After growing up in a placid suburb near exciting New York City, reading nature books and science fiction, becoming a high school debater and amateur astronomer, I embarked on an intensive Jesuit education steeped in ancient literature and art. When I ran headlong into the 60s demands to question everything, and then the 70s encounter with Other cultures and histories. I was torn by a clash between old and new. I felt caught between the rich textures of the old and the excitement of new and open horizons. It was time for change in philosophy and architecture and writing, yet without losing the accumulated treasures of the past. I wanted to hold on to the past without being held back, shaping new traditions and values for our new world.
So I have written about what it means to live with historical connections and traditions at a time when we are no longer completely shaped by our history. I've explored this through architecture and urbanism, where these issues take concrete form, and through new styles of writing and scholarship, as well as more abstract approaches using ideas from Hegel and other philosophers. I find new linked and less centered unities emerging in our cities and our buildings, in our lives and our ways of writing and thinking. How do we creatively and critically renew ourselves and our places?
The listings below give themes and contents from published and unpublished writings; publication details can be found in my academic CV, and at the archives at PhilPapers and ResearchGate....But, you may ask if you have searched my name, Are there TWO of you? And yes, there is another David A. Kolb. Born in the same year, we can't persuade Google and Amazon that we are different people. The other David A. Kolb has written wonderfully about learning styles and experiential learning. He taught at Case Western Reserve University and can be found at Learning from Experience.
I have written A Shaky Walk Downhill, an autobiographical short book about being a philosopher with Parkinson's Disease. What can philosophy say to me about how to live well with this chronic disease?
I delivered a talk on "Why Plato thinks democracy leads to tyranny, and why we should be worried about what he says." I looked into Plato's reasons, discussed the differences between Athenian democracy and our own, and asked whether we should still be afraid. A handout, with quotations from Plato, and the slides from the talk are available.
How do we live in community formed and surrounded by traditional values and practices that can no longer completely define us? Does being modern mean we leave tradition behind and launch out into the void? This problem has haunted me, in part because my Catholic background and education in Greek and Roman classics runs up against the openness (and the narrowness) of modern American society. Are we left with naked Sartrean choice, easy relativism, or frank Nietzschean will to power? Is the opposition between fixed traditional valiues and modern rootless freedom really so stark? My task has been to show how both sides of that conflict are not so simple. I question both the self-conception of "modernity" and the fixity of "tradition." I have tried to show we modern selves and modern institutions are not so pure and formal, while our ancestors were not so rigid and their valus not so fixed and simply dominant as we imagine they were.
Modernity. A brief description of modern times, written for an encyclopedia.
The Critique of Pure Modernity analyzes "modern" selves and institutions as based on distinguishing form from content, and then criticizes that distinction. I use ideas from Hegel and Heidegger, I study the ways they both try to find a context for modern selves and institutions that cannot be described in standard modern terms. Then by confronting their differences I try to find a space for new thinking.
My collection of essays, Postmodern Sophistications: Philosophy, Architecture, and Tradition , challenges the purity of modern self-conceptions and the idea that we can float free above history as sovereign choosers or ironic observers. But it also challenges the fixity of tradition, and Plato's idea that we must choose either to search for absolute foundations or be overwhelmed by a swirl of competing powers and persuasions. After studying these issues as they show up in recent "modern" and "postmodern" thinkers, the book's essays apply the ideas to questions about architecture and city planning, where these dilemmas are lived concretely: do we continue to build in historical styles? Or create a new abstract style that foresakes history? Or flit about picking and combining bits of old styles that strike our fancy or pique our ironic wit? How do we respond creatively? And how do this together in a plural society?
Postmodernisms: 9.5 Theses. A few sentences on many postmodernisms.
In other essays I discuss how we deal with the multiplication and collision of traditions, whether those be styles of architecture or sets of social values. How do we deal with traditions creatively and authentically?
Home Bases Karsten Harries had asked people to respond to the ideas in his book The Ethical Function of Architecture. I discuss several locaations in the US and Brazil, with pictures, and evaluate strategies for building in ways that confirm an identity, but in a world where all are challenged by other identities and rival centers.
