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20 June 2021

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  • Three Constraints on the Philosophy of Art
    20 June 2021

    by Daniel A. Kaufman


    Preliminary Remarks

    After a brief hiatus in the last century, the search for a definition of ‘art’ has resumed with great vigour. Wittgensteinians may bemoan this as intellectual atavism, an anachronistic longing for “essences,” but I am inclined to think that the revival of the question of ‘art’ ’s definition is a good thing, for it is often in the search for a definition that one advances one’s understanding of something, a benefit that remains, even if no definition ultimately is found. And while there is much in the Wittgensteinian critique of traditional semantics that I find compelling and which will figure into my analysis here, I must agree with Terry Diffey that to embrace anti-essentialism too strongly is to “run the risk of its cutting us off from important insights…which would otherwise be available to us.” [1]

    It is because the project of defining ‘art’ has undergone such a healthy revival, with some of our best philosophers weighing in on the question, that the time seems right to step back and examine the definitional project itself. I will outline three constraints, which any definition of ‘art’ must satisfy as a basic condition of adequacy, and although I will not discuss which of the current definitions of art satisfy these constraints, some discussion of them will be required, if the constraints are to be effectively presented.

    Historicality and Indexicality

    Let me begin by suggesting that the philosophy of art is inherently historical, in a way that other areas of philosophy may not be. My point here is only indirectly related to Jerrold Levinson’s notion that “whether something is art now depends…on what has been art in the past,” for while I agree that “historicality,” as Levinson calls it, permeates every artwork, the present idea is that philosophies of art are also constrained by history in a distinctive way. [2] Rarely do we find in metaphysics and epistemology that philosophical theories stand or fall as a result of historical developments. [3] Hardnosed dialectic is the arbiter of the truth in these areas, and more often than not it is inconclusive. But a moment’s glance at the course taken by the philosophy of art over the last several hundred years reveals our subject to have been positively driven by the history of its subject-matter, to an extent unprecedented within philosophy, even when one considers those other areas deemed “second order,” such as the philosophy of science or the philosophy of language.

    The primary story of the three traditional philosophies of art — of Representationalism, Expressivism, and Formalism — is one of theories being overrun by art-historical developments: the representation theory rendered untenable by the emergence of absolute music; the expression theory collapsing, when confronted with pure abstraction; and formalism meeting its doom in urinals and mock Brillo boxes. [4] It was not uncommon for partisans to refuse to admit that their favorite theories had been rendered obsolete, but their refusals had little impact on the artworld, for it had been established that the nature of art is such that philosophies and theories of art can never function prescriptively, but at best descriptively. [5]

    Art history’s authority over the philosophy of art was recognised by the followers of Wittgenstein, whose later philosophy was important precisely for its insistence on the priority of practice over theory. Whether one is talking about meaning, epistemic warrant, or other normative philosophical notions, what Wittgenstein opposed was the sort of approach favored by traditional philosophy and by the logical positivism of his own day, according to which such notions are determined in absentia and in abstracto and come into contact with practice, only when being imposed upon it. Wittgenstein’s view was that if philosophical notions like meaning and warrant have any validity at all, it can only lie in practice itself — that all that can be meant by ‘meaning’ or by ‘warrant’ are certain aspects of certain practices, realized in complex and often irregular patterns of behavior — and that consequently, the best that a philosophical account can do is offer a description after the fact; one that must remain open, because human practices are themselves open, in that they are ever evolving.

    Diffey, however, has maintained that Wittgensteinianism is as insensible to history as traditional philosophy and that this is why, in his own work in the philosophy of art, he has sought a “midway course…between the extremes of Plato and Wittgenstein,” one that allegedly resides with Hegel. [6] I must admit to finding this mystifying (not the admiration for Hegel, but the assessment of Wittgenstein), because a significant part of the Wittgensteinian rationale for abandoning traditional semantics, in favor of a semantics based in family resemblances, is precisely the fact that many if not most (true believers might even say all) terms and concepts are shot through with historicality.

    The task of the tool-box and other metaphors and language-games that appear in the early sections of the Investigations is to discredit traditional semantic theories like Frege’s, which are constructed around the concept of reference, by demonstrating that terms and expressions have a multiplicity of customary uses, aside from that of denotation. [7] But it is easy to miss the fact that this account of a multiplicity of uses is not intended simply to describe a current state of affairs — i.e. that there presently are a multiplicity of uses of words like ‘game’ or ‘art’ — but rather to point out that the customary uses of terms and expressions change over time; that the history of even a single term or expression may contain a heterogeneous and sometimes an inconsistent lineage of uses.

    It is also easy to forget that the theory of family-resemblances is itself a theory of reference … of sorts. It is an effort to explain by virtue of what terms and expressions that do denote attach to the things within their extension. Specifically, it is intended as a solution to the problem of how terms and expressions refer in the absence of a Fregean sense, which arises not only because there may be, at present, a heterogeneity of possible referents of the expression in question, but because of the ever-present potential for future such heterogeneities of reference. It is because the extensions of terms like ‘game’ or ‘art’ not only presently include a wildly disparate group of objects and activities, but also would appear to be open to unlimited future expansion and contraction, that there can be no intension that will correctly delineate the extension of either term, at present or in the future.

