Partially Examined Life tracks on Soundclound

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"Lysistrata" w/ Lucy Lawless, Emily Perkins, Erica Spyres, Bill Youmans & Aaron Gleason
Partially Examined Life

The PEL Players return to perform Aristophanes's comedy (first performed in 411 BCE) about using a sex strike to stop war, using Jeffrey Henderson's 1988 translation. Mark (old men's chorus leader), Wes (old men's chorus and Athenian), Dylan (old men's chorus), and Seth (Spartan sentry) are joined once again by TV's Lucy Lawless (Xena Warrior Princess, Ash vs. Evil Dead, Spartacus, Battlestar Galactica, etc.) as Lysistrata and Broadway's Bill Youmans (hear his past performance for us of Crito) as the Athenian magistrate and Athenian ambassador. Plus, new fan Emily Perkins (she was the girl in the TV mini-series of Stephen King's It and starred in the Ginger Snaps movies) as the young Athenian wife Myrrhine as well as the Spartan Lampito and several other small old- and young-woman parts. (The young women are holding the sex strike while the old women have taken over the treasury in the Citadel of Athena to stop funds from going to the war.) Bill brought along his fellow cast member in the current Broadway production of Carousel, Erica Spyres, to play Lysistrata's co-conspirator Calonice, the old women's chorus leader, and other parts. Finally, actor/musician Aaron David Gleason (also featured on the Nakedly Examined Music podcast, episode 71) joined in to play the young Athenian soldier Rodney Balling (husband of Myrrhine) as well as the Spartan ambassador (who sings!) and joined the old man's chorus. We start out by giving a bit of historical context and explaining some of the weird conventions of the play, then give a "cold read" of the full script (meaning this was not rehearsed, though the result has been edited to smooth things out and add some sound effects and a little music), then talk for another ten minutes after we're done about what we just read. Is this the feminist tract that history presents it as? This was performed via remote conference call. Each participant recorded him- or herself locally, which explains the difference in sound quality among participants, but I've done my best to smooth everything out. The giggling and a few actual scene-breaking comments were carefully left in, though, to help convey how damn fun this was. Henderson's translation uses a modern idiom (so this doesn't sound like Shakespeare, which would be just as remote from the original Greek as what you're hearing here), and presents the Spartan foreigners as having Russian accents. We'll be releasing as Partially Examined Life episode 188 a full discussion of the play, bringing back Lucy and Emily as guests to help us work out the relation between feminine power (and sex) and politics both for the Ancient Greeks and for us now. What does it really mean to say "make love not war," and does the increasing presence of female political leaders portend any changes of the sort that Charlotte Perkins Gilman predicted? We're pleased to bring you this performance without commercial interruptions. Why not respond in loving kind by tipping some pennies into the hat? If you enjoy this, check out our past PEL Players productions: Antigone (feat. Lucy Lawless and Paul Provenza), No Exit (feat. Lucy and Jaime Murray), and (if you're desperate) Plato's Gorgias (feat. no real actors whatsoever). Lysistrata image by Solomon Grundy. You can still get our 2017 wall calendar of his art at partiallyexaminedlife.com/calendar.

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The Limits of Free Speech (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

