Monday, April 11, 2016

3:AM magazine in London: Hilary Putnam

    3:AM, the avant-garde cultural magazine in London, published my essay on Hillary here. (h/t Richard Marshall)

    So did the Come Home America here; it expresses a common hostility to the unjust, war-making establishment on the left and right.  Come Home America is edited by Angela Keaton who has done a brilliant job and who wrote the following brief introduction:

"Editor’s note: Mathematician and philosopher Hilary Putnam died last month. Dr. Putnam was an open critic of the Vietnam war. His fields of knowledge so wide ranging and eclectic, they deserve an obituary equally so. Below is Alan Gilbert’s essay on his friendship with Dr. Putnam. It’s controversial and difficult reading, clearly not from a libertarian or conservative antiwar perspective, but any man whom the reactionary Weekly Standard describes as '[having] politics usually ranged from the reprehensible to the inane' must be mourned. – Angela Keaton"

       Leiter Reports also reprinted it; here is Brian's introduction:

"Remembering Putnam, especially his political activism

Recollections from political theorist Alan Gilbert (Denver)--many interesting anecdotes! 
(Prof. Gilbert gives too much credit, however, to some of Putnam's weaker philosophical positions, like his supposed arguments against the fact-value distinction.)"


      Brian and I have certain major common intellectual commitments, particularly agreeing with  Marx on the process, before our eyes, of mass impoverishment in "advanced" capitalist countries and also on the centrality of class struggle (Black Lives Matter and the remarkable strength of the Sanders candidacy are but two admirable American examples...).

     Brian has also pioneered important defenses of parts of Sartre and Nietzsche in today's philosophy, and does so as part of occupying a considerable space in the profession (Leiter Reports is a go-to site, for any student or faculty member interested in philosophy).

         Brian has defended Nietzschean arguments against moral realism (it is really, he says cleverly, part of value relativism), but I am not aware of a response from him that shows Putnam's and Walsh's and Sen's critique (or mine) of empiricist claims about value-freedom in economics to be "weak."  Quite the contrary (and to criticize Sen's capabilities argument on behalf of value-netural economics - not that Brian would, but it is an implication -  may the goddess help him...).

       A hint of a response: Nietzsche gives a sociological (masters and slaves) account of morality but not an analysis of ethics (what Nietzsche says is confused).  As you can see below, Brian rightly says, with Nietzsche, that nature has no moral disposition (a Hindu way of putting this: Vishnu at the end of the world...)

     But the core question, as I suggest in Democratic Individuality, is: is it possible with Aristotle to ask what a good life is for humans, or at least today a decent life?  I suspect it is (certainly as far as what Brian says in the interview below),  and, further, that we know something pretty plainly about this.  For instance, we have learned slavery or patriarchy or settler colonialism are harmful institutions and that we all - with an expanding insight now into the rights of gays, lesbians and transgender people - have human rights (Brian, very unNietzschean in his politics, strongly agrees this; it is the meta-ethics he questions).   Notice that class structures to this moment violate such rights, that wars ravage such things for corrupt interests, and you will see, as Montesquieu says, that "about things so clear and simple, one is sure never to convince." It is not underlying moral standards that are unclear...


Brian's interview at 3:AM with Richard Marshall is very good reading here.

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