MA candidate and graduate teaching associate with the Department of Philosophy at San Francisco State University.

My academic pursuits focus primarily on the intersections between feminist theory and the philosophies of art, history and literature, though I’ve read widely and have paid particular and critical attention to Western philosophy for years now. I am also interested in the history of ideas, logic, love, skepticism, education, phenomenology, and the work and reception of Aristotle, Vico, Irigaray, Kant, and Kierkegaard.

I am preparing for doctoral study upon graduation, after which I will work to teach graduate school professionally. My extracurricular amusements include orological mountaineering, extensive writing, and musicianship. I love to read, to converse, and to learn.

Teaching

“My primary intent as a teacher is to create an open learning community where students are able to learn how to be critical thinkers able to understand and respond to the material we are studying together.”
— bell hooks

Courses Taught

Introduction to Critical Thinking (Fall ’16)
Introduction to the Philosophy of the Arts (Spring/Fall ’17)

Writing

“The job of the writer is to make revolution irresistible.”
— Toni Cade Bambara

 

essays accepted for academic presentation – not yet submitted for publication


1. Alison Assiter and Kierkegaard on Love and the State

I sketch a model of social organization grounded in recent scholarship by Alison Assiter. First reviewing her interpretation and utilization of Kierkegaard’s concept of love, I apply these ideas to the development of working concepts of identity, belonging and responsibility. The received view judges these concepts suitably employed in the nation-state model of politics, yet individuals are often inextricably bound to citizen relationships and by that national partisanship must assume stringent Self-Other dichotomies which can at times become quite restrictive. I argue Assiter’s work provides direction for the development of a concept of a communal and porous Self amenable to a global and transnational world. As “ontologically mutually dependent” entities (Assiter 2009), we exist as constitutive parts of a mobile and evolving web of relationships, and her ideas about Kierkegaardian love can help to abet the recognition of the necessity of others in a productive, cooperative and empathetic world.


2. Absurdly Insignificant Incidents: The Suicidal Tendencies of Fernando Pessoa’s Baron of Teive

This essay is an exegetical interpretation of Fernando Pessoa’s The Education of the Stoic. In its mere forty pages, Pessoa’s fictional author, the aristocratic Baron of Teive, describes his own gradual metamorphosis from despondency to apathy. The Baron’s recount and explanation of this transformation is grounded in a change of existential perspective, where the world and the individual have become not only dichotomous but antagonistic. Pessoa provides the Baron a kind of variant of the Absurdism of the Existentialists, and through a subtle reasoning, the acerbic nobleman’s initial, rather nostalgic lament of the moral and personal implications of this predicament is exchanged for its critical analysis, and the final, dispassionate fatigue which incites the pseudonym to kill himself. In effect, Pessoa has the Baron write a suicide note. I provide a psychological characterization of Pessoa’s Baron as an archetypal Schopenhauerian will-denier, in sharp contrast to the Camusian will-empowerer. I draw a contrast between Camus’ insistent claim that suicide is impermissible for the Absurd man and Pessoa’s Stoic-influenced description of the Baron’s rationale for taking his own life.


3. Let the Nectar Mixed with Good Cheer: Sappho and Skepticism

I discuss debts to ancient philosophy in Hume’s Treatise. Hume humanizes the Skeptic of Sextus Empiricus’ Outlines in their assent to custom, identifying how to articulate admitting to doubts within modernist discourse. Using Sextus as a skeptical practicum fails because the significant rhetorical activity isosthenia has lost its meaning in history, yet I argue the contemporary Skeptic might still employ something of an approximation to this ancient method. I introduce this alternate heuristic with the suggestion that conceptual material be drawn from the work of 20th century poet and novelist Hilda Doolittle, in her writings about the Greek poet Sappho. I describe her incisive depictions of Sappho as analogous to the attributes of the Skeptic, whose actions and perspective flesh out a robust agency. Informed by feminist and intersectionality theory, I argue this Skeptic states as historical what is also disavowed as real. The epoché is more mythical in procedural generation than real. The contemporary Skeptic conceives of isosthenia not as logical but aesthetic.


