Evening School Sem 1 2021
Four philosophy 12-week courses taught online March - June.
When: 8 March - 3 June 2021
Where: ONLINE. All courses will be taught via Zoom. Video recordings will also be available within a few days after each seminar for those who can't make the schedule. Access to readings and zoom classrooms are including in your registration email (please check junk folder if you don't see it). All payment must be made via credit card during enrolment. Also it's worth noting that Melbourne is 11 hours ahead of UTC until the first Sunday in April and then 10 hours ahead.
Evening School Programme
2 hours per week for 12 weeks
Henri Bergson: Tendency and Time
Lecturer: Dr Tano Posteraro
Schedule: Mon 6.30-8.30pm. March 8 - May 31. (No Class April 5)
Location: Taught via Zoom online.
We are in the midst of what some have been calling the Bergson renaissance. Long read as one of the central influences on Deleuze, Bergson’s work is now the subject of increasing study in its own right. Bergson’s insights into the reality of time, the unforeseeability of the future, the virtuality of memory, the biology of action, and the creativity of art and life have been taken up across a number of fields and movements in and outside the philosophical humanities.
There are a number of ways to read Bergson. This seminar focuses on his theory of time, or duration, as a means by which to develop a systematic conception of Bergson’s metaphysics. We proceed through his three landmark texts in chronological order. From Time and Free Will, through Matter and Memory and into Creative Evolution, we will watch what we might call Bergson’s ‘system’ come together by tracing the movement of the theory of time from the psychological domain in the first text to the evolutionary register in the last.
According to the interpretation that this seminar will explore, Bergson elaborates a philosophical understanding of the evolution of life in general by employing a set of concepts that are derived first from psychology. Those concepts are time and tendency. The way time is lived as duration and felt in the form of tendency to act become images or analogies for the nature and structure of life. Among other issues, the seminar will interrogate the philosophical method that secures this basic move. The goal is to come away with a rigorous understanding of Bergson’s philosophy as well as a renewed sensitivity for how its key concepts are developed in the unfolding of Bergson’s own thinking. Students of this seminar will be better able to appreciate and evaluate Bergson’s inheritors, such as Deleuze, as a result.
Week 1. Introduction – Context and Method. Reading: “Introduction to Metaphysics,” Creative Mind, pp. 133-169
We begin by briefly situating Bergson’s philosophical project in terms of its basic metaphysical aspirations and the method of intuition by which Bergson proposes to be able to realize them. This seminar will serve as an introduction to and overview of the defining features of Bergson’s system, as well as an induction into his distinctive style of writing and thinking.
Week 2. Time and Free Will, Ch. 1 – Intensity and Psychic State
The first chapter of Time and Free Will introduces us to Bergson’s critique of intensity and his qualitative conception of interior psychic states. These ideas set the stage for much of the argumentation of the rest of the book. We will pay particular attention to the way the critique of intensity underwrites Bergson’s provisional mind/body dualism, as well as how it is developed and modified later on. The idea of a purely qualitative psychic state without intensity or extensity is a kind of linchpin for a number of Bergsonian positions.
Week 3. Time and Free Will, Ch. 2 – Duration as Psychological Time
The second chapter formulates Bergson’s first conception of duration as time lived through heterogeneous qualitative change. In addition to parsing it out according to its various dimensions, will compare this conception against some other phenomenological models for lived time in order to grasp what is novel about Bergson’s view. We will pay particular attention to the implications the psychological conception of time has for a theory of memory, as well as for the possibility of an ontological understanding of impersonal duration.
Week 4. Time and Free Will, Ch. 3 – Freedom and Tendency
The last chapter of the text deploys the ideas of qualitative psychic state and psychological duration as a theory of action. Bergson brings his earlier arguments to bear against the binary alternative between determinism and indeterminism regarding the human agency. He signals the beginning of a theory of tendency that his later texts will work out. It is presented at first as an alternative to a causal understanding of determined action on the one hand and a spontaneous understanding of random or uncaused action on the other. The idea is that all actions express tendencies and are free to the extent that they contract and embody tendencies at a level deep enough to define a psychological profile.
Week 5. Matter and Memory, Ch. 1 – Images and Perception as Action
The first chapter of Matter and Memory introduces us to Bergson’s theory of images, one of the singular contributions of his philosophy. We will evaluate the ability of this theory to split the difference between realist and idealist views of matter and mind. Then we will discuss Bergson’s view of the body, a topic missing from Time and Free Will. We will conclude this session by parsing the details of Bergson’s conception of perception as virtual action, and assess its promise for a philosophy of embodiment.