    There is a particular irony in Diffey’s charge that Wittgensteinianism is unhistorical because it is in the philosophy of art that the relationship between Wittgensteinian semantics and the historicality of terms and expressions is probably the clearest. Indeed, historicality is explicitly invoked by Wittgensteinians as the primary rationale for a family-resemblance semantics for ‘art’. The aesthetic anti-theory advanced by Morris Weitz, for example, is grounded in the inherently innovative character of art and the unpredictable course of art history; on the idea that because art is always changing, there will never be a single quality or cluster of qualities that will define ‘art’ over time. “What I am arguing,” Weitz writes, “…is that the very expansive, adventurous character of art, its ever-present changes and novel creations, makes it logically impossible to ensure any set of defining properties.” [8] So, while I agree with Diffey that there is a problem with Wittgensteinianism, I must disagree with his assessment of it. The problem is not that Wittgensteinianism is insensible to the historicality of terms and expressions, but rather that a family-resemblance semantics is the wrong way to account for it. Indeed, a family-resemblance semantics is no better at accounting for the extensions of terms and expressions steeped in historicality than the traditional theories of meaning that it was intended to supplant. [9]

    Maurice Mandelbaum was one of several philosophers (Arthur Danto was another) who saw that more than one lesson might be drawn from the failure of traditional philosophies of art to meet the challenge of historicality. Certainly, the Wittgensteinian view that the very project of defining ‘art’ is misguided is one conclusion that a person might reach, but Mandelbaum wondered whether philosophy’s failure to produce a sound definition of ‘art’ might not simply be a consequence of focusing on the wrong sorts of properties; that rather than concentrating on the exhibited, perceptible qualities of artworks, philosophers should instead attend to the myriad relationships that artworks have had and continue to have to the rest of human life; that the definition of ‘art’ should be relational in character. [11]

    It is not immediately obvious why such a shift in focus should be of any help in our present struggle, for if a definition of ‘art’ that centers upon an exhibited quality can become dated by virtue of a shift in art-historical trends, why should such a shift not also date a definition of ‘art’ that focuses on the relationships that art has had with respect to human life? Does anyone doubt that these relationships have undergone as many changes as have art’s exhibited characteristics? One often gets the impression that those in favor of a relational account of artworks see it as a solution to the problem of historicality — to the inability of philosophers to find exhibited qualities of artworks that will prove to be defining over time — but, taken by itself, this is an insufficient rationale. [12] Not because such exhibited features will be found (they won’t), but because it is unobvious why anyone should think that trans-historical relationships between art and human life are going to be found either.

    The Wittgensteinians’ contention that the historicality of ‘art’ and the heterogeneity of the objects that fall within its extension compel us to embrace a family-resemblance semantics for ‘art’ is based on a false dilemma: that terms and expressions either have intensions (in the manner of Fregean senses) that determine which objects or activities fall within their extensions, or their extensions are determined by way of family-resemblances. Of course, there is a whole class of terms, characterized by the absence of Fregean senses, for which a family-resemblance semantics would seem equally unsuitable, namely the indexicals; i.e. words like ‘it’ and ‘that’. Obviously, indexicals refer, but their extensions are characterized by such extreme heterogeneity that it is as impossible to imagine a family-resemblance semantics for them as it is to conceive of their having Fregean senses. So, it would seem that all that we legitimately can conclude at this stage, with regard to the definition of ‘art’, is that it must be quasi-indexical. Whatever content we assign to the word must enable it to function like words such as ‘it’ and ‘that’, since it will be called upon to pick out radically different sorts of objects, over the course of thousands of years of history. (I say “quasi-indexical,” because, as we will see later, any adequate definition of ‘art’ will have to assign more by way of content than is required for a true indexical such as ‘it’ or ‘that’.) Explicitly formulated as a constraint — I will call it the “indexicality requirement”— what we have is something like this: An adequate definition of ‘art’ must treat the word as quasi-indexical, so that it can accommodate the inherent historicality of art and the potentially infinite heterogeneity of artworks that is a consequence of that historicality. [13]

    Of course, as things turned out, Mandelbaum was right: in addition to being quasi-indexical, ‘art’ must be defined in terms of a relation or set of relations rather than exhibited properties. But, many of us have been confused, I think, as to why he was right. That any adequate definition of ‘art’ must be relational has nothing to do with the historicality of art, per se, and everything to do with the particular course taken by art history in the early to mid-twentieth century. Though Relationalism is a solution to a problem that confronts the philosophy of art, it is not a solution to the historicality problem. And it was Danto, not Mandelbaum, who first identified the real impetus for a relationalist definition of ‘art’, in a series of papers, inspired by the Readymades and Pop Art, to which I turn next.

    Relationalism and the Readymades

    So long as the story of the philosophy of art’s failure was simply one of the inability of previous philosophers to discover exhibited features of artworks that would retain their definitional status over time, it was not entirely unreasonable to hope that such features might eventually be found, for even as late as the 1940’s and 50’s, the project of searching for a definition of ‘art’ was still a relatively new one, as compared with other essentialist programs in philosophy. [14] It is likely for this reason that the Weitz’s anti-theory never took hold. It was just too difficult to convince philosophers, after so short a time on the job, that the definitional project had been exhausted. But with the arrival of Pop Art on the scene, all reasonable hope of defining ‘art’ in terms of perceptible qualities was extinguished, and this set the stage for relational theories of art.  The grounds for this change were laid down earlier in the century, with Duchamp’s Fountain, but the shift in paradigm only occurred with the advent of Pop and with works like Brillo Boxes. [15]

