Abstract for At the Opening of Madness: An Exploration of the Nonrational with Merleau-Ponty, Foucault and Kierkegaard

(This abstract was accepted by the North Texas Philosophical Society for the 2018 Conference which will be taking place in Dallas, Texas, March 30-31, 2018. I will be presenting a paper based on this abstract. I am honored to be accepted and eagerly anticipating the conference.)

This paper offers the beginnings of a taxonomy of madness through the analysis of three different approaches, the phenomenological, the historical-structural and the existential-religious. Rather than seeing madness as closed off to human understanding, I argue that insight into madness exposes the diverse forms of the nonrational, which I define as the pre-rational, the irrational and the supra-rational. Each of the forms reveals the reliance on the nonrational in several areas of the human condition including expressions of mental disorders, dynamic structures of society and experiences of extreme faith.

Abstract for Rethinking Mental Disorders: Educating leaders on the ethical implications of psychopathology

(This abstract was accepted by the Society for Ethics Across the Curriculum for the 2017 Conference which will be taking place in Grand Rapids, Michigan, October 5-7, 2017. I will be presenting a paper based on this abstract. I am honored to be accepted and eagerly anticipating the conference.)

With the rising number of mental disorders in our communities, it has become increasingly important for leaders to have a clear understanding of the nature of mental disorder and to be given the appropriate tools to help those who are suffering. Leaders, both inside and outside the psychological community, are struggling with how to treat people with mental disorders and how to provide them the best care possible.

This paper will suggest a fresh way of viewing those struggling with mental disorders by seeing their experiences as not outside the common human experience, but actually arising from the human condition itself. I will turn to the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, a philosopher and psychologist, to demonstrate how cases of psychopathology must be understood as an opening to the horizon of human experience, an expression of the human condition and a way of still using structures of being-in-the-world. We will find that this inclusive account of psychopathology aids in a better understanding of mental disorders as well as a better understanding of the human. We cannot, however, conflate the distinctions between healthy and sick ways of experiencing the world, as the suffering from those with mental disorders is weighty and real. Thus, while recognizing the magnitude of the suffering, this account provides a way to relate to the person struggling, as opposed to perceiving their experiences as inaccessible.

With this inclusive account of psychopathology, leaders can then be equipped both (1) to help those struggling with mental disorders and (2) to incorporate them into the life of their community. For the first, leaders will be reminded of the importance of holistic care: not only is it crucial to offer medical care, but also physical, spiritual and emotional support. And second, although certain times of separation from the community are needed, during times of hospitalization or mental health retreats, leaders can also look for ways to engage those struggling with the community. I will close this paper by looking at several examples of this kind of community engagement, such as sports programs at local recreational centers, art and music workshops at non-profit organizations, educational opportunities at charter high schools, and social and volunteer activities at state hospitals.

Abstract for Merleau-Ponty on Habit With Possible Implications for Psychopathology

(This abstract was accepted by the North Texas Philosophical Association for the 2016 Conference which will be taking place in Dallas, Texas, April 1-2, 2016. I will be presenting a paper based on this abstract. I am honored to be accepted and eagerly anticipating the conference.)

Habits are part of our daily lives and something that all of us act upon – whether we want to or not. Merleau-Ponty takes a broad approach to human habit claiming that it is a key to all of human behavior. In this paper, we will walk through Merleau-Ponty’s description of habit and discover the integral role it plays in how we learn and how we encounter the world. Furthermore, we will discuss Merleau-Ponty’s radical claim that humans do not just have habits, but are habits. Taking these ideas further, I suggest that such an understanding of human habit is particularly beneficial for the practice of psychopathology by recognizing that those struggling with mental disorders are still operating according to habit. I conclude the paper by offering four possible ways that this recognition may provide fresh avenues to understand, help, and heal them as fellow humans.

Abstract for Foucault’s Care of Self: An Ethical Approach to Technology in the Global Age

(This abstract was accepted by the Society for Ethics Across the Curriculum for the 2015 Conference which will be taking place in Greenville, South Carolina, October 8-10, 2015. I will be presenting a paper based on this abstract. I am honored to be accepted and eagerly anticipating the conference.)

There is no question that technology has become one of the most powerful forces shaping our world. According to mobile-cellular subscriptions, the number of cell phones has now reached over 6.8 billion with the world population being a little over 7 billion. With the gap between the number of cell phones and the number of people rapidly closing, it is evident that at least some form of technology has reached almost every person on this planet. How do we respond to this global invasion of technology? Is there an ethical framework by which we can properly understand and regulate technology?

