Lebenskünstler

Social Practice – Social Poetry – Social Poiesis: aesthetic experimentalism and the creation of public life

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 05/06/2017

[mise en scène]
Multiple lines of inquiry – to enact a series of expansions from art to aesthetics and thus art education to aesthetic education. This would then entail using a synthesis of John Dewey’s theory of experience and experimentalism. The model of “experiment” would be the iterative approach of design rather than the narrower scientific model of experimentation. Ideas, actions, and other modes then become experiments in public culture. I re-frame social practice (with its narrow art focus) as social poiesis, and try to tackle the relationship between this aesthetic practice and the practice of democracy – again largely via Dewey, subsequent scholars, and especially Jane Addams. I would argue that Hull House was an exemplar of this aesthetic, experiential, experimental notion of social poiesis (Addams spoke of social ethics).

hemodynamics

[scene 1]
Granted, we are in the midst of an epistemic crisis, however, academics of a certain persuasion share a large measure of blame. The arts could have embraced the humanistic qualities for which they are so well suited, instead they sought respectability within the regime of criticality. Artists were to become political theorists and philosophers, usually quite shoddy ones. The sharp knife of reason and analysis gave modest protection to the fledgling artist, but the world grew darker and more dangerous. Everywhere critique multiplied, while empathy and visionary spirit weakened. “Without a cadre of people with these sort of imaginative and emotional capacities, there is no hope for democracy.”

[scene 2]
The proceduralism and planning of liberalism relied too heavily on institutions, rather than embodied habits of the heart. Liberals became enamored with rules, deliberation, and rights rather than virtues, associated living, and responsibilities. A polity of discourse among individuals, rather than of meaning within communities.

[scene 3 – courtesy of Mary Midgley]
We need the vast world, and it must be a world that does not need us; a world constantly capable of surprising us, a world we did not program, since only such a world is the proper object of wonder. Any kind of Humanism which deprives us of this, which insists on treating the universe as a mere projection screen for showing off human capacities, cripples and curtails humanity. “Humanists” often do this, because where there is wonder they think they smell religion, and they move hastily in to crush that unclean thing. ***But things much more unclean than traditional religion will follow the death of wonder.***

[scene 4]
Liberalism’s obsession with institutionalizing, economizing, and professionalizing every sphere of human endeavor leaves us out of love’s reach. We need human scale, affectionate practices that generate enchantment, and numinous experience.The liberal project is a dead end – Entzauberung.

Ronald Osborn (quoting Wendell Berry):
“Our politics and science have never mastered the fact that people need more than to **understand** their obligation to one another and the earth; they need also the **feeling** of such obligation, and the feeling can come only within the patterns of familiarity.”

The affection and skill necessary to prevent the depletion of top-soil, for example, only arises through intimate knowledge of and devotion to a concrete locality and its supporting natural and human relationships. There simply are no technical or global solutions to the crisis of soil loss brought on by extractive chemical and machine-based farming methods. What are needed are cultural solutions that take diverse local forms and emerge as a deeply rooted and affectionate responsiveness to place.

“When one works beyond the reach of one’s love for
the place one is working in and for the things and creatures one
is working with and among, then destruction inevitably results,”
Berry writes. “An adequate local culture, among other things,
keeps work within the reach of love.”

18301817_1908485872743364_3391351883054639106_n

[scene 5]
The wizards of explicit knowledge subvert the power of implicit experience. The artist as comedian then is forced to explain the joke, robbing it of all force. Art enters the pornographic regime of criticality, or performs the ventriloquism of critique in which art becomes the otherwise mute mannequin delivering the punchlines for its omnipotent master.

[interlude]

Social practice, to the extent it defines itself as another term for socially engaged art, repeats the mistakes of procedure and institution driven liberal democracy. Rather than approaching public life with an open question as to the best means for achieving one’s ends, social practice forecloses the choice to (an admittedly expansive definition of) art. Social practice, in the end, really means social practice art and with that casts its lot with a set of histories, institutions, and preconceived roles that limit its scope.  It mimics the idea of democracy as a political system with readily identifiable structures, instead of democracy as an experimental, experiential ethos.