    What Fountain and works like Brillo Boxes demonstrated was: (a) that anything could be a work of art; and consequently (b), that there is always the possibility that there may be perceptually indistinguishable things, some of which are artworks, the others which are not. These two facts precipitated nothing less than a crisis in the philosophy of art, essentialist and anti-essentialist alike. For traditional essentialists, they revealed the folly of the idea of defining artworks in terms of exhibited characteristics. That things like bathroom fixtures could be artworks foreclosed on the possibility that any perceptible quality could be a necessary condition for being art, since one could always imagine an object that lacked that quality, but was an artwork, nonetheless. Furthermore, that for any artwork there might be a possible perceptually indistinguishable counterpart that is not art (paint flung randomly from a centrifuge that has taken on a pattern perceptually indistinguishable from Rembrandt’s Polish Rider, for instance), revealed that no exhibited quality could ever be a sufficient condition for being an artwork, for one could always imagine an object having quality, but still failing to be an artwork. [16]

    Of course, these facts were equally devastating to the Wittgensteinians, for they demonstrated that providing an account of ‘art’ in terms of family resemblances is as doomed an endeavor as the search for a traditional definition. For, if the idea is supposed to be that one focuses on accepted cases of art and then builds the concept’s extension by adding those things that resemble the accepted cases in relevant ways, then the fact that the set of accepted cases has come to include such items as urinals and Brillo boxes means that nothing will fail to resemble some artwork or other in a relevant way, and consequently, that everything will be art; a clear, if informal, reductio.

    Cases involving perceptually indistinguishable twins, one that is F, the other not-F, have long been familiar fixtures in the philosophy of language and the philosophy of mind, so a great deal of thought has gone into the question of what sorts of individuating principles are indicated by such cases. The consensus has been that there are essentially two ways of distinguishing perceptually indistinguishable twins: in terms of microstructural features that are invisible to the unaided eye or in terms of external relations to people, practices, or institutions. [17] So, if we agree with Jerry Fodor that “whether a twin is an artwork isn’t … a matter of its chemical analysis,” then we are left with the conclusion that something’s being art is a matter of its having a certain relational property, whereupon the key question becomes, “what relational property is it?” [18], [19] Consequently, our second constraint on the philosophy of art — call it the “relationalist requirement” — says:  A definition of ‘art’, if it is to be adequate, must be in terms of relational properties, so that we can distinguish those things that are artworks from their perceptually indistinguishable counterparts, which are not.

    Any number of relational accounts of art have been proposed since Danto’s early work on the Readymades and Pop and in the wake of his greatest work, The Transfiguration of the Commonplace, which set the standard for Relationalism. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that thanks to Danto, Relationalism is the dominant paradigm in Anglo-American philosophy of art today, with institutionalist and historical definitions of ‘art’ being, perhaps, the most popular versions of it. What this means is that the degree to which we are satisfied or dissatisfied with the theories currently on the scene, will have more to do with how they fare with respect to the first and third constraints than with respect to the second, for the relationalist revolution has virtually insured that the second constraint will be met.

    Reference, Performance, and Understanding

    Two important insights for which Wittgenstein must be credited are that the meaning of a term or expression cannot be understood in terms of a prior rule that governs its application and other uses and consequently, that understanding a term or expression cannot be not a matter of grasping its meaning. (Putnam has argued, along similar lines, that we must distinguish what determines the extension of a term from what determines linguistic competence, with respect to it.) [20] Some have seen in Wittgenstein’s arguments a tacit case for linguistic Behaviorism, although this interpretation is controversial. [21] In fact, the predominant opinion seems to be that not only did Wittgenstein not think himself a behaviorist, but that Behaviorism cannot be reasonably inferred from his writings. [22]

    The first point, as a purely biographical matter, may very well be true, but the second strikes me as unsustainable. Certainly, Wittgenstein’s Behaviorism is not like Ryle’s or Skinner’s, and it is also worth noting that Wittgenstein’s “anti-referentialism” informs a critique that applies to both mentalist and behaviorist ways of interpreting of mental ascriptions (it would appear that Wittgenstein thought that such ascriptions refer neither to mental states nor behavior, but function instead as performatives). [23] But despite all of these caveats, it is hard to deny that the actual position that emerges in the Investigations is of a behaviorist character. Wittgenstein may not be an eliminativist, inasmuch as he believes that behavior cannot but be identified under intentional description, but he is a behaviorist, inasmuch as he denies that mental states exist separately from and are the causes of behavior. [24] Wittgenstein’s Behaviorism is also evident in his conception of the intersection of the psychological and the linguistic: both in his rejection of the idea that understanding is a mental act of grasping a meaning and in his performative treatment of linguistic competence. “Don’t you understand the call ‘Slab!’,” he asks, early in the Investigations, “if you act upon it in such-and-such a way?”[25]

    The classic demonstration of a Wittgensteinian, performative Behaviorism, with regard to our understanding of the word ‘art’, is William Kennick’s “warehouse test,” in which we are asked to imagine a person who has been instructed to pick out all the artworks in a warehouse, filled with artworks and non-artworks alike, but with no definition of ‘art’ in hand. [26] Kennick argues that not only would this person be able to perform the task quite adequately, but that had he been provided with a definition of ‘art’ beforehand – say a representationalist or formalist one – he would have done the job less well; i.e. more of the artworks would have been left unselected, than would have been, had the person come to the test unprepared. His point is that what it is to understand the word ‘art’ is to be able to competently perform something like the warehouse-test; more generally, that what it is to understand any term or expression is to be able both to use and to respond to it in ways acceptable to the speaking-community. The search for a definition of ‘art’ is misguided, then, not simply because the term’s extension is characterized by intractable heterogeneity or because there is an insoluble paradox with respect to the idea of following a rule, but because even barring such difficulties, a definition would serve no purpose, since people simply do not consult meanings to determine how they should use and respond to terms and expressions, and such consultation is the only purpose meanings could serve.

