Partially Examined Life tracks on Soundclound

#partially-examined-life

Alfred Tarski on Truth (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Continuing on Tarski's “The Semantic Conception of Truth and the Foundations of Semantics,” (1944), Hartry Field's “Tarski's Theory of Truth” (1972), and Donald Davidson's “The Folly of Trying to Define Truth” (1977). What was Tarski really doing? What are the implications of his project? Does it even make sense to define "truth," and what should a definition look like? Listen to part one first, or get the ad-free Citizen Edition. Look out for the Citizen-only bonus discussion of Shakespeare's Tempest, posting soon! Please support PEL! End song: "In Vino Vertias" by Sunspot; Mark interviewed Mike Huberty on Nakedly Examined Music #64.

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Alfred Tarski on Truth (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

On Tarski's “The Semantic Conception of Truth and the Foundations of Semantics,” (1944), Hartry Field's “Tarski's Theory of Truth” (1972), and Donald Davidson's“The Folly of Trying to Define Truth” (1977). What is truth? Tarski gives a technical, metaphysically neutral definition for truth within a particular, well-defined language. In short, a sentence is true if it is "satisfied" by all terms in the language. A sentence with a variable would be satisfied only by certain terms: "x is red" is satisfied only by the red ones. But a sentence without a variable, if true, is satisfied by all terms: "Rose (a) is red," where (a) is a particular rose, is satisfied by that rose, because it's red, but it's also technically satisfied by my dog, by you, by Trump, etc., because none of those things interferes with the sentence being true. He had some lengthy proofs and logical language to establish this, and yes, this is weird. One of his main reasons for doing this was to rule out things like the liar's paradox: e.g., "This sentence is false." On Tarski's analysis, a well-defined language doesn't allow this kind of sentence. As with Russell's analysis of the paradoxical "sets that aren't members of themselves," Tarski distinguishes a language from its meta-language: When you say "'Snow is white' is true," you're taking a sentence in the language (snow is white) and by putting it in quotes, you're making it an object and saying something about it, using a different language, the meta-language, which includes all the terms of the object language, but also semantic terms like "is true." Tarski's truth definition is only about an object language (which cannot include any self-reflexive terms of this sort), but is stated in a meta-language. To make this clearer, some explanations actually use different languages, e.g., "'Schnee ist weiss' is true if and only if snow is white." German here is the object language, while English is the meta-language. (But of course, as I said, everyday German couldn't really be an object language, as it's not well-formed in the required way. There would have to be no room for misunderstanding.) Tarski claimed to be capturing our everyday notion of truth and making it more precise, with the idea that this could be extended from the formal, logical languages he was dealing with to at least formalized vocabularies within the sciences. Field (treated along with Davidson in the second part of our discussion) charges Tarski with misunderstanding his own project. He says that Tarski was, like many of his peers in the era of behaviorism, wary of semantic notions, i.e., he wanted to reduce talk of mind to talk of matter. To explain: The definition I've given above applies to just one single sentence. The definition of truth for the whole language is just the collection of true sentences so defined. This is an "extensional" definition, kind of like defining "sheep" not by giving essential characteristics of a sheep, but by pointing to the whole collection of sheep. Of course, if a new animal comes along, this leaves you unable to tell if it's a sheep or not. So it's not a definition as you'd normally consider it. And Tarski's definition only then is talking about actual sentences in a particular language, and isn't giving a general definition for truth for all languages. This would require, e.g., the semantic notion of synonymy (meaning), which (on Field's analysis) is an off-limits for Tarski. Anyway, does just pointing to a bunch of (ultimately physical) objects and saying "those are the true ones" perform the reduction that Field says Tarski is trying to accomplish? No, because (Field says) there's still the semantic notion of reference smuggled into Tarski's procedure. We can better interpret what Tarski is doing by saying that he's defining truth in terms of other semantic notions, i.e., reference, definition, and satisfaction, which Field still thinks is helpful.

