything to do with it. With such media ownership, actual discourse is shutdown, silenced, and the uncomfortable doens’t need addressed. I even thought I had found a sympathetic ear with the Call and Post, Ohio’s only Black newspaper, but that led nowhere as well. In the essay below, the point I make over and over again is how the force for violence is lashing out of whiteness against a world of difference. We must understand more than ever how such subjectivity is formed and takes root in the policing culture of Northeast Ohio. We need to be aware of why those in power fail to see Tamir Rice’s death as a murder. This failure is the philosophical task before us, and it’s more important than ever given that all eyes, including the Department of Justice own report on the incident, are on Cleveland. Here’s what I wrote below

The Murder of Tamir Rice and the Subjectivity of His Murderers

In April 2014, Lorain County, just outside of Cleveland, received armored trucks.The Lorain County sheriff and the Lorain Police Department this week each received a MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle. These armored trucks could protect from roadside bombs, and yet here in Ohio, pictures of White officers securely in their seat and can look out over the average streets of Elyria and feel safe, secure, and confident in their ability to project order. The local news pictured the officers smiling as they sat in the seat looking out of the steel contraption, yet there is a problem. We’ve had to invent a word for it: overmilitarization, and it comes at a price. The over-militarization of police departments enhances the subjectivity that lashes out against difference with force. The subjectivity created, sought after, and reinforced in Northeast Ohio’s police forces takes pleasure in the force it projects and is blind to itself in the question of whether such force is ever truly legitimate.

But make no mistake, the subject lashing out in force was already there, and it’s so common that many – in the media and the community of Cleveland at large – are justifying this prevailing subjectivity as the status quo. White men call into John Denning’s show on WNIR out of Kent, and constantly proclaim how there should be no minorities. We should all be treated the same and ignore the complaint of minorities. Only the delusion of Denning’s audience and even his oversimplified conservative narrative being entirely white and having never known and substantial hardship could make such an innocuous and stupid claim. Neither he nor his audience is alone. In our political climate, sadly, the sides are being drawn along partisan lines. The conservative reaction to Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Tamir Rice in Cleveland here is that questioning the institution and its use of violence is justifiable in the service of justifying this social order. Violence is seen as the only measurable response against a world that does not listen to the subject’s desire to assert such authority. Such a desire to assert mastery and authority is at the core of whiteness and police forces that are mostly White. If only Eric Garner in New York City or Michael Brown had just listened, then they’d still be alive according to countless conservatives on talk radio, Fox News, and the ever so definitive former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani.

On the Left, the difference of others inundates the sense of normalcy such police subjects desire in the world, and so now protests are springing up everywhere disrupting everybody’s life. Such public disruptions are a call to attention of how these disruptions feel systemically in all Black Souls. To put that in simpler terms, police white males desire order and security and project those expectations onto the individuals they confront, and the police violence is the symptom of a decisively insipid racism we can no longer confront intellectually. The disruptions alert us to that fact, and they should continue since a call for justice is necessary to reevaluate where the United States is going. The demonstrations should pour over and disrupt the very heart of Playhouse Square and continue until Cleveland itself can cope with a longstanding problem of police violence. They should never end.

Underlying those projections, the desire for mastery and authority justifies violence already before its occurrence. Anytime the police feel the pangs of difference and disorder from the projected whiteness, violence can be justified in terms of how these desires arrange what they desire in the system itself. Violence becomes a way of remastering what is always other and in violence, one unmakes what is other into whiteness by murder or reducing otherness to what can be controlled. If violence unmakes the other, the victim of violence is erased through police murder. If the victim of violence is alive, then the victim is reduced to a body, a thing that can be played and toyed with by the authority that wants to transform the world into whiteness, and in unmaking others into bodies is as long of an American tradition as slavery itself. The taskmaster’s whip turns the victim into a body, and whenever the slave would discover in themselves the desire for freedom in disobedience, the lash was broke over their back to remind them they are just a laboring body. In policing, the subject regards all difference as a body to be subjugated by either respecting authority or, again, asserting that dominion over the victim’s body through the threat of violence and its application.