Borders and Centers in an Age of Mobility. This essay challenges Kenneth Frampton and Karsten Harries about the need for bounded and centered architectural and urban forms today.
"Authenticity With Teeth: Positing Process," The criterion of "authenticity" for judging changes in art or ethics or culture is notoriously vague and can be dangerous. This essay proposes a new criterion for authenticity, based on faithfulness to moments of the process of development rather than on to some specific patrimony that is to be preserved. My proposed criterion derives from Hegel, yet it is similar to the criterion proposed by a staunch anti-Hegelian, Gilles Deleuze. [For more about authenticity, see some paragraphs omitted from the published version of my Parkinson's essay.]
Home on the Range: Planning and Totality This essay argues against global plans and hierarchical systems, whether in urban planning or art and life.
Heidegger and Habermas on Criticism and Totality. Habermas criticizes Heidegger for insulating totalities of meaning from possible revision. This essay states Habermas's criticism, then supports Habermas's attack by examining an example from Heidegger on Aristotle's physics. Then the essay tries to defend Heidegger by distinguishing the kinds of meaning in Heidegger's "world" from Habermas's more propositional "lifeworld." But the essay concludes by restating and accepting Habermas's objection.
Steps to the Futures. A talk about the stories we tell about the development of modern times and whether they are final.
Still other essays look at the relation between modern market-centric society and political community. Hegel calls this the opposition between what he calls "bourgeois society" (usually and misleadingly translated as "civil society") and the overarching political state.
Tiger Stripes and Embodied Systems: Hegel on Markets and Models. Starting from Hegel's philosophy of nature, I develop a critique of economic models and market theories that envision humans as pure rational choosers. The critique is based on Hegel's notion of what it takes for a formally described system to be embodied and real, and finds unexpected support from Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Circulation Unbound: Hegel and Heidegger on the State. Modernity means freedom, we say, and circulation let loose: commodities, technology, choices, autonomous individuals all move. In contrast to our free exchange, we imagine old traditional societies as forcing exchange into a network defined by fixed roles. In those societies identities and roles were experienced as naturally given. They were not experienced as constituted (and questioned) by the circulation among them, nor as exchangeable or substitutable one for another. We picture our modern or postmodern selves as unbound from traditional social roles. Have we then entered a realm of total exchange, a realm in which all is malleable, open for use and substitution? Is the circulation that surrounds us domesticated or monstrous? In this essay I examine how Hegel and Heidegger envision the role of the State in binding up the unlimited flows of modernity.
Circulation and constitution at the end of history We heard a lot, for a while, about the end of history. Hegel's claims about the end of history seem bold and disturbingly specific. Could he really have believed that the institutional forms he discerned in the Europe of his day were the last word in society and politics? Some others, liberals or postmoderns, do speak about what amounts to an end of history today, but they are satisfied with far less detail than Hegel; usually they restrict themselves to general commendations of capitalism and representative democracy. But their real difference concerns the necessity Hegel sees for definite intermediate structures in thought and society. In this essay I look to Hegel's logic to find the categories that would be needed to describe a strong end of history. I ask how Hegel would describe the relation between a final historical situation and the field of possibilities that surrounds it. I investigate what kind of thing an end of history would have to be, rather than examining precise institutional details. Finding those categories, and comparing them with Heidegger on history leads to the conclusion that at best there may be some general and very formal truths about our situation, but there can be no final story about our fragility and plurality.
"American Individualism, Does it Exist?" Living in Japan led me to write an essay explaining and critiquing American's peculiar version of individualism, and thinking about what it means to be a cosmopolitan citizen of the world. I point out the different meanings of "individual" in the two cultures and explained the peculiar American belief that their kind individuality is the final result of purifying history from traditional constraints. Then I criticize that American belief.
Universal and Particular Persons and Places. A talk I gave at the Philadelphia philosophy consortium meeting about the collision of universal and particular values and identities . What does it mean to be "cosmopolitan"?