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The Theory and Practice of Liberal Education (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Continuing with the current St. John's College president on articles on liberal education by Jacob Klein (former Dean of SJC), Sidney Hook (critiquing the SJC program), and Martha Nussbaum (critiquing Allan Bloom). What's the practical application of a liberal education? Is it really liberating or indoctrinating? How can we justify learning for learning's sake in a world with so many problems that need our attention? We continue discussion of the SJC model, where students are forced to grapple with texts without the benefit of a professor telling them what it means, and they study things like the history of science that even scientists don't generally study. As with the PEL community, the SJC program involves a group of students all literally on the same page, working through the same texts over multiple years. End song: "Preservation Hill" by The Bevis Frond; Mark interviewed Nick Saloman on Nakedly Examined Music #75.

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What is a Liberal Education? (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

Dylan returns to St. John's College, Annapolis to bring its president into dialogue with the PEL clan about Jacob Klein's “The Idea of a Liberal Education” (1960) and “On Liberal Education” (1965), plus Sidney Hook’s “A Critical Appraisal of the St. John’s College Curriculum” (1946) and Martha Nussbaum’s “Undemocratic Vistas” (1987). Ep. 192 got us talking about a great-books-oriented education, and this discussion tackles that issue head-on: What constitutes a liberal education? Klein (a former Dean of St. John's) describes the process of metastrophe (fundamental change), where you take the familiar and make it strange; you contemplate what you used to take for granted. Seeing thinkers of the past grapple with the concepts ancestral to the ones we use now, whether in the areas of science or politics or whatever, makes us question these current concepts and ultimately understand them better. Klein even has a story about how metastrophic questioning was necessary for these modern disciplines to be founded in the first place. Hook witnessed the first generation of Johnnies and was very critical of this idea of the same menu of ideas for all students, with a heavy emphasis on the history of science (rather than current, practical science) and learning ancient languages (as an exercise in translation and seeing how alien different languages are, not to be able to actually speak to anyone). He thought that study of the past should be guided by the concerns of the present, not insulated from them. What sense does it make for a student to know more about the political structure of ancient Greece than that of his or her own country? Nussbaum's article is a New York Review of Books article about Bloom's book. She stresses contra Bloom that a philosophical education is practical, and that it should be made available to everyone. The SJC curriculum was (as Hook describes) originally advertised as the model that all colleges should follow, but time (and/or realism) has seemingly dampened that ambition. So, is there a single history of the intellectual life of the West that we Westerners would be well advised to study, maybe just adding a couple of authors who are not dead white males to modernize it a bit, or is a more thorough break from this idolized past needed? Or is the whole idea of a "best" education for all just ill-advised? Do people really need to read the Western canon at all?

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"The Closing of the American Mind": Allan Bloom on Great Books (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Continuing on Allan Bloom's 1987 book critiquing the current fragmented structure of the university that promotes technical and professional education over the ability to think philosophically. Does Bloom's vision require aristocracy, or can a Great Books education be available for all? Bloom thinks we lack a shared culture and consequently a sense of the common good. He gives us a history of the relationship between philosophy and society starting with Socrates's execution. The university, Bloom thinks, was established following the spirit of Socrates, and has had to negotiate with a more-or-less hostile society ever since. It does this by at least giving lip service to the values of the current society, which in our case means reflecting American values as diagnosed by Tocqueville: practicality, rejection of history, "common sense," all of which are antithetical (according to Bloom) to authentic, philosophical, humanistic thought. Listen to part 1 first, or get the unbroken, ad-free Citizen Edition. Your Citizenship will also get you access to an exclusive follow-up discussion that gets into more of Bloom's comments on Nietzsche, Freud, and Rousseau. This is also available at patreon.com/partiallyexaminedlife. Please support PEL! End song: "Greatness (The Aspiration Song)" by TC&I; hear Mark's interview with singer/songwriter Colin Moulding on Nakedly Examined Music #74.