A fundamental problem of democracy is the negotiation of associated living, of social life. This is an aesthetic problem, not a cognitive problem. Thus it would appear that art is of particular advantage in addressing this problem. However, art is but a small subset of aesthetic experience. Gregory Pappas says of democracy, “It would be more accurate to say that a democratic society is one that is composed of democratic associations than to say that a democratic association is one that exists because of a democratic society.” Similarly, it would be more accurate to say that art is predicated on aesthetic experience than to say aesthetic experience exists because of art.

The proposal then, is to shift to social poiesis as the mode of inquiry. I described it previously:


“social poiesis” (despite its even more obscure quality) might be a better term. If we don’t limit ourselves to art, social poiesis (née practice) could be more dynamic and encompass not only art actions and art environments, but also – urban planning, sports leagues, communes, be-ins, residencies, raves, state fairs, theme parks, cults, encounter groups, chautauquas, even nations…and would also apply to a much broader demographic of participants rather than artists and their audiences…

 

Michael Atkinson does not preface poiesis with social, however describes it as a “public method,” which I find resonant:

Poiesis is an artistic, aesthetic, emotional, and public method of revealing “different” human truths…humanistic, moral, ethical, spiritual…Poiesis arises from an act, a symbol, a thought, a feeling, or an expression that brings forth knowledge of the human condition falling outside of rationally technological ways of understanding human essences. Those interested in poiesis are less concerned then with measuring and accounting for something quantifiable in the world than the possibility of simultaneously experiencing the material and nonmaterial parameters of human existence.

As with Atkinson, this reading of poiesis from Robert D. Stolorow (via a review of a book by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly) gets at the spiritual aspect that seems important:

Dreyfus and Kelly examine and seek to resuscitate a kind of sacred practice, still marginally available to us, that the ancient Greeks called poiesis:

Until about a hundred years ago, the cultivating and nurturing practices of poiesis organized a central way things mattered. The poietic style manifested itself…in the craftsman’s skills for bringing things out at their best.…This cultivating, craftsman-like, poietic understanding of how to bring out meanings at their best was alive and well into the late nineteenth century, but it is under attack in our technological age. (Dreyfus and Kelly, 2011, p. 206)

Using woodworking as their principal example, Dreyfus and Kelly show that poietic understanding is both practical and embodied and that it enables us to see distinctions of meaning and value that those without such poietic understanding cannot see. Poietic practice makes it possible for us to apprehend entities and situations in their uniqueness and is thus a source of care, respect, and even reverence.

Finally there is the dimension of power in social poiesis. Anne Quéma goes into substantial detail in Power and Legitimacy: Law, Culture, and Literature, but her quick summary: “[social poiesis is]…a formidable process of creating meaning and regulating the practices and structures of social reality through symbolic and narrative means.”

against art historical noodling or why social poiesis is more interesting than social practice especially if by social practice we really mean social practice art – Even more stuff I said in blog comments with the really challenging, thoughtful, responses removed

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 06/02/2015

I often quote IC-98 on this matter:

“…as a reaction to the restrictions of academic writing…In practice, the world of contemporary art has proved to be the most flexible environment for diverse projects, being a free zone of experimentation within the society at large…[it] offers possibilities to put forward ideas without the preconditions of academic work …the market…or activism…the projects are labeled art only for strategic reasons – the strategy works as long as the concepts of art do not come to dominate the discourse. The same applies to the individuals working in the group: you call yourself artist, just because it is institutionally convenient, [emphasis mine] because the very concept of ARTIST is obscure.”

These “strategic reasons” are part of what ***’s investigation of “practical consequences” would help illuminate. I am extremely sympathetic to this pragmatic (rather than ontological) engagement with categories. But I remain interested in social practice to the degree that it remains social practice, rather than social practice *art*. So when we inquire into the aesthetics of participation for instance we don’t get bogged down in all the art historical noodling that paralyzes so many critics from the old school. It is important to emphasize that all kinds of “problems” are solved by recognizing that art [frieze/e-flux/triple canopy type art], is just a highly specialized and mostly pointless parlor game played with, and within, aesthetic experience. If we remain attuned to aesthetics and aesthetic experience (especially from an embodied, phenomenological point of view) or to “the arts” or “the art of” or “the artful” rather than to Art, we increase the chances of having the “dynamic, complex and difficult dialogues” *** seeks rather than the insular professional tiffs of the Art world. Melvin Haggerty (1935) said it much better:

“Art is a way of life” is a simple statement of short and familiar words. It expresses a way of looking at life that is very old in the history of thought. If it now seems strange it is because we have permitted art to become divorced from the ordinary activities in which men [sic] engage and its cultivation to drift into the hand of specialists from whom the mass of mankind is separated as by a chasm. In recent times this chasm has become very broad and very deep. To men [sic] absorbed in the work of the world artists appear to be a cult and their work and conversation seem esoteric and almost mystical. To artists ordinary folks appear ignorant and unappreciative, and very often their thinly veiled contempt for plebeian tastes has led them to caustic expression. This dissociation is artificial; it is injurious to art and impoverishes life.

