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Tammy Nyden: I do have a few things to say about it, but that wasn’t what I was planning on doing. So I actually have a few things I would like to say.
David Birnbaum: Right, right. So just to clarify that little point, so peace on earth and [inaudible 0010] further.
Tammy Nyden: No, I mean there are a couple of things that I do still have question — well ones that come up, questions that I was planning on bringing up while we talked because we have been having great conversations, I have really been enjoying it, and as I said this concept I actually am very intrigued with and I want to play around with and think about. So one comment, one of the things I have said already too that I do find very interesting and appealing is the dynamic nature of the concept, the way it’s playing out, and that I really appreciate because I do think there is sort of this entity based aspect to a lot of western philosophy that’s problematic and so I find that very attractive. And the kind of philosophies I am attracted do tend to have a dynamic ontology as well as sort of like a dualism of an activity and entity ontology in some sense, so that I really appreciate.
I do have a question though and part of it is I think I just may have different questions than the questions your two books, especially your first book, are trying to respond to. So I do appreciate that other people have other questions particularly coming from the point of the view of the holocaust and so forth so I sort of understand it. But I guess my question is how this takes as a beginning point that there is such a thing as evil and I don’t know if it also assumes there is a kind of thing as good. Now if by evil we mean horrible things happening to people or something like that, of course, and the holocaust is a paradigm example, but I am wondering do you understand evil as a metaphysical concept? Is it a kind of reality or lack of it? You see what I was saying, like is it a thing?
David Birnbaum: I see what you are saying, I see what you are saying.
Tammy Nyden: Okay that’s my question.
David Birnbaum: Okay. The book alleges to have no preconceptions. It alleges to start with a clean slate, but we are all human. Although we try to start with a clean slate we never quite start with a clean slate. But I try to start with a clean slate, no assumption, and of course the issue raises a classic question, is there such a thing as evil or is it just absence of good or is it something very subjective. Frankly, it’s not as if I deal with that subject with certitude, I deal with it with a lot of certitude. I sort of find myself forced in certain positions given almost everything else that I am saying and putting the whole mosaic together, and in putting the whole mosaic together I am sort of I would say forced into the position of saying that it is a distinct entity juxtaposing as good. But if you stopped me on the street a year before I started writing I would say no really please leave me alone, I hadn’t given that much thought. It’s more a matter of all the other dynamist sort of force that position. I am okay with the position but I am not jumping to convert the world to that position, but it’s one piece of many in this mosaic.
Tammy Nyden: The reason I would further–
David Birnbaum: And it’s a [inaudible 03:05] position, right?
Tammy Nyden: Yeah. And so these are genuine questions. I am really interested. They are not critiques or endorsements or anything, they are really just questions. But I am interested then if there is a notion of good and evil is the directionality of potentiality in the direction of good is — because to me, that’s where a normative role can come into this and I am trying to — so the directionality of potentiality on your theory is that necessarily toward good?
David Birnbaum: 1000%.
Tammy Nyden: Okay. So that helps me understand where you are coming from.
David Birnbaum: I thought that was sort of clear. I mean okay.
David Birnbaum: Right. And again, if you want to attempt to propose a concept of everything, you are going to doing thousands pieces at a minimum for starters, zillions of pieces, and you want the pieces to fit, and you are hoping that the overall proposition is not just powerful but right and you keep assessing and looking at it from different lenses, different perspectives. And I think my first book was published in 1988 and it’s gone through five-six printing and I haven’t changed anything in any of the printings. And then embracing [ph] the book number two, we didn’t have to change anything in dovetailing to book number two and it seems that it seems to work. Let me put it that way, it seems to work no matter what you juxtapose it against. So to me it’s a powerful, very powerful proposition. I am not aware of the competing metaphysics. I am not aware of it. I keep saying where is competing metaphysics? So you know, from many perspectives it’s to get powerful metaphysics to keep as what’s called up potential working proposition and see how it stacks up.
Tammy Nyden: Well I guess this is to me where it becomes interesting because there are competing metaphysics historically and it’s a very interesting question if this metaphysics can offer something where those have problems, and they do have problems. That’s why it’s interesting. So, for instance, I mean one competing metaphysic would be something like there is somehow this non-embodied good and somehow that is something we ought to strive towards. So that’s a competitor and I think it’s a problematic competitor so that’s why I would like to think about what might this look like differently than that.
David Birnbaum: Is there competing all-embracing metaphysical structure?
Tammy Nyden: Plato’s system is pretty all-embracing.
David Birnbaum: Fine okay. So Plato’s systems, so I don’t think everyone is jumping to embrace Plato’s metaphysics, I don’t think so. I don’t think so that’s case at all.