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"The Closing of the American Mind": Allan Bloom on Education (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

On Allan Bloom's 1987 best-seller about why students' disconnection from Great Books has led to relativism and ultimately nihilism. What is the role of the university in our democracy? Bloom relates from his many years' teaching the problem with kids today: They're subject to the evils that Tocqueville warned us go with American-style democracy: They're conformist, superficial, focused on the practical at the expense of the soul, and worst of all, the democratic ethos taken intellectually means that they're indiscriminate: Everyone's ideas are equally good. Bloom thinks that a liberal education should be the cure for this: By connecting with brilliant minds of the past, witnessing them speaking across history to each other, we become part of the great conversation about truth and virtue. People need to at one point in their lives seriously consider the question "what is man?" in relation to our highest aspirations as opposed to our common, base needs. We need to forget, at least temporarily, about training for a particular job or any other practical consideration, and just engage in thinking for thinking's sake, which is the thing that Aristotle said makes us most human. Bloom bemoans that incoming students for the most part no longer have favorite books, that their music is all instant gratification, and that they see truth and relative. While it is democracy itself that tends to support making people like this, ironically this condition means that we're no longer fit to intelligently participate in politics. Bloom thinks that we need to understand intellectual history to understand the foundations of liberty and so be able to defend it. In overthrowing elites like the church and the noble class, we should become independent thinkers, but what much more often happens is that we just go along with the crowd, and the crowd's ethos in our case involves an ignorant scientism that ignores the needs of the soul, a leveling of values the precludes any serious discussion of the good, and the related idea that every opinion is equally valid. Bloom includes Rawls and Mill in this condemnation. As you may recall, both of these thinkers were insistent that government shouldn't dictate the good to citizens (in Mill's case, this was a matter of not restricting speech), but Bloom is less concerned with the logical consequents of their philosophies than with the actual, social consequences, which in both cases Bloom diagnoses as nihilism: By denying values a central place in public norms, we promote mere legalism, pragmatism, i.e. a lack of values. The full foursome is on board to reflect on how we feel about these critiques. Have our society and our educational system really produced a bunch of Nietzschean "last men?" Does Bloom's suggested program of Great Books (which is pretty much what Wes underwent at St. John's) actually produce better citizens? The image is by David Levine, drawn for the New York Review of Books' review of Bloom's book by Martha Nussbaum, which is pretty scathing and well worth your time. She focuses on the elitism involved in Bloom's account; he's really only worried about the quality of education of his elite students, and recommends a regimen that will surely be out of reach of most people who actually have to worry about making a living.

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Conceptual Schemes: Donald Davidson & Rudolf Carnap (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Finishing Davidson's "On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme" (1974) and moving on to Carnap's "Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology" (1950). Carnap's paper comes 22 years after his Aufbau project that we covered in ep. 67, and is really a response to Quine's 1948 paper "On What There Is," which we covered in ep. 66. His point is that when we use a certain vocabulary, whether talking about physical objects ("the thing language") or mathematical objects or subatomic particles or whatever, we're not really (contra Quine) making metaphysical claims. So ontological questions like "Are there really numbers?" are just pretentious and don't really make sense. The vocabulary of mathematics involves numbers, so within that linguistic framework (that scheme), yes, of course there are numbers, but the question of whether, outside of a particular framework, "numbers exist," is a pseudo-question. (Bertrand Russell, for one, worried about this, trying to reduce numbers to sets, which he found less metaphysically problematic.) So even though the Carnap was written well before Davidson's paper, we can take it as a potential response: A conceptual scheme is most sensibly construed as a domain-specific vocabulary. I can talk about the same social phenomena, for instance, in terms of bio-anthropology, sociology, or theologically (as the interplay of souls), and there's no clear reason why all the words in each vocabulary need to be reducible or translatable into words from the other vocabularies. Now, there might be other reasons why you'd want to reject the use altogether of some vocabulary (I'm looking at you, theology!), but it's not clear that we need to reject it merely on grounds of untranslatability, and this sort of theory-specific untranslatability is what Kuhnians (maybe) and others are talking about.

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Conceptual Schemes: Donald Davidson & Rudolf Carnap (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

On Davidson's "On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme" (1974) and Carnap's "Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology" (1950). What does it mean to say that we grasp the world through a conceptual scheme? Are schemes different between cultures or even individuals, such that we can't really understand each other? Davidson thinks that this doesn't make sense: For schemes to be really different and not just something like different coordinate systems that can be used to map a single plane, it has to be the case that you can't translate one scheme's concepts to concepts in the other scheme. But Davidson thinks total lack of translatability is incoherent: Just to be able to describe what the differences are between two sets of concepts means you're describing the foreign concepts in your own language, i.e., translating them. If a language were wholly untranslatable, we'd have to judge it not a language at all. The issue of partial untranslatability is more complicated, and we are rejoined by Lawrence "Dusty" Dallman (from our Sellars episode, which is relevant to Davidson's reasoning here) to help us disentangle the arguments and decide whether Davidson has characterized schemers like Thomas Kuhn plausibly.

