Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Speaking of the Speaking of Matter: Responses to Casey and Sushytska

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Speaking of the Speaking of Matter: Responses to Casey and Sushytska

Article excerpt

Iwould like to thank Edward S. Casey and Julia Sushytska for their deep engagement with my book and, even more, with the issue it tries to raise. The questions they ask are deep and the problems they pose are large; they have taught me much, not only about what was said in On Philosophy1 but about what remains to be said. I will begin and end my response here with Sushytska, taking on Casey in the middle.

I. Crisis and Reason

Sushytska points out that in the last few years, the European mind has, as I will put it, flipped geographically. The core values of the West-"dignity, freedom, and self-determination"-are now honored more at Europe's peripheries, such as Ukraine, than at its ancient centers, where political parties with neo-Nazi platforms have won recent elections in France and the United Kingdom. She suggests that this sudden flip betokens an epochal crisis in reason itself, and I agree. Her claim that political developments like this can affect the nature of reason may seem startling, but on a general level it has precedents: even Kant shows in his "What is Enlightenment" that reason, even if not for him grounded in history, must be deployed in history (in his day, it had to become "public"). In order to understand reason itself as it actually exists, then, we must have a viable interpretation of current history. It is producing such interpretations that is the problem. They are always perilous and require constant adjustment, when not outright revision (see OP 137-45). But they must be hazarded nonetheless, and the more so in light of Shushytska's insight. What do the recent geopolitical changes in Europe tell us about reason itself?

The first step in answering that question is to retract my suggestion that the events in question constitute a "flip." In a sense, nothing in Europe has even changed; the only thing new about neo-Nazi victories in the heart of Europe is the "neo." Nor have aspirations to dignity, freedom and self-determination been foreign to Ukraine throughout its long history. If Ukraine has suddenly become a leading upholder of these traditionally '"Western'" values, I suggest it is be- cause-even on the brink of civil war-Ukrainians understand better how to uphold them than do people like the British, French, and Germans. They uphold them, or seek to do so, in a "borderlands" way-in a flexible, pragmatic spirit proper to pluralistic societies that are open to influences coming from a variety of directions. This is not, I take it, the result of any happily pragmatic spirit among the Ukrainians, but because-like the Americans-they have no alternative.

Decentered societies like Ukraine and the United States have ill-defined national identities, for in Western metaphysics from Aristotle on, the "identity" of a thing is its central and unchanging form.2 Such unchanging cores are not to be found in inwardly pluralistic and geographically open societies like Ukraine, which has a large Russian minority and in which fully a third of the population speaks the languages of the countries surrounding it on the East European Plain (Russian, Hungarian, Romanian, etc.). The leading countries of Western Europe, by contrast, exhibit stable core identities all too clearly. They have imposed such identities on themselves, largely through their educational systems, so that each has a recipe for what it means to be a "true" member of it. These recipes are sur- prisingly concrete; they govern matters ranging from food and drink (wine, tea, or beer; poulet de Bresse, kippers or Schnitzel) to religion (Catholic, Protestant, or both) to, of course, language (French, English, German).

During the Cold War, many such concrete traits dropped out of Western Eu- ropean national identities. Britain, France, and Germany, under pressure from the United States, redefined their national decision procedures in terms of rational choice theory: they built their national policies, and behind those their national identities, on free markets and contested elections. …

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