[art as a way of life] sees that as the experiences of life multiply, new and varied purposes arise that call for the invention of new objects and new forms of expression and that these, in turn, vastly increase the possibilities of enriching life…This elemental reality that binds into a single pattern all the varied arts is more important for the philosophy of education than is the stress so often laid upon the differences that superficially separate one kind of creative work from other kinds.

We have assumed a way of looking at art that permits no gulf between the simple arts of life and the so-called fine arts. It sees all as man’s [sic] more or less successful efforts to create things that increase the comforts, the efficiencies, and the pleasures of living…This view cherishes not even the ethically tinged distinction between good art and bad art.

The distinction between creation and appreciation is not one between activity and passivity but rather one among different kinds of activity. The realization of this fact should emphasize the essential unity of art experiences.

*** – Long time no talk. I have to call you out though about what a mess you’re making! You keep conflating art and aesthetics. To call something “not art” in no way reduces its aesthetic dimension. And your understanding of what treating something aesthetically does – “increases distance” – is but one (dominant) idea of aesthetic experience. Berleant’s “Art And Engagement” makes all this talk of participatory aesthetics a moot point (not to mention Dewey and the pragmatists among others). All aesthetic experience is participatory, engaged.

*** – although I quoted IC-98 for one reason (the tactical employment of art as a descriptor), I actually agree more with David Robbins in this quote:

“All the time, though, my sensibility pointed toward and yearned for an imaginative Elsewhere. I became increasingly dissatisfied with the narrowness of art as a formulation of the imagination. This will sound preposterous to many people, I’m aware, given that art offers and represents extraordinary behavioral freedoms, but in “making art” I found an ultimately enslaving formulation. How so? In art, you can do, yes, anything you want so long as you’re willing to have it end up as art. That isn’t real imaginative freedom, in my view. Inquisitiveness of mind will carry you past art, and apparently I love inquisitiveness of mind more than I love art.”

So again I hope social practice delivers us to this imaginative Elsewhere, but art has an insidious ability to capture its escapees…

*** – since I’m in such a quotey mood, I think these snippets from Carl Wilson might get at some of the spirit of criticism I am after (but I am totally down with your criticism as aesthetic experience bit). It’s just that I’m not as fired up about judgment and evaluation as you seem to be:

“What would criticism be like if it were not foremost trying to persuade people to find the same things great…It might…offer something more like a tour of an aesthetic experience, a travelogue, a memoir.”

“…a more pluralistic criticism might put less stock in defending its choices and more in depicting its enjoyment, with all the messiness and private soul tremors – to show what it is like for me to like it, and invite you to compare.”

Re: Meta-experience – I find the discussion around this a bit condescending…it implies that people outside art somehow live their lives unconsciously, that they are unable to think about how to sharpen experience or how to craft an endeavor.

Re: Critique – I recently chaired a panel called “Critiquing Criticality” (which will hopefully end up as a book) and we discussed at length how art had sold its soul to be taken seriously in the academy. That is, it was so ashamed of all those “fuzzy” romantic qualities that it ended up jettisoning all the things that distinguished it from “real” academic disciplines. I would argue much to its detriment.

*** –  I would ask you carry your pragmatic reasoning further. Let us accept that it is indeed now “meaningful” for Rirkrit to call pad thai his art. What does that designation actually *do?* The consensus so far in these threads is that it might invite a kind of meta-reflection which I addressed above to some degree. But to put it even more bluntly, let’s stipulate that this is art’s province alone, what social value is there in that? Aside from appealing to the sorts of people who enjoy thinking about thinking about thinking? Wouldn’t this territory staked out by art be rather sad? When eating pad thai, asking whether it is art or not or whether it follows from Fluxus more than it follows from conceptualism seems like a hollow inquiry. Does it taste good? Does it taste like my mom’s version? Does it remind me of the time I visited that city? Was this dish my friend’s favorite? Those questions tie the food to life, to concrete experience, to ordinary people and therefore are more pragmatically vibrant. And, all of those questions need art as much as pad thai needs alfredo sauce!

