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Consciousness is an Inevitable State of Matter

Evan Warfel
University of California, Berkeley

1. Hello, this is your brain, reading about your brain, reading about your brain

Consider the following question: why are we conscious?

I get it; pondering consciousness sounds like an activity only enjoyed by nerds, people who are high, those of us who have found a moment of post-yoga stillness, or people who fit in all three categories at once. But notice that we do not tell our heart to beat or our cells to grow, we do not have to think about focusing our eyes, and we do not consciously will our bodies to inject adrenaline into our bloodstream when something scary happens. These things happen more or less automatically, and if such highly complex tasks can happen without our attention or willpower, why should other complex tasks—like choosing what to eat for breakfast—require conscious awareness? How hard is choosing which flavor of yogurt to eat? And do we really need to be conscious to determine that we should peel a banana before biting one? (more…)


Is Shame An Emotion?

Dr Kate Kirkpatrick
University of Hertfordshire


One of the most famous passages in Sartre’s Being and Nothingness (1943) is his phenomenological account of shame. But before writing the 650-page piece for which he is best known, he wrote a much briefer—and clearer—work, The Sketch for a Theory of the Emotions (1939). In this earlier book, Sartre describes emotions as a means of escaping the world when it becomes too difficult. Here he calls emotions ‘degradations of consciousness’ (E loc. 688, 700) and ‘magical transformations of the world’ (E loc. 757). In Being and Nothingness, by contrast, shame is presented as a means of ‘realization’, ‘recognition’, and even ‘discovery of an aspect of my being’ (BN, pp.245-6). This paper therefore asks whether Sartre’s phenomenology of shame presents it as an emotion, by his own definition of the term. The answer, it is argued, is no. This is important for the Sartre scholar—because many readers of Being and Nothingness assume that shame is an emotion. And it is important for philosophers of religion and students of atheism—because this conclusion opens up the possibility of reading the early Sartre as a phenomenologist of sin from a graceless position.


The Virtual Identity of Life

Budimir Zdravkovic
City College of New York


Information can be defined as any sequence or arrangement of things that can convey a message. Here I would like to focus on information coded by biological organisms and how that information is related to their identity. The essence of living things has been difficult to define conceptually. Living things or biological things have certain properties which are unique to them and which are absent in inanimate matter. Defining life has been an ongoing problem for scientists and philosophers, but what is more puzzling is that living organisms do not appear to be defined by the conventional rules of identity. To illustrate what is meant by conventional rules let us look at the Ship of Theseus paradox, which begins with an old boat made of old parts. As this boat is renovated and the old parts are replaced with new ones, it gradually begins to lose its identity. When all the parts of the ship are eventually replaced, can we still say this new renovated ship is the Ship of Theseus? If so, what if we reassembled the old ship from the old parts? Would Theseus now possess two ships? In this paradox it is clear that the problem of identifying the ship stems from defining it in terms of its old and/or new components. The conflict of identity exists because old components are replaced with new ones, confusing our common-sense notions of continuity. (more…)

The Oxford Philosopher Speaks to… Stephen Boulter

9781137322814Stephen Boulter is a Senior Lecturer and Field Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Oxford Brookes University. Having completed his PhD at the University of Glasgow, he is now both a published author (see Metaphysics from a Biological Point of View and The Rediscovery of Common Sense Philosophy) and a respected member of Oxford’s philosophical milieu. Boulter has also been contracted to the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum (SCCC) as a Development Officer and National Trainer of Scotland’s philosophy A-level. His research interests include the philosophy of language, the philosophy of evolutionary biology, perception, metaphysics, virtue ethics, Aristotle, and medieval philosophy. We at The Oxford Philosopher interrupted these interests for a moment to ask Boulter a few questions about his own experience of philosophy as an academic discipline.

What was the first piece of philosophical literature you read from beginning to end, and have you revisited it since?

My first piece of philosophical literature read from beginning to end was Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy. It was part of a course that included Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley and Hume. I’ve reread the work many times since. Part of my current research focuses on the continuities between scholasticism and early modern philosophy – the theme of the so-called ‘long middle ages’ – so there is a sense in which I’ve never stopped reading it.


The Crossroads of Power: Michel Foucault and the US/Mexico Border Wall

Thomas Nail
University of Denver


This paper draws on the work of Michel Foucault in order to analyze the constellation of political strategies and power at the US/Mexico border wall. These strategies, however, are incredibly diverse and often directly antagonistic of one another. Thus, this paper argues that in order to make sense of the seemingly multiple and contradictory political strategies deployed in the operation of the US/Mexico border wall, we have to understand the co-existence and intertwinement of at least three distinct types of power at work there: the sovereign exclusion of illegal life, the disciplinary detention of surveilled life, and the biopolitical circulation of migratory life. By doing so this paper offers an original contribution to two major areas of study: in Foucault studies this paper expands the existing literature on Foucault by analyzing the crossroads of power particular to the US/Mexico border wall, which has not yet been done, and in border studies this Foucauldian approach offers a unique political analysis that goes beyond the critique of sovereignty and toward an analysis of coexisting strategies of power. (more…)

