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Pointing Out the Obvious

As anyone who’s happened across this page since last November has already realized, I’ve taken most of my writing elsewhere. I’m reasonably confident that my days of solo blogging here are done for good, but then again, I’m signally bad at predicting these sorts of things.

If you’re interested in my future work, it’s best to follow me on Twitter (@conorpwilliams). Most of my recent writing has been through Ordinary Times and at New America.

Thanks to everyone who read and replied here during the blog’s very short run!

Quick Thoughts

  • I've been surprised by how many page views these dissertation excerpts get, so here's another one, for all the dorks out there. This is part of the continuing argument I'm building between Dewey's and Oakeshott's views on science and politics... Here’s another way of putting this: Dewey admits that inquiry is “only” a response to the needs of an historical moment without the argument self-destructing so long as he maintains that it is an irreversible refinement of past capacities. That is, there is no option to return to pre-inquiry historical moments—the task now is to work out the intimations of this shift in capacities. Rather than attempting to use extra-experiential language to project ethereal conceptual frameworks, Dewey follows Darwin (and to a lesser degree, Aristotle) in noting the special worth of inquiry as an historically-produced aid to attaining human flourishing. Inquiry permits humans to critically assess their situation, though not in the neutral, abstracted way that philosophy has often promised. Science is resolutely not neutral. It allows humans to analyze the various schemes they might apply in a situation and evaluate them in terms of the ends they have set for themselves. Indeed, inquiry can, and perhaps always must, be driven by the historical frame in which it is undertaken, but this does not diminish its importance. The increased perceptiveness of the standpoint of inquiry is its own endorsement as an exceptional moment in history. It dramatically increases choices and options for human creatures, both alone and in community.
  • In a coffeshop, south of Dupont Circle... Girl A [removes headphones, takes sip of tea]: Um, hey, does yours have a thesis? Girl B: Ummm, no, not really. Girl A: Do you think we need one for this paper? Girl B: I mean, I don't think that the TA mentioned anything about that. Girl A: Good, because I don't really have one either. Girl B: College is SO HARD! Girl A: I know, right? [giggle]
  • Messi's First Registration Card With FC Barcelona: Complete with cute little kid signature.
  • Michael Oakeshott, from "The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind" [emphasis added] "In conversation, ‘facts’ appear only to be resolved once more into the possibilities from which they were made; ‘certainties’ are shown to be combustible, not by being brought in contact with other ‘certainties’ or with doubt, but by being kindled by the presence of ideas of another order; approximations are revealed between notions normally remote from one another. Thoughts of different species take wing and play round one another to fresh exertions. Nobody asks where they have come from or on what authority they are present; nobody cares what will become of them when they have played their part. There is no symposiarch or arbiter; not even a doorkeeper to examine credentials. Every entrant is taken at its face-value and everything is permitted which can get itself accepted into the flow of speculation. And voices which speak in conversation do not compose a hierarchy. Conversation is not an enterprise designed to yield an extrinsic profit; it is an unrehearsed intellectual adventure. It is with conversation as with gambling, its significance lies neither in winning nor in losing, but in wagering. Properly speaking, it is impossible in the absence of a diversity of voices: in it different universes of discourse meet, acknowledge each other and enjoy an oblique relationship which neither requires nor forecasts their being assimilated to one another." Sometimes it's best to leave commentary aside. Read the whole essay someday. It's well worth it.
  • I had no idea that Habermas had said this... "For the normative self-understanding of modernity, Christianity has functioned as more than just a precursor or catalyst. Universalistic egalitarianism, from which sprang the ideals of freedom and a collective life in solidarity, the autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of a continual critical reappropriation and reinterpretation. Up to this very day there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a post-national constellation, we must draw sustenance now, as in the past, from this substance. Everything else is idle postmodern talk." So he's definitely RIGHT about the genesis of modernity—à la Hegel/Weber—but what if he's WRONG about the ability for us to still draw sustenance from a tradition we've been ignoring (à la Nietzsche)?

Thought News:

Rebuilding the progressive political and philosophical heritage—post by post, argument by argument. All posts written by Conor Williams unless otherwise noted. (

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Conor Williams, Winner of the Washington Post’s America’s Next Great Pundit Contest, 2010

Conor Williams



September 2014
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