Well, the semester got a little hectic in the middle there. Aside from administrative work, though, I have managed to get at least a little bit of writing done. Some of that will appear in the New York Times Online Philosophy Column called The Stone, starting on December 12th. I think you’ll recognize some of the issues. In the meantime, I’ll try to write a post or two here. Topics anyone would like to discuss?
About Sean D. Kelly
Sean Dorrance Kelly is the Teresa G. and Ferdinand F. Martignetti Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University. He is also Faculty Dean at Dunster House, one of the twelve undergraduate Houses at Harvard. He served for six years as chair of Harvard's Department of Philosophy.
Kelly earned an Sc.B. in Mathematics and Computer Science and an M.S. in Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences from Brown University in 1989. After three years as a Ph.D. student in Logic and Methodology of Science, he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of California at Berkeley in 1998.
Before arriving at Harvard in 2006, Kelly taught at Stanford and Princeton, and he was a Visiting Professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris.
Sean Kelly's work focuses on various aspects of the philosophical, phenomenological, and cognitive neuroscientific nature of human experience. He is a world authority on 20th century European Philosophy, specializing in the work of Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. He has also done influential work in philosophy of mind and philosophy of perception.
Kelly has published articles in numerous journals and anthologies and he has received fellowships or awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the NEH, the NSF and the James S. McDonnell Foundation, among others.
Fun fact: He appeared on The Colbert Show in 2011 to talk about All Things Shining.
Sean Kelly lives at Dunster House with his wife, the Harvard Philosopher Cheryl Kelly Chen, and their two boys, Benjamin and Nathaniel.
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When a hammer stops hammering you have always believed that it stops being transparent. What really happens is this: Both the hammerer and the hammer become transparent when they are building things most optimally. The hammer and hammerer are projected onto a world and cease to be individual entities to each other. When one or the other ceases to function at there optimum, they both fall out of the world and become separated from each other and thus become opaque to the world they have fallen down into. As opaque, they are visible to each other, whereas in the realm above them they were invisible to each other. The carpenter becomes a carpenter that doesn’t craft and the hammer becomes a hammer that doesn’t hammer. This doesn’t mean that there is no longer a carpenter nor a hammer. They still belong in a world, but this is a pre-world. You may call this world a world of probabilities or possibilities. They have a multitude of potential, but until that potential becomes kinetic, it remains a probability. They exist prior to an actual, like all probabilities. So the future that they represent exists prior to the actual. The actual world is a world of kinetics, where all the elements must cope with each other in the frame of a now. So where is the future? It appears to be located in the past. How the past transcends into a new now, each and every frame, will be revealed at a later date. Also take note that what I have presented here is still rather bare bones and less intricate than what I have written for my book, but at least I can get you started on a new way of thinking that will open up Heidegger’s revelations.
I’ve been following your work on the phenomenology of sacred and wanted to ask your opinion on what happens to the sacred when it moves to one relative position in society as opposed to holding a privileged place as a reference group; even if not as a universal membership group (e.g. pre-Guttenberg Christian life in Europe). Is it possible to speak of the sacred in the modern world, or does such a contested pre-ontological ‘background’ ensure that all enquiries into ‘sacredness’ from ‘modern’ individuals is tied too closely to a material construction of the self (personal identity) to be an experience of a genuinely sacred phenomena due to the presence and persistence of the second order questions of being that we have to deal with in being sincere/recognising the ‘fact of pluralism’ etc etc.
Apologies if this rambles a bit. The blog is excellent.
Your Stone column on Melville vs. Nietzsche?
Seemed like the precis for some deliberately controversial M.A. in English thesis paper.
“(T)he canonical American author”? WTF?
That’s Mark Twain. Period.
Why the reduction of Nietzsche to mere nihilism? Understanding for a moment that to do a workable comparison piece one has to reduce a giant down to a caricature, it is still inexcusable to forget about Nietzsche’s will to power, the artistic drive in The Birth of Tragedy, or Dionysius for that matter. What you call the freedom of nihilism is merely a stepping stone to get to the point where Nietzsche envisions man needs to be. Nietzsche’s nihilism is a method for casting off the bonds of Christianity, a necessary means to achieving something greater and forging ahead.
I’m also in total agreement with the above Twain comment. You want the epitome of your reductionist version of nihilism? Bartleby. You’ve even got your suburban despair / capitalistic alienation bit going on, no need to bother bringing in Nietzsche.
Your NYT piece, Melville’s polytheism navigating us beyond N. Barely skimming your blog–so far–Hg on Aristotle’s Rhetoric—apropos of all—please read a s a p Kenneth Burke—The Rhetoric of Religion and The Rhetoric of Motives and The Grammar of Motives. Also, if you want, my book Kenneth Burke’s Logology and Literary Criticism. Best wishes, Bob G.
Thank you very much for your column in the Stone. It was exactly what I needed today. I came out to my brother (who is a philosophy prof) a couple of weeks ago and since then he’s been hammering me with philosophical language on what “the good” is and demanding to know what my belief system is that would allow me to interpret my experiences in this bizarre way of claiming that “I am gay.” I felt increasing removed from the legitimacy of my own experiences as I tried to explain myself to him. And even though I am convinced of the multiple truths and multiple ways of living a life worth living, I couldn’t seem to articulate it to him. He called me a relativist and a hedonist and said I seemed to be a wandering soul in need of some absolute truth.
So it was a joy to read your column and hear from a philosopher a justification for layered truths that doesn’t shoot straight to “everything is meaningless.”
I thought it was ironic, too, to find such a nice encapsulation of at least part of my belief system in your column: “in the local and small-scale commitments that animate a life well-lived. The meaning that one finds in a life dedicated to “the wife, the heart, the bed, the table, the saddle, the fire-side, the country,” these are genuine meanings.” Ironic, because I have been known to make snide comments about the soullessness of the suburbs. It actually makes me kind of jittery and nervous to visit the suburbs sometimes, like I am entering the zone of inauthenticity and surface-level dialogue. So thank you for both confirming and challenging my beliefs.
On topics: Schopenhauer and Spinoza on necessity. Expanding on polytheism and the different perspectives on democracy (Nietzsche on nobility) On your theme of modern theism how about anything on Whitehead or Kierkegaard.