Harper’s Notes (2/19)

The Harper Review’s weekly newsletter: humanities, Heidegger, hate, and more.

The editors

February 19, 2024

The Harper Review will be attending the University of Chicago’s first intercollegiate writers’ conference! Come to Hutchinson Commons from 5 to 7 p.m. on Friday, February 23, to hear from a panel of student editors; meet writers from UChicago, Northwestern, and other Chicago-area schools; and learn more about what it’s like to work on a student publication.

Automatic weapons: With recent advances in artificial intelligence, the autonomous weapons and robot soldiers of science fiction no longer seem so far-fetched. After all, which seems more reasonable—asking robots to fight wars for us, or to write our essays? Samuel Hagood argues in The Harper Review’s latest essay, however, that war should only employ the conventional—that is, the human—sort of intelligence. Hagood pleads for restrictions to AI’s use in warfare, citing both practical concerns about the difficulties of oversight as well as the moral case against risking the lives of our own people. Read for yourself to decide if these concerns justify keeping human soldiers on the battlefield, or if a bloodless army is worth the cyber headaches.

The aims of (undergraduate) education: Up until now, we at The Harper Review had only been followers of—not participants in—debates over the University of Chicago’s precarious financial situation. However, in a recent op-ed for The Chicago Maroon, the Review’s senior editor Noah Glasgow added his own perspective to the ongoing conversation between classics professor Clifford Ando and former College dean John Boyer. Glasgow argues that the University’s ill-advised reinvention of its finances cannot be understood separately from its effort to trade a longstanding dedication to academic rigor for new preprofessional opportunities, like those found in its so-called “peer institutions” of the Ivy League. “The aims of undergraduate education have not simply changed,” Glasgow writes. “Undergraduate education itself has been instrumentalized, transformed into a weapon in the University’s fight for growth and status.”

Heideggerian heights: Come to the Seminary Co-op Bookstore on Tuesday, February 20, to hear University of Chicago philosophy professor Robert Pippin discuss his new book The Culmination: Heidegger, German Idealism, and the Fate of Philosophy. Martin Heidegger, the influential twentieth century German philosopher best known for his Being and Time, claimed that Western philosophy ended—failed, even—with the German Idealist tradition of Immanuel Kant and G. W. F. Hegel. In The Culmination, Pippin evaluates Heidegger’s charge and argues that Heidegger’s primary concern was to locate older sources of meaning for human life that had been devalued by the elevation of “reason” in the Western philosophical tradition. Pippin will be joined in conversation by University of Chicago Germanic studies professor David Wellbery. RSVP for the event, which will take place from 6 to 7 p.m., at the link above.

The wages of loneliness: The atomization of American society is an old problem. French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville noted the destructive effects of social isolation during his visit to the United States almost two hundred years ago. More recently, in his 2000 book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Harvard University political scientist Robert Putnam plumbed the depths of American loneliness and proposed greater civic engagement as a possible solution to our society’s age-old soul sickness. But is more social and political involvement really the solution? Writing for the politics and culture magazine The New Statesman, cultural critic Lee Siegel shows that the fragmentation of American society has, in fact, led to greater civic engagement. But, in an ironic turn, greater engagement has often manifested as hatred and political extremism. Is there any way out of our crisis of loneliness, or will social isolation continue to fuel political violence and civil unrest? See what Siegel has to say on the matter in his essay at the link.