For me, calling pad thai art accomplishes exactly nothing other than connect it to a pedantic, insular conversation (art history/criticism). The question of calling social practice projects art amounts to a pragmatic (of the simple, not philosophic type) question (I asked elsewhere) – Do I show them in an art context, however imperfectly it addresses my concerns and burdens me with a history I’m not particularly interested in? Or do I explore them elsewhere and suffer from the lack of critical, promotional, and organizational infrastructure that the art context provides?

*** – “Does an artist need to call what they do social practice? do they need to call themselves artists?”

To these questions I have posited time and again that social practice is *already* happening all the time, with or without art and artists. I think that art has some very modest things to offer, but I prefer a more bottom up, less homogenous, and certainly more diverse approach to understanding, and engaging social practice. Urban ecology seems like an ideal strand to add to the web, so to speak. Here is my initial stab at articulating a vision for social practice (preceded by a contextualizing rant) that may be of interest to you:https://randallszott.org/2013/01/18/all-we-have-to-do-is-look-around-toward-a-local-social-practice-syllabus-or-an-idiosyncratic-arty-party-field-guide-to-vermont/
*** –

Maybe I could grab your attention for a moment and ask what you think of Larry Shiner’s “The Invention of Art” or Mary Anne Staniszewski’s “Believing Is Seeing” as two examples of the argument that it doesn’t make sense to talk about Greek or Roman “art” or at the minimum, capital A “Art.” You seem to be somewhat sympathetic in your commentary above. And do we sidestep this (in a productive way) by continuing the discussion in terms of aesthetic activity rather than art? And by aesthetics, I do not mean exclusively the philosophic subdiscipline itself…

*** – I like that you bring up phronesis, but it’s funny because I am an advocate of not limiting social practice to the visual and performing arts (and there is discussion of it in a very different way in other fields) and was going to suggest here before your post that “social poiesis” (despite its even more obscure quality) might be a better term. If we don’t limit ourselves to art, social poiesis (nee practice) could be more dynamic and encompass not only art actions and art environments, but also – urban planning, sports leagues, communes, be-ins, residencies, raves, state fairs, theme parks, cults, encounter groups, chautauquas, even nations…and would also apply to a much broader demographic of participants rather than artists and their audiences…

But ***, much like the recent article in the Onion (http://www.theonion.com/articles/artists-announce-theyve-found-all-the-beauty-they,20973/) the *last* thing I want to do is to provide a framework for expanding what artists consider their “media.” Rather I am hoping to show that what artists and their supporters wish to claim as an exclusive territory, or what they reserve some claim of special ability at, is already done, by all sorts of folks from all walks of life. And, yes I believe that Dewey (and many contemporary scholars developing his work – but NOT Rorty) can be read (in fact *should* be read) as seeing aesthetics as an integral feature of everyday life – “through and through” as you say.

Gregory Pappas (Dewey scholar):

“The intelligent and aesthetic characters of democracies are mutually dependent. The community most capable of learning from experience is also the one that has all the features that define aesthetic activity, which for Dewey is the most inherently meaningful type of activity in experience. The democratic way of life is able to maintain the kind of balance and rhythm in its everyday doings and undergoings that, for Dewey, characterize aesthetic experience: a balance of tensions with rhythmic variety. Ideal activity is a merging of playfulness with seriousness that allows richness and flexibility without sacrificing stability. Democracy signifies for Dewey this possibility at the social level. The democratic community is also the aesthetic community because it is constituted by relationships that are neither fixed, routine, or mechanical, nor anarchical, capricious, or arbitrary.”

And:

“Dewey’s work…affirms the potential of ordinary experience (concrete life) to be the source of amelioration, admiration, and inspiration. His metaphysics reminds philosophers that the tangled, complex, gross, macroscopic, and crude things we find in everyday life are real, for example, vagueness, ugliness, fantasies, headaches, illusions, spark plugs, a conversation with a friend, parties, diseases, stones, food, tragedy, a conflict with a roommate, a joke, playing backgammon with friends, measles, and marbles. His aesthetics is a philosophical reintegration of the aesthetic with everyday life that is, in effect, a celebration of lived experience…his ethics is an affirmation of morality as experience.”

