Musing – what is it?

But what exactly is ‘musing’ and what is its point? Why do it? What is its meaning, its outcome, its point?

Musing is mulling over something that you cannot get clear on, that you cannot pigeon-hole or slot into a definite place. Musing is thinking. Musing is being drawn back to turning something over and over in your mind trying to bring together all the different angles and dimensions so that it settles into a coherent unity. Musing is being caught up in a mystery, conflicting or contradictory intuitions or thoughts. Musing is circling round and round, like the proverbial moth, trying to find a point of rest or resolution.

It is important at this point to make clear that musing cannot be resolved by knowledge. Musing is not a search for knowledge; it is a search for coherence, for insight, illumination, for a metaphor. Read more of this post

Difference between analytic philosophy & continental philosophy 


If my experience of Anglo analytic philosophy is of a practice obsessed with the effort to formulate absolutely transparent propositions and their logical linkages or de-linkages bent on forming implacable movement towards unassailable conclusions, what about Continental philosophy? What has my experience of immersing myself in continental philosophy revealed?

We should remember an old adage: the point of greatest strength is also the point of greatest weakness. Thus for anglo analytic philosophy the concentration on clarity and logic is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. On the one hand, it means that their writing is clear and compelling, but on the other hand it is nit-picking and reductive: any gestures towards larger claims or illuminating metaphors or passionate speech are frowned on and denigrated. Analytic philosophy is thought, spoken and written in the most literal prose possible, in logical symbols even better; and thus draws a strong boundary between itself and any thinking/discourse/writing that is figurative, rhetorical, imaginative, emotional, expansive, or in any way ‘excessive’: this is the realm of literature and fiction.

So, what is my experience of continental philosophy? The first thing that stands out is that it cannot be read analytically—in the way I was taught to read in analytic philosophy. Perhaps I could put the difference like this: although continental philosophy can seem to be stringing propositions together in logical fashion to form an argument, in fact it is doing something different: it is bringing a range of considerations, metaphors, thoughts and ideas together in order to form a picture of things as a whole—not a concluding statement about some thing specifically. Continental philosophy is focused on trying to convey a sense of the whole; if you like, the whole of who we are, where we are, and possibly why we are. Thus continental philosophy is concerned with, if you like, the meaning of life, whereas analytic philosophy has narrowed down its interest to the meaning of propositions and their logical relations with other propositions. Analytic philosophy is not interested in projecting a sense of the whole—of reality, of the world, of history, or language, of culture, of our lives, of our hopes or desires. But these are precisely what interests continental philosophy.

This means that even the style of writing is different. Continental philosophy is trying to help the reader form a sense or feeling for the whole. This means its writing is more flowery, more rhetorical, more metaphorical, is more poetic, has more twists and turns, more jokes and irony, and is more playful—in short, is less driven by logic. The injunction underlying continental philosophy is: You must change the way you see things; use your reading of this text as a help to do this’. This contrasts with the injunction underpinning analytic philosophy which is: ‘You must follow this line of reasoning to its final conclusion with absolute attention; this will safe you from getting silly or grandiose ideas’. One focuses on the ‘meta’, the other on the ‘micro’.

OK, so far so good. But now this neat opposition between nit-picking logic and grandiose gestures must be complicated. For in another sense continental philosophy is also opposed to grandiose gestures too. What I mean by this is that historically in philosophy, grandiose gestures took the form of philosophical systems. That is, what was gestured at was a structure of strict concepts – just like the concepts that analytic philosophy is dedicated to refining and burnishing. These conceptual structures are what has been called metaphysics. That is, they are the underlying structure of reality, of everything, of us, of knowledge, of morality, of politics, of life.

Analytic Philosophy as a dead-end

Rhetoric is not only concerned with the how of what we say, but also with the what. That is, it is just as concerned with how we work out what to say, how we find and follow ideas or thoughts as with how we shape them to create a convincing speech or text.

So, I will begin with some reflections on my own ways of finding what to say.

