Pharmakon is American University's journal of philosophy, open to all undergraduate students of any field of study. The journal is meant to serve as a forum for discussion about philosophy and its application across disciplines.
Fall 2014, Issue #5
Faculty advisor: Justin Marquis
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- The Cultivation of the Self in the Age of the Proliferation of Sexual Identities
Abdulrahman Bajodah, American University
Due to today's domination of the field of sexuality over our culture and subjectivity, a proliferation of sexual identities is taking place. This essay argues, through a Foucauldian scope, that although the proliferation of sexual identities is considered as a form of resistance to the domination of sexuality, it rather deepens the domination of sexuality by not leaving its territory and tying one's subjectivity to, still, sexuality. This tension between subjectivity and sexuality can, as the essay suggests, be overcome by employing Michel Foucault's concept of "the cultivation of the self" due to the similarities between sexual identity and self-cultivation as an embodiment of specific appearances, behaviors, and practices.
- Interpreting Saturated Phenomena at the Gym:
Jean-Luc Marion Meets the Modern BodyBuilder
Christopher Tracy, Central Connecticut State University
This paper uses the modern-day bodybuilder as a phenomenological case study to understand how selfishness occurs. Agreeing with Jean-Luc Marion's ego/flesh framework leads the author to understand the ego as using its body for a self-relation. How the body is modified throughout its lifetime, either through intentional formations of bodily modification or through accidental circumstances, involves an equal change to the ego understanding its flesh. Marion's work on saturated phenomenon is then engaged to include how various phenomena saturate as either idol or icon. This paper argues that what differentiates the two phenomena is, in part, where the excess of the phenomenon "runs off" to: for the idol, the excess returns back to the look, constituting an excess that always stays present. The iconic excess is allowed the liberty to go beyond the intentional aim of the look to become true excess, as absence. For the bodybuilder, the excess of the ego's given surpasses the physical abilities of the body and returns back to the ego in the form of an anxiety which begins to define the individual as becoming body-as-idol. In contrast, a person living as body-as-icon experiences an excess that enables her to unselfishly act ethically.
- One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish: Justifying Durkheim's Argument for Deviance through Kramer's Listening to Prozac
Eliana Peck, American University
In his discussion of crime and punishment, sociologist-philosopher Émile Durkheim rejected the notion that a progressive society could exist without deviance. He was one of the first to correctly point out that society ought to maintain a broad definition of normal human variety. However, because Durkheim could not have imagined a world without deviance, he fails to grasp the significance of even his own argument. In this short essay, Eliana Peck supplements Durkheim's work with that of Peter Kramer, author of the 1994 book Listening to Prozac. In Listening to Prozac, Kramer shows how a powerful new medicine made it possible to literally medicate deviance out of oneself. Kramer explains that the potential to be less deviant newly defined deviance as a problem, even an illness. In an argument that evokes questions of philosophical, legal, and scientific significance, Peck argues that Kramer provides what Durkheim alone cannot, as Kramer illustrates the dangers of a societal disregard of the importance of human diversity. Peck urges us to take a closer look at the norms we promote, and at the importance of integrating deviance into our spectrum of normal human variety.
- Identity of Movement
Trask Dunlap, University of California, Santa Cruz
In this paper I examine the possibility and impossibility of identification. When an individual identifies as possessing a particular characteristic, such as humility, how true is that identification? Often, the process of identification leads to the exclusion of the opposite characteristic. Identification done in this way is blinding and impossible. However, if we can begin to identify as a movementbetween opposing characteristics, I believe we will get closer to the truth and power behind identification. Through a study of Hegel read through Alexandre Kojéve, I examine the Master / Slave dialectic and what implications this has on identification. Though there are many avenues to explore, I examine the particular characteristics of fragmentation versus wholeness within the individual's relationship to themselves and society. I also use this model, with respect to Bataille, to investigate the conflict between desire and the absence of desire.