Dewey:

“When the thought of the end becomes so adequate that it compels translation into the means that embody it, or when attention to the means is inspired by recognition of the end they serve, we have the attitude typical of the artist, an attitude that may be displayed in all activities, even though they are not conventionally designated ‘arts.’ “

Sorry I’m back to being quotey, but this nugget from Dewey in 1891!!! cuts to the heart of the matter:

“If the necessary part played in conduct by artistic cultivation is not so plain, it is largely because ‘Art’ has been made such an unreal Fetich [sic] – a sort of superfine and extraneous polish to be acquired only by specially cultivated people. In reality, living is itself the supreme art…”

Living is itself the supreme art – social poiesis?

re: politics and aesthetics – I included a quote (from Gregory Pappas) on the other thread that addresses this exact point. The more expansive notion of aesthetics that I think we share (and Dewey et. al. have developed extensively) is inextricably linked with politics. In fact, that is why I am mystified by Claire Bishop getting as much attention as she does as her theoretical house of cards is so flimsy – relying as it does on such a misguided interpretation of the relationship between ethics and aesthetics.

re: pleasure – Richard Shusterman is my go to here (although I go to him for many other insights as well!) There is a link to his piece before the quotes I’ve culled: https://randallszott.org/2012/12/30/adorno-the-grumpy-puritan-richard-shusterman-on-art-and-pleasure/
“With these authors you get all modes of social practice: antagonism, pedagogy, community, the dialogic, ethics, morality, the relational, and the political.”

This statement is barely true even with this correction:

“With these authors you get all modes of social practice [art]: antagonism, pedagogy, community, the dialogic, ethics, morality, the relational, and the political.”

If social practice aspires to be anything more than another entry in the art historical ledger rather than say the historical ledger, *** reading list is the *last* place to look. Sadly it is all too reflective of the inbred nature of art discourse (embodying Kaprow’s “artlike art”). I think *** is dead on, but I would add another cautionary note (as I linked to in another comment) – developing a reading list should be an extremely low priority. A looking/experiencing list might be better. My mom ain’t gonna read Claire Bishop and she sure as hell isn’t gonna read Ranciere. But my mom engages in social practice (but has no need to call it that or study it as such) via her gardening club, and her volunteer activities. I love Fritz Haeg, but Crockett’s Victory Garden is more her speed and I would hope we’re not trying to build a field reserved for grad school types or urban hipsters (of which I am or was).

*** – I misunderstood you. I took you too literally when you said “all modes of social practice.” Believe me, I’m all about cutting slack (just ask google).

*** – where is the damn “like” button on this page? Your response itself was “smartly dark!” There is no denying of course (in fact my wife made the same comment) that reading is an experience. So yes, I should have said something more like “a (nonreading) looking/experiencing list.” It is also true that for many people (particularly of an academic persuasion – and I know, not exclusively) reading and looking are deeply symbiotic, but for many other folks they are not, or are dependent on entirely different sets of “texts.” I do disagree that I am over estimating/underestimating anyone – I was not clear in communicating this though. Because it is very much the latter of your propositions that I support. I do not oppose Crockett to Haeg (as I said I love Haeg!!!), but was pointing out that there are people doing social practice beyond art world/academe/activist circles. And trying to suggest that I think developing a robust idea of social practice needs to be inclusive of those folks. So when you ask “is anyone actually saying that?” I think you mean is anyone privileging the art/activist crowd over the PBS gardening crowd…to which I answer emphatically yes! I’ve been to panel after panel, read book after book, essay after essay, seen show after show, attended conference after conference, read syllabus after syllabus, and there is a clear canon established that charts an all too familiar course. Very rarely is anyone included that isn’t part of the dominant or emerging activist/artist circuit and even then they are usually included as material for, or in “collaboration” with an artist/activist. How do we get out of this? I’m not exactly sure – maybe get more ethnographic (with all its ensuing baggage)? I think *** is suggesting something similar (but in a much less grating tone than mine). As far as understanding/thinking about/experiencing social practice I’ve said before “all we have to do is look around.”

