Happy New Year Edition

Well, the time has come to celebrate the new year and express our gratitude for the old.  I’m grateful for many things, of course, not the least of which is that our 1 year old has more or less recovered from the Christmas flu – a little gift  I brought back from China for everyone – and that he no longer runs around like a devil-child at all hours of the day and night, hopped up on some cocaine-like medication that the doctors prescribed for him twice daily.  I’m also grateful that our six-year-old is increasing his vocabulary.  His latest acquisition is the word “consider”, as in “Daddy, I made a New Year’s resolution!”  “What’s that, Ben?”  “Well, I’m no longer going to consider your nose to be very big.”

Yes.  My heart is overwhelmed with gratitude.

But really, I am enormously grateful to have such a wonderful family.  And also, of course, to be receiving such good attention for the book.  Some of the very with-it readers here have already mentioned the two latest book-related events – a new review out tomorrow in the New York Times, and an interview tomorrow with me and Bert on KQED’s radio show Forum, with Michael Krasny.  KQED, for those of you not from the West Coast, is the San Francisco affiliate of NPR, and our interview will take place tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. PST.  Forum is a listener call-in program, so hopefully some of you will get on the lines.  I believe that KQED streams their radio programs here.

I’ve been enjoying the discussion of the WSJ review and the Brooks column in the earlier thread, and I hope that people will use the comments in this post to talk about the newest review in the NYT, as well as the radio interview.  Bert and I are both nervous about the interview – it won’t be easy to talk about the book articulately in that context, and I’m sure that we’ll mess it up in various ways.  Pointers about how we could have done better are especially welcome.

And Happy New Year to everyone!

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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20 Responses to Happy New Year Edition

  1. M. Heidegger says:

    How much of our holding children as being sacred in our society is influenced by the baby Jesus being sacred? Other cultures, which don’t worship Christianity seem to be more prone to exploiting their children. The ancient Greeks would toss their children to their deaths if they were born weak or disabled. Romans did not even considered babies as being human for the first part of their lives and it was common for Roman prostitutes to dispose of their unwanted babies at birth. Today, in many parts of the world, children are not considered more special than adults. They are often exploited as resources for the sex trade or for factories. In some Middle Eastern countries, children are purchased for the use as jockeys for the racing industry, and are often kept in the stables with the animals.

    Should the Western Christian world consider these other cultures barbaric, or is the power of the myth of the sacred baby so overwhelming that it has warped our perspective?

    • david leech says:

      “How much?” I am guessing not much. Why? because I have the impression that its a fairly recent phenomenon. Viviana Zelizer (“Pricing the Priceless Child” Princeton, 1985) argues that its something that happened between 1870 and 1930. “I will argue that the expulsion of children from the ‘cash nexus’ at the turn of the past century, although clearly shaped by profound changes in the economic, occupational, and family structures, was aslo part of a cultural process of ‘sacralization’ of children’s lives.” (Where ‘sacralization’ means that objects are invested with sentimental or religious meaning.)

      With that as a clue, maybe the place to look for origins is not Christianity but the same process by which the work of art is sentimentalized.

      • M. Heidegger says:

        I agree that the “sacred child” is a recent phenomena in the Western Christian world, but this is because the interpretation of the bible is always transcending. Is there a correlation between Christmas becoming more institutionalized and children becoming sacred? The whole Christmas tradition is fairly recent and might have established itself with the same period that children became more valuable than adults.

        When one examines Christianity and notes the difference in the way that it is worshiped between America and Europe, one can see how this concept of “deities” functions. In Europe, a once feudal system, where fertility of the soil and women were vital, they worshiped a fertility goddess, Mary (ironic that she was a virgin, but there were debates in which the church tried to establish that it was she who was of virgin birth). When you travel about in Europe, you come across many churches that are dedicated to her.

