Bert Olivier

Going after ‘extreme oil’ is extremely irresponsible

The emerging information on the quest for what is referred to as “extreme oil” is worrying in the extreme. And it is very bad news for other creatures on the planet, especially those who live in the oceans, judging by the information clip sent to me by the Care2 petition site, to which I subscribe…

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Is Plato’s cave still (virtually) with us?

Every philosophical initiate knows Plato’s allegory of the cave. As some commentators have remarked, it is probably the first imagining of what we know as the film theatre. In Book 7 of The Republic, Socrates tells the parable of a community of people who live in a cave, with their necks shackled in such a…

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Beyond protecting the environment: Ensuring life support

Several recent reports on a variety of things have made me return to an important book by Thomas Princen, Treading Softly – on which I have written here before. The news items that caught my eye covered different, but related topics. Two of them focused on court cases involving big oil companies – Chevron and…

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Foucault on the functioning of discourse in society

If Foucault and other poststructuralist thinkers are right (and I believe they are), one is never outside of countervailing power relations in society, which means that, ineluctably, one is always enmeshed in multilayered, overlapping grids of discourses that function in an ambivalent manner to enable, and simultaneously control, direct, disseminate and domesticate human action and…

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The sciences and the nature of the university

A philosophical friend responded to my previous post as follows: “I have now had a good look at your piece on the need for a social theory within which research should be located in all the sciences. I am very interested in the question of the relationship of the various disciplines/sciences because I think answering…

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Situating (university) research in an encompassing social theory

As far as I can tell, research at most South African universities – and I would even include overseas universities in this – is conducted in such a way that it is guided principally by individual researchers’ interests, and/or their interests in so far as they overlap or dovetail with those of other researchers under…

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The innovativeness of (some) art and its social implications

Lately one has read a lot about how Apple became the world’s most valuable company because of its CEO, Steve Jobs’s emphasis on innovative product development, rather than his own business leadership style. (According to those who knew him, including his biographer, he was an uncompromising bully.) It may come as a surprise to some,…

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An exceptional South African thinker

In 1995 one of the best loved, most down-to-earth and wisest of South Africa’s thinkers, the philosopher Marthinus Versfeld died at an advanced age. If anyone thought that philosophers must of necessity always have their “heads in the clouds” of abstract thought – like the ancient Greek philosopher Thales, who once fell into a well…

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The superficiality of our culture

This morning, re-reading Nietzsche’s early essay of genius about the strife between the ancient Greek gods, Dionysus and Apollo – The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music – I was struck anew by the utter superficiality of the (global) culture we live in. This superficiality was captured succinctly by Theodor Adorno in…

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Troubles with capitalism

Anyone who has been reading international news media such as TIME magazine recently will have noticed that people seem to be very worried about capitalism, judging by article headings such as “How to fix capitalism”, “Is capitalism broken?”, “Let’s fix this mess”, “Capitalism under fire” and “Keeping Wall Street honest”. In one of these –…

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