Sunday, 22 July 2018

Anchoring the Corpus: A Formal Introduction

by Denis Larrivee

Karol Wojtyla approached ethics through an enduring interest in man’s fundamentally personalist nature.[1] Following this path, his ethical study had two objectives: to characterize the personalist subject as an agent of ethical activity and as an end for the pursuit of the good, that is, as a value contingent locus. His interest in validating ethical praxis thus fell outside the pragmatic question of the manner of its practice; meaning that it fell within a sphere more properly characterized as metaethical.
Although Wojtyla distinguished both objectives conceptually, he recognized that this distinction did not imply their mutual independence. Linking these two, he argued, was the experience of morality that manifested itself in action. Understood as the ground for value contingency in the person, the capacity for the performance of the ‘good’ thereby established the personal agent as a value locus.
[T]he reality of the person inheres in morality, that morality is a thoroughly specific and connatural reality with respect to the person – with respect precisely to the person and only to the person… man as a man, becomes good or evil through the act.[2]
As a metaethical object for the evolution of ethical praxis, thus, the capacity for morality validated the wholly referential status of the person.
It was in view of this referential status, that is, as a meta domain that defined and determined ethical praxis in inquiry and practice, that the objective reality of the person could be normatively qualified. Holub[3] points out that in Wojtyla’s specific exploration this reality was constituted in the phenomenal subject, that is, in the specific sphere of reality that defined the unique interiority and operativity of the individual. Wojtyla’s emphasis on the phenomenal subject, accordingly, is reminiscent of distinctively modern elements such as consciousness and self-awareness and a performative dimension that originates from within a personal ‘someone’, hence belonging to no other. However, by invoking a Thomistic metaphysical deduction, he goes beyond this exterior and phenomenal expression to forge a link to an inner and integral unity, a ‘humanum suppositum,’ for which the expressed dimension is only one manifestation. By this integral unity he meant a metaphysical subjectivity that grounded the objective, epistemological reality of the personalist subject. Karol Wojtyla’s personalism thus drew, as he claimed, from a philosophy of ‘genuinely metaphysical range’[4] where the person ‘constitutes a privileged locus for the encounter with being, and hence with metaphysical inquiry’. 
For ethical praxis this conception is significant in linking the subject’s dynamical operativity not solely, or merely, to a collection of phenomenal events, but to an integral and unique subject. Hence, it is fundamentally constitutive for ethics. What Wojtyla offers, therefore, is a metaphysical justification for ethical praxis, and an exploration of those modalities that would be normatively qualified through this metaphysical link. Burgos has specifically identified the object of Wojtyla’s exploration with personal subjectivity:
...what Wojtyla is searching for is a reelaboration of Thomistic gnoseology that considers the advances of modernity and mostly the possibility offered by the phenomenology of directly accessing the subjectivity of the person.[5]
Such a characterization, indeed, reflects the phenomenal emphasis of Wojtyla’s personalist exploration; however, it nonetheless fails to consider other manifestations that are metaphysically anchored, since his metaphysical subject is neither purely phenomenological nor wholly structured by the phenomenal dimension. In fact, the humanum suppositum both extends and confirms the possibility for exploring a multiplicity of other modalities that may constitute its predicates, and that do not rely on such a unimodal manifestation. This extension allows Wojtyla to move beyond the purely phenomenological to other dimensions of the subject. 
Crucially, as Holub points out, the humanum suppositum bridges and integrates alternative, manifestations that are constitutively present, thereby subordinating these also within the ethical sphere.
[T]he subject is not a sequence or stream of psycho-physical events taking place in the human individual. Rather it must be characterized by a metaphysical structure, which precedes all acts and happenings.[6]
The metaphysical structure therefore also anchors physical attributes of the person, especially of the nervous system, which is widely invoked as the physical substrate for the phenomenal subject, and where questions of praxis have been classed in the domain of neuroethics.[7] By identifying the subject as a metaethical principle, that is, as a value contingent object, he thus extends, by virtue of the metaphysical unity of the person, value to all those attributes that constitute the subject. Indeed, this metaphysical inference enables Wojtyla to caution in Veritatis Splendor[8]against a manipulation of corporeity which would alter its human meaning...’ on grounds that the ‘...nature of the human person is in the unity of body and soul ...that stand and fall together...’ a clear indication that he regarded the corporal manifestation to be subsumed within the metaphysical concept of the suppositum, which thus acts to validate an ethical praxis within the corporal sphere. Indeed, Wojtyla’s recognition of the fundamental participation of the corpus in the integral unity of the human is also evident in his opus Man and Woman: He Created Them: A Theology of the Body,[9] a position expressed in more nascent form in Montini’s Humanae Vitae[10] that is probative for technological interventions circumventing the generation of biological life. In the logic of the metaphysical argument the suppositum can be expected, therefore, to anchor neuroethical praxis concerned with the impact of neural intervention on the specifically human meaning of life.
The utility of the metaphysical dimension to neuroethics thus emerges from its link to the specifically corporal contribution made to the unity of the person, that is, as a physical structure that is enabling to a human ontological, subjective and integrative order. As such its utility to neuroethical praxis devolves from the fundamental participation of the corporal manifestation in structuring the ontological unity of the individual. By extension, this corporal contribution may be used to assess the validity of metaphysical presuppositions of other, modern neuroethical variants.