Living in New York as Manhattan was rebuilt in the 50s, loving the thick textures of the Cloisters and the spare symmetries of Mies van der Rohe, reading Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier, I loved the excitement of architectural revolutions. The American philosopher Wilfrid Sellars described philosophy as "the study of how things in the largest sense of the term hang together in the largest sense of the term." But that also describes architecture and city planning. A summer internship in the Baltimore city planning office showed me what this could be, but I moved into philosophy and wrote about rather than practicing architectural change.
My book Postmodern Sophistications, described above, argued that the "postmodern" revolution that used historical references to enrich sterile modernism really just replayed the modern distance from history, now in an ironic tone. Real progress, I felt, would come from facing both our rootedness in local earth and history, and our need for novelty. These issues and more show up in my book and large web hypertext, Sprawling Places. This asks what it means to make a livable local place...in a local history that is no longer alone, that is one of many, and under the pressure of global systems....today? Developing a theory of place complexity, I go on to defend suburbia and its cousins from the blanket condemnations so common these days.
Sprawling Places. This is the hypertext version of the project described above. Like the book it treats criticisms of contemporary places and proposes a theory of place complexity. It includes hundreds of images and narratives and discussions of topics and philosophical background that go beyond what is presented in the more tightly focused book version.
Sprawling Places. This is the book version of discussion of the nature of places and the meaning of sprawl and suburbia. I disagree with many negative criticisms of contemporary places. I use a criterion of place complexity to make suggestions about improving contemporary suburbs and themed places.
The Age of the List. I argue that places in our world today are losing old hierarchies, and becoming more like items on a flat list complicated by internal links.
Connections . . . . Can Technology Save Suburbia? Draft version of a series of fictional interviews and short essays examining suburban reactions to environmental crises, and arguing for the importance of maintaining wide connections by whatever means possible.
Tradition and Modernity in Architecture. An encyclopedia entry surveying the complex relation of modern architecture to older design traditions.
Has Architecture Lost its Bearings?. The text of my keynote talk at the 2012 Phil/Arch conference at Boston University in October 2012. It argues that the situation of architecture today demands creative new kinds of unity both for buildings and for working groups.
Dialog with the spirits, a series of conversations with the spirits of place (genius loci) in Japan and America, as they struggle to adapt to a new kind of world.
Public Exposure: Architecture and Interpretation. This essay discusses the ways in which buildings and places are exposed to outside factors that destabilize their meanings. It also disputes the idea that the building sits passively waiting for meaning to be imposed on it by an individual or a community.
Two Hegelian studies of the role of gravity, weight, and solidity in an architecture that is beginning to ignore them.
Escaping the Museum: A hypertextual essay on the difficulty of transformative architecture. Can Arakawa and Gins' radical proposals be places to live instead of objects for contemplation or tourism?
Oh Pioneers! Bodily Reformation Amid Daily Life. This article discusses Arakawa and Gins' revolutionary views on what architecture can do to change our bodily habits and mode of survival. The article is available as a PDF from the contents page of the special issue the journal Interfaces published on the work of Arakawa and Gins.
Collisions and Interactions: A Philosophical Perspective. This is a short summary comment delivered at the 1998 London conference on Cultural Attitudes towards Technology and Communication.
Entranced by Homer and Horace, Eliot and Stephens, Sophocles and Beckett, then reveling in the many styles and genres of historic philosophical writing, then being disciplined into the straitjacket of American academic publishing, I was ready for new modes of writing. When I read about fiction writers using non-linear hypertext techniques to disrupt or multiply the narrative line, I wondered what new kinds of writing might be possible in philosophy, and how they would treat the argumentative line. This led to a series of writings about hypertext and argument, about non-linear ways of writing argumentative and expository prose. Then I began to explore how digital technology and the web were putting pressure on older practices in scholarship and the university.
Socrates in the Labyrinth This is a long discussion in hypertext form concerning how non-linear writing might function in philosophy for presenting argument. It is followed by a series of smaller essays providing examples of different approaches and formats. The text is under copyright at Eastgate systems, but there is a video of me reading sections of the piece and answering questions about it.
"Scholarly Hypertext: Self-represented Complexity". A proposal for using linked hypertext structures to create richer modes of scholarly communication.
