When Feist was a Rock Star

    Now that Feist is popular, she plays rock songs. Her previous record was full of sad, depressed love songs. But, conversely, in the old days she was a real rock star at her concerts, whereas today she’s much more controlled – perhaps the stress of fame? Whatever the reason, she just doesn’t let loose like she used to. So, I’m forever searching out Youtube videos of the “old” feist. Here are some of my favorites

“Secret Heart” – Balls to the Wall, LA 2006

Clips from Mushaboo Tour, Victoria BC 2005

Sea Lion Woman – Inspired performance in Michigan, 2007

Extremely short version of previous post

It is not the case that statement A is equivalent to statement B

A) It is not the case that (it is a moral law to steal when you will not be caught.)

B) It is the case that (it is a moral law not to steal when you will not be caught.)

A tries out a maxim (“Steal when you are not caught”) and it fails, so you get the negation of that maxim. B is an affirmed maxim, which does not follow from A. It might be true, but we have no obvious reason for thinking so. Let’s look at the logical form:

A) There exists no X such that X is a moral law and X is “stealing when one will not be caught”.

B) There exists an X, such that X is a moral law and X is “do not steal when one will not be caught”.

A is about the non existence of some X, and B is about the existence of some X, and the X’s are not the same.

Are there laws of practical reason?

    People often read Kant as giving a principle of pure reason from which rational laws of pure practical reason can be deduced. From the moral imperative (which is categorical, not hypothetical, because it applies to people no matter the situation) which has three formulations, we certainly must be able to deduce determinate moral content. The question is whether any determinations about actions in a situation can be known beforehand, without completely cognizing the particularities of that situation.

There are three formulations of the moral law in Kant. The first is, act such that the maxims (subjective principles) on which your will is grounded in an action could be made a principle for universal lawmaking. This is the most common formulation of the “categorical imperative” (most Kantians simply call this “the moral law” because it is not as if sometimes you obey a categorical imperative and sometimes a hypothetical one, rather to be moral you must always obey the catagorical imperative, that’s why its called “categorical”, even though every situation you actually encounter has hypothetical considerations – a “for the sake of which” element).

Can determinate moral laws be deduced from this? Let us look at an example. In Theorem 3, remark, Kant puts a possible maxim to the test: “to increase my wealth by every safe means”. The situation he refers to considers appropriating a bank deposit belonging to someone else, knowing that one will not be found out. However, he finds in it a contradiction because if this principle was used to ground a universal law, “there would be no deposits at all”, i.e., there would be no banks if people stole form them at every safe opportunity.

Thus, it looks like we have a principle of universal lawgiving: do not appropriate your wealth by any safe means. But this does not say very much at all – just that some attempted universal law was a failure, but nothing meaningful follows from this. It is no more meaningful than to try out a new theory of how to make pots, and it turns out to make bad pots, so you deduce the maxim: do not make pots in this bad way. Fine, you could say it, no one would pay any attention – moral content will come from laws that prescribe action, not which prescribe not taking up a law which would prescribe action.

So, you might say, the universal principle is “don’t steal”, but this isn’t in the text. You can check, the example appears on page 25 of the Cambridge edition of the Critique of Practical reason, and as far as I know the example appears no where else in Kant. It would likely turn out if you tried to universalize the maxim “don’t steal” that it giving it the principle of universal law would destroy it. I can’t say, I’m not an expert moral philosopher, but the fact Kant doesn’t make this jump is enough to make us at least worried about it.

Also, Kant says on the previous page, “It would be better to maintain that there are no practical laws at all but only counsels on behalf of our desires tan to raise merely subjective principles to the rank of practical laws, which absolutely must have objective and not merely subjective necessity, and which must be cognized  a priori by reason, not by experience (however empirically universal this may be).”(24)

I’m not going to talk today about the other two formulations of the moral law (act such that you treat others as ends and never as means, and act as if you were a legislator in the kingdom of ends). The second one is confusing because it means treat other people as the kinds of beings that have themselves as their own end, not treat others always as ends of your actions rather than means to your ends.