    Diffey complains that the warehouse test “seems to be a mindless performance” and that “people who did the test but who…could not explain their choices would seem to have a mechanical understanding of the term.” [27] This is true, of course, but Diffey must recognize that it is hardly an indictment of a behaviorist position in linguistics to point out that it renders understanding and usage “mindless” and “mechanical.” No, the real problem is that Wittgenstein’s linguistic Behaviorism relies too much on traditional conceptions of definition and understanding, for only a person who thought that the sole conceivable purpose a definition could serve is to provide a rule for the application of a term or expression would conclude, on determining that there is no need for such a rule, that there is no need for a definition, and only someone who believed that the only thing that understanding could be is the grasping of such a rule would surmise, on realizing the folly of that view, that what is needed is a behavioristic treatment of understanding.

    My contention is that the best reason for seeking a definition of ‘art’ is not so that we can successfully pick out artworks or correctly respond to people, when..

  • "Sometimes a scream is better than a thesis."
    20 June 2021
    “Sometimes a scream is better than a thesis.”

    - Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals (1822–1863)
  • "He who would distinguish the true from the false must have an adequate idea of what is true and..."
    20 June 2021
    “He who would distinguish the true from the false must have an adequate idea of what is true and false.”
    - Baruch Spinoza, Ethics
  • Great moments in live rock 'n' roll: Foghat, "Slow Ride," 1976
    20 June 2021
    Foghat emerged from the British Savoy Brown Blues & Boogie Band, and really made it big in America in the mid-1970s, when they were a staple of stadium rock concerts (and, allegedly, one of the inspirations for the rock satire...
  • "The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very..."
    19 June 2021
    “The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will… but it is easier to define this ideal than to give practical instructions for bringing it about.”

    - William James, The Principles of Psychology
  • "It is amazing what one ray of sunshine can do for a man!"
    19 June 2021
    “It is amazing what one ray of sunshine can do for a man!”
    - Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Humiliated and Insulted
  • Blast from the past: philosophy of journalism?
    19 June 2021
    Or: "Why is Brian Leiter so mean to me," asks Carlin Romano back in 2009.
  • Colin McGinn’s Important Paper, ‘Can We Solve the Mind-Body Problem?’
    19 June 2021

    Our brains are made of matter: neurons, biochemicals and other physical stuff. All these things are (as it were) “flesh and blood”. So, the British philosopher Colin McGinn (1950-) asks, how can “technicolour phenomenology arise from [this] soggy grey matter?”. In other words, why does the brain produce, cause or give rise to something so different from matter itself? What makes the brain so different to all the other human organs? More specifically, what is it, exactly, about billions of neurons that gives rise to consciousness or experience?

    These questions were asked (if not in these precise ways) in Colin McGinn’s well-known and important paper, ‘Can We Solve the Mind-Body Problem’. That paper was published in 1989 in the journal Mind.

    Mind and Brain

    Despite all the above, the main issue of McGinn’s paper is not one of how or why consciousness arises from the the brain. It raises the possibility that the link between the brain and the mind (or, more accurately, consciousness/experience) may be — permanently? — closed off to us.

    McGinn calls this “cognitive closure”. And the “property” responsible for that cognitive closure he names P.

    McGinn focuses on our (possible) cognitive limitations.

    But firstly let’s take different species of animals. McGinn tells us that they are

    “capable of perceiving different properties of the world and no species can perceive every property things may instantiate”.

    Think here of bats and echolocation. Dogs too can hear sounds which we can’t even register and they have a far better sense of smell than human beings. So what’s true for other animal species will also be true for human beings.

    Yet all these examples only display sensory — i.e., not cognitive — limitations and extensions.

    So let’s get back to cognitive closure.

    McGinn’s (or our) P is a real (or actual) property. It may even be concrete (e.g., part of the brain). Thus McGinn doesn’t believe that he’s (to use his own term) “irrealist” about P. That said, McGinn does cite the possibility that P is noumenal. As with Kant, noumena are permanently unknowable — by (Kantian) definition. (Kant also believed — living before Darwin - that the structures of the mind-brain would remain static for… well, the rest of time.)

    It’s the very nature of the mind-brain link which renders P permanently closed off to us. Yet despite that possibility, P could still be — at least according to McGinn — part of a respectable naturalistic theory. Again, we shouldn’t be irrealist or mysterious about P. (Many philosophers do see Colin McGinn as a mysterian.) That said, one can’t help but see x as being mysterious if that x is also believed to be permanently closed off to us.

    So does McGinn actually think in terms of permanent cognitive closure?

    Hume, Locke and Kant

    McGinn discusses another case of closure which occurred in the philosophy of David Hume (1711–1776).

    To Hume, our perceptual limitations determine our cognitive limitations. (Hume was a thoroughgoing empiricist.) More clearly, Hume believed that because our “ideas” are always copies of sensory “impressions”, then that also meant that our concept-forming system itself must always rely on— in whichever ways — those impressions. Thus nothing can transcend the information provided by impressions. (It can be asked here what was Hume’s philosophical position — as an empiricist — on such things as the existence of distant stars, the past, other minds, mathematics, etc.)

    Now for Locke.