The problem with violence ultimately is that it unmakes the other and must be renewed to unmake the other into the very desire every time. Such unmaking requires tremendous energy, and police forces recruit subjects that share in the same desire for security and order. These desires cannot be unmasked for what they are since that would undermine the public trust we, the citizens of Northeast Ohio, place in the police. Institutional racism fuels these desires until the point they become normalized and cannot be seen for what they are and the values they promote. These values reflect how the desires are given space in these institutions, and symptomatic of these desires come out in violence. Eventually, unmaking the other will come at the moral cost such violence creates, and now the moral cost of our community is the murder of Tamir Rice. Tamir Rice

Tamir Rice was 12, twirling around a toy gun, an airsoft pistol. Yet, make no mistake. Officer Timothy Loehmann was already incompetent, lacking the skills to be a police officer to follow instructions or properly handle his weapon according to his former employment in Independence, Ohio. Officer Frank Garmback, the driver, had already settled an excessive force charge of $100,000 earlier in 2014. As the video clearly shows, Loehmann shot the kid in seconds. They did not approach the scene reasonably, tell the kid they knew he had what looks like a weapon, or take proper cover. In the end, they pulled next to the kid and shot him. They executed what they thought was a threat, but the very incompetency and institutional backdrop that informs their very subjectivity means the officers are a product of a system that cannot recognize its own responsiblity in Rice’s death. They murdered him. They shot a boy with an airsoft gun alone and playing at a park, and it is no surprise that they – being institution of the police or those that espouse blind faith in the police – cannot fathom how it is murder.

What fixes nature?

Part of the obscurity of value ontology lies in the fact that it is not clear what fixes the truth of moral claims. Values are unlike other material things. They compel us even maybe while we might desire otherwise. Or maybe not. I’ve been swimming in this problem for quite some time.

But today, I do not want to discuss values. I want to push a little further and ask what fixes experience of objects. Let’s call the set of all objects, nature. According to James, we should remain humble before experience in general, even objects. Now, clearly James thinks that purpose can impose upon texture and meaning onto experience, and this imposition of purpose can alter the meaning of objects. Various conceivable effects of the object can be experienced. I may experience the buffalo as a biological animal, provider of sustenance, as manifestation of natural spirit, or as both a provider of nourishment and a provider of sinew for bowstring. In this way, radical empiricism, like phenomenology, talks about how experience itself is connected to every transition of how the buffalo can or will appear as having “meaning for us”. As James puts it, if we experience the object as efficaciously real, then it is real as such.

Added to the above is that no one single person’s experience (or interpretation of it) can determine how objects and their conceivable effect will be for everyone else. For James, pluralism implies the widest possible big tent interpretation of experience, requiring what we might call a radical democratic and epistemic openness. Instead, we should be humble about the range of possible experiences and be open that our experience of objects can never be of the whole. Our experience or a claims are made of objects, but not the whole. Reality is felt, perceived, judged, and explored in snippets.

Given these conditions, James is skeptical about knowing what fixes nature, and the fixivity in nature is a key assumption many help themselves to. It gets people the metaphysics of independence. As Hume implied, continuity implies independence. If an object can be experienced in its materiality by all of us over time, then we can posit a realist property possessed by the object. The stark realization is that the independence and materiality of objects is an assumption, one among many, and to be fair, an assumption that while taken on pragmatic grounds, cannot for the Jamesian be proven absolutely. In fact, by my own Jamesian commitments, I cannot absolutize any metaphysical commitment about objects (this is the reason that James is the least dogmatic of all the pragmatists and the one that gave the richest interpretation of religion in human experience). I do not even know if there is  some structure that fixes nature. I can only tell you what the science we have at the time tells us what we might think fixes nature and that it really helps scientific inquiry to think such structures persist through time. As such one version of speculative realism may be right, or again none of them, but I am hardly in a position to know. The Buddhist may be right about interdependent co-arising about objects. Then again, maybe not.

