Won't You Be My Neighbor?

It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,

A beautiful day for a neighbor.

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?...

It's a neighborly day in this beauty wood,

A neighborly day for a beauty.

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?

I've always wanted to have

A neighbor just like you.

I've always wanted to live

In a neighborhood with you.

So, let's make the most of this beautiful day.

Since we're together we might as well say:

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?

Won't you be my neighbor?

Won't you please,

Won't you please?

Please won't you be my neighbor?

c. 1967, Fred M. Rogers


Are we ultimately "individuals" or "collectives"? Are we "collectives-of-individuals"?

No doubt these basic assumptions form the most important starting points of what later become libertarian or socialist approaches to questions about the just distribution social resources and opportunities. While it seems absurd to pitch one's tent with the libertarians--who, after all, has ever been perfectly isolated from interdependencies and socially-corroborated descriptions and explanations?--we recognize that there's something in this view of the self that is right.

But what is it? Surely, in most society-models, the outcome recommended by libertarians is unacceptable; compassion, equality, and the very conditions for the exercise of basic rights is largely precluded by the narrow version of "liberty" granted by the lib's. But the ongoing formation of our identity as individuals is driven--at the very least, "steered"--by something not collective. Figuring out what that is is one problem (if it is an "it" to begin with). Figuring out whether or not the answer to what "I" am is related to justice-- is another. (Philosophers have always assumed that what the self is and what is required for "justice" are closely related. Could this connection have been overestimated?)

I am my own engine, my painter-and-canvas, my self-revising-narrative-and-critic--some metaphors to run with. Where do others fit in? They're not simply "ingredients" nor "accidents" or "incidents" in my progress. A loss of an intimate rips a hole in one. This is not a metaphor for the feeling of loss; I'm convinced it is a description of one's very constitution. But what does that truth imply? That one's constitution is not one's own to begin with? We're back to the "collective" starting point.

If we're chased by these considerations away from all three starting points, seeing the self neither as a unit nor a collective nor even a combination, we may find ourselves taking the position that the self is an alteration, a shifting center that hangs together because of any number of items: its projects, its emotional habits, its possessions, its social nexus. Something about this is happier, logically, than the above alternatives. But then we have the uncomfortable job of pinning a noun on a process, and that makes one squeamish for other reasons. Is this where nausea comes from?


Should We Go To War?

Memphians are bitterly divided about whether war is the moral way to deal with Iraq. For a moment, let's set that debate aside and do something easy - like consider our self-interest. Take as fundamental one simple premise: No American wants to suffer physically or economically. War in Iraq frustrates both of those desires.

Unless there is broad-based international agreement about disarming Iraq it is reasonable to expect the following to happen:

* The United States will attack and occupy Iraq. Some estimates call for a 5- to 10-year occupation at a cost of around $1 trillion.

* Our economy will shift toward paying for these expenses. Al-Qaida will still be at large and will find it easy to rally new followers for more attacks. As a result the United States will face decades of terrorist attacks like 9/11. Given the amount of shipping flowing through Memphis, we are a big and easy target.

* During a war Iraq will likely attack Israel and Israel's prime minister, the hawkish Ariel Sharon, will respond with tremendous force. Will other Arab countries take the opportunity to become involved? Bet on it. The Mideast will become a violent conflagration.

Even those whose only concern about the Mideast is its energy will not find this outcome to their pocketbook's liking.

Supporting this scenario isn't patriotic, it's apocalyptic. No president deserves support for taking a great country like America in a direction such as this. Americans who are loyal to our principles and to the troops who fight to defend them should say no to anyone who would betray them. And that includes the President.

David Hildebrand


Published in GoMemphis (Commercial Appeal)


Why no funerals for miscarriages?

The idea that personhood could rest on social recognition or sentiment is denied by John Noonan because neither criterion could possibly be fixed enough to determine what counts, metaphysically, as a person.

For some, however, these criteria are enough to make abortion morally illegitimate. Many non-philosophers don't need further proof, and the potential mobility of feeling or social conviction doesn't bother them. (Either "the worse for them" or "the worse for philosophy.")

Why are there no well established traditions for the loss of a fetus from miscarriage? Just about everyone agrees that this is a grievous loss, but for those who believe that personhood begins at conception, is it not a loss that deserves the same treatment that an adult death would receive: namely, a funeral? Is the lack of common and well-established rituals to mark the passing of a fetus due to miscarriage (among those who believe personhood begins at conception) evidence for anything metaphysical (e.g., that it is not actually believed that a fetus is a person, even though it may still be of the highest immorality to end its life)? Or is it more innocuous than this, for example the fact that since a fetus has no social connections there is no purpose to the closure that a funeral would bring?


Enough with the France bashing!

In NYT letters, February 18, 2003 former United Nations diplomat Phillip Corwin asks a great question about our reinvigorated Francophobia:

"Are we to expect that because the United States reluctantly intervened in a European war six decades ago, and in the process helped liberate France, that France must now blindly obey for the next four zillion years whatever a warmongering American elite decides is just?"

If we cannot refrain from bashing France, is there really any hope for countries in the Middle East?

Corwin asks for some perspective: "It was France that helped America achieve independence from a tyrannical Britain more than 200 years ago. Should the United States therefore be obligated to pledge its blind allegiance to French foreign policy forever after?"



In Mind and World John McDowell is worried:

How can we stand up for the constraints placed on our knowledge by "the way things are" without either falling for a Davidson-style coherentism (where beliefs can be justified only by other beliefs, not by some kind of epistemic relation to something extra-mental) or a Given (shown specious by Sellars)? Davidson's willingness to accomodate (through coherence) the Kantian spontaneity of concept-making that we all share raises for McDowell "the spectre of a frictionless spinning in a void." (MW 18) Instead, McDowell writes, "We seem to need rational constraints on thinking and judging, from a reality external to them, if we are to make sense of them as bearing on a reality outside thought at all." (MW 25) Where, I wonder does this need come from? It's not a practical need, surely; it's more of an architectonic need, a need that systems require. But since the explicit ambition of the system McDowell is pressing for is to connect with "the world" it seems odd to use the word "need" in connection with the solution to his concern.


Defeasible Syllabi

Would it be possible to start a class off with a syllabus that specified a certain list of readings,
tests, papers, rules, etc. with the idea that as the course progressed those readings and rules and evaluations
could be changed, modified, scrapped democratically? What a mess that would be. But within certain
limits, would it not be a way to improve a course (along with the course evaluations) without having to
wait until the course was over?

I've been entertaining the idea of having a small comment form on my online syllabus that would allow
students in the class to submit suggestions anonymously during the semester. "There are not enough readings."
"I wish we could read the Third Critique, too!" and so forth.

Reading, writing, philosophy.

How to keep writing when there's so much to read. A problem. The persistent worry that one hasn't
read enough to justify writing more. So many journals, books, online blather. Is it supposed to be new? Profound? All those poor souls
who want to keep their jobs teaching and writing philosophy so they write and write until they're given the tenure they need to keep their jobs. And then,
they discover, that they haven't really *thought* about anything for a long, long time, and so they have nothing real to write. Only blather.
Babel--the necessary condition of the possibility of non-blather. A riddle in an enigma wrapped by bacon.