Ahead to the Past: Scholarly Communication Returns to the Seventeenth Century. A brief essay that shows how with blogs and social media philosophical and scholarly communication is beginning to break out of the big journal straitjacket and return to an earlier mix of informal and formal communication.
"Hegelian Buddhist Hypertextual Media Inhabitation, or, Criticism in the Age of Electronic Immersion," discusses how we might criticize virtual reality, interactive games, and other immersive media without standing apart on some distant and secure critical platform.
Ruminations in Mixed Company: Literacy in Print and Hypertext Together. A talk on hypertext and argument rhetoric, including an early vision for the Sprawling Places project. Not all those plans worked out as expected.
Sprawling Places. This is the essay that the previous item talks about. Although it's mostly about places and suburbia, the lengthy hypertext also contains some reflections on its own genesis, and there is a discussion of different kinds of linkage and proximity when I make a parallel between the explicit links in hypertexts and the non-architectural links that make suburbs more complex places than they appear at first to be.
Real Places in Virtual Spaces. A discussion of the ways virtual worlds can contain socially defined places that function as "real" as areas of physical space.
Hypertext as Subversive?. A hypertext essay about new media, hypertext linking, and their effect on universities. It disagrees with some political worries about new media.
Twin Media: Hypertext Structure Under Pressure, a hypertext essay about experience of writing the Sprawling Places project that combined a book and a hypertext, focusing on the pressures that linear book writing put on scholarly hypertext composition. The essay also exists in a flattened out prose version.
Story/Story is a tale about and demonstration of the interweaving of narrative and meta-narrative in story-creation, plus some philosophical reflections on writing and reading. It was a dark and stormy night...
The Tree and the Internet, a short video defending linked writing against the attack that it weakens our minds and distracts our concentration.
A 1997 interview with me about hypertext, schools, and learning, translated into Italian for the programMediamente on Italian public television.
Two papers for the Hypertext'08 conference: "Making Revisions Hypervisible" concerns issues that arise when revising hypertexts, and "The Revenge of the Page," which studies the way web argumentative hypertexts do not use complex link chains, and whether or not we should give up my hope for hypertexts that make rhetorical gestures accomplished over complex link patterns. I don't think we should abandon the dream (surprise!) and I make some suggestions about ways of overcoming the bias towards single-link rhetorical moves that I see built into the web's node-and-link hypertext. (Required note: These two papers are (c) ACM 2008. These are the author's version of the works. They are posted here by permission of the ACM for your personal use. Not for redistribution. The definitive versions are published in the proceedings of the Hypertext08 conference.)
Two essays on hypertext writing that makes meaning connections using spatial arrangement rather than nodes and links. I explore different kinds of spatial backgrounds than the blank screen. Aristotelian Spatial Hypertext, and Other Spaces for Spatial Hypertext.
Association and Argument. An appreciation and discussion of Ted Nelson's pioneering notions about hypertext.
Hypertext and Philosophy. A set of quotations (mostly from DK) prepared for a class discussion on hypertext, philosophy, and deconstruction.
A brief set of short outline points from a talk on The Prose of Hypertext
The world of philosophy with its sharp divisions, strong ideals, pretension to revolutions that always fail, its attacks and counterattacks, demands to understand itself. Hegel tried to do this.
The oppositions I was caught on, old and new, tradition and modern, self and society, abstract and concrete, art and philosophy...Hegel studied those dichotomies. What I liked was that he didn't fudge the oppositions; he didn't make easy compromises; he tried to show how concepts or values or institutions that stood opposed to each other depended on each other, showing up inside each other, maintaining their separation within a complex unity. I learned from him and tried to understand what could be salvaged when his magnificent system never quite worked.
"Why Hegel Now?" An introduction I wrote for collection of essays about Hegel, arguing why he is relevant to current philosophy and culture.
The Israeli literary magazine Dehak published an interview with me about how to interpret Hegel's philosophy and its influence on thought and art today. Their questions and my responses can be read in English and Hebrew.