The only thing I have access to is the relational aspect of experience and the purpose I am directed towards by my own choosing and I can assess the purpose of others and their beliefs. Within experience, I have the freedom to experiment and explore, but as Dewey firmly showed better than James, such exploration and freedom can impact others in our community.

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.


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?

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.

Transgressing Continental Limits

One of the reasons I find myself independent from many Continentals is the rejection of universal insight, or to put it in more starkly ambiguous terms “the universal” (or if we were to speak Hegelian for a moment, then the “absolute”), as if apprehending some universal ultimately threatens particularity and difference. This secret explains why I often call on the methods of analytic philosophy or what has been claimed with what I am doing with Scheler since my departure from SIU. To take values seriously, I am inclined like David Enoch to account for their substantive reality in my experience, but also beyond it. To move beyond, however, is to reconcile oneself to a type of thinking that engages the metaphysical. And while I am logically consistent with the person that has infected most if not inspired my recent thinking on a number of topics in philosophy, we should also note Scheler left phenomenology eventually for speculation beyond experience.

Most of the reactions against phenomenology have been twofold (and I will remind people that the following post cannot help but generalize a lot since we are dealing at the level of abstraction about methods). First, almost all of Continental philosophy has embraced and echoed Heidegger’s thinking about metaphysics. Metaphysics is regarded as a useless endeavor, it makes claims beyond the historical limitations of language and context about notions that developed in time and human history. As such, one cannot make metaphysical claims about reality at all, especially if those claims posit a distinction between appearance versus reality. These notions, concepts, or ideas cannot be extricated from these limiting conditions and as such, one cannot theorize as I do about “moral experience” and the relevant ontology of those concepts (such as value ) unlike analytic philosophy in which one can talk about the concept of agency, moral responsibility, and practical reason as such. The second thing is that phenomenology opened us up to the talk of subjectivity, and so its cursory talk opened us up to the fact that philosophy must not focus on anything beyond the co-relational structures of the conjoined act-object structure. Phenomenology established the limits of focusing on the here-and-now while at the same time becoming what it faulted in others, and the development of phenomenology sheds the overwhelmingly Husserlian baggage.

To advocate moral realism transgresses the limits of everything beyond Heidegger’s embrace and development of Continental philosophy and moves my thinking to the unrecognizable. My thinking is unrecognizable to the Continental because advocating moral realism cannot be reconciled within the framework of hermeneutic suspicions that nform Continental training. To claim that some values are objective invites criticism of the binary from deconstructionist colleagues. To claim that some values are objective invites criticism from postmodernists in that I am privileging and possibly constructing a foundation for moral subjectivity for all human beings. With that, some object to the insipid universal subjectivity at the heart of phenomenology itself. To claim that some value are objective invites the Levinasian suspicion that I am “duped by morality” as he warns in Totality and Infinity. To claim that some moral norms are universal for communities is hubris, possibly entrenching the wrong types of values that make us sick a la Nietzsche. To claim that some values are objective only reinforces the implicit conditions of my former bourgeoisie life (because as an adjunct I am not too sure how bourgeoisie I am despite the theoretical want of Marxists to lay that at my feet as an ethicist).  To speak of values as such is so…so analytic.

The unrecognizability is also due to the fact that we have inherited the biases of our teachers. What philosophy is and how it is shaped becomes habituated in our approaches from the training we receive and what they reinforce. I had a hard time convincing several of this project in graduate school, too. Many, if not all, have fought historically tooth-and-nail for Continental philosophy to be its own enterprise, and they were trained to think analytic philosophy wrong for abstracting concepts from history, language, and context. Not only that, but, the limits of philosophy also invoked the power relationships about how philosophy developed during the last fifty years.