        Here in the United States, it is the hero that is worshiped. The self made man, the revolutionary, the maverick are ideals in the American psyche, which is why Jesus is worshiped. So you find few houses of worship that carry Mary’s name, and many that carry his name.

        Christianity is a very robust religion because its texts are very open to interpretation, unlike some religions that are very codified. It is like Nostradamus’s work, so vague that it can be interpreted to the interpreters needs. I am curious as to why the “sacred baby” became so important? Very little is written about the young Jesus in the accepted texts. The early church decided to leave out most of the texts that involved the young deity (apocryphal books). The birth of Jesus is celebrated with greater intensity than any other part of his life. I can’t imagine that the “sacred baby” and the holiday aren’t related.

  2. geoffrey says:

    Congratulations! It is quite impressive the level of attention you’re receiving. I’m yet to read it, but (given the absence of statements about obfuscatory prose in the reviews – a possibility when books by academics, and academic philosophers, are reviewed in newspapers) it seems like it’s pitched at quite the right level.

  3. M. Heidegger says:

    How is gratitude even possible? In order for Dasein to feel gratitude, it must have access to all of its possibilities and must understand what it must be optimally. The optimal self and what Dasein ultimately becomes in its dying are compared against each other. Let’s use an example in which Dasein is a teacher. Dasein has, as its possibilities, the greatest possibility to be a teacher. As this possibility manifests itself into a reality, the other possibilities lose their potential and all their energy is transferred to what becomes actual. This transcendental energy moves the Dasein from being not a teacher towards being a teacher. The Dasein becomes a teacher when it can be nothing else but a teacher, and this occurs when there are no other possibilities left. (This of course is a simplification, since humans are more than just a teacher, as in this example. Like coordinates that require some part of each axis define them, humans can be teacher/father, teacher/artist, etc. None the less, the process remains the same.) This is dying.

    Which possibilities get expressed as actualities are determined by paths of least resistance. The pathways exist in the world and the topology of the Dasein determine how it will flow through the world. Dasein knows what it should ultimately be, because the world, its world, informs the Dasein of what its (the world’s) ultimate “to be” is, and that represents the resistance or assistance that world will present to all of Dasein’s possibilities. The world understands what it’s optimal state is and what it needs to achieve that state. Gods and Goddesses appear so that the world may populate itself with those elements/constituents that move the world to its ideal state (which itself is always transcending) by allowing Dasein to actualize only those possibilities that help the world achieve this end . The relationship is thus: Dasein lets the world know how it must transcend by the world allowing Dasein to be its own possibilities. Dasein’s possibilities are determined by a transcending world.

    In being grateful, Dasein must have access to its ultimate “for the sake of which” which is its future self. It must have access to its now. The future self arises from its possibilities, which come prior to its actual self, which is in the present. The present self holds its understanding of its ideal self (a possible future self), which is determined by what the world will allow to be actualized (as of the moment), contrast that with its understanding of its present self, which is based on a foundation of past selves, and gauge that against all the future possible selves that have been emptied of their potential by the actualization of the basis of its present. What moves Dasein away from its most authentic self (one best suited for the world) gives it the experience of regret, and what moves it closer to making its world gives Dasein the experience of gratitude. Always know that Dasein can only experience feelings, which comport it in its actions.

    What becomes apparent is that there are three horizons is only an illusion. The future is not separate from the past. If the future did not already exist as a possibility, which is always prior to an actuality and according to Kant equal, then Dasein would not have the access to “what is” and to “what could have been” and compare those to “what should be”. Dasein would not be able to feel gratitude.