There is, however, another secret formulation in the second critique that is often overlooked, and it is the secret to thinking Kant’s notion of freedom as obeying a non empirical law. The statement is this:

“ask yourself whether, if the action you propose were to take place by a law of the nature of which you were yourself a part, you could indeed regard it as possible through your will.”(60)

The idea is to imagine that you live in a world where you are radically unfree, and you are cognizant of this (not the pseudo unfreedom of scientism, the strong unfreedom of science fiction distopia). Now you will perform many actions, many of which are ones which you could not affirm, that strongly conflict with your will. However, some actions will be such that you could say, “I might have done that”, so you can affirm them as the kind of thing you may have willed if you had been given a free will. Free actions, Kant believes, are those ones – the ones that you can affirm as manifestations of your freedom, but which follow from a law. (The question of ‘what is the law’ is not a problem for Kant – he’s given three determinations of it.)

The Warriors are back

The original “Warriors” film (opens in a new window) was made in New York in the late 1970s, and it’s refreshing to anyone become use to the current hollywood approach to violence. While the theme of the film is exceedingly violent, the portrayal is leniant and comical – you don’t witness the brutal violence. It’s more like the comic book on which its based than a Computer Graphics nightmare. Here’s a clip of the most violent scene.

The sequel presents to be as exciting as the original.

What’s wrong with secularism today

Flipping through “Walrus” today, I found a review of Charles Taylor’s new book: “A Secular Age”. Apparently, Taylor shifts the question concerning religion in the present context “away from whether belief in God or some higher power is reasonable to whether belief or unbelief are appropriate interpretations of one’s experience in the world”(71-72). This is an altogether sensible proposition – it directs us that the problem with religion is not whether it is true or false (Nietzsche – truth is error, more on that later), but whether it discloses the character of our worldly experience in a manner appropriate to it, or in a manner that alienates it, that covers it up?

I would be fully prepared to side against religion, if the question is posed this way. Almost all religions posit an eternal time which stands removed from our own, in which a God dwells in unchanging permanent endurance. This already misjudges the temporal character of our experience – in which eternity is a character of everyday time. What I mean by this is that we always experience time both as a sequence of events and as an “age in time”, we say we live in “the modern age”, even the name of a year – we can after all ask what the character of 2007 as a whole was, expressed the presence of the eternal, or the aeonic, in our everyday experience of time. (New Years Eve is in fact a celebration of the repetition, the circularity of time – but not time as sequence, time as aeon, as age, as wholeness of duration). “Eternity” as the removed place of god is an abstraction of this sense of aeon which mis characterizes it, and thereby distorts, covers up our primordial experience of time as experiencing the world temporally.

However, it is exactly in the opposite way that Daniel Baird of the Walrus opposes Taylor’s argument:

“A central claim of A Secular Age is that the historical forces behind modern secularism are complex and multi layered, and that, while they open up the possibility of different interpretations of the world, they in no way predetermine them: religion, in this multifarious forms, remains an intellectually and emotionally viable point of view. But however much Taylor insists upon shifting the question from belief or unbelief to interpretations of one’s experience, the question of the truth of a particular religious outlook – whether that involves the existence of a loving God, or the primacy of a particular Middle Eastern prophet, or some less easily definable higher power – still matters. We need to know whether our readings are true or not, whether our ecstatic experiences of transcendence actually refer to something beyond us. In the end, it makes little difference whether the secularization of Western societies s rooted n earlier religious movements or n the ascendancy of the natural sciences. So long as one is not a relativist – and Taylor is no relativistic – the truth of a particular world view becomes urgent. And that is the question Taylor has remarkable little to say about, indeed he seems to avoid it at all costs in A Secular Age.”