Against (only) epistemological art – Sue Bell Yank’s The Constructivist Artwork

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/03/2013

“We must shift from a vision of intelligence, as a basically neutral cognitive ability, to a holistic vision of intelligence as an ability that nurtures the human spirit and enables a person’s full realization. Intelligence and love of life in this vision go hand in hand.” – Ramón Gallegos

“As Dewey says, ‘It is not experience which is experienced, but nature – stones, plants, animals, diseases, health, temperature, electricity, and so on.’ My valuing experience of an act of injustice as wrong is about value that I find in the same world where I also find plants and stones. To dismiss the importance of valuing in inquiry because it is merely subjective or a mere psychological reaction is to assume a dualism or to presuppose the supremacy of the theoretical standpoint in revealing what is real.” – Gregory Pappas

So much can be said about Sue Bell Yank’s post The Constructivist Artwork that it is difficult for me to address everything. Her piece is quite welcome as it raises many interesting questions. The quotes above hint at the crux of my response. Pragmatism, in many ways nullifies many of the “problems” posed by Yank. To start, the distinction between idealism and constructivism can be pragmatically useful, but the pragmatist believes that ideas are things, so they are as much a part of the world as ice cream. Pragmatism also preaches meliorism (which is essentially the belief that life can be improved) so it is not truth in any final sense that is sought, but a truth that “works.” Pragmatism, as William James describes it is “radical empiricism.” In his pragmatist version of empiricism, contra Locke, and Plato, the fact/value distinction (like so many others) dissolves. So if we apply some of these points of view to the piece by Yank, we see that she is correct that “constructivism is inevitable.” But, so is idealism, because the two epistemological nodes are part of a continuum.

This requires a holistic point of view to adequately address and leads to one of the difficulties with this piece. It suffers from a one dimensional understanding of what knowledge is and mistakes education as being solely concerned with this limited (intellectualist) notion of knowledge. As Gallegos points out above, knowledge and intelligence needn’t be the purely cognitive type of material Yanks seems to imply. She says, “But often, experiences that are novel and rich with ideas have an educational “potential” and therefore a position on how we acquire knowledge and what that body of knowledge is.” Note that she describes experiences rich with ideas. This point of view is similar to the proponents of academic standards in schools (which functions in somewhat the same way as Yank describes “museums, art spaces, and funding entities” engaging in.). It mistakes that which can be measured for that which is valuable. So I’m left with making two suggestions – one, is to expand what counts as knowledge, or two, advocate for art practices that do more than engage the mind. Holistic educators are a rich source of guidance here (see Nel Noddings, Ron Miller, etc.). Without this adjustment, we’re stuck in the art world academics want – one that cultivates their own specialist skills and interests rather than an art world that cultivates thinking, yes, but also joy, love, and the soul.

“Loyal to our critical principles, we can barely squeak out the slenderest of affirmations. Fearful of living in dreams and falling under the sway of ideologies, we have committed ourselves to disenchantment…What we need, therefore, is to rethink our educational self-image and subordinate the critical moment to a pedagogy that encourages the risks of love’s desire.” – R.R. Reno

Gregory Pappas – Dewey’s Ethics – Democracy as Experience [Part VI – final]

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 05/14/2012

“Morality is a social, creative, imaginative, emotional, hypothetical, and experimental process to ameliorate present situations.”

“What should be dethroned are not moral generalizations per se, but a way of using them that discourages moral sensitivity and precludes the genuine exercise of moral judgment…Dewey invites us to drop legalistic or absolutist models of moral conduct and to look instead to art as the paradigm of an activity that can steer between living aimlessly and living mechanically.”

“It is not under our direct control to create a more intelligent, aesthetic, and democratic way of life…but we can provide conditions for their emergence. We can only prepare the soil, and reconstruction must come from within everyday interactions. Continuous inquiry about indirect means and present conditions is the key to finding the way we can democratize experience.”

“With regard to democracy, what we believe and defend philosophically must be tested in the classroom, in the workplace, and everywhere there is human interaction.”

Gregory Pappas – Dewey’s Ethics – Democracy as Experience [Part V]

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 05/10/2012

“Having faith is a type of commitment, an insistence on a possibility, and a tendency to act upon it, fully aware of the risk involved in a particular context. Faith is necessary and important in all dimensions of life and not something confined to religion.”

“…determining the reasonableness of a faith in democracy is different from determining whether democracy is true or false, and different from validating a knowledge claim.”