I was trained in philosophy, analytic philosophy, a discipline that was obsessed with logical reasoning. The idea was that you would begin with one thought or proposition and then realise that that logically led to another one, and then on to a further one, and so on until you reached the final concluding thought or proposition. Each link in the chain of thoughts was a logical necessity, a deductive relation. There could be no jumps or gaps between the thoughts. Those trained in philosophy will immediately associate this description with three things: the practice of reasoning formulated by Descartes; the flow of ideas in philosophy articles or books; and the aggressive search by reading or listening philosophers for any jumps or gaps or ‘holes’ in the necessary flow of propositions.

This game of finding the hole in an argument was an intellectual game I threw myself into with relish when young. Read more of this post

Emergence of New Rhetoric

Insofar as the revival of rhetoric under the auspices of a theory of argumentation is a renewal of the Aristotelian emphasis on inventio, on the discovery of the persuasives in relation to a matter or case in question, then I am all in favour of this theoretical and pedagogic effort. It constitutes a way for those regions – Germany, France, Holland, England – where rhetoric had been reduced to the stylistic study of rhetorical figures in literature and oratory, to renew a more substantive rhetoric, a rhetoric concerned not just with style, figures and elocutio, but with also with logos, inventio and persuasive argument.

For both Perelman and for Toulmin, this renewal of argumentation was enacted via a return and reworking of Aristotle. However, it is important to note that it did not involve a renewal of contact with Cicero, Quintilian or Isocrates. That is, what is being renewed is a quite narrow understanding of richness of ancient rhetoric. Read more of this post

Appliable pedagogy

I have always been suspicious of the idea of ‘appliable theory’ (but cf Halliday’s clarification re difference between ‘appliable’ and ‘application’/‘applicable’ (in The Influence of Marxism’).

To me, each new pedagogic site or context is wholly new. Rather than simply transferring pre-existing frameworks or practices or curricula, I prefer to try to begin with a blank slate and let the affordances and exigences of the place emerge in their own way. Thus, I do not like to begin a new pedagogic task with a preconceived palate or framing. Whereas Descartes insisted on beginning theory and thinking with a tabula rasa, I insist that that is how we should approach practice and action. We should begin with nothing formulated, but trust the interchange between our theoretically informed imagination, habitus and attunement to respond to the affordances, powers, capacities, blockages, possible openings of the pedagogic scene.

This contrasts with those who enter a new pedagogic situation with the mantle of ‘expert’ or ‘primary knower’. A stance like this cannot learn or listen: it is only by acknowledging that we don’t know and don’t even know what we don’t know, that it is possible to open up to learning from the new context. As Gadamer insists: Experience is learning that you what you currently think and habitually think is untrue.

My assumption is that any attempt to simply transfer a pedagogy from one context to another will fail. Stoically, one could gloss this by saying that you were using the new context as a test case, Popper style. However, in my experience those using this approach usually blame the context for not living up to their pedagogic scheme rather than acknowledging that it has revealed a deep flaw in their conceptual scheme. Those following this subsumptive style of acting invariably work a few small tweeks and then proceed to the next context and again try to impose their regime … again with little success. That is, they might justify their approach by arguing that it is an inductive methodology and that over time it will accumulate the features of a pedagogy that is generally applicable.

However, fundamentally this style of acting is subsumptive. It is based on a strong belief in the universality of concepts and their appliability-capacity to form, shape, dominate, and productively harness the messy conjunctures of social life to conform to the demands of the concept.

By contrast, my practice is (or was) governed by two principles: every context or instance is unique; practical success can only come from emptying your mind of preconceptions and attuning your sensibility to the meanings circulating and shaping a context or instance. This means that you are forced to reinvent your pedagogic practice from scratch: sometimes you find that you have created a wholly new pedagogy, sometimes you find that you have recreated a variation on an existing pedagogy. in either case, the emergence of the pedagogy is in response to a phenomenological encounter and entanglement with the realities of the situation within which you are hoping to form, or better, which you are hoping to shape into a form that constitutes a productive pedagogy.