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Film Analysis: mother!
Partially Examined Life

On Darren Aronofsky's philosophical 2017 film about humanity's relationship to nature. We discuss the philosophical content of the film (Gnosticism, anyone?) and explore the relation between meaning and the sensuous aspects of an artwork. Can a work be both allegorical and yet have fully fleshed out characters and the other elements that make a film feel real? This was a very polarizing film; how do the circumstances of viewing affect reception? Mark and Wes are joined by filmmaker Tim Nicholas (watch and read his work). As always with these filmic episodes, you should really see the film before listening to this. It's definitely worth your time, unless you are positively averse to artsy films or very sensitive to violence, as there are a couple of intense moments in it. Our discussion gets spoiler-laden after the first few minutes. This was selected as a good case study to explore what we'd learned about authorial intent in our last episode. Aronofsky is a quintessential auteur, and he's been very forthcoming about the meaning of the film, and we prepared for this in part by watching many clips, reviews, and interviews of him talking about it. Certainly having some idea of what to expect helps one to enjoy this film (which we all agree is very good despite pissing off many people), but is having the author tell you what it is the best way to achieve that? Tim at one point quotes David Bordwell. Here's the article that quote is from, and here's an article Tim wrote on Bordwell for the PEL blog. Late in the discussion Mark refers to Aronofsky's previous film, Noah. End song: “The Day of Wrath, That Day,” by Sarah McQuaid, as interviewed on Nakedly Examined Music #72.

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Authorial Intent (Barthes, Foucault, Beardsley, et al) (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Continuing on "The Death of the Author" by Roland Barthes (1967) and "What Is an Author?" by Michel Foucault (1969), and finally getting to “Against Theory” by Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels (1982). What could it mean to say that a text, once written, speaks itself, that it no longer really has an author? We get into the specific critiques Foucault has of the cult of the author and what kind of open-ended, reader-centric types of analysis he proposes in its place. And then on the weirdness of Knapp and Michaels's thought experiment about a poem written by natural forces on a rock that's supposed to show that the meaning of a work just is (i.e., is numerically identical to, it doesn't just resemble) the author's intended meaning. Listen to part 1 first, or get the unbroken, ad-free Citizen Edition; becoming a PEL Citizen will also get you access to part 3, in which Mark and Wes relate this to the philosophy of language, consider T.S. Eliot, and more. End song: "The Auteur" by David J (2018). Listen to Mark's interview with him soon at nakedlyexaminedmusic.com.

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Authorial Intent (Barthes, Foucault, Beardsley, et al) (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