    • heuristicaxiom says:

      I must admit that i like your pith understanding of Heidegger vis-a-vis Sein und Zeit, yet i find your choice of screen name a little arrogant–forgive me for saying so. Perhaps you are Heidegger channeled into 20th century English idiom? I’m certainly not trying to be mean–but, it didn’t give me an inclination to take the time to really read and understand your posts which now I’ve done.Sometimes, I feel as if what Heidegger is saying is just something anyone would agree with since it just a highly abstracted and removed lexicon for describing the everyday endoxa, perception and frail anticipations that comprise us all (which we can’t know by virtue of our ontic thrownness). Yet if Pascal is right and “our nature is custom” how can we gain the distancing and “de-distancing” (and re-distancing) to ever refer to anything but practices and their artifactual remnants? So if this is right why are we studying what is already understood implicitly by everyone? (For me it is the unique way in which universal phenomenon can be expressed while conflating History, Philosophy, Religion and Science–I think. Also, because it gives me a foot outside of my experience looking into it through the mirrors of otherness. I wish i knew where Heidegger deals with “otherness” and the “erotic.” Direct me if you do, please.) So I keep coming around to the idea of “universal anthropology” when i read H and can’t find him NOT sitting on Hegel’s shoulders despite the rejection of teleological progress.
      But I am still a wader in shallow waters, not terribly well versed in the vernacular.
      Actually, the real reason I wanted to write is because of your prior post, regarding Mary and fertility. You know Artemis was a fertility goddess who was also a virgin, and as well presided over childbirth. So I’m not sure that Mary is unusual in this regard and seems clearly is holdover from earlier paradigms. But, thanks, now that I’ve read this particular post I see you do indeed have an excellent and plastic familiarity with both divisions of Being and Time.

      • M. Heidegger says:

        I chose Heidegger as my screen name for several reasons. First, I am paying homage to a man who I believe was probably one of the most creative and deepest thinkers that has walked this planet. I have immersed myself in his work over the last year when I saw that there were parallels between his writings and my own intellectual work. I have practically no other thoughts dancing in my head other than my work and Heidegger. I am stunned at what he was able to achieve intellectually in the world that he was thrown in. This leads to my second reason for choosing him to represent me. You are right that I am arrogant and you might want to add that sometimes I tend to be an intellectual bully. There is no one, and there has been no one who can match the depth of my philosophical vision. When I discovered that the chair of Harvard’s philosophy department and a former student of Dreyfus had started a blog, I was hoping that I would be able to engage in intense philosophical debate. You are the first to engage me, and I thank you for that. I would like to inspire enough ire from this small band of scholars through my boastful claims so as they may be motivated to hand me my ass, intellectually speaking. I need people well versed enough in Heidegger that can provide me a meaningful challenge. I need to know, as well as you do, if I am right or wrong.
        Both Kelly and Dreyfus have told their students that it is rare that a creator fully understands his own work, and it takes others to properly interpret a creator’s work. When it comes to Heidegger’s work, I am that person. More than a dozen years ago, I asked myself how does anything come to be and what is time. Towards answering these questions, I teamed up with a colleague who is a professor at a NYC university, and together we developed a new branch of physics, which has not been published as of yet, mainly because I haven’t entirely completed my end of the work, which is mainly philosophical. Independently, we were able to derive the answers to my questions, and in the course of doing so, I stumbled upon the question that has been holding up the publication of our work. It is a question that is more ontologically important and fundamental than the question of being, and is a question that I was shocked and surprised that no one in intellectual history has asked or even grappled with. I will not reveal what this question is, because I have spent too much time trying to find the answer to it and will not risk the chance of someone else getting to the answer before I do. I know that many will consider this a flaw of my ego, but so be it.
        I had heard of Heidegger but I had never read any of his books. It wasn’t until I found the Dreyfus lectures online that I first starting getting interested in his work, and so I must thank Professor Dreyfus for piquing my interest in this philosopher, I will forever be in his debt. Even though the lectures were rife with misunderstanding, there was enough there to show me that there was a connection between what I am working on and Heidegger’s ‘Being in Time’. The title alone let me know that Heidegger was on the right track. I believe that I am in a unique position to understand Heidegger’s work and I am more than willing to clear up whatever puzzles a scholar concerning his work. I have purchased every book by Heidegger, translated into English that I could find in NYC’s bookstores. I have not read them all, but if you direct me to a book and a page number with the passage that is troubling you, I will try to give you a proper understanding, so long as I won’t reveal what is important in the book that I am writing.
        The only way that I can prove myself is through scrutiny of my peers. I welcome any and all criticisms so long as they have merit. You will either come to believe my claims, or see me as delusional and pathetic. I am grateful for you taking the time to read my posts and I hope that you have taken note in what has been said and how different it is from the current understanding of Heidegger. The nuances speak volumes. I am not parroting the conventional understanding.
        I will answer the questions posed in your post, in the following post. Please do not expect immediate responses to questions, as I have much work of my own in a life that is very complicated at the least. Again I must thank you for your kindness and willingness to engage me.

