I for intersubjectivity
McKeever / 14 Gennaio 2022

            At first sight it might seem strange to discuss I for intersubjectivity before discussing S for subject (which we will do in due course). The fact is that intersubjectivity arrives not just alphabetically before subjectivity but is also ontologically prior: no one ever became a subject on her own.             In order to understand why this is so we need to begin with the crucial phenomenological critique of the “subject-object” model of knowing. This model, which is at the basis of the empirical sciences and thus also of modernity in general, has been shown (by Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Levinas and many others) to be extremely reductive in nature. It greatly underestimates the complexity of what it means to be a subject, what it means to be an object and what it means for the two to be in relation to each other (in a world).             If all this is true of subjectivity, it is not difficult to imagine how much greater is the complexity when we think of intersubjectivity (not forgetting the chronological order mentioned above). These same thinkers were quite perplexed at the very possibility of intersubjectivity. They took “solipsism” and “ego-ology” very seriously. If I and…

C for Consciousness
McKeever / 17 Dicembre 2021

“To begin with, we put the proposition: pure phenomenology is the science of pure consciousness.” Few terms in phenomenology are as complex as “consciousness”. In what follows we will attempt to introduce the reader to this complexity by offering a brief gloss on the above statement by the father of phenomenology, Edmund Husserl (1859-1938). The first word that warrants attention here is “science”. Husserl was a mathematician by formation, but early in his career he became conscious (!) of the limitations of the epistemology that was operative in the empirical sciences. He did not deny the legitimacy of this epistemology in so far as it goes, but was convinced that it did not go far enough. In other words he believed that there was much more to human knowledge than the empirical sciences were revealing. And so he undertook the monumental task of constructing a new, precise science (phenomenology) that would overcome these limitations. In order to understand phenomenology we need to pay close attention to a second word in the above quotation: “begin”. Husserl was convinced that the empirical sciences begin far too late, taking for granted much that warrants critical examination. So phenomenology can be understood as a…

B for Body
McKeever / 11 Novembre 2021

           The French philosopher Gilles Deleuse (1925-1995) made a recording – available in French on Youtube – called L’Abécédaire de Gilles Deleuse in which he offers philosophical comments on terms beginning with a,b,c,d etc.             Inspired by this idea, I intend to do the same thing with a number of terms used in phenomenology.  These brief comments are designed for those who are curious about this relatively new branch of knowledge but who have not had occasion to study it.             We will begin with B for Body.  One phenomenologist who has concentrated considerable attention on the body is also French, Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961).  What is his main insight into the body?  Maybe this could be expressed by saying that, for him, the body is not a mere object in the world but an openness or an opening to the world (the term “opening”, if taken as a verb, has the advantage of bringing out the dynamic nature of this contact).              When we say that the body is not a mere object we acknowledge that in a certain,  limited, sense the body is indeed also an object: if placed in a bath it will displace a certain amount of water…

What is morally wrong with populism?
McKeever / 11 Giugno 2021

Having considered the nature and manner of operation of populism in former posts (link1 – link2) we may now attempt to evaluate it morally.  There is very little to be found on populism in Catholic Social Teaching (CST) because it has only recently become such a manifest political problem (Fratelli tutti, n. 15 does not use the term but it is obviously dedicated to this phenomenon).  What we do find in CST is a certain vision of politics relative to which a moral evaluation of populism is possible.  In the course of the 20th century, CST gradually adopted a vision of politics which broadly corresponds to that of liberal democracy.  Some key characteristics of such a political system are free elections, the rule of law, the common good, the separation of powers, freedom of expression and respect for minorities.  A system with such characteristics may be considered not just politically sound but morally good.             When making a moral evaluation of a given form of populism we must ask ourselves to what extent it respects these values.  Only in extreme cases does populism openly reject these democratic values and when it does so it is moving towards totalitarianism.  More often…