“A failure to take the risk involved in having faith in democracy (and surrendering to skepticism and cynicism) is not altogether to avoid risk, but to take a different kind of risk, namely, the risk of losing things that might depend on believing in the possibility of democracy. One of the things lost may be democracy as a way of life. Democracy requires faith for its own realization.”

“The intelligent and aesthetic characters of democracies are mutually dependent. The community most capable of learning from experience is also the one that has all the features that define aesthetic activity, which for Dewey is the most inherently meaningful type of activity in experience. The democratic way of life is able to maintain the kind of balance and rhythm in its everyday doings and undergoings that, for Dewey, characterize aesthetic experience: a balance of tensions with rhythmic variety. Ideal activity is a merging of playfulness with seriousness that allows richness and flexibility without sacrificing stability. Democracy signifies for Dewey this possibility at the social level. The democratic community is also the aesthetic community because it is constituted by relationships that are neither fixed, routine, or mechanical, nor anarchical, capricious, or arbitrary.”

Gregory Pappas – Dewey’s Ethics – Democracy as Experience [Part IV]

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 05/07/2012

“Dewey used philosophy to make his hope reasonable, which is different than seeking a foundation or a rationalization for a way of life.”

“A philosophy of democracy is an imaginative effort to articulate in a coherent fashion the most salient traits of the most worthwhile experiences and possibilities of human interaction for the purpose of ameliorative criticism. Democracy rests on experiencing and discriminating better and worse forms  of interactions in daily life. It is precisely because meaningful and enriching relationships are hard to come by that we need to set them up as ideal and inquire into their conditions.”

“The art of listening needed in a democracy is a matter of embodied habits. Without a cadre of people with certain imaginative and emotional capacities there is no hope for democracy.”

“The recent interest on deliberation is a good corrective against narrow views of democracy, but political theorists must avoid the intellectualist temptation that has plagued the history of philosophy: the reduction of experience to the cognitive realm…How we experience each other in our everyday local and direct interactions is something more inclusive than how we talk and inquire together.”

“Intelligence for Dewey is not a faculty, but a general way of interacting…”

“You can guide but not reason someone into having the experiences that can validate democracy…the empirical philosopher must provide arguments, but she should also guide others (through descriptions and other means) to have the experiences that may confirm their hypotheses.”

“Dewey wanted to shift the focus of democracy to the present striving or democratization of experience instead of toward future results…There is no grandiose or ultimate war for the sake of which the piecemeal present battles are fought…Trying to transform everyday activity to make it richer and fuller relative to concrete present problems and possibilities is what we do in democracy as a way of life.”

The reasonableness of an ideal way of life is to be tested in lived experience by trying to live it…we can test our hypotheses only by living them. Participation can only be tested by participating. There is, then, no theoretical justification of democracy that can replace the support provided in favor of democracy by living and embodying democratic habits in our everyday interaction.” [emphasis mine]

Gregory Pappas – Dewey’s Ethics – Democracy as Experience [Part III]

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 05/02/2012

“The foundations of democratic respect are, for Dewey, a certain way of experiencing everything, not an exclusive and abstract regard for human rights or justice that is independent of nature. For the truly democratic character, ‘every existence deserving the name of existence has something unique and irreplaceable about it.’ This is the sort of natural piety that Dewey hoped for as a consequence of abolishing hierarchical ways of looking at the world.”

[quoting Dewey] “…the local is the ultimate universal, and as near an absolute as exists.”

“…a warning against taking the usual abstractions about democratic society as antecedent to the unique, direct, and qualitative relations people hold with each other in situations. It would be more accurate to say that a democratic society is one that is composed of democratic associations than to say that a democratic association is one that exists because of a democratic society.”

“…it is through and by the local that I can acquire this sense of connection with what is beyond it…Democracy must grow from within, that is, from what is local, spontaneous, voluntary, and direct. This includes neighborhood, family, classroom, workplace, and grass-roots movements…we must avoid sacrificing the quality of what is had locally merely for the sake of reach [emphasis mine].”

“Genuine listening, especially of those who speak against our beliefs, does more on behalf of participatory democracy than voting.”

“Local communities must be sustained by loyalty and solidarity while also remaining receptive to continuities within the larger context of a pluralistic society.”

Gregory Pappas – Dewey’s Ethics – Democracy as Experience [Part II]

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 05/01/2012

“Criticism and reflection, the examined life, are important constituents of moral life because they are capable of enriching its immediate quality and not because they lead us to the Truth or to actualize some essence.”