Drawing mostly on Michel Foucault’s later works, this paper argues that Foucault’s care of self offers us an ethical approach to technology in the global age. First, through his historical investigation, Foucault reveals that the ancient notion of care of self has been eclipsed in the modern age with a reduced notion of knowledge of self. As a result, when we look at modern technology, we find that most modern technology is no longer concerned with a holistic care for self, but only with an obsession for knowledge, especially self-knowledge. And yet, Foucault also claims that technologies can have the power to contribute to a proper care of self. Thus, I believe that his analysis of care of self reveals the shortcomings in modern technology, but also challenges us to discover technologies which do promote a holistic care of self.

Myth and Religion: Nietzsche (Part 2)

This is the second post for my two part series on myth. This post focuses on Nietzsche’s understanding of myth and its necessary role in religion.

Like Merleau-Ponty and Tolkien, Nietzsche situates myth in the human condition. He sees myth as a kind of narrative, which has themes, characters, and events that relate to the human. A culture can take a hold of these elements, make them part of its identity, and become unified as a community. But unlike Tolkien, myth, for Nietzsche, is only human. It is not something ‘bigger than ourselves’ but something part of ourselves and yet renews our spirits.

Our modern age, however, has given up its belief in myth and instead looks to establish religion on systematic and historical grounds. Nietzsche explains in The Birth of Tragedy:

For this is usually how religions die. It happens when the mythical presuppositions of a religion become systematized as a finished sum of historical events under the severe, intellectual gaze of orthodox dogmatism, and people begin to defend anxiously the credibility of the myths while resisting every natural tendency within them to go on living and to throw out new shoots – in other words, when the feeling for myth dies and is replaced by the claim of religion to have historical foundations.[ref]Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy in The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writing, ed. Raymond Geuss and Ronald Speirs, trans. Ronald Speirs (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), Section 10, pp. 53-54.[/ref]

When the feeling for myth dies, people turn to systems and facts in an attempt to carry on their religion. But a religion without myth, according to Nietzsche, is doomed, for it is the spirit of myth that breathes life into religion. In fact, myth is necessary for religion; it is “the necessary precondition of every religion.”[ref]Ibid., Section 18, p. 87.[/ref]

Nietzsche laments this loss of myth and believes that it causes the destruction of true human community. He writes, “Without myth . . . all cultures lose their healthy, creative, natural energy; only a horizon surrounded by myths encloses and unifies a cultural movement.”[ref]Ibid., Section 23, p. 108.[/ref] Cultures lack creativity and vitality when myth has vanished, and it is only through myth that a culture can be united through the common themes and miracles of that myth. This loss leads to homelessness where people can no longer identify with a place of belonging. Nietzsche asks, “The enormous historical need of dissatisfied modern culture, the accumulation of countless other cultures, the consuming desire for knowledge – what does all this point to, if not to the loss of myth, loss of a mythical home, a mythical maternal womb?”[ref]Ibid., Section 23, p. 109.[/ref]

Not only does Nietzsche affirm the need for myth through his philosophical writings, but also he creates a new myth, Thus Spake Zarathustra. In this philosophical novel, the character Zarathustra wanders about giving speeches to those that he meets. By spreading his message, Zarathustra hopes to encourage these creatures to accept both the pleasurable as well as the painful parts to life – to affirm life no matter what.

A crucial part of myth, both old and new, is the notion of miracle (German:Wunder). Surprisingly, Nietzsche discusses “miracle” often in his writings and the majority of those discussions are positive. He argues that miracle is indispensable to myth. In speaking of the miracle in myth as seen in art, he writes, “This will enable [the art participant] to estimate the extent to which he is at all equipped to understand myth, the contracted image of the world, which, as abbreviation of appearances, cannot dispense with miracle.”[ref]Ibid., Section 23, p. 108, italics mine and his.[/ref]

What kind of miracles is Nietzsche talking about? Rejecting the so-called miracles of morality, where someone “miraculously” goes from a bad person to a good person, Nietzsche is talking about the miracle of self-affirmation. Through the experience of myth, one is able to both see and perform the miracle of accepting one’s self and the events of one’s life. “Love fate!” Nietzsche says, “Love the events of your life and be willing to live them over and over again!” The ability to love one’s life in this way is the true miracle. Myth provides the medium through which we can miraculously love our lives – no matter what has happened or will happen.