Wes, Mark, Dylan, and Seth have a free-form discussion on contemporary issues regarding potential restrictions on speech, drawing on Stanley Fish's “There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech, and It’s a Good Thing, Too” (1994) and Joel Feinberg’s “Limits to the Free Expression of Opinion” (1975), and also on David van Mill's Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article, "Freedom of Speech," John Milton's Areopagitica (1644), and J.S. Mill's On Liberty per our ep. 183. What are the legitimate limits on free speech? Mill argues that speech can be legally limited and/or socially censured when it's harmful, but what does that mean? Philosopher of law Feinberg gives several categories of speech that can be regulated and discusses the difficulties in applying each category: defamation (including "malicious truth"), invasions of privacy, causing panic, actions expected to provoke retaliatory violence ("fighting words"), and incitement to crime. He does not consider "sedition" legitimate to prohibit (Mill and Spinoza did). However, he does consider (in "Offensive Nuisances," a chapter from a different book that some of us read part of, The Moral Limits of the Criminal Law, Offense to Others, from 1985) that there are some actions that are not overtly harmful but that, just through their being offensive according to community standards (such as sex acts in public), can be legitimately prohibited. Stanley Fish argues that all claims of "free speech" have within them an underlying commitment to some ideology that really favors some kinds of speech over others. As a Milton scholar, he discusses the Areopagitica, which is an argument against having a central government censor who would review all books before publication, as not inconsistent when Milton clarifies that of course he doesn't mean that Catholic doctrines should be freely expressed. Milton is arguing for open deliberation, and "popery," as he calls it, requires us to not deliberate for ourselves, but to submit in all our judgments to the infallible pope. To modernize and generalize this, the point is that free speech is based on liberal values, and so allowing attacks on the institution that allows for this freedom is self-defeating. (Karl Popper called this the "paradox of tolerance.") Wes argues that no, we have to bite the bullet: A liberal society is not one that discourages anti-liberal speech, but one with liberal institutions that allow for all nonharmful speech, and that the standard for harm should be narrowly interpreted as applying only to tangible harms of particular people and clear and present danger. Things become more difficult when we move from legal matters to what organizational policies such as those of campuses or newspapers should or shouldn't prohibit; this is the question of venue. According to Wes, private organizations, unlike the state, can set whatever kinds of rules they want to create their desired speech climate. But clearly permissibility is not the same as advisability, and so while campuses and businesses are allowed to crack down on speech, this does cause the same kinds of harms about open deliberation that Mill is worried about, and if all news outlets and venues end up rejecting some idea as too unpalatable to be allowed expression, then wouldn't that idea be marginalized to such an extent that it doesn't fulfill its function (according to Mill) of being there to help us toughen ourselves in having to confront it?

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J.L. Austin on Doing Things with Words (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Continuing on How to Do Things with Words (lectures from 1955), covering lectures 5-9. Austin tries and fails to come up with a way to grammatically distinguish performatives from other utterances, and so turns to his more complicated system of aspects of a single act: locutionary, illocutionary, perlocutionary. In doing so, he perlocutionarily blows our minds.

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J.L. Austin on Doing Things with Words (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

On How to Do Things with Words, a lecture series delivered in 1955. What's the relationship between language and the world? According to Austin, philosophers have generally taken language as providing descriptions: A sentence is true if it correctly describes some state of affairs. But what about sentences like "I promise…"? Austin says that when you say that, you're not describing your inner state or predicting your future behavior, but performing a verbal action, a ritual that relies for its success on the circumstances of your utterance. For instance, you can't legitimately promise something beyond your control, can't really make a promise to a non-person, aren't really making a promise if you're saying it as a line in a play you're acting in, etc. And yes, if you have no intention of keeping the promise, that's another way in which it can "go wrong," though in that case you really have made a promise (unless, arguably, you had your fingers crossed, but that's just your bad excuse!). Austin calls promising, betting, apologizing, issuing a verdict, and similar verbal actions performatives, to contrast them to descriptive statements, and uses this kind of sentence to turn around our whole way of looking at language. These aren't just fringe cases in our language, he thinks, but actually, descriptions will end up being performatives too: "The dog is here" is really "I hereby state that the dog is here." Or is it? What's added in the second formulation is some kind of picture of the circumstance of utterance. My action could be merely one of stating, but it could also be one of warning ("The dog is here!"), concluding, complaining, etc. For Austin, analyzing the truth or falsity of a sentence doesn't get much of what's interesting about activity: You need to look at the whole speech act. You might recall Wittgenstein's doctrine in the Investigations (see our episode 55) that "meaning is use." The meaning of "I promise…" is only understood if you understand the social convention of promising. Austin makes this more precise, and I'll give you some of his terminology here. Every successful utterance can be analyzed in terms of its locution (the actual sentence uttered along with its dictionary meaning and what specifically in the world it is allegedly about); its illocution (how is it meant to work as a performative?); and its perlocution (what intended effects not dictated by convention, i.e., by its illocutionary aspect, does the utterance achieve?). This analysis is supposed to allow us to, for instance, banish as pseudo-problems significant questions in philosophy, including perhaps all of ethics. So simple and clear, right? OK, not so simple and clear, and Seth is back to join Mark, Wes, and Dylan to try to explain it all. Austin image by Charles Valsechi.