I  find these realist intuitions in anyone that takes experience seriously rather than obsessing about limits to which most if not all Continental philosophy is slowly becoming. Continental philosophy is reacting to the the transgressions done to it in its name, and reiterates the dogma of the limit in so many ways. Think about the reaction to speculative realism. Some have drawn lines in the sand, and some have embraced Meillassoux’s want for ancestral statements. The embrace is a want for a speculation to make claims about that which is not mediated, that which is beyond. One can easily see why the religious or theological turn in phenomenology has occurred. People are tired of asserting the limit and understanding the implications of those limitations in philosophy at large. Asserting and defending the limits of philosophy has been the implicit agenda structuring all Continental thought since moving beyond phenomenology. My embrace of realist intuitions for irreducible elements of moral experience is perhaps more conventional than transgressing limits of mediation inspired by Heidegger, but because it concerns values (unlike ancestral statements about life on Mars where no human has been) the transgression is more noticeable.

Leiterland and the Non-naturalists

Let me describe a fictional world to you. Suppose that Continental philosophy and American pragmatism never happened, and that all diversity in philosophy is next to nothing. Asian philosophy is taught in religious studies departments and if Continental concerns arose in any way, they were raised in cultural studies and literary theory. In this fictional world, Russell and his ilk were successful in turning the tide of philosophy to never have invented anything remotely like phenomenology and the subsequent movements that it engendered. However, in this fictional world, assume that there was a schism in analytic philosophy between the naturalists and non-naturalists, and this issue divides up all of analytic philosophy such that it proffers even more nuanced splits. Those that favor philosophy of religion and are theists are non-naturalists, and then there is everybody else. Let’s call this world Leiterland.

Are you with me so far?

Okay, then, imagine that mainstream analytic philosophy by and large went the way of scientism and naturalism (concede to me that these terms are not opaque and pick out what they’re enthusiasts hope they do) whereas the internal community of philosophers had gathered together in a few departments, most notably the same Catholic distribution one finds favorable to Continental philosophy: the Duquesnes, Depauls, and the Catholic University of Americas to name a few.

So far so good…

Now, imagine in this world a young man, Brian, having just graduating law school and attending philosophy graduate school. During graduate school, he thinks to himself that the same notions of institutional pedigree should apply to philosophy graduate programs. He attends a university after that known for its similar institutional prestige than what is going on in those other non-naturalist departments. He, then, institutionalizes his opinions and value judgments about what philosophy ought to be. His implicit biases get confirmed in that he comes from and is somehow entrenched in the very system of biases that validate his own beliefs. Meanwhile, he pays only marginal attention to the non-naturalists, even electing to study one of their central figures, so Brian studies W. D. Ross.

Now I ask at the time of graduate school, do you think any of us can honestly say that we have things right? Could someone suitably come up with a way to test the best schools and think something like rankings should be necessary? Certainly, when we are first starting out, even immediately after graduate school, I cannot say with all intellectual humility that my perceptions of philosophy and its institutions should somehow be codified in a survey let alone those that more than likely benefit such consensus. In our fictional world of Leiterland, the naturalists benefit only each other and since the non-naturalists were forced out or excluded from sharing in that consensus, the naturalists do not even need to read or know about the work in non-naturalism. The division creates ignorance on both sides.

When the Naturalist Gourmet Report arrives on the scene, Brian advances that party-line non-naturalism has organized itself into an organization called Society for Non-naturalism and Aristotelian Philosophy. These “SNAPPies” as he calls them are not very good philosophers. As they are non-naturalists, other thinkers from other disciplines interested in non-naturalism also arrive on the scene, including Thomists from theology departments. Brian can say things on his blog like SNAPPies are not real philosophers since they’re not naturalists. He will continually deride the SNAPPies and constantly reference the self-insulating Naturalist Gourmet Report that shows only true philosophers attend Naturalist schools as well as toting his credentials as someone who gets non-naturalism better than the SNAPPies for his work on W. D. Ross, who he reads as a naturalized intuitionist. He will constantly see himself threatened by these SNAPPies calling the Naturalists Gourmet Report out for years on his blog since they question the very direction he is taking philosophy with his focus group. The need to demonize the SNAPPies at every turn. Brian will continue despite knowing many people that find SNAP a wonderful conference and event.