    According to McGinn, the English philosopher John Locke (1632–1704) also believed that “our ideas of matter are quite sharply constrained by our perceptions”. To Locke, this also meant that (to use McGinn’s words) “the true science of matter is eternally beyond us”. Mind-free matter is a (to use Locke’s own well-known phrase) “something-I-know-not-what”. In concrete and specific terms, this means (or in the 17th century it meant) that we can never know what, say, solidity “ultimately is”. (Why does McGinn feel the need to use the word “ultimately”?) Again, this doesn’t mean that Locke believed that nature “is itself inherently mysterious”. (It can be asked how McGinn knows that Locke didn’t think this.) According to McGinn’s Locke, the mystery simply

    “comes from our own cognitive limitations, not from any objective eeriness in the world”.

    Kant, on the other hand, believed that knowledge begins with impressions (or, more accurately, with “phenomena”). However, he also believed that impressions aren’t the sole source of our knowledge. That’s primarily because Kant postulated innate a priori concepts and categories which (as it were) get to work on phenomena.

    Back to McGinn

    Colin McGinn explicitly states his position with regards to P. To repeat: he claims to resolutely shuns what he calls “the supernatural”. P must be “natural”. (How does he know this?) He goes on to say that

    “it must be in virtue of some natural property of the brain that organisms are conscious”.

    McGinn then concludes:

    “There just has to be some explanation for how brains subserves minds.”

    Again, why must P be natural? Is this a case of McGinn having (as it were) faith in naturalism? Alternatively, is McGinn’s theory of P naturalist in the first place?

  • Agency in Youth Mental Health (6): “You’re not crazy, you just need to be shown compassion”
    19 June 2021
    This post is the sixth in a series of posts on a project on agency and youth mental health funded by the Medical Research Council and led by Rose McCabe at City University. Today a member of Young People's Advisory Group writes her reflections about the project and what it means to her. 

    The author is Catherine Fadashe, who is currently a third-year student at Birkbeck University studying English Literature and Italian. Her interests within mental health focuses on how to de-stigmatize culturally-influenced perceptions of mental health within Africa.

    In 2019, I delivered a TEDx talk speaking on my mental health journey since my suicide attempt when I was 18. Talking about something so personal on a public platform, and being so open and honest about the topic, gave me a huge sense of liberation. So when I came across the opportunity to be on the Young People’s Advisory Group (YPAG) for the McPin Agency project, I jumped at it because it was my chance to turn lemons into a lesson that others suffering can learn from. 

    The Agency in Mental Health project is important because it looks at whether the appropriate care and agency is given to young people when they seek out treatment for their mental health. This particularly interested me because I wanted to know if my negative experiences with therapy were abnormal or if they reflected the average experience of most young people. Unfortunately, I quickly realised it was the latter. 

    One of the things that has been beneficial in highlighting these issues are the videos we have watched during our meetings which were reflections of some of our personal experiences in the group. Within the videos it showed interactions between mental health practitioners and young people who have been referred to for an assessment or/and ongoing therapy.

    What I discovered whilst watching the videos was how grossly outdated the training that is given to mental health professionals is. The approach of many of the practitioners shown was mechanical and prescriptive with little to no compassion shown. As well as evaluating videos, one of the most significant aspects of our role on the YPAG panel is making contributions to the project proposal by suggesting what and how reform can be made in the treatment of mental health patients. Afterall, the long-term goal is that through the research done on the project it can enable better training for mental health practitioners in being able to give sufficient care and agency to young people.

    Growing up in a Nigerian household meant that I had to learn to sweep my struggles under the rug. Mental health was not something that was ever discussed in our home. So when things came to a head and I went for my first ever therapy session after my attempt, I found the experience underwhelming. After much reflection, I realised that being from a culture where mental health is stigmatised created barriers in my communication with my therapist due to cultural differences. This caused delays in treatment which inevitably worsened my mental state.

    I think one word which accurately sums up the difference between a good experience with a therapist and a bad one is empathy. In our lowest, loneliest and most desperate moments we wanted someone to make us feel like they cared. Like they were seeing us. They were hearing us - loud and clear. Not just blindly diagnosed by a doctor who signs off on a bunch of prescriptions to recalibrate our brain or to activate that little nub inside our heads that is so deeply starved of serotonin.

    Put simply, we wanted validation. Validation that we were good enough.

    Positive reinforcement goes a long way. Simple things such as saying, “You’re intelligent. You’re valuable. You’re beautiful” can make a world of difference to someone who never hears that. Or even to lower the volume on the negative voices that they hear in their head.

    Before there can be valuable and sustainable progress in improving the agency that young people feel over their mental health treatment there needs to be a more robust infrastructure within the health service that can handle the complexities of dealing with such patients. For example, a homeless young person who has been referred for therapy may not feel motivated to attend their sessions as they may not deem it a top priority. Therapy and medications will not fix their predicament. In this case, housing associations and homeless charities would also need to be involved. 

    Due to the pandemic and the lockdown that ensued in 2020, the YPAG members have not been able to meet in person. Nevertheless, thanks to the team members at McPin and academics leading the research we have all been able to gel well together during the Zoom meetings. Also, due to all the advisors having relevant lived experience of the topics discussed, we understand the importance of creating a safe space to listen to each other.

    I am so glad and grateful to have been able to participate in such a significant project. And I look forward to being a part of more of McPin’s projects to contribute to better care for people struggling with their mental health.

  • Pandava Nirjala Ekadashi – 21 June, 2021
    19 June 2021
    Narration from the Brahma-Vaivarta Purana Jyeshtha Shukla Ekadashi

    Ekadashi is an important day in the lives of devotees of Lord Krishna. It’s a day of austerities and intensified devotional practices. These recommended days of fasting are meant for learning to transcend the bodily needs, especially food, and fix one’s consciousness on one’s constitutional position as a loving servant of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna.