Tammy Nyden: Well no, I mean I think for better or worse a great deal of the western tradition has, and so what I am saying is where I see potential, I don’t mean it as the pun, and the idea of potentiality is that it might be an idea that can become sort of an alternate to the kind of metaphysical legacies we have and what would that look like, and to me that’s a very interesting question. So another way to think about it is like I said, I do history so I am always in history and I love the losers of history and I like to consider what an alternative genealogy would have looked like if that losing metaphysic that didn’t make the day if that did become what would it look like today is an interesting question to me. So in that vein I am thinking well you know just as I like to think about what is Spinoza’s metaphysics or Nietzsche’s or someone else has planted the incredible hold of Plato and Aristotle’s metaphysics on our world view, what would that look like. In the same vein, that’s why I find this very compelling, what would it look like to have metaphysic based on potentiality replace those. So that’s why I am saying there is something interesting here.
David Birnbaum: Right, right, right. So I am going to take the compliment and I am going to challenge one of your assumptions, is that okay?
Tammy Nyden: Okay yeah.
David Birnbaum: So if you are saying that Aristotelian metaphysics, is that what you are saying?
Tammy Nyden: Oh Plato mostly but a combination, sure.
David Birnbaum: So shorthand Plato’s metaphysics, I think if you go up to 100 Bard students or 100 Harvard students and say what’s your all-embracing gestalt or all-bracing metaphysics, I doubt if one out of the 200 would say Plato’s metaphysics, I doubt, I just doubt it.
Tammy Nyden: Yeah, but I don’t think that has anything to do with whether we are conscious of where these are coming — most people walking around are cartesian dualism and we think they have never read their card.
David Birnbaum: Yes exactly, exactly. So what I am going for is that in 50 years because you go to those 200 students and get a fair number of them will say I embrace the Summa metaphysics, that’s something concrete. So that’s – I am heading for that because I don’t see that any metaphysics now is embraced by the educated public. I know I could
Tammy Nyden: I guess I just have to respect–
Garry Hagberg: As Tammy says I have to say I agree that there are unwitting Cartesians all around.
David Birnbaum: Unwitting, unwitting that’s unwitting for sure, unwitting for sure myself included before I engaged in the process because that’s [inaudible 08:31].
Garry Hagberg: Yeah, yeah. Bruce has been waiting [inaudible 08:37].
Audience: Just a note from our sponsors at Bard College apparently that people are here now who want to come in to convert the hall to its next purpose. So we will need to be – no, I do want to ask my second question if I can because Tammy has touched on it very well. It has to do with this issue of potential, which actually fairly early in our discussion several of us seemed to accept as a matter of course and then it became increasingly clear that in fact different things were meant by potential. Sometimes you can use it in a social context where you imply not merely power to become but power to become a particular design. Sometimes it’s been used to imply order but not design it was said. Sometimes it’s been used to refer simply to energy. So that for example Gennady’s earlier comment that there is something in the cosmos that produces consciousness, well that’s an interesting possibility, but it doesn’t seem to me that it implies a one-to-one correspondence. So it appears to be a term that elucidates but it’s another one of those factors that will be at play at the back of my mind looking at the question of evolution precisely because so much freight can be carried by the term or eliminated by a given speaker. So it’s just one that I can use clarification on from all players as we proceed. I have assumed that we are all wrestling in one way or another with these questions.
I just want to make a very brief comment. When I referred to human reason I had in mind precisely this, two different people from different traditions sitting across the table and trying to clarify what the other person means. To me, this is the essence of it, this is the essence of it. There is a wonderful book by Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita, and this book ends on a note where Jesus Christ and Pontius Pilate walk on the beam of moonlight and talk, talk, and maybe the devil in that book says maybe they will agree on something.
Garry Hagberg: And if not, understand each other better.
David Birnbaum: Well you parsed the human reasoning, right, human reasoning. But just a parting shot about Aristotelian or Platonic metaphysics, I mean I just view them as fatally flawed metaphysics. I think they fail to answer a key question where [inaudible 11:56] who you allege come from, what is divine, you are alleging divine creator, where did this creator come from. You are alleging this primal matter, where did this primal matter come from? It seems to me they are very simplistic, it seems to me they are very unsatisfying and that would embrace [inaudible 12:16] metaphysics which is an extension of it and I think it’s sort of a bridge to nowhere respectfully. I mean they are not here to respond, but it was nice at the moment. Aristotelian metaphysics included the concept that the sun revolves around the earth by the way among other things. So these are seriously flawed metaphysics and I don’t believe that they are used as — well I challenge and I am challenging their metaphysics, put it that way.
Tammy Nyden: Yeah. I am not sure if you understood the question. I am not defending Plato. I actually think there is some fallout from accepting that metaphysical position and that’s why I find it would be interesting to think of an alternative. But I wouldn’t call Plato’s metaphysics simplistic. I think there are some maybe things we could explore to be better options but I just want to say that.
David Birnbaum: We know they were profound geniuses, we know that but I believe on that balance that metaphysics is simplistic, let me put it that way.
Garry Hagberg: Be that as it may, I would like to thank you all in the audience for coming. I will hold thanks to all of our participants until later tonight. Our dinner starts very soon and the good news is that we will no doubt have another very animated discussion there, I am looking forward to that and the bus is waiting right now. So thank you all, we will continue very shortly at dinner.