What Brian will never do is openly admit how much popularity he has won in the philosophy world of Leiterland with his rankings. His power is embedded with the interests of seeing philosophy a certain way, the only way that  His privilege reinforces other notions of privilege. Later, it will come out that the Naturalist Gourmet Report is belabored with the problems that others have observed all along. Brian will demean someone’s criticism and eventually threaten to sue over e-mail. Finally, someone will have enough and post the e-mails on the internet, revealing the rather strangely bully-ish aggressive nature of Brian. Brian will be seen as a bully against many people who consider themselves non-naturalists. Some of the survey participants will come out, revealing that they really never had the expertise they offered on some of the specialty rankings and others will run as far away from Brian’s bullying colleagues in the profession. Brian will attempt to wash away these criticisms by calling one’s attention again to the conspiracy against himself, and some will come to his aid. In the end, Brian will carry on as usual rallying all of his energies in an attempt to codify his own biases. He will travel the blogosphere, and he may even find this piece of satire. He will say to me “Kroening-Dunning Effect,” and I will clap my hands in anticipation.

The 100

As an academic, I am always late to things in popular culture. Try as I might, I am never that knowledgeable of what TV shows are out there—that is, until they arrive at Netflix.

I really like The 100. It’s a TV show about 100 trouble-making kids sent from an orbiting space station to see if post-apocalyptic Earth is safe 97 years after a nuclear war. These children had all done something wrong, and with such scarce resources the station orbiting the Earth, called the Ark, is rather totalitarian in its rule. Life support systems are failing up there, and three generations of humanity went top-side to survive the devastation wreaked by their ancestors.

Turns out the Earth is hospitable, though the newly arrived young people are ignorant of how to survive as well as how to cope with the demands of being on Earth.

The children on the ground must cope with establishing a new community. As the show progresses, they must deal with challenges that resemble social contract theory, distributive justice, questions about might makes right, and confront those that did survive; the hostile others of Hobbes.

I think this show is more intellectually honest and satisfying than Walking Dead. The zombies and the constant metaphor to others are not made alien, but the strangely familiar face of the humans, the grounders as they call them. The other is constantly present, and never transformed to be other. The others just are. In that way, The 100 is more honest in the directly Levinasian way that Walking Dead just cannot depict. One confronts hostile others in The 100 face-to-face than the wretched visual disfigurement of zombies.

In addition, the metaphor of height takes on new meaning. The show has more to deal with than just the plain survival against the hostile world. Like the Walking Dead, The 100 is about those surviving than the threats external to them. When the orbiting space station looms above, like so many powers of authority that coerce or compel (take your pick), The 100 reveals an often simplistic but implicitly powerful way to talk about authority of morality, authority of power, and the real nitty-gritty compromises such power entails when communicating with those above in power that desperately need the dispossessed they sent to the void. The hegemony of any power requires the interdependent nature of those it rules, and here that interdependency runs under the current of every narrative.

Also, the young adults were prisoners. They had no innocence as far as the Ark was concerned. In many ways, they were the very people that would be flooded in the traditional Noah-Ark narrative. As such, the show succeeds in large measure since so much of the innocence borrows from these implicit stories of how humankind loses its innocence. There is something very deeply Genesis-like about these themes, although no real Biblical imagery is present besides the obvious reference to the Ark. These Children must make do with what little they find planet-side, and they often do not have the technical know-how. When they were jettisoned to planet Earth, they were not morally innocent according to the strict standards of living aboard the Ark. Yet, ignorance and innocence can be very co-extensive. This alleged loss of innocence parallels the ignorance such youth breeds in having no experiences to draw from. Relationships suffer the lustful and libidinal energies of youth undaunted by any real patterns to emulate except their forebearers. They must punish evil-doers in their community, learn to overcome differences, and eventually torture and wage war.