[1] Cf. K. Wojtyla, Man in the Field of Responsibility, Vatican City 1991, passim.
[2] Ibid., p. 17. 
[3] Cf. G. Holub, The Human Subject and its Interiority: Karol Wojtyla and the Crisis in Philosophical Anthropology, “Quien”, vol. 4 (2016) p. 47-66.
[4] Cf. G. Holub, The Human Subject and its Interiority: Karol Wojtyla and the Crisis in Philosophical Anthropology, “Quien”, vol. 4 (2016), p. 47-66.
[5] Cf. J.M. Burgos, The Method of Karol Wojtyla: A Way Between Phenomenology, Personalism and Metaphysics, in "Analecta Husserliana", vol. 104(2009), p. 110.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Cf. P. Reiner, The Rise in Neuroessentialism in (eds) J. Iles, B. Sahakian, "The Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics", Oxford 2011; Cf. N. Levy, Neuroethics and the Extended Mind, in (eds) J. Iles, B. Sahakian, "The Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics", Oxford 2011; Cf. A. Roskies
[8] Cf. John Paul II, Pope. The Splendor of Truth = Veritatis Splendor: Encyclical Letter. Boston, Mass 1993.
[9] Cf. John Paul II, Pope. Man and Woman: He Created Them. A Theology of the Body, (trans. M. Waldstein) Boston 2006.
[10] Cf. Paul VI, Pope. Humanae Vitae.Encyclical Letter. Vatican City 1968.

[1] Cf. K. Wojtyla, Man in the Field of Responsibility, Vatican City 1991, passim.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Hell yeah, bell hooks – ‘This Ain’t No Pussy Shit’: What it’s Like to be a ‘Feminist Philosopher’