- Fertility and Totalitarianism: The Nazi Lebensborn
Leo Zausen, American University
This paper explores the similarities between dystopian strategies of fertility and implemented pronatalist policies of the Lebensborn - an SS organization dedicated to advancing a Nazi race. It will juxtapose Huxley's fiction to Nazi ideological documentation in an effort to critique totalitarianism. Relying on the theoretical positions of Zygmunt Bauman, Jacques Derrida and Sigmund Freud this paper will deconstruct the relationship between text and reality. Bauman's "gardening state," uniquely, reveals a blurred distinction between metaphor and institution through the example of the Third Reich. The paper then approaches techniques of fertility with a psychoanalytic lens;underneath the surface of the Holocaust was a benign and affirmative eugenics manifest in the Lebensborn. The paper argues that a major complement of utopian wishes and modern designs lie in their totalitarian desires;in order to prepare for the continual presence of regime-oriented politics, instrumentation over fertility was a major assumption of 20th century dystopian literature and national socialist politics.
Spring 2013, Issue #4
Faculty advisor: Justin Marquis
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- Alienation through Abnormality in (Bio)medical Practice
Allison Hill, American University
In this paper I critically discuss the epistemological structure of medical anthropological inquiry. The patient has a central role in this analysis, as biomedical epistemology, which informs that of medical anthropology, serves to alienate the patient from society and one's self. The link in epistemological structure therefore disadvantages the general intent of medical anthropology in the misinformation of how one understands one's own affiliation. I structure my argument by first laying out basic assumptions of medical anthropology, demonstrating the failure of medical anthropology in addressing the individual alienation of illness, and how the current epistemological framework perpetuates alienation of the individual through the emphasis on the physical body.
- Foucault's Ethics: Living as a Middle Sex or Intersex Subject
Prerna Rathi, American University
Foucault recognizes that there are different techniques and practices that transform us into subjects of moral actions and that the self is a constant process of creation. In other words, if the self is not pre-given then we can look at the self as a work of art. One way to think about subjectivity creatively is as an aesthetic process. As moral subjects, when we commit ourselves to certain modes of being or ways of life then we also commit ourselves to the facilitating principles that make this way of life possible. In this project, I investigate more on the question of the intersex individuals on "how shall we live" and study the practices of the self that they engage in order to discipline themselves as subjects actively committed to certain ways of being. Furthermore, I considered the transformative capacity of intersex subjects in their ability to influence, modify and motivate the actions of other subjects and existing norms in the society.
- Preference and Practical Reason: An Evaluation of Sen and Hausman
Kevin D. Thurston, Georgia State University
An expository account of Amartya Sen's concepts of commitment and rational choice, along with Daniel Hausman's alternative to Sen's concepts, is given in this essay. Sen's exposition of self-centered welfare, self-welfare goal, and self-goal choice are explored and assessed. However, with the help of Philip Pettit, the essay points out several errors in practical reasoning with regard to Sen's concepts of commitment and counter-preferential choice. In contrast, Daniel Hausman's "total comparative evaluation" avoids the problems by simplifying the concept of preference and classifying other-regarding behavior as preference-influencing factors, not as types of preferences themselves.
- Time and Cezanne's Later Paintings
Julian Chehirian, American University
I present scholarship on Cezanne's artistic process by George Hamilton, Meyer Schapiro and Joyce Medina in order to analyze his reconstitution of Space (as occurring in Time) in several paintings of his late period: "Le Bay from L'Estaque"(1886), "Chestnut Trees at Jas de Bouffan" (1885), and "Mont Sainte Victoire" (1904). I argue that the ingenuity of Cezanne's artistic representation of Space "induration" coincides with and is contemporary to a post Kantian reconstitution of Space introduced by the French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859, 1941), according to whom Space is experienced by Consciousness only in Duration (Time).
Spring 2011, Issue #3
Faculty advisor: Lauren Weis
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- Happiness and Individuality in Mill
Julio Sharp-Wasserman, Pomona College
In this paper, I identify two competing types of utilitarianism present in John Stuart Mill’s writings, hedonistic utilitarianism and objectivist utilitarianism. His hedonistic utilitarianism commands the maximization of happiness, and his objective utilitarianism the maximization of individuality. I compare the effectiveness of these to two forms of utilitarianism as justifications for individual liberty as defined in Mill’s Harm Principle. I conclude that his objective utilitarianism is superior in this regard because it alone can justify his crucially important voluntary slavery exception.