So, to put it simply, Baird has in just a few sentences dismissed Taylor’s entire book as “not that important if we don’t want to be relativists”. This entirely misses the point, and covers up what it means to be “a relativist”, and what truth means. It is unclear whether Baird has grasped at all what it means to shift the question of religion from “belief” to “appropriateness”. So, if the Walrus is not capable of dealing with such complex issues of “relativism” and “truth”, suppose I’ll have to do it. (72)
How to begin. In a recent set of comments ensuing from a post concerning Freewill on Sindark’s blog, Milan asserted “it matters in the end little how we describe the world”. I would disagree with the face meaning of this statement, and I’m sure he does as well – it matters to us (we are the one’s who make values after all, we are the value-making animals) very much how we describe the world, this is something we care about. It is only because it matters to us in the sense of caring and valuing that religious intolerance becomes poignant and violent. There is thus no surprise that we see violence, although usually not bloody violence, between the religious viewpoint and the secular one – both sides care very much about how they describe the world. But, why do they care? Baird inadvertently answers this perfectly, they care because they believe it matters whether their view is true, whether the beyond to which they transcend is real. Taylor’s criticism of this position on both the religious and secular level is that the position that my view or your view of transcendence is a “true reading” and corresponds to something “real” is simply mistaken. So far as the objects of our experience, the answer is simple – science describes them best, and for the most part the religious centre no longer disagrees that science in fact describes the world. The question which remains, which is a mistake founded in religion but taken up by science, is whether science or religion describes the world “as it is in itself”, in other words “in abstraction from our human experience”. Kant already asserted this was the question to which there are no answers, we simply could not know if the world as a thing abstracted from all experience was the same thing which was given to us in experience – the “in itself” is just a bad idea which refuses to go away.

It is precisely this “in itself” which Taylor’s change in emphasis to “appropriate to our human experience” attempts to sidestep – he no longer wants to talk about whether God is “real” or not, (a stupid, mistaken question, which Science and religion ought stop talking about), but whether “religious experience” is actually a phenomenal character of our experience. As Taylor asserts, whether or not phenomenal experience is religious depends largely on what we take the world to be – if we believe the world to be the kind of thing created by God, then “such catastrophic events as floods, famines, and plagues were seen as acts of God”(72). However, it is not as simple as an input-output model, because we can in fact evaluate whether the belief in God and therefore the showing up of these events as acts of god is appropriate to our human experience, and this is not as easy a question as we might first assume. One could say, “oh, but floods and famines can be explained entirely in terms of the forces of nature and politics”. That may be true, but this takes floods as abstract objects – not as the objects of our experience. When you experience a flood, it appears as an force so powerful it exceeds the grasp of your cognition – Kant called this terror the “Sublime”, and the romantic poets tried to capture it in lyric and art. It must be admitted that the scientific understanding does not appear to be appropriate to the experience of a flood or a famine. This does not prove the existence of God at all – rather I would assert that Science succeeds so well at grasping nature precisely because it doesn’t burden itself with capturing the particular character of my experience. It does however, prove a limitation to Science as a way of understanding the world in experience.

I spoke earlier of Nietzsche asserting “All Truth is error” – this claim is often dismissed as nonsense, or in Searle’s borrowed words, “the perchance for making obviously false claims”. What it means in fact is that the world is in a constant flux, it is becoming not being. And thus, all “truth”, understood as propositional knowledge which corresponds with some part of the world by way of a truth conditional, is an error because in its very structure it lies about the character of the world. This is difficult for us to recognize, because science approaches the world necessarily assuming it to have some set of internal and consistent laws such that it can be modeled according to some set of models that approach, or ideally, reach those internal laws. This, however, is indefensible philosophically for obvious reasons: it is Platonism. It is assuming the world is in itself “formed”, having eternal morphe which exist in a realm beyond our experience. It is not exactly Platonism because we don’t come across the forms by philosophical meditation, but by empirical testing. However, this is a different epistemic method which has no necessary implication on the metaphysics (metaphysics – that which is beyond physics).

The metaphysics appropriate to empircism, and modern experience in general, is one of ambiguity. We should recognize that the notion of a world “in itself, in abstraction from our experience” is a bad idea – what we care about is our experience in the world. Now, sometimes our experience is in Labs and our values are planning and predicting for the future, and in this case, Science is damn appropriate. But on the other hand, we sometimes find ourselves faced with poetic texts, sometimes with great feats of nature, and in these cases science is of little use to understanding the character of our experience. I am the last person to encourage the flight to Christianity (although I do believe that faith is the best way of understanding Hegel’s logic of non-representational thought), but I am no secularist either. I begin my metaphysics from my immediate experience, I find myself as a fleshy body that has experience in time, and in such a way that meaningful descriptions of the body’s fleshiness and its temporality can be made without resorting to abstract theories – the phenomena are right there in immediate experience. I don’t intend this to be an argument for any metaphysical position, only to point out that there are coherent views which oppose both radical secularism and the positing of an Eternal god. Sometimes we find the denial of God’s eternity in the Church itself – a few months ago on this blog I linked to this video, of a vicar in the Church of England who advocates a view of God as “the indwelling presence in things”. He might deny this – but his view makes God as finite as the world, as finite as our experience, as finite as mortals. What is God on this view? It is the wondrous character of beings, their property of always exceeding any look we use to pin them down, the inherent corrigibility of experience. If people want to call that “God”, or “radical empiricism”, I don’t really care.