by Abigail Klassen

I am a feminist. No, I am a person with feminist tendencies. If I don’t say I’m a feminist, am I spitting in the faces of my foremothers who suffered, fought…? Am I a feminist? What is a feminist? I will not try to settle this latter question. So much ink – well, lately, so many pixels - from far wiser heads have attempted to answer that question, a real feat, with no success. This lack of consensus, is, I suspect, a success in itself. What I will settle, here and now, is that I am not a feminist philosopher. Or, perhaps I am indeed a feminist philosopher – that is, if it is largely others who determine my identity. I choose to self-identify (ah yes, the language of self-identification; born in 1985, I just make the grade to qualify as a millennial) as a ‘philosopher of feminism(s)’. I imagine one might ask, “What the hell difference does it make?’” I’ll save that question for a paper. This, this is a rant.
Students and professors, for a variety of reasons, do not take me too seriously. I don’t look my age. I’m an eccentric. And, here’s the big one, I’m not taken seriously because I am (taken to be) a ‘feminist philosopher’. I have taken many graduate courses in feminist philosophy. Many of my philosophical heroes are women, and moreover, women who write about women, about Otherness. Thus, many surmise, I have a political (read: not philosophical) agenda. The truth is that I am more so ‘a specialist’ (heh) in metaphysics and the history of skepticism. I don’t read feminist blogs, books, or listen to feminist podcasts. I can usually be found reading about the philosophy of mathematics, and lately, environmental philosophy. Being the ‘girl teacher’ in the university in which I last taught, I was tasked with instructing a class on feminist philosophy. It was titled ‘Philosophy and Women’ (it nauseates me to see that bifurcation on a screen). I became typecast. Suddenly, it became clearer to me that no one believed I could handle any field of inquiry other than ‘feminist stuff’. I can talk your ear off about mathematical Platonism, mathematical realism, the philosophy of social sciences… I don’t shut up. In so doing, I’m just like ‘fat, ugly, lesbian feminists’.
Fine. I’ll accept the label (because, obviously, all ‘real’ feminists are fat, ugly, and lesbians… the rest are just like the women who make out with other women at bars to get free drinks) What’s up with all the pretend lesbian fantasies? I suggest creating another Island of Lesbos and encouraging male voyeurism into lesbian acts (I half joke). Since I can’t shake the label I apparently have tattooed on my forehead, I hereby decree, “I am a feminist philosopher.” Let me explain why you should then take me pretty damn seriously.
For many, Socrates remains a hero of philosophy. A gadfly, Socrates was an annoyance and according to some Athenians of his day, a corruptor of the youth. He was, as we know, considered a danger to the status quo – so much so that he was condemned to death. Socrates is also well-known for conceiving of philosophy, not as just some academic endeavour, but as a way of life. It’s useful to situate today’s contemporary feminist, queer, anti-racist, and anti-classist philosophies in relation to other sub-disciplines of philosophy and in relation to Plato’s Socrates. Socrates’ character and power have survived others’ failed attempts to erase and silence him once and for all. The Athenian Court succeeded in turning the living Socrates into a corpse, but his ideas and his spirit, as Socrates himself predicted, remain alive and well, but, I contend, not in the ivory tower.
Professionalization, dogmatism, arrogance, and competition follow from philosophy understood as an academic discipline. Professionalization, and specifically, analytic philosophy’s emphasis on the unsituating of the subject, work to silence voices and to curb attitudes of wonder and critique, attitudes that served the Socratic project of keeping all of us just a bit less certain, a bit less dogmatic, a bit more attuned to our own and to others’ blindspots. Feminist philosophy, like postmodern philosophy, asks us to queer aspects of the status quo, whether in the everyday lived world or in the ivory tower. Many of us ‘feminists’ come as ‘teachers’, equipped not with positive dogma, but with questions. I, and many others, see much contemporary feminist philosophy as attempting to understand complex issues such as personal identity, justice, and metaphysics (the list goes on) as always already situated and relational. This stance is not one that affects women only. Each of us is Other to another.
‘Feminist philosopher’ – a pejorative, non-honorific title in most philosophy departments (in most of the university, too), a label that suggests that one knows nothing other than feminist philosophy, a label that brings with it constraints and mockery. To undertake the task of engaging in feminist philosophy in academia is no small feat. It brings marginalization, prejudice, attack, and violence. It brings anger, frustration, and tears. I have lost it publicly – yelled, cried. Later, I trained my tears to hold on until I got to the closest bathroom. Now, I am numbed by how ridiculous I am in the eyes of so many students and colleagues. “Did I get hired to fill the quota?” I’ve heard it so often that even I’m starting to believe it’s true. If it’s true, the joke’s on you guys. I know how to make shit awkward and I sure as hell now how to shake things up. This, noble as it may be, has obvious consequences for me personally. Thank goodness that I have forgiving parents with an open door and that I’m ok with sleeping on park benches.
To quote from Ms. Albert, the loveable drag queen from The Bird Cage (1996), “I am quite aware of how ridiculous I am.” I also am quite aware that I am not loveable like Ms. Albert. A flamboyant gay man is likeable – he’s the face of the company nowadays. He is the symbol of upwardly mobile, progressive Spirit in a cesspool of capitalism and mandatory Liberalism that borders on fascism. What fat, ugly lesbian is the face of any company? Though, by now I find some solace, to once again borrow a quote, this time from a source I can’t recall, in thinking that “Although I was never loved, I realize I am not as unloveable as I once thought.”
Like Socrates, ridiculed in his own time and cast as this or that by his opponents, I aim in my professional capacities and in living to recast, at least in the manner I see it, feminist philosophy as a necessary component to any philosophy department worthy of the name. To not even give feminist philosophy a chance to be on trial, to dismiss it a priori as ‘merely political’ is antithetical to many of the goals that many of us first strove towards in our early years of studying philosophy – the goals that many of us saw as representative of fighting the good fight. If we really believe in Socrates’ mission, we should not only tolerate feminist philosophy, but actually encourage our students to engage with its subject matters. Dylan/Zimmerman: “Lest I become my enemy in the instant that I preach…” Well, if this whole rant is actually a performative contradiction in itself, meh! Socrates’ dialogues ended in aporia and we still read him or at least force our first-year students to do so.
I will likely regret writing every sentence I’ve written. Like David Foster Wallace, I grimace after most things I say. More to come.