Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Diet Soap on Zizek's Ontology

Two of the last three episodes of the Diet Soap podcast are about Slavo Zizek.

It's interesting stuff, worth listening to. (Part I is here and Part II is here. Alternately, of course, you can just download them for free from iTunes--just look for the "Diet Soap" podcast, and get episodes 79 and 80.) Actually, despite the title, the discussion barely touches on Zizek's views on ontological issues. The focus is, rather, on a broad-ranging discussion of the history of western philosophy from Descartes to Hegel, with some stuff interspersed about Zizek's views about all of that, some commentary on Zizek's style and output, and some clips of the man himself. (There's also host Doug Lain's thoughts about "The Blue Beam Conspiracy." People who are easily irritated by conspiracy theories shouldn't be too quick to stop listening when that part comes around. Doug's thoughts about it aren't going where they initially seem to be.) It's all good stuff, I found some of the explanations of Hegel refreshingly clear, and it's always interesting to hear from people that far outside what we sometimes call "the analytic tradition."

Two major caveats:

(1) Zizek doesn't seem to be aware of the existence of applied ethics, much less aware that its a large and thriving part of contemporary philosophy. Zizek talks in a clip about how philosophy per se isn't going to have anything directly to say about environmental problems, abortion, gay marriage, etc., and no one on the podcast corrects this extremely strange statement. Moreover, when Doug Lain and Adrian Johnson (the author of the book "Zizek's Ontology," and the subject of Lain's interviews) start talking about philosophy's relevance or irrelevance to everyday life, and whether the conclusions of philosophical arguments should ever cause anyone to move away from a conventional "bourgeois lifestyle," it would have been really nice if Professor Johnson had mentioned the existence of Peter Singer, who is, after all (a) one of the very most prominent anglophone philosophers in the world today, and (b) a long-time advocate of making dramatic lifestyle adjustments for philosophical reasons.

(2) In the discussions about free will and fatalism, there's a lot of running together of two quite distinct claims:

(i) That there are facts about what will happen in the future, such that some statements about the future are true and some are false, and
(ii) That some being knows which statements about the future are true and which ones are false.

Clearly (at least given the orthodox assumption that truth is a necessary condition for knowledge), (ii) entails (i), but (i) can absolutely and obviously be true without (ii) being true. By analogy, consider Claim C (about the past, rather than the future):

C: "Alexander the great's maternal grandmother's paternal grandmother accidentally cut her toe on a rock when she was six years old."

C is pretty clearly either true or false. Whatever one thinks about reference failures and all of that (i.e. whether a statement like "the present King of France is bald" is true, false or neither, given that there is no present King of France), Alexander the Great clearly had a maternal grandmother, and she clearly had a paternal grandmother, and at one point she was six years old. During that year, that lady either did accidentally cut her toe on a rock--in which case C is true--or she didn't (in which case the negation of C is true), and none of this is remotely philosophically controversial. Given atheism (and the absence of time machines) no one is in any position to have epistemic access to the fact of the matter here, but no one thinks that there isn't a fact of the matter about this issue. Why on earth should it be any different, re: future facts and the absence of any being with epistemic access to those facts?

1 comment:

chaospet said...

People who run those two claims together should be shot.