When my book on Hegel, Heidegger, and modernity was translated and published in China, I wrote a new introduction, Impure Postmodernity, about the issues in the book.
Modernity's Self-Justification. I appreciate and critique Robert Pippin's important discussions of Hegel and modernity.
Beyond the Pale Frederick Neuhouser's The Foundations of Hegel's Social Theory expertly answers many standard objections to Hegel's theory, and offers a careful reading of its basic principles. However, questions remain whether Neuhouser can successfully reconstruct Hegel's theory while avoiding its links to Hegel's logic. Hegel's normative conclusions depend on logical principles about the self that are not adequately translated into Neuhouser's normative and consequentialist arguments
Outside and In: Hegel on Natural History. Considerations about interior and exterior realities clarify Hegel's discussion of nature's relation to spirit.
Darwin Rocks Hegel: Does Nature have a History? Using Hegel's ideas about geology I untangle the various senses in which Hegel would admit that nature has a history, and show the senses in which he could and could not accept Darwinian evolution.
Science and Self. What are the ontological commitments in Hegel and Heidegger's discussion of the self? In this essay I approach these continental thinkers with a question from analytic philosophy, to see how they might respond. In different ways Hegel and Heidegger try to locate the question (and its goal of one final language with a definitive list of ontological commitments) within a prior discourse about the conditions of the possibility of any local ontological commitments. The priority they claim can be clarified by distinguishing conditions of possibility from conditions of actuality.
"Metaphysics and Religion: Avoiding Double Truth, Twice," When I was first studying Hegel, I encountered quite divergent readings of his views on religion. The teacher who first presented Hegel to me was a Jesuit, Quentin Lauer at Fordham University, who read Hegel as a Christian theologian providing a better metaphysical system for understanding the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation. When I studied at Yale University, Kenley Dove read Hegel as the first thoroughly atheistic philosopher who presented the conditions of thought without reference to any foundational absolute being. Meanwhile, also at Yale, John Findlay read us a deeply Neo-Platonic Hegel who taught about absolute forms held in a cosmic mind. In giving my own reading, I want to talk about the ways Hegel redefines both metaphysics and religion. I approach these issues by way of the medieval controversy over double truth, which was a previous conflict between religion and science.
New Perspectives on Hegel's Philosophy of Religion. This book I edited contains essays by a variety of scholars re-evaluating Hegel's philosophy of religion in the light of a new edition of his lectures. I wrote an Introduction describing the issues treated in the book.
The Final Name of God: Hegel on Determinate Religion. A discussion of how Hegel manages his classification and ordering of specific religions, and a critique of his method.
Hegel's Architecture A survey of Hegel's ideas about the nature, function, and history of architecture.
Before Beyond Function. An essay on the ways Hegel sees architecture going way beyond expressing building function.
Two Hegelian studies of the role of gravity, weight, and solidity in an architecture that is beginning to ignore them:
(1) The Spirit of Gravity: Architecture and Externality. a discussion of Hegel's complicated views of how weight, external nature, and purposes function in architecture.
(2) Stones, Screens, and Spirits: Opacity and Transparency in Hegel and Beyond, an incomplete discussion of weight, and the way contemporary architecture is beginning to ignore it, together with some remarks on the role of opacity in Hegel and in deconstruction.
The Logic of the Critical Process. A paper on Hegel's method, delivered at a panel on Hegel and Critical Theory at SPEP 2001 in Baltimore.
The Necessities of Hegel's Logics. A paper delivered at the APA in the spring of 2005, questioning claims that Hegel's Logic is a successful presuppositionless self-development of pure categories of thought.
The Paths of Essence. A detailed study of the variant versions of the second part of Hegel's Logic, arguing that this casts doubts on claims that there is one self-evidently necessary development of the categories.
The Logic of Language Change. How Hegel's dialectical changes in conceptual schemes do and don't match up with empirical changes in language.
