Sunday, August 28, 2011


Sorry for the disappearing act this summer, it has been a very busy time for me. I am back, having moved to a new city and new philosophy department, and will be offering new posts soon. I am also acutely aware that I never finished my posts concerning the Ancient Philosophy Society. This will be rectified soon.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ancient Philosophy Society 2011 Meeting, Part Two

(All pictures were taken by me at the Sundance resort during the conference)

Day Two Continued (see my previous post for details)

Panel: The Evolution of Nature in Early Greek Thought

"'Now that it has left its stump on the mountain;' the Withdrawal of Nature in the Iliad I"
by Thomas Thorp of Saint Xavier University

This is the paper I was asked to comment on and I am extremely excited by the project. The work of Tom I am familiar with, primarily this paper and an earlier one presented at the meeting of the APS in New York several years ago, tends to focus upon a careful reading of the use of particularly important words within Homer and the implications this use has for philosophical issues, especially those connected to social and political concerns.

In this paper Tom focused upon the first use of the concept of nature within the Iliad and, therefore, arguably the first documented use we find of the concept in western history. His provocative point was that the first time nature appears in the Iliad it does so on its verbal form, Phuo, rather than the substantive Phusis. In other words, nature's first appearance is as an event of begetting. Furthermore, this verbal use is the origin of the substantive noun for nature. Tom suggested that it wasn't until Aristotle's work that we find a fully developed concept of nature as a self-developing ordered system.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ancient Philosophy Society 2011 Meeting, Part One

I just returned from this year's meeting of the Ancient Philosophy Society at the Sundance Resort in Utah. I have been attending the APS for several years now and have had the opportunity to both present and repeatedly offer comments to this incredibly rigorous group. I am happy to say that this year's meeting was probably the best conference I have ever attended. It was sponsored by Utah Valley University and hosted by Michael Shaw. Michael and those who assisted him, primarily the two Program Coordinators of the UVU Honors Program Tiffany Nez and Allen Hill, all worked exceptionally hard to bring about a very successful conference. I would like to thank each of them, but especially Allen Hill who helped me repeatedly throughout my stay and was a lot of fun to hang out with.

I also had the opportunity to meet many of the UVU philosophy undergraduates and I found them all to be extraordinarily well educated and intelligent. They are a testament to the superb educational work of the UVU philosophy faculty. In particular they reflected the amazing talents of the faculty I had the pleasure to spend time with including Michael Shaw, Shannon Mussett and Pierre Lamarche.

In this and the following posts I would like to provide a summary of the conference for those who were not able to attend. I hope that it will also encourage those who have not previously been members of the Ancient Philosophy Society to join.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Heidegger Circle 2011

I just recently found out that my paper "What Homer can Teach us about Seynsgeschichte" was accepted for presentation at this year's meeting of the Heidegger Circle. Needless to say, I am very excited and honored.

I will also be responding to Thomas Thorp's paper "'Now that it has left its stump on the mountain;' The Withdrawal of Nature in Iliad I" at this year's meeting of the Ancient Philosophy Society.

Hope to see some of you at one or both of these events.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Engaging Heidegger

Here is a lovely moment from Richard Capobianco's impressive book Engaging Heidegger:

"In the final session of his lecture course The Principle of Reason in 1955-6, Heidegger, reflecting on Heraclitus' Fragment 52, likened Being to a child's play (Spiel). Being, understood originarily and fundamentally, is simply the 'play' of presencing, of emerging, a play without 'why'. 'It remains simply play,' he observes, 'but this "simply" is everything, the one, the only.' Similarly, we may say that Being is the 'clearing' that simply clears. We are cleared in the clearing. And in releasing ourselves to the clearing, we see through to the utter simplicity of our existence." (Engaging Heidegger p. 122)

Monday, January 31, 2011

On the Ontic and Ontological

I was recently accused, in a very kind manner, of confusing the ontic and ontological levels of Heidegger's perspective when I relate Ereignis to the "opening up of a world" which Heidegger claims art can bring about in the Origin of the Work of Art. I tend to take the most extreme versions of what it would be for art to open a world to be cases in which an originary event in the form of art brings into existence entirely new disclosive practices. The counter claim was that what Heidegger discusses in the Origin of the Work of Art is ontic world change while Ereignis is ontological. This would ground the idea, which I disagree with, that speaking of "originary events" on the scale of Ereignis in the plural is a mistake.

How should we conceive of the ontic-ontological distinction? For those educated in a Kant dominated philosophical context the tendency is certainly to think of it in terms of the empirical-transcendental distinction. I feel, however, that we would be much closer to Heidegger's own thoughts on the issue if we focus instead upon Emil Lask's matter-form distinction. Recognizing the difference between these two models is useful because the Kantian distinction is absolute. Transcendental structures always remain transcendental, and according to most readings of Kant they are not open to change because of events on the empirical level. Lask's matter-form distinction, however, is not absolute. What is formal on one level counts as matter on another and so on. Furthermore, these distinctions are not epistemic but rather constitute distinct ontological levels of reality. When we add Lask's principle of the material determination of form to this theory Kant's priorities are reversed. Ontologically the material level determines the formal level, thus opening up the formal to historical change. Lask, for example, discusses the formal as arising from the "involvements" or "activities" of the material. We might consider, then, the ontic level to concern what something is and the ontological level to concern how something is i.e. what mode of Being grounds the particular entity in question. Lask's theory provides the inspiration for Heidegger's concept of formal indication which functions on both the ontological (used in a common sense) and methodological level. In other words, attention to the phenomenon-matter of interest indicates the formal-ontological level which makes its existence possible, while phenomenon-matter can also indicate/give-rise-to new formal structures.

As should be clear from what I have just suggested, despite its transcendental rhetoric I take Heidegger's Being and Time to be a step in Heidegger's life long project to think the ontological level in a way which opens it up to the possibility of historical change. This is a commitment, I believe, which Heidegger developed very early on under the influence of both Lask and Dilthey. This is also what is occurring in Heidegger's analysis of Ereignis and art's opening of a world. In each case we have the seemingly material-ontic, for example concrete historical art events, giving rise to the formal-ontological, for example basic practices which open up new modes of Being which allow for new types of entities. This is very much in line with Lask's principle of the material determination of form.

In following Lask, however, the categories of ontic and ontological will not be absolute and stable. Things will be ontic on one level and ontological on another, this is part of what it means for the ontological to be open to historical change. This also means that some things are "more" ontological than others. Certain practices will be more fundamental than others. The same goes for originary events. They will be more or less fundamental, which makes it true that many, perhaps most, cases of art opening a world will not be anywhere near as basic as the event Heidegger discusses in terms of Ereignis. However, that does not mean that all such events are necessarily less basic.