The mistake in the argument concerning religious tolerance is thinking it can be achieved without making normative claims on any party, or at least this is my position as a non expert. It seems to me that the way to solve the problems of religious tolerance is to force everyone to accept the corrigibility of experience, in other words, the necessity of the strict falsity of any propositional statement. If everyone is “wrong”, then the question is no longer “who is right”, but “which view is appropriate to human experience” – and the answer of course will be many of them are, in different ways. This is not relativism though, because arguments can always be leveled that abrahamic religions especially are inappropriate to our experience because they distort the phenomenon of temporality.

Waiting for the gallery to open

This morning I walked from my home at Spadina and Bernard to the PowerPlant gallery at Waterfront centre. The winter has not rescinded – wind and cold makes it feel more like late fall than early spring. The temperature has risen above zero, if only slghtly, and that’s a good thing – otherwise the windchill would have made the walk unfeasible.

My new shoes are holding me exceedingly well – one surprise is the excellent ventilation: I must wear thick socks so long as it stays cold, elsewise the wind on my toes is brutal! This will pay dividends, I think, as the weather warms. It is a cross-training shoe, and this means it has much more given than a running shoe – it feels as if it has springs in the heel (I believe Nike’s cross trainers actually do have springs in the heel).

Ah, the gallery is opening. Good thing I did not arrive earlier (the gallery, which I assumed opened at 9, in fact opens at noon, and not a moment earlier).

Want to see something Crazy?

New Shoes

These are my new shoes. I threw out my old ones at the store (they were entirely worn out, hurt my feet, and I have another extra pair which likely hurt my feet less). They are rediculous! Yellow and gray – and they squish as you walk, it’s like walking on air. They are my be-more-active/play-soccer/start-running spring running shoes. At 40$, they cost 4 times what I normally spend on shoes, but acceptable I think.

Spring, I’m ready!

Merleau Ponty on Real and Illusory Love

Citing from the “Cogito” chapter of “Phenomenology of Perception”, my translation.

It is already manifest that we can distinguish in ourselves between sentiments that are “true” and those which are “false”, so that all that is felt by us and in ourselves does not find itself on one plane of of existence or true in the same way, and that there are instead degrees of reality in ourselves just as concerning things outside of ourselves there are reflections, ghosts, and things. There is on one side real love, and on the other a love that is false or illusory. This second case must be distinguished from errors of interpretation where I might assigned the name of love to emotions that did not merit it. Illusory love is not the semblance of love, not as if I believed in one instant that my life was engaged in this sentiment, and I avoided surreptitiously asking the question in order to avoid the answer that I already knew, that my “love” was in fact only complicity or bad faith. On the contrary, in false or illusory love I am voluntarily joined with the one who is loved, she truly is for a time the mediator of all my relations with the world. When I told her I loved her, I was not “interpreting” anything, my life was truly engaged in a form which like a melody produced the utterance. It is true that after the revelation of my illusion to myself, and when I try to understand what had happened, I find underneath this false love something other than love: the resemblance of the loved one and another person, boredom, habit, a community of interests or convictions, and this is what permits me to speak of illusion. I loved only the qualities (the smile, which resembled another smile, this beauty which imposed like a fact, this youth of gesture and conduct) and not the manner of the person’s singular existence. Correlatively, I was not fully taken, regions of my life, past and future, escaped the seizure of love, I guarded in myself places reserved for other things.