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Ethics in Homer's "Odyssey" Feat. Translator Emily Wilson (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Continuing with Emily Wilson on her translation of the Greek epic poem. We discuss the value of the oikos, or estate, built on violence, with slaves rewarded for loyalty and killed for preferring a different master. These estates were brought into military alliances through xenia, or hospitality, which you should definitely extend to any gods-disguised-as-beggars that come around, but if actual beggars stop by, then by all means beat them! (So this is not like the Christian "love thy neighbor.") We focus in on how status differences play into the text, not only between slaves and masters, but men and women, gods and mortals, and "civilized" people and others. Finally, are the gods even necessary for the story? Do they maybe just represent inner characteristics of the characters, or what else could be going on? End song: "Tiny Broken Boats" by Arrica Rose, as interviewed on Nakedly Examined Music #66.

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Ethics in Homer's "Odyssey" Feat. Translator Emily Wilson (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

On the classic Greek epic poem, written ca. 750 BCE and translated by our guest Emily Wilson (of the University of Pennsylvania) in 2018. Does this story of ""heroes"" have anything to teach us about ethics? Emily wrote an 80-page introduction to her new translation laying out the issues, including ""hospitality"" as a political tool, the value for status and identity of one's home (including your family and slaves), and the tension between strangeness and familiarity. Can time and change really be undone? Mark, Wes, and Dylan engage our guest about what it is to translate a singable poem from a dead language: Given that there will always be a gap in meaning between the Greek and the English, what sorts of liberties are and aren't called for, to make the thing actually readable and enjoyable for modern audiences? How can translation obscure troubling social issues raised by the text? The primary political unit of the time being described in the story (the twelfth or thirteenth century BCE) in Greece was the oikos, which is the family, but refers really to the whole estate. Odysseus has been gone from home for 20 years as the story begins, having left to join the Trojan war, and there are over 100 suitors vying for his wife Penelope. They do this by staying at his home and feasting constantly, and by thus eating his estate (which should rightly go to his son Telemachus, who was a baby when Odysseus left) they are described as in effect eating Odysseus himself. So the story is in a way about trying to put his oikos back together, and with divine help, he's able to even in his physical appearance eventually reproduce his situation from before his departure. In this way, the text raises the question, ""Can you really go home again?"" The way that alliances are formed between these estates is through xenia, which is the guest-host relationship, and Odysseus's whole journey (and Telemachus also takes a shorter journey, in an effort to find news of his father) is an exploration of the ways in which xenia can go right or wrong. For example, in the famous episode of Polyphemus the cyclops, Odysseus trespasses with some of his men into the cyclops's home, eats some of his food, and basically demands hospitality of his host, who instead eats some of the men. Odysseus uses this as an excuse to blind, steal from, and humiliate the cyclops, whose father is the sea-god Poseidon. And thus Odysseus's subsequent sea voyages are screwed. So, in what way is Odysseus a hero? You may want to consult our episode on the intellectual virtues according to Aristotle. The text claims that he has deinotes, or cleverness, but he does some pretty dumb things in the text, such as actually yell out his name at the cyclops as they're leaving, and so brings on Poseidon's curse. Many of his lies and disguises are unnecessary, and he certainly doesn't explore different ways of resolving the situation of the suitors living in his house, who might have cleared out had he just confronted them in some way instead of setting forth to kill them all. But hey, they violated xenia! Finally, we address the role of the gods in the story. Are they necessary? Do they just represent the inner urgings of the characters? Doesn't it remove any tension in the story to know that Athena is going to basically fix all of Odysseus's battles for him? We applaud Emily for making this very weird text very readable and fully enjoyable well beyond its obvious educational value as one of the most influential texts in history. Buy the book. If you can't just go read this right now, and don't know the basic story and character names, we suggest you check out a summary, as we pretty much jump right to discussing the themes and don't start by laying out the story. Homer image by Charles Valsechi.

