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Why is Cornell West being interviewed in a cab?
December 17, 2008 1:57 PM   Subscribe

"Courage is the ennabling virtue for any philosopher," says Cornel West in this clip from The Examined Life, a film by Astra Taylor. Peter Singer talks about the morality of consumption and how we should spend our money, as he did in this NY Times Magazine essay published two years ago today. Given the internecine violence in the Congo, for example, Singer's 1971 essay, Famine, Affluence, and Morality is worth a second (or first) look. The film features several other contemporary philosophers, including Judith Butler, Kwame Anthony Appiah, and Slavoj Zizek. Of course, people looking for a more musical version of philosophy, could forgo the film and just watch this Monty Python bit.
posted by cal71 (11 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
the unexamined life is not worth living. The examined one is not so hot either.
posted by Postroad at 2:17 PM on December 17, 2008 [8 favorites]


i'm with ya, postroad.

and if i have to examine life the way that judith butler examines life, i shall stab my self mightily in the eyes with a two-tined fork.
posted by CitizenD at 2:35 PM on December 17, 2008


Why is Cornell West being interviewed in a cab?

She did the same thing in her previous (2005) documentary Zizek!, a film I felt was overlong and a bit haphazard--if nevertheless worth watching.

I've not yet seen her new film, but my first impression is that the living philosophers she's chosen to feature are a somewhat predictable, safe, and less than inspiring bunch. But then again it's hard to make an engaging doc on abstruse topics like philosophical quietism, epistemological verificationism, or teleosemantics.
posted by ornate insect at 3:30 PM on December 17, 2008


An examined life never boils.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 4:05 PM on December 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


I love Cornel West. But Peter Singer spooks me because he doesn't seem to take into account the deeply human, perhaps biological, parts of ethics-- at least from what I have read about him and by him. We are biologically inclined to save the drowning child because it's a real child, in front of us now. We're not biologically inclined to give everything we have to charity to help nameless, unknown strangers.

And if everyone did that, it would truly be fabulous, but here in the real world when you try to create systems to force that, you end up with systems that end up causing harm. Not that capitalism and all its excesses doesn't cause harm and not that socialistic systems like the Scandinavian model don't do better than anything else I can see at mitigating it. But I'm not convinced you can do much better than that-- and I know you can do much worse. And the coldness of his ethical arguments seem to be linked to the "worse" (as in, kill the disabled baby because of the cost).
posted by Maias at 4:13 PM on December 17, 2008


NOTED POST-MARXIST SOCIOLOGIST, PHILOSOPHER, AND CULTURAL CRITIC SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK WELCOMES YOU TO THE GYM.
posted by homunculus at 4:19 PM on December 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


Cornell West: Courage is the ennabling virtue for any philosopher.

What the hell does this mean? The more I listen to Cornell West talk, the more I feel as though he's just a guy who's mastered the art of quoting philosophers charismatically like some sort of pseudo-intellectual preacher.

I once heard him speak at a college convocation. When he finished, I was elated, and joined in the standing ovation. Then I suddenly sat down, realizing he hadn't said anything - he'd just uttered a bunch of inspirational quotes with bigger words than we're used to.

Besides, it's not difficult to make the argument that Plato saw courage as the lowest of the virtues, especially considering the Republic. Courage requires ignorance; the wise could never be brave, since they already know what's coming.

But, fine, Cornell. Plato wants us to be brave, examine ourselves, 'become a different kind of person,' 'have the courage to love' - hey, you even know the line number!

I really like the fact, though, that this video gave me a reason to listen to Boards of Canada.
posted by koeselitz at 6:58 PM on December 17, 2008


I love Cornel West. But Peter Singer spooks me because he doesn't seem to take into account the deeply human, perhaps biological, parts of ethics-- at least from what I have read about him and by him. We are biologically inclined to save the drowning child because it's a real child, in front of us now. We're not biologically inclined to give everything we have to charity to help nameless, unknown strangers.

It's certainly true that you'll feel much more strongly about saving a child right in front of you then unnamed unknowns. But doing whatever you feel like from moment to moment isn't ethics.

But, fine, Cornell. Plato wants us to be brave, examine ourselves, 'become a different kind of person,' 'have the courage to love' - hey, you even know the line number!

Yeah, damn him for not giving us something unpredictable in a 30 second soundbite chosen post-facto by a marketing person!
posted by delmoi at 8:45 PM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


"What happens," West asks, "when you interrogate yourself?" (Emphasis mine). The reason he calls that skill courageous is that most people can't, or won't, because they're too afraid of what they might find. You may have the courage to question yourself, insofar as you're willing to ask "Should I really pick A over B? Is there a C I could pick?", but very few of us are willing to push hard enough and ask whether we should be picking between A, B and C at all. Because if we answer that question know, it might mean we can't buy our designer shoes or really spend our money on ourselves (Singer), it might mean we can't live in our cozy home in the suburbs, it might mean there's nothing valuable any of us can do than contemplate truth in the desert. It might equally mean the opposite of those things.

Courage is willingness to confront the unknown, the truly unknown, the kind of unknown we can only get by interrogating ourselves.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:39 PM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but the truly courageous waterboard themselves.
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:35 PM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


When he finished, I was elated, and joined in the standing ovation. Then I suddenly sat down, realizing he hadn't said anything - he'd just uttered a bunch of inspirational quotes with bigger words than we're used to.

Perhaps he should run for president.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:56 PM on December 18, 2008


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