Week 6. Matter and Memory, Ch. 2 – The First Kind of Memory
In this session we will focus on Bergson’s intervention into theories of attention and recognition. We will discuss how he leverages these topics in the direction of a virtual theory of memory as image and a motor mechanism theory of memory as habit. We will evaluate the mechanistic status of embodied memory and begin to formulate a robust understanding of the category of virtuality concerning the past as it exists in itself.
Week 7. Matter and Memory, Ch. 3 – True Memory and the Virtual
This session will be dedicated to a careful discussion of memory in itself, or the past as it exists independently of its recollection in the form of images. We will interrogate Bergson’s conception of virtuality and explore the role it plays in his metaphysics more generally. This session will be pivotal for the rest of the seminar, as we will pay particular attention from here on to the way virtuality is used alongside the idea of tendency to ground Bergson’s philosophy of life as such.
Week 8. Matter and Memory, Ch. 4 – Overcoming Dualism
This chapter promises to overcome the mind/body dualism that the first three chapters of the book provisionally assumes. We will reconstruct Bergson’s argument for a tendency and time-based reconciliation between matter and memory as two forms or directions of movement, and evaluate the realist ontology it delivers. We will also look back over the text as a whole and discuss its relevance for contemporary thinking.
Week 9. Creative Evolution, Introduction + Ch. 1 – The Theory of Mind is a Theory of Life
In this session we find ourselves in a position from which to discern the movement of Bergson’s initially psychological conception of duration and memory in the direction of a philosophy of evolution. Our focus will be trained on the way introspection into the nature of mind reveals a small-scale contraction of the larger natural dynamics that formed it. We will discuss Bergson’s mature view of the biological body, the need for a philosophy of true evolution as the ontological correlate of psychological duration, and parse the shortcomings in the theories of evolution available at the time.
Week 10. Creative Evolution, Ch. 2 – Élan Vital and the Tendency to Differentiation
This chapter formulates a tendency-based conception of evolution and introduces us to the infamous élan vital. Bergson proposes that the essence of vital tendency is divergent development, producing animals and plants in two contrary directions, and then instinct and intelligence in another diverging set. We will evaluate the nature and status of the élan vital as an image for the tendency to act in the evolutionary domain. Then we will discuss the place occupied by the human being in this understanding of evolution and consider the charge of anthropomorphism.
Week 11. Creative Evolution, Ch. 3 – The Ideal Genesis of Matter
Chapter 3 is Creative Evolution’s most difficult. Though this chapter is known in part for the criticism of the idea of disorder, we will spend most of our time taking apart and reconstructing its claims regarding the “ideal genesis” of matter. This ideal genesis, sometimes called the “double genesis of matter and intelligence,” represents the conceptual culmination of Bergson attempt to overcome dualism. It also puts the theories of tendency and time to work, at an ontological level, in accounting for the production of matter, space, or body from out of the evolution of intelligence in life, mind, spirit, consciousness, duration, memory, or freedom. Matter, mind, and life are each tendencies, not existent things. Each tendency has its genesis in the extensification, or becoming-extensive, of an originally intensive multiplicity. The latter is, finally, what duration looks like as an ontological category. The “ideal genesis” doctrine is the subject of a number of influential commentaries on Creative Evolution by Canguilhem and Deleuze, among others. We conclude the session by considering what it was in this chapter that excited later thinkers.
Week 12. Creative Evolution, Ch. 4 –False Problems and How to Think Anew
We will conclude the seminar by reflecting on the implications of Bergson’s philosophy of evolution for the practice of philosophy itself. We will pay particular attention here to Bergson’s critique of spatialization and spatial thinking, as well as his critique of false problems, such as the question of why there is something rather than nothing. If Bergson’s views regarding the reality of time are taken seriously, then it is supposed to follow that philosophy as it has been carried out is constitutively incapable of grasping the dynamic nature of life, consciousness, and matter without spatializing them. A series of bold consequences are supposed to follow, not only for how to make sense of freedom (as in Time and Free Will), memory (as in Matter and Memory), or life (as in Creative Evolution), but for how to think in a philosophical register at all.
Henri Bergson. 1998. Creative Evolution. Trans. Arthur Mitchell. Mineola: Dover Publications.
———. 2001. Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness. Trans. F. L. Pogson. New York: Dover Publications.
———. 2004. Matter and Memory. Trans. Nancy Margaret Paul and W. Scott Palmer. Mineola: Dover Publications.
———. 2007. The Creative Mind: An Introduction to Metaphysics. Trans. Mabelle L. Andison. Mineola: Dover Publications.
Keith Ansell-Pearson. 2002. Philosophy and the Adventure of the Virtual: Bergson and the Time of Life. London: Routledge.
Gilles Deleuze. 2006. Bergsonism. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. New York: Zone Books.
Alex Lefebvre and Nils F. Schott. Eds. Interpreting Bergson: Critical Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
Leonard Lawlor. 2003. The Challenge of Bergsonism: Phenomenology, Ontology, Ethics. London: Continuum.