      • M. Heidegger says:

        In response to this: You know Artemis was a fertility goddess who was also a virgin, and as well presided over childbirth. So I’m not sure that Mary is unusual in this regard and seems clearly is holdover from earlier paradigms.

        There have been many goddesses throughout history which have given virgin birth, but it is only Christianity that celebrates the child as child, so far as I know, which isn’t much in these regards. Buddha was born a man, ready to lead at birth. Krishna descended onto earth by entering the womb of Devaki. Here the implication is that Krishna is not a child even though he appears as one. I am far from being an expert on ancient cultures and am only speculating on whether the importance placed on the celebration of the Christ child in modern times have influenced Christian society in what value they place on their children in these times. Personally I don’t value children as much as I do adults and I believe that they are valued beyond their worth. I find those who are anti-abortion do not understand what it means to be a human being. A fetus is not a human being because it does not cope with anything. The mother processes and copes with the world. She processes all that is necessary to sustain the fetus. What doesn’t cope within a world has no Dasein in that word. A fetus has no cultural practices, the expecting mother does. She copes with her pregnancy according to her cultural practices. Everyone that is in her community copes with her according to the norms of that society. The fetus does not interact with the world and so does not belong to it. It doesn’t exist with others who share the world of the fetus and thus cannot know its being within that world. It has in its possibilities the possibility of being human and that would require that it no longer be a fetus. When it comes into the world, at whatever stage, and it begins to cope with a world, then it becomes a human being. How much Dasein an entity has is determined by how much it is involved in the being of a world. This also applies to the croaking. The path to no longer being is marked by the disengagement with the world. In the end, Dasein stops coping and thus no longer belongs to the world. So, neither fetus nor dead person belong to the world. They belong to separate worlds, one emerging and one waning, neither fully here, as is the banal world, which leads us to your “our nature is custom” concern.

        My apologies for being away so long, but I have had much to deal with vis a vis my corporate responsibilities. I am crafting responses to the other questions. My meditations on distancing have been very revealing. My next post will address that.

  4. dmf says:

    Krasny will likely be an easy pitch as he is of the Joseph Campbell/Huston Smith school of bliss/Sublime, but I think that the NYT’s review raises a tougher question which is why one should give reverence/authority to such Gods? Surely one can recognize such events/call/attractions/repulsions without worshiping them. When David Miller wrote the New Polytheism back in the 70’s he was following through with ideas relating to the Romantic powers of personification/mythemes/archetypes, but without such character-istics why speak of Gods? On a more rhetorical level whooshing is not doing the work that you might have hoped for and interviews might give you a chance to try a new description.

    • Larry says:

      Don’t we speak of “gods” because we’re trying to point to powers that lie outside the rational, Cartesian “self” that modern culture seems to assume is the great source of all meaning? We don’t need to worship them, just cultivate an attitude that makes them available to us. Why? Because when we get it right, things shine.