Five States of Nature in Hobbes’s Leviathan

Gregory B. Sadler


In Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes develops a constellation of notions of considerable conceptual refinement and of lasting rhetorical power. These notions coalesce at their most central point, the ‘state of nature.’ An overly simplistic view of the Hobbesian state of nature forms part of what may be called a standard reading of Leviathan.  This interpretation is prevalent in scholarship engaging Hobbes’s thought and doctrine not for its own sake, but in order to provide a contrast against other thinkers, to fit Hobbes into a broader schema of intellectual trends, tradition, or movements, or to diagnose Hobbes and his thought as the precursor of something particularly unsavory arising specifically in modernity.  Pedagogical uses of Hobbes also typically rely upon (and in the process perpetuate) that reading.  Such interpretations can also be found in scholarship engaging Hobbes in more focused and systematic ways, since studying other portions of Hobbes’s thought is rendered easier and less messy by ignoring ambiguities and puzzles arising when the state of nature is understood in relation to other notions intimately connected with it [1]. (more…)

The Oxford Philosopher Speaks to… Constantine Sandis

Constantine SandisHaving graduated from St Anne’s College, Oxford, as an undergraduate and taught philosophy at Oxford Brookes University for the past ten years, Constantine Sandis is soon to leave the Dreaming Spires for a professorship at the University of Herfordshire. These are not the philosopher’s only plans for the future, however: working mostly on the philosophy of action and its explanation, Sandis is planning books on both the unregistered significance of action theory in normative ethics and the need for a philosophy of understanding. The Oxford Philosopher took a moment of his time to ask a few question about his own experience of philosophy as an academic discipline.

What was the first piece of philosophical literature you read from beginning to end, and have you revisited it since?

The first piece of literature was Gabriele Taylor’s Aristotelian Society essay ‘Love’, written the year I was born. I was seventeen and took it to the beach in Cyprus expecting something soft and soppy only to be confronted with heaps of propositional calculus. Gabriele has since told me that she regrets incorporating this formal logic which was just ‘showing off’.  I had a chance to revisit the essay a few years ago when I was editing a volume on ‘Love and Reasons’ and think I understand it a little better now. As for an entire book, like many people, it was Descartes’ Meditations. I’ve revisited it many times since for teaching purposes and one always finds something new in it each time.


The Oxford Philosopher Speaks to… Luis de Miranda

kjhuhForty-four-year-old philosopher, author, and film director Luis de Miranda is no stranger to the philosophical (nor the literary) community, and I was lucky enough to catch him between the flurries of his many ongoing projects at the University of Edinburgh. The Portuguese-born polymath discusses ‘crealism,’ a movement he began in 2007 and continues to ventilate through his ever-expanding bibliography.

Much of your work revolves around the central concept of ‘Creal.’ What exactly is ‘Creal’ and your understanding of ‘crealism’? You’re now dedicating your PhD to the notion of esprit de corps. Should we assume there’s a connection here? In both French and English, espirit de corps refers to a sense of loyalty and respect between a group of individuals, but you give it greater significance. In your own words, what exactly is it?

My novel Paridaiza, published in 2008, first contained the concept of Créel (‘Creal’ in English) as a liberating keyword, a snag within a totalitarian regime. Creal is obviously a portmanteau compound of created-real. At the same time, I elaborated on the concept in an essay on Deleuze (Is a New Life Possible?). A philosophical concept answers a question and Creal is my answer to the question What is more real than the Real? The Real is a prominent concept in the history of philosophy since Plato. The last few centuries in particular have obsessed over the idea of reality, with its materialistic ubiquity (materialism) or, conversely, its disappearance (the loss of the Real in Baudrillard for example, or the absolute and impossible Real of Lacan). I proposed to puncture the idea that the Real is more than reality as we practice it, produce it, or believe it. If I’m to describe a more authentic realm, as a condition of possibility of the Real, I’ll call it Creal. This not only describes a Protagorean world where humans would be the measure and creators of all things: it’s an ethical cosmology. The Creal is an ethical absolute (that would ideally have to be agreed upon by social contract) proposed in order to avoid any form of totalitarian absolute, because I’m convinced that human societies need at least one ultimate value to function properly. Creation as an absolute is, in my view, the only absolute that constantly self-destroys, which therefore could avoid any form of totalitarianism, on one hand, and indifferent chaos on the other. However, I’m not a pure social constructionist, because I’m reluctant to use building metaphors, which are a bit too technical, and also because I find it difficult to believe in a pure anthropocentrism of creation. There are other forms of crealism around, which insist on an exaggerated human creative power. Mine is the idea that we constantly edit, filter and organize the infinite propositions of the Creal, which is such stuff as the cosmos is made of, the immanent creative flow of possibilities and impossibilities, the mysterious and invisible ‘dark energy’ of the cosmologists, if you will: at most, we co-create. Within this frame, my interest for the universal concept of esprit de corps expresses the view that human co-creation is always a collective process of ordering, naming, and valuing. Loyalty, togetherness, and repetition (of daily rituals or beliefs) create a slow epic that is the spiritual fuel of social change. That’s why, when I started my PhD on esprit de corps at the University of Edinburgh last year, I simultaneously founded the Creation of Reality Research Group (The Crag). Esprit de corps is a subset of creation of reality. It’s a concept that covers a process that can be positive or negative: groups can help individuals become sublime, but they can also smother.