Mark Sinclair. 2020. Bergson. New York: Routledge.
Frédéric Worms, Anne Fagot-Largeault, and Jean-Luc Marion. Eds. 2008. Annales bergsoniennes IV: L’Évolution Créatrice 1907-2007: épistémologie et métaphysique. Paris: PUF.
Key Philosophical Attitudes
Lecturer: Dr Valery Vinogradovs
Schedule: Tues 6.30-8.30pm. March 9 - June 1. (No Class April 6)
Location: Taught via Zoom online.
The history of philosophy and, correspondingly, contemporary philosophical education can be approached in a number of related ways. For example, Western philosophical tradition can be severed into cultural epochs, e.g. classical antiquity and modernity. Another way is to consider sub-branches and their intersections, such as ethics and political ethics, or philosophical movements, such as idealism and feminism. It is also common to overview the oeuvre of a philosopher, their individual works, or else to reconstruct a genealogical relationship between a cluster of thinkers and ideas. One day we may even take a course dedicated to the biographies of philosophers, to learn about philosophers’ being in the world, but this lecture series draws our attention to another traditionally neglected aspect of philosophical education: namely, key philosophical attitudes.
Engaging with the history of philosophy, as it has survived, one encounters all kinds of open-ended insights, incongruities and contradictions. Interestingly, searching for their meaning in a given cultural context, philosophers not only practice philosophy in dissimilar ways, but also tend to disagree on the most fundamental questions. What is human and meaning? Dialogue or/and dialectics? What is the value of nature and mathematics? Where to direct our critical efforts, into the political realm or/and the realm of personal ties, and how? Do we have an obligation to disobey unjust laws? What may violence and creation, health and freedom, crisis and philosophy stand for?
When the plague is over, will the “normal” life return? What power drives one to think that the plague will be over, that the “normal” is worth restoring? Naturally, one may feel puzzled by a mass of possible responses to these and other philosophical problems explored in our course. Still, one should be prepared to adopt a personal attitude toward the ambivalence characterising the human condition, an enigma. Otherwise, this state of puzzlement will surely be manipulated by someone/something else than you. Attempting to prevent this misfortune, our classes investigate a kaleidoscope of cross-cutting attitudes:
Scepticism: Socrates’ Confusion with Sophists
Losev, A (2000). A History of Ancient Aesthetics vol. 2. Moscow: AST
Plato (2002). The Trials of Socrates: Six Classic Texts. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing
Cynicism: Diogenes the Dog and Street Discourse
Laertius, Diogenes (1925). Lives of Eminent Philosophers vol. 2. London: William Heinemann
Pessimism: Hegesias the Death-Persuader and Illusion of Happiness
Murray, J. Clark (1893). ‘Ancient Pessimist’. The Philosophical Review, vol. 2 (1): 24-34
Lampe, Kurt (2014). ‘Hegesias’s Pessimism’. In The Birth of Hedonism. New Jersey: Princeton University Press
Aestheticism: Epicurus, the Threshold of Feeling and Life
Epicurus (2011). Fragments. Translated by Peter Saint Andre. Online version
Rosenbaum, Stephen (1985). ‘How to be Dead and Not Care: A Defence of Epicurus’. American Philosophical Quarterly vol 23 (2): 217-225
Aestheticism with Justin Clemens: Foucault and Nietzsche on Self-Creation
Foucault, Michel (2001). The Hermeneutics of the Subject. New York: Palgrave McMillan
Nietzsche, Friedrich (2002). Beyond Good and Evil. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Pessimism: Disillusionment in Baltasar Gracián
Gracián, Baltasar (2016). The Art of Worldly Wisdom. New York: Currency Doubleday
Cynicism: Sloterdijk's Critique of Cynical Reason
Sloterdijk, Peter (1988). Critique of Cynical Reason. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press
Scepticism: Maleness of Philosophy and Culture
Bordo, Susan (1988). ‘Feminist Scepticism and the “Maleness” of Philosophy’. The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 88 (11): 619-629
Scepticism: Montaigne’s Essaying Self
Montaigne, Michel (1993). The Complete Essays. London: Penguin Classics
Cynicism: Dying Foucault on parrhesia
Foucault, Michel (2001). Fearless Speech. Cambridge: MIT Press
Pessimism: Colonial Plague and Progress
Wilderson III, Frank B (2020). Afropessimism. New York: Liveright Publishing
Munro, Thomas (1958). ‘The Failure Story: A Study of Contemporary Pessimism’. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol 17 (2): 143-168
Absurdism: Camus’ Rebellion
Camus, Albert (2000). The Rebel. London: Penguin Classics
Todd, Oliver (2000). Camus: A Life. New York: Carroll & Graf
Camus, Albert (2009). The Plague. London: Penguin Press
From the Market of Information to the Pharmacology of the Gift: Extensions of Stieglerian Neganthropology
Lecturer: Dr Daniel Ross
Schedule: Wed 6.30-8.30pm. March 10 - June 2. (No Class April 7)
Location: Taught via Zoom online.
