Video/Audio/Press

Article on Robots in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

In April 2016 I was interviewed by John Elder from Fairfax Media about the philosophical implications of robot technology. The resulting article appeared on April 3 under the title “What happens when your robot gets just a little bit ambitious?”Picture1 Picture2For an expanded version of my argument in the article, see here.

 

Podcast on Derrida, theology and Reformed theology

In this third podcast I begin by discussing Derrida’s cautious affirmation that “I rightly pass for an atheist”, and try to dismantle the myth that, for Derrida, God can be whatever you want him/her/it to be. I trace Derrida’s rejection of the god of onto-theology and then explain why he returns to the trope of “x without x” (religion without religion, God without God…), using the example of “messianicity without messianism” and his affirmation of a democracy to come.

I note that, while Reformed theology shares with Derrida a rejection of the God of onto-theology, absolute personality theism is nevertheless very different from both the God of metaphysics and Derrida’s own position, and that introducing absolute personality Trinitarianism into the conversation shows that ontotheology and Derrida have a number of key commitments in common. After a brief discussion of divine accommodation in Calvin I contrast messianicity without messinaism with the account of predestination in Ephesians 1, offering a note of caution with respect to Derridean openness to the other-to-come. I finish by summing up some of the principles that I have found helpful in staging an engagement between Derrida and Reformed theology.

Derrida's theology

 

Podcast on Derrida, ethics and Reformed theology

In this episode I talk very briefly about the growing willingness to accept, from the mid 1990s onwards, that deconstruction is indeed ethical, before tackling the myth that Derrida is a relativist. I unpack the phrase “tout autre est tout autre” (“every other is wholly other”) from Derrida’s reading of Kierkegaard on Genesis 22 and then introduce the notions of double bind and aporia in relation to Force of Law. In the second half of the episode I reflect on “tout autre est tout autre” in relation to Colossians 1:16-17, and on the difference between law and justice in the context of absolute personality theism.

Derrida's Ethics

 

Podcast on Derrida, metaphysics and Reformed theology

Recorded with the Reformed Forum in 2016. In this first of three podcasts I introduce Derrida and debunk the myth that he thinks language is meaningless or that things can mean whatever we want them to mean. I then unpack the famous phrase “il n’y a pas de hors-texte” (“there is nothing outside the text”) and the notions of logocentrism and différance, before reflecting on the creator/creature distinction and the Trinity in relation to Derridean thought.

Derrida Reformed Forum podcast 1

How we Became Modern

A talk at the 2011 Cambridge University Festival of Ideas.

Program blurb: “Join Dr Watkin in his whistle-stop exploration of the birth of the ‘modern’ world: when did the west become modern, and what brought about the change? This is an introductory talk for non-specialists.”

How we became modern

Equality, Justice and Love

A paper given at the Cambridge Modern French Research Seminar in 2010, beginning to think about the problems inherent in defining the human being in terms of a series of capacities or capabilities, and possible ways to address those problems.

Short interview about the paper:

Presentation:

Post-presentation discussion:

You can find other seminars in the same series on equality from Oliver Davis (Warwick), Martin Crowley (Cambridge) and Kevin Inston (UCL) at https://www.youtube.com/user/CamFrenchResearch

 

“Evangelical” as a term of public discourse

Short interview for the BBC Radio 4 Sunday programme in 2008 about the contemporary use of the term “evangelical”.

 Not More of the Same: Michel Serres and the Question of Alterity in Recent French Thought

A research paper given at Deakin University, Melbourne, in August 2017.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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4 thoughts on “Video/Audio/Press

  1. Chris, an interesting talk (thanks). One criticism of Badiou (and possibly to a minor extent of your use of him?).

    Badiou critiques the concept of otherness (alterity) on the grounds that the ‘other is acceptable only if he is a good other – which is to say what, exactly, if not the same as us?’ He holds that the apostles of difference are such only in the abstract; in their concrete philosophy (and presumably in person too?) they are ‘horrified by any sustained difference’. This may be true of many (such apostles), but it certainly cannot be held to be so in relation to Levinas, whose ethics clearly and unambiguously transcend social, cultural distinctions between Chinese, Muslims etc. For Levinas, difference is NOT a cultural product at all, but rather a singularity, a uniqueness, true of all humans, regardless of contingent differences. Levinas’s ‘other’ is not a good other in the moral-approval sense that Badiou implies, but rather a vulnerable other who ethically commands us to respond. This is merely stating the obvious for anyone who reads Levinas in any depth (or even just breadth!).
    So I think it warranted to hold that either Badiou is guilty of being incredibly sloppy to the extent that his broadside at the ‘self-declared apostles’ includes Levinas as a target, or that he knows what he is doing, and is therefore deliberately engaging in something like a provocatively fashionable rhetoric, which if successful in tarring Levinas with the hypocrisy brush furthers Badiou’s own aims in projecting one of his ‘truths’ into the world. (A little speculative there in relation to B’s possible motives!)
    Of course very little if anything of my criticism here of Badiou touches upon the general theme and connected issues from your talk, which usefully helps us to ponder further in relation to the general puzzle that many have had in relation to Levinas and the concept of radical alterity.