4. A Contemporary Sketch of a Praxis for Eudaimonia on Behalf of the Ephektikoi

Toril Moi (1994) writes that feminism’s aim is to “abolish itself.” And yet that something of such imperative importance has as its end its own dissolution does not make feminism unreasonable. In 2010’s The Demands of Reason: An Essay on Pyrrhonian Scepticism, Casey Perin reviews key elements of the Outlines of Pyrrhonism by Sextus Empiricus, and draws what he thinks are rational implications of its tenets that evidence, for Perin, the unsuitability of Skepticism in abetting a “distinctively human form of agency” without which the ephektikoi is left in some way unsatisfied. The significant motivation for this claim is problems in a theory of action grounded upon ‘appearances’ rather than beliefs. I suggest Perin is somewhat uncharitable through a critical analysis of his account, exegesis of the Outlines and comments by Sextus on the nature of epistemology and humanity, and an analogy drawn from contemporary phenomenology. As a novel imagination of ephektikoi experience, I discuss Merleau-Ponty’s concept of the schéma corporeal, or ‘body schema’, and draw examples from his understanding of experience that explain how my account addresses Perin’s criticisms and approaches exegesis of the Outlines. I argue the epistemology of agency presented by Sextus can robustly address the famous apraxia argument—e.g., of Hume’s Enquiry—as well as lead ephektikoi to a philosophical and rational eudaimonia. The Skeptic, like the feminist, has as their aim the abolition of their own skepticism, through the realization of epoché and ataraxia, and works towards this goal from the epistemological ground up, so to speak, in the sense of having utilized the tenets of the Outlines and “climbed out through them, on them, over them” so as to “throw away the ladder” (Wittgenstein, Tractatus 6.54). While Perin’s study is generally illuminating in its approach, showing ancient skepticism against the rigor of contemporary analytic philosophy, Pyrrho’s immediate heirs are much less formal, logically.


5. Artfully Formed Laws for Harmonious Civic Life: A Problem for Contemporary Peripatetics

According to Aristotle, the dramatic tragedian’s place in society is to facilitate their community’s actualization of everyone’s eudaimonia, yet certain contemporary commentators have suggested the potential peripatetic ethicist is given insufficient direction about how we relate two distinct definitions (virtue and contemplation) to that end vis-à-vis deliberation in the Nicomachean Ethics—and thus, dramatists have no real people and actions to look to for their imitations. In reference to a continuing debate in Aristotelian scholarship, I suggest claims to this insufficiency, in addition to John McDowell’s solution concerning prudence (1980), are mistaken, and offer an account of eudaimonia as hellenic.

Creating

“There is not a single true work of art that has not in the end added to the inner freedom of each person who has known and loved it.”
— Albert Camus

I am sporadically involved in a variety of aesthetic activities.

I write a monthly column for TERSE. called Outlying the Avenues.

A non-fiction short story was published in Transfer Magazine, No. 112, titled “Tenure”, and a free-form poem was published in Bolt Magazine, No. 3, titled “What if… I’m Just Done?”

I spend what time I can refining two musical identities: Aenesidemus is quieter, while Sigh is louder and more abrasive. A song by Aenesidemus was very kindly included in a compilation released by The Arts Diaspora.

I am also very slowly writing a classic tetralogy and a modern novel, and have quite a few unpublished poems lying around—although, as Stephen Davies (2015) seems to have put it, those might not be poems quite yet then.

Contact

Paul Michael Whitfield
Department of Philosophy, HUM 388
San Francisco State University
1600 Holloway Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94132, USA

office: Humanities 391A (Fall 2017)
email: pwhitfie@NOSPAMmail.sfsu.edu

(please delete “NOSPAM”)

The background image of this site is a digital photograph of a Dutch still life by Jan van Huysum.