- Very (Un)Illuminating: An Evaluation of Paul Churchland's Response to the Knowledge Argument
Jonathan R.S. Barker, Wake Forest Univesity
Professor Churchland has opposed Mary Story-style arguments against physicalism by constructing an argument he believes to be analogous to the Mary Story; because the conclusion of his analogous argument is absurd, he suggests that we dispense with similar from knowledge. I argue in this paper that first, Churchland’s parody argument fails to distinguish between knowledge of what it is like for an agent to experience a certain quale and knowledge of the object that causes the quale, second, I will suggest another, more charitable reading of Churchland’s argument against the Mary Story, and argue that this second reading does little to help his position; third, I will consider a distinct but related argument proposed by Churchland, that when Mary leaves her room she gains only knowledge by acquaintance and not propositional knowledge, and conclude that, in fact, Mary gains both acquaintance knowledge and propositional knowledge, and that hence Churchland’s second argument fail.
- Plato's Epistemology as Empiricism
Sean Meslar, Christopher Newport University
Given the extreme importance of Plato’s contributions to the foundation of contemporary Western thought, there are very few aspects of his philosophy that are unexamined and even fewer that are agreed upon universally. One exception to this rule concerns Plato’s epistemological views, namely that his theory of the Forms and divided reality constitute what would contemporarily be called a form of rationalism. It will be the goal of this essay to demonstrate the opposite of this belief, that Plato’s epistemology as expressed through the doctrine of recollection constitutes an empiricist view of knowledge.
- The Metonymy of Transcendence: Derrida and the Diamond Sutra
David W. Pritchard, American University
In The Diamond Sutra, the Buddha says, "the perfection of transcendental wisdom is not really such." The Buddha continually renounces cornerstones of Buddhist thought as being merely names for otherwise inexpressible concepts. Using Derrida's discussions of the supplement in Of Grammatology, I argue for a consideration of transcendence as a metonymic rather than metaphoric operation in Buddhist thought. Ultimately, the idea of "transcendence" is not one of a one-to-one correspondence, where one person moves beyond, to meaning; rather, it is the constant excess of meaning always already exceeding its nominal manifestation—a transcendence of, not to, meaning in discourse.
Spring 2009, Issue #2
Faculty advisor: Lauren Weis
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- Toppling the Jenga Tower: A Critique of Nozick's Theory of Holdings
Chris Lucibella, American University
Proponents of an unrestricted free market and of a minimal state frequently use the philosophy of Robert Nozick to criticize government action. While this has obviously harmful ramifications for any project of social welfare, it alo rests on tenuous philosophic justifications. This paper seeks to analyze the theoretical shortcomings of Novick's theory of holding, a fundamental premise in his political philosophy as described in Anarchy, State, and Utopia. It concludes that, because of theoretical as well as practical shortcomings, Novick's theory of acquisition and transfer is untenable as the basis for a rational theory of distributive justice.
- Hegel, Subjectivity, and Metaphysics: A Heideggerean Interpretation
Sean Castleberry, George Mason University
The goal of this essay is to explicate Martin Heidegger's metaphysical critique and interpretation of G.W.F. Hegel's thought. This explication will include a discussion of Heidegger's view on Hegel's conception of subjectivity, dichotomy, and self-consciousness. For the sake of presenting a concise essay, I will present only a few of Heidegger's major texts concerning Hegel. Two of the most essential texts analyzed in this essay are from Heidegger's later years. These texts include the Four Seminars and "The Onto-Theo-Logical Constitution of Metaphysics." The most important issue will be to demonstrate the fundamental dilemma that Heidegger finds in the thinking of Hegel. Though Hegel brings metaphysics to its highest achievement, Hegel still lacks the ability to demonstrate the grounds of metaphysics because of his own entanglement in the history of subjectivity.
- Descartes' "Traditional Epistemology"
Amanda Hale, Auburn University
In Descartes' "Traditional Epistemology," I examine how Stanley Cavell's explanation of traditional epistemology, as described in The Claim of Reason, is exemplified in Descartes' "Meditations." I use what Cavell provides in The Claim of Reason as a guide to examine the way in which Descartes presents skepticism.