    Of all Ekadashis, the Jyestha Shukla Ekadashi, which falls in the hottest time of the year called Grishma ritu, is hardest for observing austerities. The summer is at its peak in the northern hemisphere and water is essential. On this Ekadashi one is supposed to fast not only without food but also without water. The glory of this Ekadashi is described in the Brahma-Vaivarta Purana in a conversation between Veda Vyasa and Bhimasena.

    Story of Pandava Nirjala Ekadashi

    Once Bhimasena, asked the Srila Vyasadeva, the grandfather of the Pandavas, whether it was possible to return to the spiritual world without having observed fasting for Ekadashis.

    Bhimasena said to Vyasadeva, “O learned grandfather, my brothers Yudhisthira, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva, my dear mother Kunti as well as my beloved wife Draupadi, all fast on each Ekadashi, strictly following all the regulative injunctions of that sacred day. They tell me to fast as well. But, learned grandfather, it is impossible for me to live without eating, because being the son of Vayudeva, I am unable to bear hunger. I can give charity and worship Lord Keshava with all kinds of upacharas (items) but I cannot fast on Ekadashi. Please tell me how I may obtain the merits of observing Ekadashis without fasting.”

    Vyasadeva said, “If you want to ascend to the spiritual world, you must observe Ekadashi on both the dark and the light fortnights.” Bhima protested, “Learned grandsire, I cannot live if I eat just once a day, then how can I fast? Within my stomach burns the agni (fire) called Vrika – the fire of digestion. Only when I eat heartily at every meal, is this Vrika agni satisfied. O great sage! I would be able to fast only once in a year so I beg you to please tell me about that Ekadashi fasting on which my obligation for fasting on all other Ekadashis is fulfilled. I shall faithfully observe that Ekadashi and become eligible for liberation.”

    Vyasadeva replied, “You should fast without drinking even water on the Ekadashi that occurs during the light fortnight of the month of Jyeshtha (May-June) at the time of Mithuna Sankranti when the sun travels from the sign of Vrishabha (Taurus ) to Mithuna (Gemini). One must certainly not eat anything, for if he does so he breaks his fast. This rigid fast is in effect from sunrise on the Ekadashi day to sunrise on the Dwadasi day. If a person endeavours to observe this great fast very strictly, he easily achieves the result of observing all twenty-four other Ekadashi fasts throughout the entire year.

    “O Vrikodara (voracious eater), whoever fasts on this Ekadashi in one instance receives the merits of bathing in all the places of pilgrimage, giving profuse charities to worthy persons, and fasting on all the dark and light Ekadashis throughout the year. Yamadutas will not approach him at death. Rather, the Vishnu-dutas will take him to the supreme abode of Vishnu.”

    When the other Pandavas heard about the benefits of following Jyeshtha-Shukla Ekadashi, they resolved to observe it as well. On this Ekadashi, they would refrain from eating or drinking anything, and thus it came to be known as ‘Pandava Nirjala Ekadashi.’

    Srila Vyasadeva instructed Bhima to engage in japa (chanting of the Lord’s holy names) on this Ekadashi day and on the next give charity to brahmanas and serve them prasadam. Bhima could then break his fast, taking prasadam with a brahmana. Vyasadeva extolled this perfomance of Ekadashi saying by observing it as recommended hundred previous generation would be liberated even if they may have been very sinful.

    Srila Vyasadeva concluded, “I strongly urge you to fast on this auspicious, purifying, sin-devouring Ekadashi in just the way I have outlined. Thus you will be completely freed of all sins and reach the supreme abode.” He assured Bhima that the performance of this Ekadashi would be very pleasing to the supreme Lord, Keshava.

    This year Pandava Nirjala Ekadashi falls on 21st June 2021.

    Click here to know – “How to observe ekadasi as per Srila Prabhupada’s instructions?”

    The post Pandava Nirjala Ekadashi – 21 June, 2021 first appeared on Blog.

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Philosophy Podcasts

Philosophy Podcasts

20 June 2021

Philosophy Podcasts Philosophy Podcasts
  • HoP 375 - Paul Richard Blum on Nicholas of Cusa
    20 June 2021

    Learned ignorance, coincidence of opposites and religious peace: Paul Richard Blum discusses the central ideas of Nicholas Cusanus.

  • Ep. #54 - The Non-Identity Problem in Bioethics
    20 June 2021

    On today's episode we explore the non-identity problem which has become central in many bioethics debates surrounding the beginning of life.

    Image Attribution: By Carin Araujo, - Stock.xchng #197853, Copyrighted free use,

  • Episode 363: The Machiavellians, Defenders of Freedom?
    19 June 2021

    In this episode of Pop the Left Derick Varn and Douglas Lain discuss Paul Matticks critique of James Burnham's "The Machiavellians, Defenders of Freedom." We ask the question, "Why do right-wing theories of social class so frequently infect the left and Marxism?"
  • Malcolm Gladwell on Running, Writing, and Storytelling
    19 June 2021

    On today’s episode of the podcast, Ryan talks to Malcolm Gladwell about his new book The Bomber Mafia which is an exploration of how technology and good intentions collided in the heat of the second world war, their mutual love of endurance sports, the critical infrastructure that surrounds art and culture, and more. 