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Pascal on the Human Condition (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Continuing on Pascal's Pensées. More on our human desire and how God is supposed to address that, plus Pascal's views on political philosophy, the relation between faith, reason, and custom… and finally, the wager! We get into the obvious objections. Why not just be a skeptic? Is Pascal right that people suck? End song: "44 Days" by Dutch Henry, written and sung by Todd Long, as interviewed on Nakedly Examined Music #34. Pascal picture by Drew Blom.

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Pascal on the Human Condition (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

On Blaise Pascal's Pensées (1670). Is it rational to have religious faith? You're likely familiar with "Pascal's Wager," one of the most famous arguments for the existence of God, but it's not clear that Pascal bought into the argument as it is usually understood. To see why, you have to get Pascal's picture of human nature, which is surprisingly insightful, and is what Mark, Wes, and Dylan spend all of part one discussing. Pascal thinks that humanity in its actuality is thoroughly wretched. We're morally wretched: innately selfish, really despising each other, vain, self-deceiving, unable to focus on the good, always chasing after one imaginary lure or other. We're epistemically wretched: Our reason deceives us, our senses deceive us, our instincts are self-destructive, and our imagination, again, is the worst. Pascal believes that we need to follow "heart" over reason, but that doesn't mean what we mean, e.g. in talking about romantic love, which Pascal sees as exactly the kind of destructive, ultimately imaginary drive that I've just been describing. Our greatness comes from realizing our wretchedness, from the fact that we have ideals that let us see our depravity, and he thinks that these come from God. And since "God" qua infinite being is nothing that we could really understand, much less have a personal relationship with, he thinks that Jesus is absolutely essential for authentic religiosity. To return to the wager (which, again, we don't actually discuss until part 2): Yes, reason is inadequate to tell you definitively whether or not to believe (though Pascal thinks that reason does tell you that it's not unreasonable to believe, and thinks that the miracles were and are pretty darn properly convincing to people on purely rational grounds), so all those arguments by Descartes and St. Thomas are for naught. Pascal does, then, say that since the risk you incur by believing is negligible: Human life and its non-religious pursuits are all such crap that you're not giving up anything by putting all your energy toward God. And on the other side, if you "bet against God," then you're risking your eternal soul, potentially winning eternal bliss if the Christian God is real. But you can't actually just "choose" to believe; that's not how human psychology works, and Pascal knows this. You can, however, go through the motions: Go to church, open yourself toward God, and at the very least, virtue will be its own reward, and with grace, you'll end up a real believer. Pascal has anticipated your objections: What if Zeus or some other God is the real one? Well, that's why he spends so much time arguing that only Christianity accurately describes human nature, both in laying out our wretchedness and giving us the cure for it. Those other alleged gods just wouldn't do the trick, so we can rule them out (you'll have to actually read the book to get the details of his arguments here). And simply not making a choice is not an option, and deciding not to care about the question is irresponsible to the point of monstrous. Pascal's take on our psychology includes some surprising verdicts about political authority and tradition. Pascal is liberal enough that he recognizes the arbitrariness and illusory character of a lot of this, but he also understands how these things are emergent properties of human nature, and as such are better guides to our action than the vain flights of fancy of revolutionary political philosophers. Pascal's biography is probably the most interesting thing about him; I recommend this account by Will Durant, which describes his work in science and mathematics before his turn to religion, as well as his other famous book, Lettres Provinciales.