  5. dmf says:

    It would probably help if you folks had a simple narrative along the lines of the problem as you see it and the solutions that you offer, with an emphasis on examples vs concepts. I think that outside of the academy the vast majority of people live either in an Oprah-world of new-age mash-up faiths or are more traditionally religious so the question/dilemma of us being too secular/scientific is somewhat lost/distorted. On an aside I think that when it comes to folks like Beckett or Wallace Stevens the threat is not that nothing will matter but that one’s efforts to make a lasting/meaningful difference are doomed to fail, and this question, especially in our relations to institutional life, seems to haunt your account. Also why privilege passivity/receptivity over creativity vs bringing them together or making room for all, and is there really phenomenological evidence that positing metaphysical beings/presences takes away from or limits one’s ability to be meaningfully moved?

  6. M. Heidegger says:

    What is a martyr in relation to the gods?

  7. Allen says:

    Just wanted to mention that I bought my copy of ATS today, fresh off the shelving cart at the University Bookstore here in Seattle.

  8. Steve S says:

    Dr. Kelley,
    I’m amazed at the fora and people reviewing your book All Things Shining. While I find David Brooks an establishment atrocity of self-serving opinions and the Wall Street Journal the arbiter of what and where he and their other acolytes should be heading, rigor is to acknowledge their prestige and impact. So how does one get a book of philosophy reviewed in such quarters? One could document how rare this is, even with a Harvard pedigree, how additionally rare for one of the wrong ethnicity; nor do any of the ordinary categories of topicality, sensationalism, size or prestige of the publishing house, celebrity a la McLuhan or otherwise bizarre rules of national attention and promotion seem to apply. I am actually not suggesting something tawdry, only curious enough to pen my bewilderment here, and hoping that as a student of culture among other things you will reply. I am not saying either that it is not a good or worthy book but I think you will acknowledge, there are many.

  9. Vijay says:

    Picking up my copy today, can’t wait…

    On a slightly more off topic note, is it just me or does the blog header picture here remind you of the opening credit sequence from Reservoir Dogs —- watch it again, you’ll see…

    These two dudes are dripping with bad-ass cool!

  10. heuristicaxiom says:

    I know this is probably the wrong place to make this comment, but I don’t know Professor Dreyfus’s’ email and I’m not sure it merits bothering about him about my take on Canto III of Inferno. In his podcast, he tells his students this is a case of ‘contapasso.’

    He also mentions that these sinners in Hell’s vestibule are but those who merely refused “blame” or “praise” and thus are in essence the same as those not hot nor cold Christians, who in the New Testament (Revelations) are called “lukewarm” and spit out. This is but the half of it IMHO. They are called “opportunists” for a good reason, as they formerly habituated the world of earth in prefigured ‘unlikeness,’ where following only those ideas or banners that served their interests and which they saw as likely to win evil was thereby perpetrated. Now, they are in the true world of unlikeness, Hell: wherein they are forced to be true to their natures. Thus, they follow whatever banner the buzzing bees in their bonnet drive them to–just as they did the earthly buzzing in their calculating heads lead them to their own sinful dissimulation. Anyway that’s my take for what its worth

  11. Jermaine says:

    Congratulations to Sean and Bert for making the NY Times Best Seller List at #22!


  12. Jay says:

    Running around like a little devil-child on a cocaine-like medication….. kids. Hahaah. He was feeling whooshed-up alright.
    Reminds me of when I went to “rave” parties. Talk about feeling whooshed-up! All things were shinning. Especially some of the lights they had going. And lasers. And music. The people dancing too. It was beautiful. Dionysian revelry! And worth a few brain cells or whatever damage.

    I am having trouble, I think, in grasping the underlining idea of the book on how I can create meaning in my life. Of course I don’t know how much I agree with or understand existential-phenomenological thought, which seems to be what informs this analysis. I also don’t know if the Homeric Greeks had it right. I’m feeling too “modern” at the moment, too concerned with my autonomy, maybe.

  13. Charlie says:

    Happy New Year. I just got the book and will put down Consequences of Pragmatism (and postpone other essentials spurred by this site) to read this Best Seller!

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