…real love colonizes all the resources of the subject and interests its whole being, whereas false love concerns only one of its personas. “The forty year old man” if it is a late love, “the traveler” if it is an exotic love, “the child” if the love is carried by the memory of its mother. A real love ends when I change or when the loved person changes; a false love reveals itself as false when I return to myself. The difference is intrinsic.


…Our natural attitude is not to express our own sentiments proper but to adhere to the sentimental categories of the situation…


…for the lover, love is not a name, not a thing can discern and designate, it is not of our own love which we speak – it is not the same love which is spoken of in books and magazines, because it is the manner by which the lover establishes all its relations with the world, it is an existential signification. Just as the criminal doesn’t see his crime, the traitor his own treason…. If we in a situation, we are circumscribed, we cannot be transparent for ourselves, and our contact with ourselves can only occur through equivocation.


(P437-441 selections)

Jet Fuel

“Jet Fuel” is a coffee shop in the cabbagetown region of Toronto. Three things make it distinctive.

a)Mixed coffee drinks (i.e. mocha, americano, etc…) come in pint glasses.

b)Only espresso drinks (no drip, perculated or pressed coffee)

c)It sponsors cycle racing.

It’s excellent for a number of other reasons as well. It has an excellent sitting/table area in the back, which offers a full view of the front of the shop, where coffee is prepared and people wait in line. Also, it’s very popular, but more amongst people in a hurry. The upshot is someone like myself, who has much Deleuze and Merleau Ponty to read, gets easy access to a table, and yet isn’t condemned to sit in a lame second cup. The music also, is excellent – and I appreciate the music delivery system – it’s itunes based but they have two monitors, one for the baristas and one placed such that customers can see what is playing. More than that, I appreciate that the speakers and amplifier are vintage, pawn shop specials – it reminds me of the NAAM. This gives the music an organic feel – the tweeters have seen better days and the upshot is a warm and rounded rather than crisp and accurate sound. The choice of music is excellent as well, neither the overplayed classic drivel, nor anything so out there as it is uncomfortable. It’s all the songs you would already know if you didn’t happen not to know them – familiar, without being familiar.

Now… back to work!

On Kant’s divergence from Plato

    It is quite popular today to say that according to our scientific models, the world proceeds according to causal law. And therefore, either an interaction is caused, or it is random, and in either case human freedom fails to appear.

This is something of a paradox, because the formulation of the defeat of freedom itself presupposes freedom – what do we mean by freedom? Freedom is human activity. Hegel has a convincing proof of this: assume we were unfree, that we just responded to a series of drives and appetites. So on the one hand there is us, which is a set of drives, and on the other hand, all the possible ways our drives could be satisfied. If we look closely, we notice that there is no thing in either of these lists that is something like the principle of choice, the thing which determines which appetite ought be satisfied now, given the concrete situation. Economists presume a “principle of maximization”, but thinking clearly, this is quite a large assumption because it assumes the ability to numerically quantify all the drives and all the possibilities for satisfaction. Since this isn’t anything like counting bottles, but more like spontaneous determination and choice, it turns out that Freedom is implied by this “nonfree” self. The attempt to actualize human freedom is then the search to find the object proper to it, and not merely the object of some desire. I’m not sure what this would be, but the spontaneous re-valuation of values looks like a good place to start.

Anyway, so I’ve proved freedom from a determined subject. But a reductive physicist has no problem with this – he can simply retort that I’ve assumed “drives”, which don’t really exist, all that exist are the interaction of particles or whatever his model tells me this century. This brings us to the relation between modeling (concepts), and the world (being). Now, while it is not required to have a metaphysics in order to model and act in the world (e.g. the pyronian skeptics), it is the characteristic of modern science that it assumes some basic models to be true, and works out other models taking that into account. In other words, modern science (since Descartes) is productive not because it questions everything but because it refuses to question everything, it takes some things for granted (i.e. Newtonian physics), and works everything out taking that as a given. Now, obviously these physics have been superseded, but the mistake is to think it’s because they failed to solve some physical problem only – the possibility of coming up with a new physics was largely motivated by the contradiction between Newton’s theory of gravity and Maxwell’s theory of electro magnetism (don’t ask me to explain the contradiction).