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Mill on Liberty (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Continuing on John Stuart Mill's On Liberty (1859). We discuss "partial truths" and how free speech may allow us to complete them, whether truth will always eventually overcome persecution, whether we can judge some "experiments in living" as failures once and for all, education, "barbarians," how Mill compares to Nietzsche, and more. Has our culture received Mill's message that nonconformity is good? Is what we call "diversity" what he's talking about? Here's some irony: most people end up using their freedom to conform to some group norm! Listen to part 1 first, or get the unbroken, ad-free Citizen Edition. End song: "Flavor" by Tori Amos from Gold Dust (2012), featuring strings by John Philip Shenale, who was interviewed on Nakedly Examined Music #12.

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Mill on Liberty (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

Discussing John Stewart Mill's On Liberty (1859) If we disapprove of certain behaviors, when is it okay to prohibit them legally? What about just shaming people for engaging in them? How much shaming is too much? Mill's famous "harm principle" says that we should permit anything unless it harms other people. But what constitutes "harm"? If I call you by a racial slur, have I harmed you? If I teach your children ideas or behaviors you don't approve of, without your permission, have I harmed you? Or them? Mill was not just concerned with paternalistic laws, but with other kinds of social pressures. We should not let the tyranny of custom make us all into meek conformists. We need to promote individuality, diversity, eccentricity. This is the only way to allow genius to flourish. Individuals' "experiments in living," even though most of these may just be foolish, ultimately serve to help us progress. And of course, central to this freedom of living is freedom of thought, and what's very closely related, freedom of speech. Even if nearly all of us find some ideas objectionable, we need to let them be stated, not just out of principle, but because we want bad ideas to be engaged, to be actively refuted. If we all agree on something, we take it for granted and forget why we believe it; having to defend it makes us understand it better. Ideas need to compete in daylight if we expect truth to prevail over time. Mark, Wes, and Dylan bring this debate to current issues and explore some of the less expected aspects of Mill's view, such as his views on public education (he's for universal education, but against government providing it), imperialism (maybe it's OK to be paternalistic when dealing with illiberal cultures), and economics (because economic activity by definition involves others, it does potentially fall under the harm principle; Mill's "libertarianism" doesn't leave companies to deal with employees and customers however they see fit). To hear the other famous part of Mill's thought, check out our Ep. 9 on utilitarianism. Mill image by Charles Valsechi.

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Reflections on PEL 2017 (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

To what extent has our podcast changed in reaction to current politics? Mark, Seth, Wes, and Dylan reflect back on our year, discuss how we select texts, and give some thumbnail sketches of potential topics. Attention: Only the first 45 min of this discussion will be posted for the general public. If you like PEL at all, consider just becoming a PEL Citizen or supporting us via Patreon and get the whole thing now. Want to hear future PEL episodes about Charlie Brown? Pink Floyd? Joan Didion? Neal Gaiman? Maybe more philosophy-adjacent texts following what we did with Darwin and The Wealth of Nations? Or quit with the pop culture already and get to Malebranche, Von Mises, and Mill!? When we talk about something that isn't philosophy, what are we doing exactly? Trying to pull out the philosophical issues, or treating literature qua literature and film qua film? Do we care what the author says about the work? If he or she denies any philosophical intentions, are we doing wrong by reading it into the work anyway? Wes talks about his forays into film analysis (check out this, this, this, and especially this), Seth kvetches about the poor job modern movies do in treating philosophical issues, Mark talks about reactions to our American Indian episode (read the blog post on this), and Dylan explains the St. John's way of treating any text intelligently.

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Hannah Arendt on the Banality of Evil (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

"Continuing on Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963), on how ordinary people can do—or acquiesce to—horrific things. How do people rationalize this? What's required to cut through the environmental haze and have an authentic moral reaction? What can we apply from this story to our present political circumstances? Also, how was genocide a new type of crime, and what's the best rationale for punishing it? We talk justice, revenge, and ways that we too might be morally mass-confused. Listen to part one first or get the unbroken, ad-free Citizen Edition. Please support PEL! End song: ""Hiding from the Face of God"" from Judybats 2000; listen to me interview singer/songwriter Jeff Heiskell on Nakedly Examined Music eps. 5 and 63."