On four essays about how to interpret artworks: “The Intentional Fallacy” by W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley (1946), "The Death of the Author" by Roland Barthes (1967), "What Is an Author?" by Michel Foucault (1969), and “Against Theory” by Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels (1982). When you're trying to figure out what, say, a poem means, isn't the best way to do that to just ask the author, if he or she is available? Or maybe to see if the author wrote in a contemporary diary any notes about the poem? According to "New Critics" Wimsatt and Beardsley, no, we should forget about anything external to the work itself. Well, OK, yes, understanding things like the customs or use of language at the time something was written, or even how an author idiosyncratically used a particular phrase, can be helpful, but this is still different than relying on the author to simply tell you what it means. Do authors really have a privileged vantage on the meaning of a work? Barthes and Foucault likewise argue against the cult of genius that places the author's personality and intentions at the center of art criticism. Barthes stresses that the work is not the product of a singular intellect but is a "tissue of citations," i.e., artists are channeling everything they've been influenced by. These citations all converge on the reader, who should be in charge of determining the work's meaning, not the author. The work in itself always admits of multiple interpretations, whatever the author might have intended, and in fact once something is written down, it becomes in a certain way autonomous, independent of the author, in effect speaking for itself; Barthes says that "every text is eternally written here and now." Foucault agrees that we should lose the image of the genius behind the work, and compares this loss to Nietzsche's "God is dead," in that the task in so declaring in both cases is to figure out all the implications of this absence. He argues that the artist's name serves as a social classificatory function: "Aristotle" refers less crucially to a specific person (we're not even totally sure that all the texts attributed to him were by the same person) than to a way of marking certain texts with distinction and historical importance. He thinks that getting rid of the author as tyrant over a work's meaning opens up space for numerous kinds of interpretations. Knapp and Michaels first present E.D. Hirsch (who had responded to Wimsatt/Michaels in 1967) as a defender of authorial intent, but then say that both Hirsch and the New Critics have it wrong: The intended meaning just IS the work's meaning. It's not that the work gains its meaning from a meaning in the author's head; there aren't two meaning-entities (one in the work and one in the head), but just one, and it's right there in the work so long as it really is an authentic instance of language. To illustrate: even if some marks on a rock looked like language, if there was no author with an intended meaning, then we'd have to say that it was just a coincidental resemblance, that no language was on the rock at all. The authors conclude that because there is no distance between the meaning to be understood and the author's intended meaning, there is no role for literary theory at all. This seems to all four of us an unwarranted stretch; there's still the problem of figuring out what a work means, and there's still room for multiple interpretations, and theory is a matter of establishing different sorts of interpretations. Understanding that the utterance has an intended meaning is different than understanding what that meaning is. (Read the article.) Now, in part one here, we only thoroughly get through the first of these articles. Barthes image by Charles Valsechi.

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Discussing "Lysistrata" and Politics with Lucy and Emily (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Concluding our discussion of Aristophanes's play with Lucy Lawless and Emily Perkins. We focus on trying to connect its lessons to the here and now: Is Lysistrata's victory properly described as the ascension of some kind of ""feminine spirit"" over warlike values, and how does that actually relate to women's struggles now to attain positions of power? Is sex helpful to the state or a threat? Do people need to be oppressed to tamp down sex's destructive potential? Of course, what you've always wanted out of a philosophy podcast is to hear us spitball about the appeal of Trump and gloss over various feminist slogans that we'd have to actually read something about in the future to evaluate properly.

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Discussing "Lysistrata" and Politics with Lucy and Emily (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

We are rejoined by actresses Lucy Lawless and Emily Perkins to discuss Aristophanes's bawdy play. Listen to us perform it first. Supplementary readings included Jeffery Henderson's introduction to his 1988 translation of the play; "Sexual Humor and Harmony in Lysistrata" by Jay M. Semel (1981); and "The 'Female Intruder' Reconsidered: Women in Aristophanes' Lysistrata and Ecclesiazusae" by Helene P. Foley (1982). We discuss the play in terms of a clash between the oikos (home) and polis (city). Women were taken to have rights and responsibilities in the oikos, but none in the polis. Unlike in tragedies like Antigone, where the female lead adopts assertive, "male" traits to "intrude" into the polis, Lysistrata exerts political power by making use of oikos values, i.e., by encouraging women to use the the type of power traditionally associated with women, and so ultimately her "revolution" is not revolutionary at all. We explore the various feminist and anti-feminist elements in the play, and try to relate it to the present: Women were oppressed because sex was (and is!) seen as inherently dangerous, as disruptive to political life. Can "make love, not war" be a politically effective slogan now? Given that women are now much less restricted to particular roles, what do we make of claims that are still made now that if women ran things, we'd have a lot less war? What would it be for a woman in politics now to exert her "feminine attributes" to gain power in the way Lysistrata does? Given how messed up Ancient Greek society was, does this play have anything to teach us?

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

Continuing our free-form discussion, trying to make sense of Stanley Fish's “There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech, and It’s a Good Thing, Too” (1994) and other potential rationales for prohibiting hate speech. How might the same sentence or idea be used in different speech acts, some of which might be legitimately censured but others not? Also, given the legal right to express an opinion, what responsibility might we have to facilitate expression of opinions, given that if no one gives it a hearing, then there's no real right to communication at all?

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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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