In the final period of his work, Bernard Stiegler focused on the notion that the Anthropocene could be construed as an Entropocene, provided that the concept of entropy is understood in the light of what Alfred Lotka called ‘exosomatic evolution’ (as distinct from the endosomatic evolution studied by biology). From this ‘exorganological’ standpoint, it is clear that the current macroeconomic model not only is unsustainable, but also that it requires urgent critique from the perspective of the struggle not just against thermodynamic entropy (for example, climate pollution) but also against biological entropy (for example, loss of biodiversity) and informational entropy (for example, the loss of what Stiegler calls noodiversity), and, furthermore, where resolving the first two problems (of thermodynamic and biological entropy) proves to depend on addressing the third: the entropic effects of computational technologies. This in turn led him in his last texts to call for a ‘refoundation of informatique théorique’, a renewal of theoretical computer science, given the centrality of data in the functioning of so-called algorithmic platforms and the macroeconomic model in general.
This Semester 1 Course aims to present and explore this standpoint, including the re-evaluation of the concepts of entropy, negentropy and anti-entropy, the critique of the current global macroeconomic model, and the call for a new theoretical approach to information and computation. Beyond Stiegler’s own work, however, it aims to rethink the very foundations of an approach to ‘economy’ from what Stiegler calls a ‘neganthropological’ standpoint, specifically by critiquing and transforming some of the most significant anthropologies of gift-giving and exchange, from Mauss to Lévi-Strauss, Bataille and Godelier, as well as the work of economic historians such as Philip Mirowski. This will necessarily entail reflection on the relationship between structuralism, cybernetics and information theory, with the aim of finding a path towards responding to Stiegler’s call. But in the pursuit of the most general question of gift and exchange, it will also open up a perspective from which it becomes clear that such questions cannot be divorced from other questions: those of aesthetics, technology, desire, kinship and sexuality. A genuine exorganological neganthropology, it will be argued, necessarily entails a very large transdisciplinary project involving all of these fields, and situating them in relation to what Stiegler has also referred to as a ‘sur-real cosmology’.
1. Introduction to the Neganthropology of Bernard Stiegler
2. From Boltzmann to Schrödinger to Lotka to Longo
3. On the Call for a Refoundation of Informatique Théorique
4. The Market as Information Processor: Philip Mirowski
5. Marcel Mauss on the Gift and Georges Bataille on the Accursed Share
6. Claude Lévi-Strauss on Exchange and the Structuralist Critique of Mauss
7. Maurice Godelier on Inalienable Gifts and the Critique of Lévi-Strauss
8. Outline of a Pharmacological Critique of Godelier on Exchange
9. Kinship and Exchange: Lévi-Strauss, de Beauvoir, Godelier
10. Outline of a Pharmacological Critique of Godelier on Kinship
11. Sensation and Participation in the Light of Neganthropology
12. Conclusion: Steps Towards a Sur-real Cosmology
The Fold: Deleuze and Leibniz
Lecturer: Dr Jon Roffe
Schedule: Thurs 6.30-8.30pm. March 11 - June 3. (No Class April 8)
Location: Taught via Zoom online.
The aim of this course is threefold. First, it will provide an introduction to the philosophy of GW Leibniz. Second, it will present a detailed overview of intricate and extensive engagement with Leibniz staged by Deleuze in The Fold, while placing this in the context of his broader reflections on Leibnizian metaphysics. Finally, we will consider the portrait of the Baroque that Deleuze intertwines with his reading of Leibniz.
1. Introduction, Overview of Leibniz 1: logic, theology, necessity
2. Overview of Leibniz 2: substance, perception, the body
3. The physics of bodies
4. The soul and the world
5. Inclusion: from logic to individuality
7. The event
8. Perception and the body
9. Domination and the vinculum substantiale
10. What is the Baroque?
11. Baroque art
12. Conclusion: from the monad to the nomad
Readings: Given the less than satisfactory character of the published English translation of The Fold, we will be using an unpublished translation by Daniel W. Smith, and the main readings will be drawn from this. Readings will also be set from the excellent Ariew and Garber collection of pieces by Leibniz, Philosophical Essays.
Difficulty: intermediate to advanced. This is among the most difficult of Deleuze’s texts, on a philosopher whose own thought is wide-ranging and difficult. Some background in the history of Western philosophy, and broad familiarity with Deleuze’s earlier Difference and Repetition would be of value.