- The Moment in Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Kiersten Batzlu, American University
A close reading of Nietzsche's description of the Moment in Thus Spoke Zarathustra illuminates the way that we ought to think about the eternal recurrence. The Moment, as Nietzsche develops it as both a temporal and spatial entity, helps to illuminate the eternal recurrence of a perpetual reaffirming of the self.
- Heidegger's Secular Fall: How to Read Das Man
Joe Rees, American University
Many commentators are extremely critical of Heidegger's ambiguous conflation of Being-with and das Man in Being and Time. The text of Division One, Chapter Four shifts between an ethically neutral and ontologically necessary account of Dasein's Being-with-others and ethically saturated and contingent account of the same phenomenon, leaving the reader confused as to whether Heidegger is accepting sociality as a necessary and inexorable condition of human existence. In this paper I identify the point of confusion in Heidegger's text and survey the dominant exegetical treatments of the text,which usually only takes one of Heidegger's two contradictory claims as true. I then posit an alternative hybrid reading of the text in which the two dominant readings are integrated. I argue that, though Heidegger's text is confused, the underlying idea is consistent, and what manifests as a logical contradiction in the text masks what is evidently Heidegger's actual claim that the human condition is inherently in conflict. Dasein is necessarily fallen, yet necessarily strives for authenticity.
- On Appeals to "Ordinary Language"
Ilhan Zeybekoglu, Tufts University
In recent decades, the philosophical tradition known as "Ordinary Language Philosophy" popularized in the middle of the 20th century by philosophers such as J. L. Austin and Ludwig Wittgenstein, has dissipated substantially, in large part, due to post-Gricean developments in systematized linguistics and philosophy of language. I think, however, that much of what has been in disrepute of ordinary language philosophy has, in fact, little or nothing to do with (many of) the real philosophical concerns of ordinary language philosophers, at least the sort exemplified in the works of Austin and Wittgenstein. I will suggest that many contemporary positions which do purport to deal with these "ordinary language concerns" are missing the point on an important and fundamental level.
Fall 2008, Issue #1
Faculty advisor: Ellen Feder
- Lesley Fredin, An Existential Analysis of The Zahir
This paper will catalogue main existential terms that have parallels in The Zahir by Paulo Coelho. The terms that will be explored in the paper are anxiety, the Other, the they, freedom, death, and storytelling. The paper will use sections from the writings of Søren Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger, and Jean-Paul Sartre in its analysis of these themes. It will conclude with a discussion of the meaning Coelho finds in life and question whether or not there is a similar meaning that can be found when reading the philosophers addressed in the paper.
- Fran Muhrer, Mythos for the Irrational Mind
This paper explores Plato’s use of myths in three major dialogues: The Republic, Phaedrus, and Phaedo. Why does Plato choose to utilize mythos alongside of logos in his dialogues? I argue that the placement and subject matter of the mythos in each dialogue indicate Plato uses mythos to drive home the points Socrates makes through logos by appealing to the irrational part of the soul.
- Joe Rees, Perception, Particular, and Universals: Aristotle’s Perceiver Explained
In Book II Chapter 19 of Aristotle’s work Posterior Analytics, Aristotle briefly mentions a puzzling assertion about his understanding of perception. He notes “though one perceives the particular, perception is of the universal”(Aristotle 1996, APo 100b1). This assertion is seemingly contradictory, since it seems to make two opposite claims at once. In this paper I explain the soundness of Aristotle’s claim in light of other of Aristotle’s concepts including Aristotle’s epistemology, the rational part of the soul, and universals/particulars and illustrate the consequences of Aristotle’s perception.
- Katie Young, Baruch Spinoza and the Marquis de Sade
This paper is an exploration of some of the differences and similarities between the Radical Enlightenment philosophies of Baruch Spinoza and the Marquis de Sade by virtue of discussing two major themes of their philosophy—metaphysical conceptions of God and of Nature and their ideas about religion and morality. Through a comparison of Spinoza and de Sade we see two different yet connected conceptions of the world spring forth from the philosophical environment of the Radical Enlightenment in Europe.