“…the most important learning a person can acquire in a situation is not information (or rules), but the indirect cultivation of the habits that are going to affect the quality of future situations.”

“Making the goodness of our character the conscious object of our moral concern can in fact be counterproductive. Too much concern for our character can become a distraction…The best way to improve our moral characters is to attend to what we ought to do in a particular situation. Dewey thought that just as there is a hedonistic paradox, there is a moralistic paradox: ‘the way to get goodness is to cease to think of it – as something separate – and to devote ourselves to the realization of the full value of the practical situations in which we find ourselves.’ ”

“Product-oriented views of morality overemphasize our acquisitive capacities at the expense of the creative ones. if the best we can do with our present moral struggles is endure them for the sake of some remote end, then present experience is a mere means, and moral life is experienced as unaesthetic drudgery.”

“Given the variety of forms open-mindedness takes, and since it is not merely an intellectual trait, it is more appropriate to describe this virtue in terms of a general attitude, one Dewey describes as and attitude of hospitality toward the new.”

[quoting Dewey – emphasis mine] “When the thought of the end becomes so adequate that it compels translation into the means that embody it, or when attention to the means is inspired by recognition of the end they serve, we have the attitude typical of the artist, an attitude that may be displayed in all activities, even though they are not conventionally designated ‘arts.’

“What good is my negative freedom to do and consume when I am unable to intelligently reflect and choose? Democracy requires more than the capacity to go to the mall and choose between varieties of goods.”

“The shift from democracy as a political system to democracy as experience means that there is more to equality than legal and institutional guarantees. It has to go beyond judging others according to some impartial standard. Equality is an abstract name for something that can be qualitatively and directly experienced in our relations with others…Democratic respect is not only about how we treat others (a doing) but also about how we experience them (an undergoing). It is, in effect, the most generous experience we can have of others. In our deliberations and judgments of others we must be as sensitive as possible to their unique characteristics. This is the key to democratic generosity.”

Gregory Pappas – Dewey’s Ethics – Democracy as Experience [Part I]

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 04/30/2012

“Just as he objected to the ‘museum conception of art’ that isolates the arts from lived experience, Dewey warned against separating morality from relationships…”

“…moral life is a process of creating or transforming value, and not merely of accepting and living by given or former values.”

“As Dewey says, ‘It is not experience which is experienced, but nature – stones, plants, animals, diseases, health, temperature, electricity, and so on.’ My valuing experience of an act of injustice as wrong is about value that I find in the same world where I also find plants and stones. To dismiss the importance of valuing in inquiry because it is merely subjective or a mere psychological reaction is to assume a dualism or to presuppose the supremacy of the theoretical standpoint in revealing what is real.”

“Dewey used science and art as metaphors to understand moral deliberation. This served the purpose of highlighting the continuity between morality and other modes of experience, and it provided a description of moral deliberation as an experimental, emotional, and imaginative process.”

“When experienced, the frightening noise is as real as the eventual knowledge-experience of the cause of the noise. ‘Empirically that noise is fearsome, it really is, not merely phenomenally or subjectively so. That is what it is as experienced as being.’ [quoting Dewey] Insofar as the eventual experience is not misleading it is more true, but this does not make it more real. Similarly moral problems are not experienced as internal or subjective. insofar as a a situation is experienced as morally problematic then it really is problematic. this situation might be transformed into one in which there is no longer a problem, but the second, transformed situation is no more real than the first one.”

[quoting Todd Lekan] “the pragmatist approach maintains that morality is more analogous to non-moral practical skills and arts like medicine, cookery, and baseball than has been acknowledged by most of the tradition of moral philosophy.”

“..the pragmatist is concerned with knowledge only insofar as it is a means to enhance our lived present experience.”

“Dewey’s work…affirms the potential of ordinary experience (concrete life) to be the source of amelioration, admiration, and inspiration. His metaphysics reminds philosophers that the tangled, complex, gross, macroscopic, and crude things we find in everyday life are real, for example, vagueness, ugliness, fantasies, headaches, illusions, spark plugs, a conversation with a friend, parties, diseases, stones, food, tragedy, a conflict with a roommate, a joke, playing backgammon with friends, measles, and marbles. His aesthetics is a philosophical reintegration of the aesthetic with everyday life that is, in effect, a celebration of lived experience…his ethics is an affirmation of morality as experience.”