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Hannah Arendt on the Banality of Evil (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

On Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963). Are we still morally culpable if our entire society is corrupt? Arendt definitely thinks so, but has a number of criticisms of the handling of the 1961 trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Israel used the spectacle to remind people of the horrors of the Holocaust, but missed the opportunity to explore what would make a really rather ordinary man a party to such heinous acts. They were committed to the view that he was a monster, when the reality, says Arendt, is more frightening. He was really more of a clown: a status-obsessed, cliche-spouting, self-pitying bureaucrat who, far from having no moral compass, was extremely dedicated to obeying a warped version of the Categorical Imperative: "Act in such a way that the Führer, if he knew your action, would approve it." She also had problems with the jurisdictional claim of Israel: Eichmann was tried by Israelis for crimes against the Jewish people. She thought that the Holocaust was not just the worst of a history of pogroms, but that genocide constituted a fundamentally new type of crime that needed clear philosophical analysis: The effort to snuff out a whole civilization is a crime against humanity as a whole beyond the individual murders involved. Arendt advocated for a permanent, international criminal court (which didn't materialize until 2002). This constitutes a test case for our previous discussion of psychological situationism: In a situation where the whole society is oriented toward evil, then the pull of duty runs counter to one's conscience, which is reined in just like in ordinary circumstances one's disruptive impulses are reined in, because conscience is disruptive in that milieu. Eichmann could have chosen not to participate in the way that he did, but considered this unthinkable; abandoning one's duty in that way "just wasn't done." All dissenting voices had been silenced. “It was not his fanaticism but his very conscience that prompted Eichmann to adopt his uncompromising attitude during the last year of the war" (from Ch. 8). Arendt still thought that he deserved execution, that we are responsible for engaging in concrete moral thinking—grasping other people as real others and not just as labels or roles—no matter what the environment. But she thought it important that we not gloss over factual details for the sake of making a political point: Eichmann was not in a position to have "masterminded" the Holocaust as was alleged, never pulled a trigger himself or directly ordered an execution, though he did order many deportations, even after his immediate superior had ordered that they cease, knowing full well that most of those deported would be killed. She also wants to be realistic about the guilt of those who helped the Nazis either through active cooperation (e.g., Jewish leaders who worked with the Nazis to provide them with information on the Jews in the area and their property, before the Final Solution was in evidence) or through inaction, and describes countries like Denmark where the "machine" didn't work because local officials would not cooperate in handing over their Jews, and troops on the ground didn't have the heart to press through such resistance. The full foursome tries to figure out why we assigned ourselves such depressing holiday reading and whether we in the modern day might be subject to any kind of comparable moral blindness to what was going on in Nazi Germany. How slippery is the slope when you start considering your main social ill the "problem" of immigrants? Does loyalty to a leader commit one to denying obvious truths that the leader denies?

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More James's Psychology: Self and Will (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Concluding on William James's Psychology, the Briefer Course (1892). We briefly cover emotions and spend the bulk of our time on will. Talking about emotions allows us to refresh on James's overall theory of mind: An organism's activity basically involves various signals coming in through the senses and going out to produce reaction. This chain can reach to a greater or lesser extent into consciousness: from a reflex (mindless) action at one extreme, which might be or simply start as an instinct, or might have once been a choice but then became a habit. An emotion is a physiological reaction that we then notice; this feeling of the physical change is the emotion. Attention (accompanied by memory) is the faculty that filters the confusion of the stream of experience into identifiable things. A voluntary action is one taken with a memory that such an action can be done (so it must have been done the first time by instinct, reflex, or chance) with a plan to produce the same effect. This gives a partial picture of what "will" amounts to. It's not a single faculty, but a combination of different phenomena, mostly related to attention. You could consider every voluntary action to be "willed," but many such actions don't hold our attention more than a moment or are part of a habitual chain, such that they don't actually attract our attention unless something goes wrong. I might be thirsty and reach for the water in front of me while concentrating on something else. Did I "will" the action? Well, the only times we generally use that term is when there's some difficulty in the decision or the action: I reach for the water, but I'm very tired and have to overcome my tiredness to reach for it, as if the obstacle is saying "are you sure?" Or maybe the drink is whisky and I stop to think whether I’ve already had too much. In short, these input-output chains can conflict, which then brings attention to bear, and when we do make a decision, that’s where the explicit “fiat” that we typically call “will” comes in (even though many more actions are voluntary and hence willed as opposed to against-your-will). James thinks that whichever idea is held in attention the longest tends to have causal efficacy. If my desire for the alcohol is great, then repeated acts of attention would be required to pull myself back from that desire and consider the idea that enough is enough. Insofar as we have to exert this kind of effort, that really feels like will. With this picture established, we spend some time bickering about James’s stance regarding free will. He explicitly says that he’s not going to deal with that in this essay, that we can still talk about moral psychology with just the facts of temptation and effort as described above, and we can judge someone’s virtue from their apparent capacity to summon up such effort. As a scientist, James says that he’s committed to the idea that all actions have a physiological cause, yet he can distinguish phenomenologically between actions that seem like involuntary, reflex actions from ones that seem deliberative and voluntary. But are we really, metaphysically, free? The scientist must remain silent on this point, as metaphysics is outside the scope of science.