    Cheers,
    Michael

    • Hi Michael, Thanks for your comment and sorry for the delay in replying: I was hunting down the quotations below. In Badiou’s defence, he does distinguish between Levinas and the sort of multiculturalism that waves the banner of the “other”, the latter being the target of his comment about “good/bad alterity”.

      It appears, after all, that the fault may be mine and not Badiou’s: I didn’t distinguish sufficiently between Badiou’s arguments against Levinas’s account of alterity (essentially: it relies on God) and those of a more nebulous appeal to cultural alterity (their “other” is not really “other” at all). The nub of his complaint against Levinas is: “Levinas’s enterprise serves to remind us, with extraordinary insistence, that every effort to turn ethics into the principle of thought and action is essentially religious” (Ethics, 23). When it comes to the way in which “alterity” is used in ethical discourse more broadly, his attack is different.

      Here is what Badiou says about the relation between Levinas’s thought and what he calls the prevailing “ethics of difference”. It’s a long quotation, but the final sentence is the key one:
      “Whether they know it or not, it is in the name of this configuration [he’s just been talking about Levinas’s thought] that the proponents of ethics explain to us today that it amounts to ‘recognition of the other’ (against racism, which would deny this other), or to ‘the ethics of differences’ (against substantialist nationalism, which would exclude immigrants, or sexism, which would deny feminine-being), or to ‘multiculturalism’ (against the imposition of a unified model of behaviour and intellectual approach). Or, quite simply, to good old-fashioned ‘tolerance’, which consists of not being offended by the fact that others think and act differently from you.
      This commonsensical discourse has neither force nor truth. It is defeated in advance in the competition it declares between ‘tolerance’ and ‘fanaticism’, between ‘the ethics of difference’ and ‘racism’, between ‘recognition of the other’ and ‘identitarian’ fixity.
      For the honour of philosophy, it is first of all necessary to admit that this ideology of a ‘right to difference’, the contemporary catechism of goodwill with regard to ‘other cultures’, are strikingly distant from Levinas’s actual conception of things.” (Ethics, 20).
      The “self-declared apostles” are not Levinas et al, but these “proponents of ethics” who are “distant from Levinas’s actual conception of things”, and note that Badiou is keen to defend “the honour of philosophy” (in this context, of Levinas) from this slur.

      I hope that helps clear up what, I agree, remained insufficiently clear in the paper itself. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to clarify!

  2. Thanks Chris. That does help clarify things regarding Badiou’s position.
    I’ve had another quick look at Badiou’s ‘Ethics’, and I realize now that I have been at least slightly misled by Richard Cohen’s critique (in ‘Levinasian Meditations’) of Badiou’s account of Levinas’s ethics, where he (Cohen) fails to make the distinction you’ve just made. (That’s a bit sloppy on Cohen’s part, but then I read him as a ‘punchy’ type, liable to react somewhat defensively to perceived criticism of Levinas.)
    On Badiou’s real complaint against Levinas, I think there’s much to be further explored there: philosophical questions regarding the relationship between religious and philosophical ideas (is the distinction as clear as Badiou seems to think?); questions about what role grace (and the ‘unknowable’) plays in Badiou’s OWN thought; questions about where the seeming imperative to ‘persevere’ springs from; and more!
    (You’re possibly already aware of Simon Critchley’s writings on Levinas and Badiou? Anyway, somewhere he speaks of both of them as being Pascal-like gamblers, running ‘fine risks’ for the sake of the Good, or something along those lines.)
    At any rate, thankyou for the exchange of ideas.
    Michael

    • HI Michael, Thanks for your reply. I do talk about grace (and “miracle”) in Badiou in Difficult Atheism. I don’t think he is “being religious” when he uses those terms, but there are other, more structural, ways in which I think he is being theological. In fact, the whole question of what counts as a religious or theological moment in philosophy is one I am researching at the moment. It’s complex and easily trivialized (see my post on “ornitheology”), and there are many different layers to the question. Cheers, Chris