    Malcolm Gladwell is the author of five New York Times bestsellers including The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers. He is also the co-founder of Pushkin Industries, an audio content company that produces the podcasts Revisionist History, which reconsiders things both overlooked and misunderstood, and Broken Record, where he, Rick Rubin, and Bruce Headlam interview musicians across a wide range of genres. Gladwell has been included in the TIME 100 Most Influential People list and touted as one of Foreign Policy’s Top Global Thinkers.

    LMNT is the maker of electrolyte drink mixes that help you stay active at home, work, the gym, or anywhere else. As a listener of this show, you can receive a free LMNT Sample Pack for only $5 for shipping. To claim this exclusive deal you must go to If you don’t love it, they will refund your $5 no questions asked.

    Blinkist is the app that gets you fifteen-minute summaries of the best nonfiction books out there. You can get Ryan’s own The Daily Stoic and more. Go to, try it free for 7 days, and save 25% off your new subscription, too.

     Talkspace is an online and mobile therapy company. Talkspace lets you send and receive unlimited messages with your dedicated therapist in the  platform 24/7. To match with a licensed therapist today, go to or download the app. Make sure to use the code STOIC to get $100 off of your first month and show your support for the show.

    Ten Thousand makes the highest quality, best-fitting, and most comfortable training shorts I have ever worn. They are offering our listeners 15% off your purchase. go to and enter code STOIC to receive 15% off your purchase.


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  • Theodor Adorno's "Education After Auschwitz"
    19 June 2021

    In this episode, I present Theodor Adorno's "Education After Auschwitz."

    If you want to support me, you can do that with these links:


    Twitter: @DavidGuignion

    IG: @theory_and_philosophy

  • Sensemaking the 'Lab Leak', Rebel Wisdom
    19 June 2021
    In the last few weeks, the suggestion that the Covid virus emerged from a lab in Wuhan instead of the wild has gone from 'fringe conspiracy theory', to 'possibility' to 'most likely explanation' for many mainstream media outlets.   At the same time, the way that the 'consensus' position was created and defended has been laid bare. This is a hugely important story that touches on many of the topics we've covered on Rebel Wisdom, the problems of Sensemaking, the manipulation of the information landscape by powerful actors, and the value of decentralised collective intelligence as an alternative sensemaking force.     In this film, we hear from some of the main players, and try to tell the story so far. This is a hugely complex story, which we have been researching for several months.   We have put together a comprehensive briefing document alongside our latest newsletter, to receive it, check this link:
  • #18b Divorce, Abandonment, and God with Kristance Buelow
    18 June 2021

    This is the second of a two-part interview with Kristance Buelow. During this portion of the interview, Kristance shares the story of losing her mother on her last day of high school; and how feeling abandoned by her church changed her opinion of God, and herself.

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  • While Justice Sleeps, with Stacey Abrams and Tayari Jones
    18 June 2021

    Stacey Abrams is widely considered one of the most prominent political power broker in the United States. She was the first African-American woman to become the House Minority leader in her home state of Georgia and the first African-American woman to be nominated by a major party for State Governor. Her fight against voter suppression helped win Georgia for the Democrats and helped Joe Biden secure the presidency. As Biden himself has said, ‘Nobody, nobody in America has done more for the right to vote than Stacey’. And as if that weren’t enough for this remarkable 47-year-old woman, she has also written two political books and eight romantic novels.

    In June 2021 she came to Intelligence Squared to mark the publication of her new thriller 'While Justice Sleeps', a page-turner set in the corridors of political and judicial power, which has already been a No 1 New York Times bestseller. Abrams will be in conversation with the internationally bestselling novelist Tayari Jones, whose book, 'An American Marriage', about the effects of a wrongful conviction on a young African-American couple, won the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019, dominated the top ten fiction list on both sides of the Atlantic for many months and has been praised by Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey.

    To find out more and order the book click here:

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  • What Did You Learn?
    18 June 2021

    “There’s no question that the last year and a half has been tragic. Millions of people have perished in a merciless pandemic, millions more are still dealing with the consequences. Businesses were destroyed. Jobs were lost that will never come back. Relationships were subjected to unimaginable strain. Institutions were stretched to their breaking points.”

    Ryan explains the importance of learning from experience, on today’s Daily Stoic Podcast.


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  • #253 — Corporate Courage
    17 June 2021

    In this episode of the podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Jason Fried about the recent controversy over the “no politics” policy at his company Basecamp. They discuss his business philosophy, the surrender of institutions to "social-justice" activism, how politics has acquired a religious fervor, some of the cultural risks of remote work, keeping activists out of one’s company, social media use as analogous to smoking cigarettes, antitrust regulations for big tech, how social media might be improved, the tax-avoidance schemes of the richest Americans, the prospect of implementing a wealth tax, and other topics.

    SUBSCRIBE to listen to the rest of this episode and gain access to all full-length episodes of the podcast at


    Learning how to train your mind is the single greatest investment you can make in life. That’s why Sam Harris created the Waking Up app. From rational mindfulness practice to lessons on some of life’s most important topics, join Sam as he demystifies the practice of meditation and explores the theory behind it.

Philosophy Forums

Philosophy Forums

20 June 2021

Philosophy Forums Philosophy Forums
  • Changing Sex
    20 June 2021
    How is it possible. It isn't from a scientific perspective. How has it become so accepted as a concept?
  • why does A=A in law of identity?
    20 June 2021

    normally they say that A=A because A doesn't equal -A

    but if A ≠ -A, why does that mean A=A?