As a show from the CW, the usual pitfalls plague it. The characters are often very transparent like previous shows on the CW. For example, in Smallville, Lana would be the naively perfect teenage object of Clark’s affections, but had no depth. Clark would be the farmboy boyscout that later would inform his uncompromising adherence to moral principle. All in all, I recommend it, even minus these common CW flaws.

What Students Need?

I have been participating in many discussions about what students need as of late when I heard an amazing factoid at the University of Akron. My students are excited to be in my ethics class, and apparently, I have been “discussed as an excellent professor” around campus. Several of my students told me that they heard they should take my class. When I asked the reason, they candidly told me because of the discussions several had last semester.

I have been trying to think what I did differently from the Fall. In the Fall, I tried a blog. It didn’t go over so well, but what I did do is watch local Cleveland news and pull from popular stories from Good Morning America more intensely in the Spring than in the Fall. There is always a news story illustrating concepts. Moreover, we are not shying away from thinking through concepts used in politics all the time, King on race and connecting that up to Ferguson, Locke on the social contract with the November elections, and Kant on rights to name a few.

In general, students desire the power of self-reflection and an engaged class. My ethics class is very discussion oriented since the concepts addressed always have a practical orientation. I can find these concepts anywhere and everywhere, and ethics is the one class in which students might immediately recognize the power of their own intellectual growth. They are given tools to shape their own reflections about living and leading a moral life. So many of my students come to ethics with less than refined moral positions. After my class, one could easily see that they have thought more intently about these issues. I do not shy away from transmitting the power of these ethical theories. However, I often wonder if the freedom for discussion is lacking everywhere else but the humanities classroom. Since so many of my students are vocational majors, they are given information to internalize by rote. There is no space for growth in such vocational training, and philosophy may be providing a space to experience the actual growth of one’s mind.

If I am right, then the implications for philosophy are staggering. We can give students the experience of an engaged classroom, show them how relevant philosophy can be, and improve their overall university experience. I wonder if this is added reason why my ethics class is recommended. It could be that I connect well with students; as Wolverine says, “I am the best at what I do.” I’m a little bit more humble than that, but constantly referencing ethics in the news has been working wonders for the classroom.

Feminism and Moral Realism

In this short critical discussion, I argue that feminist commitments and moral judgments require moral realism. That is, moral realism advances the possibility of true moral judgments, a robust moral epistemology, and taken together, these elements deliver on the promise that feminists are presenting moral beliefs that can stand the test of time and are not otherwise in error like the unfeminist world. Feminism coupled with a moral realism implies that the evaluative claims of feminism are, in fact, true.

For the purposes of this post, I dare not define the limits of feminism, and I do not want to delimit its possibility in any one form. Primarily, I understand feminism in the largest and broadest possible interpretation to be a critical and normative evaluation about social, political, economic institutions, and personal experiences that contribute to the harm of women. As such, I will simply write about feminist moral commitments, but neither will I specify their content or prescribe any one way to think about feminism. I will assume that feminists wants to accurately evaluate oppressive elements of culture and in some instances prescribe what we ought to do about those oppressive elements. In order to do both, feminism needs to make normative judgments.

I am familiar with postmodern and Continental feminisms. In these varieties, feminism employs tools of Foucauldian genealogy, his analyses of power, Derridean deconstructive analyses of which part of a binary is more privileged, and psychoanalytic interpretations about cultural works and representations about sex and gender. The list could go on, but I want to drive the point home that these strategies are largely anti-realist. By anti-realism, I mean that these Continental feminists do not believe in a moral reality to which their analyses are seeking to represent. I do not want to argue such an extensive claim here about these methods and ask the reader to concede their anti-realist nature without argument.[1] Within the purview of those tools and methods, truth is a matter of internal consistency to the method or framework employed, but these methods do not seek to accurately represent moral reality and offer correctly apprehended moral beliefs. This may be a desire of employing such methods, but the embrace of anti-realism, which involves the acceptance of moral anti-realism, cannot offer true moral beliefs. If I am right, then what should feminism do? Should feminists give up on offering universally true moral beliefs about the particular conditions of culture in the here-and-now? I do not think they should.