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More James's Psychology: Self and Will (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

On Psychology, the Briefer Course (1892), chapters on "The Self," "Will," and "Emotions." Continuing from ep. 179, we talk about the various aspects of self: The "Me" (the part of me that I know) that's divided into physical, social, and spiritual aspects, and the "I" (the part of me that has experiences), which is pretty problematic, but which we need not posit as a "soul," but which should play some role in the problem of what unifies experience over time so that we consider it all belonging to the same person. Part 2 will cover James's influential theory of emotions, which suggests that an emotion is just our experience of certain physical feelings: Danger gives rise to increased heart rate, dry mouth, etc., and we feel those changes and call them "fear." We then turn to James's take on what willing is and how willed acts differ from reflex and habitual acts. This gets us going on animal consciousness, ethics, and of course free will.

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William James's Psychology (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Continuing on Psychology, the Briefer Course (1892), completing "The Stream of Thought" and covering the chapter on "Habit." James thinks that psychologists focus too much on those parts of consciousness that get picked out by substantive words; we neglect those "fringe" parts that are harder to pick out specifically. Do elementary particles have "habits"? James describes habit as part of a general natural pattern in which things that happen once tend to create pathways for themselves in surrounding material to allow the same thing to happen again more easily. Be careful what you do, because your organism is recording all of your bad behavior and corrupting your character!

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William James's Introspective Psychology (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

On The Principles of Psychology (1890) chapters 1 & 7, and Psychology, the Briefer Course (1892), the chapters on "The Stream of Thought," "Habit," and some of "The Self." Can we talk about the mind in a way that is both scientific and also does justice to our everyday experiences? James thought that previous philosophers talking about the mind weren't accurately reflecting how things actually seem to us when we introspect. The empiricists like Locke thought that the basic unit of mentality was the idea, and that particular mental states were combinations of ideas. Spiritualists like Descartes thought that mental states are faculties of a spirit. James found both of these views overly simplistic and ultimately uninformative. He stressed first and foremost that mental activities are in some way unknown to us correlated with brain activities (whether they literally are brain activities is a metaphysical question that can be set aside during science), and that mentality was an evolutionary development, and so psychological explanations should take into account how the organism engages with its environment. These assumptions persist in modern psychology, but the addition that was very in fashion at the beginning of the 20th century, largely because of James, was introspection. In this way, James presages a lot of the findings of phenomenologists like Husserl, Heidegger, and Sartre by being willing to say what experience is really like. James favored direct introspection even while acknowledging that introspective observations, like all observations, are often mistaken. The alternatives as he described them (in Principles Ch. 7) are experimental psychology, which was coming into favor in Germany and bored James to tears, what with the incessant repetition required; and comparative psychology, which would administer surveys to large groups and bring animals, children, and the mentally impaired into their analyses. James thought that we should make use of all of these methods as applicable and not be the servant of any of them. In "The Stream of Thought" chapter, he reports that consciousness is not a concatenation of discrete ideas, but is a "blooming, buzzing confusion" out of which we make some sort of order, largely through the use of our attention: we pick out some things as salient, and the rest becomes an indistinct fringe. We talk through some of the features of this fringe and the puzzle of what constitutes personal identity, i.e., what makes a particular thought seem owned, what makes it hang together with the rest of the stream of consciousness. In the second half of the discussion, we turn to habit, which logically comes before all this talk of consciousness, because once something is habitual, you don't need to bring it up before consciousness. James's whole picture of a person's interaction with the outside world is that of a pulse coming in (e.g., through a sense organ), and then a reaction pulse going back out. Sometimes these loops come all the way to consciousness, but sometimes they don't. There are plenty of reactions that are purely reflexes, other more complex ones that are still instinctual, and some that reach all the way into our awareness so that selective attention, deliberation, and/or potentially an effort of will are involved in producing the reaction. Habit is part of that dynamic, where something starts as perhaps a conscious choice or an instinctive reaction, and the more we do it, the more that pulse pathway gets burned into our organism (especially our very plastic brain) so that we're likely to act that same way in the future. James then has a lot of interesting things to say about how best to inculcate good habits and break bad ones.