The tendency not to put the main theory into question makes it appear to be simply true, because to a Scientist is sort of is. Of course, many scientists will admit it’s a hypothesis, but people in newspapers never seem to hear that bit. (Notice Newton’s laws were “laws”, but since then everything is called a “theory” – it’s because physicists take seriously the provisional character of the things they refuse to put into question). Naturally, most people arn’t as smart as physicists and they assume that if their cell phones work so well, this must mean that the models we have now are just the truth ones. But what does this mean, for the models to be “the true ones”. This brings me to the divergence between Kant and Plato.

Plato believes the world to be in itself differentiated according to permanently enduring laws, forms (eidos, idea) which can be grasped as concepts by humans who study philosophy for long enough. It is common to confuse Plato’s metaphysics (the world is in itself a differentiated unity according to law), with his epistemology (idealism – we learn about the laws of the world in itself by thinking about concepts). But properly, they are two distinct positions, one about what there is, and one about how we know what there is. Modern science has categorically disproven idealism as method of inquiry, but it does not necessarily take a stand on the metaphysics – unsurprising since metaphysics are “beyond physics”.

Kant takes this issue head on: living in the age of Newtonian Science, Kant asks how can a human be Free if we take the world to be governed by laws?  Keep in mind the scientific laws were actually “laws” for the physicists then, not “theories”. Kant’s solution was to say the laws were not in the world itself, but in the understanding. In other words, Kant takes the platonic metaphysics out of the world itself, and puts it in our faculty of ap-perception, so it is not the case that the world truly is differentiated according to law, this is a misguided question, but rather the world for us shows up as the kind of thing differentiated according to law. To save freedom, Kant posits a world in itself, where these laws exist not as the laws governing the interaction of things, but as the laws governing how things show up to us. And then he posits that is another kind of law, the law of freedom, which makes us appear as the kinds of beings that are free.

Kant thus argues that the world can show up to us in two fundamentally different ways – either as the object of science, where everything is causally determined according to law, or as free, where it obeys the law of freedom (which is to act such that the maxim of your actions, the ground of your will, could be made the ground for universal legislation. Or put differently, you, as a human, would affirm the world in which your actions were not a choice but forced by a law.)

Kant thus completely diverges from the metaphysical idea of the world “in itself”, the world “in itself” becomes not an object but a way we talk about things, a way our understanding has of understanding the world as it is for us in relation to something we never see. Does it exist? This is a mistaken question for Kant – because existence properly is existence for us.

Now, what does this split tell us about modern physics? Well, we no longer think that the laws we have are the right ones, we want to take into account that physicists change their mind every hundred years or so. It would appear that since the laws “ain’t in the head”, they must be out there in the world – but on what grounds do we assume this? Because it’s practical? But then, it certainly isn’t practical when it comes to dealing with art or laws or music? Oh, but it will be responded, we must be consistent. Why? Even in science, there are different laws from discipline to discipline?  Biologists do not worry that there rules of thumb might not be reducible to a meaningful statement about the interaction of matter and energy? They simply use them, because they are useful.

Why can we not appeal to use-value to affirm freedom? Freedom is how we encounter the world, we encounter the world as the kinds of beings that are free. How do we know this? By examining the character of our experience – we notice that we can act one way or act another way. Oh, but you say, it’s an illusion. What does this mean? Usually illusions when revealed cease to show themselves as illusions.  Take for example, ghost riders in the sky – we would say if you saw riders in the sky they were an illusion. But, if you went up into the sky and talked to them, perhaps got ran over by the cattle they were hearding, you would no longer want to call them an illusion. If science continued to say it was an illusion, it was some other interactions which produced what looked like an interaction with riders. But we would then say, Science, say what you like, these are in fact riders – I encounter them as riders, I can call them on my cell phone, they are always there or at least at this and this time. I use this silly example because this is how we encounter free beings – we don’t encounter them as an illusion, we encounter them day after day as the kinds of beings that obey laws which are comprehensible on the level of folk (or, maybe, good?) psychology, and on the level of freedom and right. If science fails to describe the objects of our experience, why would we assume that the objects of our experience were faulty, and not that the science was only describing the world according to one particular aspect?