    "if A ≠ -A, then A is equal to...." why does A have to equal something in the first place?

    submitted by /u/Eslaam15
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  • Are there any comprehensive, systematic critiques of New Atheism by progressional philosophers?
    20 June 2021


    Hi all. The current discourse surrounding God, religion, science, and a host of other related subjects has been, in recent years, considerably skewed in the public understanding due to the rise and influence of a particular form of atheism — New Atheism, as it's usually called.

    I'm aware that there have been many responses to this, usually in the form of responding to the so-called "horsemen's" books — e.g. The God Delusion, The End of Faith, etc. But I'm looking for a work like the one I've described in my title: a comprehensive dismantling of the movement from a philosophical perspective, over a range of subjects such as epistemology (scientism), metaphysics, etc., etc.

    Asking for a "compressive dismantling" might give off the impression that I've begun with the conclusion that the movement is misguided, but my understanding is informed by the various critiques already offered by a handful of academic philosophers — some of which are very hostile to such discourse.

    Although the movement, in my opinion, is dying down, it's still omnipresent in virtually all prominent internet spaces. The difficulty with engaging in these discussions is that they're fraught with layers and layers of unstated assumptions that need to be addressed prior — which is essentially what I'm asking for here.

    submitted by /u/Hevome
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  • Lost in epistemic nihilism, please help me understand
    20 June 2021

    Am I right to assume that an epistemic nihilist is not able to answer any question conclusively? Like, at some level any knowledge can't be proven and any meaning is lost, even the meaning of meaning. Am I wrong assume that any other philosophical concept needs to first accept that it is not 100% objective and can never be? Is there a way to refute my point of view? I have a very rough point of view that at a certain level nothing is objective as everything that we know and see is based on something and there isn't anything that is 100% true that isn't based on something.

    Is epistemic nihilism too abstract and completely useless then? I feel like you'd have to have a more "based on reality" view of reality in addition to your nihilism if you consider yourself an epistemic nihilist, right? Like a subclass, lmao

    I am sorry for being so vague as I am not a native english speaker and also I am not well versed in philosophy.

    Are there any interesting books I can read about this? Did my thoughts even make any sense? Thanks

    submitted by /u/Dioder1
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  • Can someone explain to me what Carnap’s object of science is about?
    20 June 2021

    Is science according to him everything that can be deduced to empirical data? I am reading the elimination of metaphysics. And i am trying to figure out whether his work in that paper resembles his other thoughts/ideas on science.

    submitted by /u/Prestigious-Tailor21
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  • Seems like free will and existentialism go against each other in some way. Isn't to exist at all robbing us away from freedom of choice?
    20 June 2021

    Read The Metamorphosis as a kid, didn't understand it much except from that it was a rather interesting book with person's life altered due to his transformation. Came across it recently and got me thinking. If one were to see the reason for one's existence as a collective of humans generation after generation, brute forcing variety of abilities, personalities much like a computer randomly generating numbers between 0 and 100 until all those numbers are generated, wouldn't that mean we all just lack free will and all of us are just fitting into the category the society or humanity as a collective want/ require us to be and lacking one true self and hence free will to the sense of individuality?

    submitted by /u/marinesniper1996
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  • Epistemology and Metaphysics • Re: JTB: the myth of propositions and the Gettier problem
    20 June 2021
    I'm a fictionalist about abstracta too. However, concepts needn't be abstracta. For example, they are concrete entities if they are (tokens of) mental representations in the language of thought ("Mentalese").
    Correspondingly, propositions can be regarded as concrete, mental representations too, viz. as sentences (sentence-tokens) in the language of thought.

    Statistics: Posted by Consul — Sun Jun 20, 2021 12:38 am

  • What is better, to have principles and fight to uphold them, or to be formless so you can adapt to any situation?
    20 June 2021

    I'd like to know what different ethical systems would have to say about this. For some context, I recently started watching Fargo (the TV show), and as far as the story has progressed, to me Molly represents the principled person, while Malvo is a formless sociopath. Of course, one doesn't need to be a sociopath to have ethical formlessness, but in this fictional case (though not really) it happens to be a perfect fit.

    Now, I want to clarify that values != principles. Everyone has values, whether conscious or unconscious, and there's no way around it. For example, just choosing to stay alive reveals one's preference for life, regardless of the reasons one has to justify not killing oneself. On the other hand, principles are those chosen values around which we consciously build a code of conduct. They represent the limits that we're not willing to break through, even if they pose an immediate disadvantage to us. So, with that in mind, should we play it good or play it smart? Should I be a lion or a snake? That's the kind of question I want to see answered by different schools of ethical thought.


    submitted by /u/Metaphylon
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  • General Philosophy • Re: Deterioration of the human mind
    20 June 2021
    The post immediately above is a good example of what happens to mind when it's caught in accumulated second hand information. When the mind can't even think without the authority of another, without quoting someone else. Such a second hand mind is a deteriorating mind.

    Statistics: Posted by Skyblack — Sun Jun 20, 2021 12:38 am

  • General Philosophy • Re: Nature of acceptance and rejection
    20 June 2021
    OK, so you believe it is fantasy. I was just looking if any others had thought about what new eyes to see and new ears to hear in relation to experiencing in a new way means. Perhaps I'm the only one. So what else is new.
    No, the words "religious fantasy" were used by you. OP said, it's only a fantasy for the conditioned mind that is conditioned by the old. The old may include various kinds of lens's like the religious lens, or the secular lens, or some other kind of lens. Now you have to decided what kind of authoritative lens you have. If you have some kind of lens then it's correct, you have been fantasizing through the lens of the bible.

    Statistics: Posted by Skyblack — Sun Jun 20, 2021 12:35 am

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