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Nietzsche as Social Critic: Twilight of the Idols (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Continuing on Nietzsche's 1888 book. Is there any ground from which we could judge life as a whole to be good or bad? Is N. more about saying "yes" to life or saying "no" to all the numerous things that piss him off? We also talk Becoming, whether producing great art is more important than being nice to everyone, and whether Nietzsche is ultimately someone we'd want to hang around. End song: "Oblivion," written for this episode by Tyler Hislop. Listen to Tyler on Nakedly Examined Music #24. Hear the track by itself.

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Nietzsche as Social Critic: Twilight of the Idols (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

On Friedrich Nieztsche's 1888 book summarizing his thought and critiquing the founding myths of his society: traditional morality, free will, Socratic reason, and the idiocy of "Deutschland Uber Alles!" Nietzsche defends instinct as the source of values, but these instincts must be "spiritualized" into frenzied creativity. Nietzsche as artist is an appealing figure to us, but he also praises Napoleon and says lots of nice things about war as the antidote to a complacent society sliding into decline. He thinks we're all degenerates, but we can't help it. So what does he actually want from us? Nietzsche wrote this book in just over a week, and it's packed full of juicy quotes (like "What does not destroy me, makes me stronger") and psychological insights (e.g., virtue doesn't make you happy; being happy makes you tend to be virtuous). Wes, Mark, Dylan, and Seth sketch out the best and weirdest parts and try to figure out what Nietzsche would have to say about our world today, from social justice warriors to Louis CK. If you want to learn more about Nietzsche, or some of what we're saying here sounds mysterious, then you should review our past episodes: Episode 11 on The Genealogy of Morals (1887) Episode 61 on his essay "On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense" (1873) Episode 84 on his essay The Gay Science (1882) Episode 119 on The Birth of Tragedy (1872) Nietzsche picture by Genevieve Arnold. Don't wait for part 2! Get the unbroken, ad-free Citizen Edition now! Please support PEL! Make sure to pick up a 2018 PEL Wall Calendar!

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Guest Russ Roberts on Adam Smith and Emergent Order (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Continuing with the Econtalk host on the moral aspects of economics, focused by Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations and Theory of Moral Sentiments. Should we sacrifice ourselves to the machine of the economy? Smith wasn't just all about monetary gain: how does his idea of virtue and talk of the "impartial spectator" line up with economic growth? If growth is the key to long-term happiness for the greater good (because relief from material hardship enables other kinds of moral goodness), then isn't the moral thing to become a venture capitalist? Is it fair that entrepreneurs are rewarded over other types of created work, and does it make sense to demand that the economy be fair? It is if the function of the economy is to provide for our material needs, but what is the "function" of the economy? Is one of its functions to provide for something for all of us to do? We also talk about government itself as an "emergent order," how to engender social change, the limits of effective government regulation, and economic existentialism.

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