I have wanted for a long time to write a historical survey of different ideas about how things become definite and how novelty arises. We tend to think the answer is obvious: there are certain basic definite entities and novelty arises through new combinations of those entities, whether they are physical atoms or psychological perceptions or logical concepts. I have wanted to write about nonstandard views which depart from this atomist consensus. These range from the hyper rationalism of Plato and Einstein, through medieval divine voluntarism and modern human social constructivism, to the self-developing definiteness of Whitehead and Deleuze, and the blended position proposed by Hegel. That book never got written but I have a few preparatory documents to share, plus some essays that touch the theme.
Beyond the Greeks. This is my most developed outline for the history part of the project on the origin of determinations.
Pythagoras Bound: Limit and Unlimited in Plato's Philebus. In this essay I attack on the idea that everything reduces to simple basic given atoms of reality or experience. I read the late Platonic dialogue Philebus as denying that a pleasure is a simple atom of experience. The essay closes with some thoughts about how Plato's transcendent Forms should also be interpreted as internally complex.
Atoms, Quanta, and Ordinary Life: Nothing but Atoms and the Void?. The web page for a 2018 series of lectures at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Eugene that started with Greek atomism, carrying forward through quantum mechanics, then proceeding to the relation between science and ordinary life. This brought up "the hard problem of consciousness" and the problem of the reality of time. In passing I touched a few times on the theme of anti-atomism. The web page includes a link to the slides from the five lectures assembled into one long series.
Coming down from the Trees: Metaphysics and the History of Classification. What is the philosopher supposed to do for the empirical researcher? To what extent can very general ontological considerations guide the construction of empirical concepts? This essay traces the relation of three types of concepts: transcendental, empirical, and what I call "meanings of being." I begin by showing the three kinds of concepts operating in Plato, and then study their relation in Kant and Hegel, who introduce significant changes that suggest a meaning for the idea of an "end of metaphysics." I conclude by showing how these seemingly arcane issues continue to divide current schools of philosophy.
Filling In the Blanks. An essay appreciating Eugene Gendlin's efforts to understand the creation of novel concepts and art works.
Fragmentation and the Formless Center. An unfinished meditation on how form might arise from formlesssness.
The Diamond Net: Metaphysics, Grammar, Ontologies. Hegel and Wittgenstein in dialogue about the framework ontologies we use everyday.
Time and the Timeless in Greek Philosophy A study of differing conceptions of time and eternity in major Greek thinkers.
Ontological Priorities: A Critique Of The Announced Goals Of Descriptive Metaphysics A discussion of Peter Strawson's argument that the conditions that make ordinary language possible also enforce a particular common sense ontology.
Sellars And The Measure Of All Things . A discussion of Wilfrid Sellars' argument that the conditions that make ordinary language possible also enforce a particular scientific materialist ontology.
Language and Metalanguage in Aquinas. An evaluation of David Burrell's theory of the nature of analogy in Thomas Aquinas.
Heidegger and Habermas on Criticism and Totality. Study and criticism of two deeply opposed German thinkers who are trying to develop critiques of contemporary society.
Raising Atlantis: The Later Heidegger and Contemporary Philosophy . A discussion of Heidegger's relation with regard to contemporary analytic and Continental philosophy, with special emphasis on Heidegger's later works. The essay argues that Heidegger has now become a resource that people can interpret in many ways, and so has entered into dialogues which go against his own description of what he was about.
Heidegger at 100 in America. A review of Heidegger studies on the occasion of his centenary.
Heidegger On The Limits Of Science . How Heidegger criticizes and "locates" science, and some problems with what he is trying to do.
"On the Objective and Subjective Grounding of Knowledge". My translation of an important 1887 article by the Neo-Kantian Paul Natorp, attacking nineteenth-century German positivism. Edmund Husserl said he was influenced by this article, and it foreshadows the attacks on sense data theories and "the myth of the given" by Wilfrid Sellars and others half a century later. (The translation was published in the Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, 1981, 245-261)
In Spain, June 2017
I grew up mostly in the New York City suburbs, studied with the Jesuits, received a PhD from Yale, taught at Fordham University, the University of Chicago, Nanzan University in Japan, and as the Charles A. Dana Professor of Philosophy at Bates College in Maine. Since moving to Eugene, Oregon, in 2006 I've been full-time writing and lecturing.