Let me try to offer a solution in the very way that Russ Schafer-Landau sees moral realism. First, let me define moral realism. Moral realism is the thesis that an irreducible moral reality exists and “that there are moral truths that obtain independently of any preferred perspective.”[2] Put another way, what we believe about those moral beliefs has nothing to do with a moral judgment’s truth, and a moral judgment’s truth is the last feature of moral realism that underscores its theoretical attractiveness for feminists. Moral realists are cognitivists about moral judgments. Cognitivism allows “for a central class of judgments within a domain to count as beliefs, capable of being true or false in virtue of their more or less accurate representations of the facts within the domain.”[3] Here, like Schafer-Landau, I am focusing on the domain of moral beliefs.

There are four reasons why the embrace of moral realism makes sense in the ordinary way we understand employing normative language.

First (and perhaps the most important feature), moral realism’s embrace of cognitivism “preserves ordinary talk of moral truth.”[4] When someone asserts that “Such and such deserved to be raped because of what such and such was wearing” social media erupts with moral condemnation of such an utterance. Such an utterance is a mistake because it is a false belief. It blames the victim and fails to see sexual assault as wrong in-itself and deflects moral responsibility from the perpetrator. If moral claims are not truth-apt, then we would have to abandon that such utterances were false.

Second, taking that same example, when we construct an argument against such a view, moral realism allows for moral argumentation. Moral arguments can take the logical form of other types of arguments whereas if we were anti-realists about moral judgments (e.g., expressivists), moral claims could not serve in the premises. Here’s an argument by analogy that only works because of moral realism. We do not blame people for being Jewish in matters of the Holocaust just like we should never blame victims of rape for what they are wearing. Victims are wronged by perpetrators. If someone asserts that the victims of genocide or rape somehow deserved to be victims, then they are blaming the victim for the wrong they received and failing to observe the wrongness done to them. Such reasoning is callous and false.

Third, because such reasoning can be false, people can be wrong and in error about the moral knowledge they have. Moral realists can make sense of moral error. Error can only be recognized because beliefs, including moral beliefs, can be false. Let me drawn an analogy to a perceptual belief. If I witness a ceramic deer in the dark as I drive through Western Pennsylvania late at night, I can mistake the ceramic deer for a real deer. I can be mistaken about my sensory perceptions. By analogy, people can be wrong about some moral beliefs they hold. When we seek to condemn someone for uttering the example above, “Such and such deserved to be raped because of what such and such was wearing,” our condemnation is a simultaneous evaluation of another’s moral knowledge. And the fact that many people in the world hold to such erroneous beliefs (what some feminists have accurately described as “rape culture”) is a reason to offer feminist evaluations as a corrective to such shortsighted people’s moral knowledge.

Finally, a moral realist can make real fact of the matter recommendations about what we ought to do since a moral realist can inquire into what we ought to do. For the moral realist, there is some fact of the matter, some moral fact, in which moral recommendations are made in virtue of that are true.

Based on the preceding four factors, there is theoretical benefit to adopting the cognitivist underpinning of moral realism. Feminist moral commitments that come out of a feminist analyses are not just one interpretation in a sea of possible others, but might come to genuine moral insights about the normative world.


[1] For an account of how the appropriated sources of Continental feminism, depending on the variety and what the feminist appropriates and transforms from Continental philosophy in general, can be interpreted as anti-realist, see Lee Braver’s A Thing of This World: A History of Continental Anti-Realism (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 2007).

[2] Russ Schafer-Landau, Moral Realism: A Defense (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 15. I will cite this as MRAD hereafter.

[3] Schafer-Landau, MRAD, 17.

[4] Schafer-Landau, MRAD, 23.