How does populism work?
McKeever / 14 Maggio 2021

            As indicated in a former post, the purpose of this reflection is to attempt to understand the extraordinary political success of populism over the last ten years (a success that is now seriously mitigated by inadequate responses to the pandemic). We will examine here just two aspects of this complex phenomenon: the theoretical basis of populism and its practical strategies.             Perhaps the most striking feature of populism is the manifest poverty of its theoretical basis. A few ideas (e.g. the people, national sovereignty, national identity), all of which are in themselves serious political themes, are preached with great superficiality and simple ignorance, in pursuit of the ideological objectives we considered in the last post. The key substantial theoretical issue, usually not clearly articulated, is representation. Those who vote for populist political positions are generally disillusioned with the current system of representation (usually via political parties) and believe that some form of direct democracy is a feasible alternative. Those of us who are not convinced of the feasibility of the alternatives proposed, would do well to take seriously this frustration – which is as old as democracy itself but has been accentuated by multiple factors in contemporary culture.            …

Is populism an ideology?
McKeever / 23 Aprile 2021

            In the ever more abundant literature on the theme, there is a debate as to whether populism is an ideology. Various authors reject the use of this term to describe populism because, unlike liberalism or socialism, this political and social trend is not based on an articulated theory or doctrine. This difference certainly exists but in my view the ideological elements evident in populism are so strong that it may be considered an ideology, at least sui generis.             To argue this point let us take a working definition of an ideology and attempt to apply it to populism. An ideology can be understood as the use of certain IDEAS, in a REDUCTIVE manner, on the part of a GROUP, with its own INTERESTS, which finds expression in a PROJECT, often political in nature.             Applying this definition to populism we can easily identify all these elements. The two key ideas in question are “the people” and “sovereignty”… in fact populism can be understood as a particular way of understanding the relationship between the people and sovereignty. The reductive element involved in populism concerns the manner in which it takes a part of the people to be the people……

Educating desire and being educated by desire
McKeever / 12 Febbraio 2021

As indicated at the end of the recent blog Cosa vuoi? on desire in Jacques Lacan, I wish now to reflect briefly on the implications of this line of thought for moral theology. Let me say at the outset that I have been for many years, and remain to this day, a fervent disciple of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas on this question. Their programme could be summed up in the phrase “educating desire” (A. MacIntrye). The human being is seen as an essentially rational being who has the redoubtable task of controlling his (or her) various desires so that they do not wreck havoc in his life and that of those with whom he intimately associates. The only way to do this is to practice individual acts of moderation etc. so as to develop the corresponding virtues, which make the moral life possible. All this constitutes a theoretical and practical model of human thriving which has served generations of human beings in various cultural contexts. The thought of Lacan, inspired by Freud, however, puts this schema into what is technically known as “epistemological crisis”. An epistemological crisis occurs within a discipline, such as ethics or moral theology, when new data…

“Cosa vuoi?”/ “What do you want?”: Jacques Lacan on desire
McKeever / 15 Gennaio 2021

            In the mouth or under the pen of Jacques Lacan the simple question “cosa vuoi?” becomes a bomb. The bomb is intended, as so often in his case, to explode our illusions about ourselves. In what follows I wish to share with the reader a few, almost arbitrary, reflections on this simple but potent weapon.             A first line of reflection concerns the use of the Italian language. Lacan was very theatrical, indeed histrionic, in his therapeutic and didactical styles. Switching for two words out of French into Italian, whether written or spoken, certainly would have had a certain dramatic effect. Pronounced with the strong intonation of a question in Italian and accompanied by an insistent hand gesture, this question immediately puts the interlocutor under psychological pressure on various fronts. The two most obvious of these concern the two words of which the question is composed.             “Cosa”, or better still “Cosa?”, in the context of Lacan’s thought, is an extremely loaded term, loaded like a gun. The word succinctly poses questions and insinuates judgements. The first question is: “Do you know what you want?” or “Do you really think what you want is…