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Patrick S. O'Donnell
Adjunct Instructor, Department of Philosophy, Santa Barbara City College
Interests: philosophy of law and legal theory, philosophy of mind, ethics, political philosophy, philosophy of science, religious worldviews, psychoanalysis, psychology
Recent Activity
Today is the birthday of C.L.R. James (4 January 1901 – 19 May 1989), the remarkable Marxist humanist and Afro-Trinidadian socialist, historian, journalist, and essayist. Here are two posts from the archives on James: From “Cricketing in Compton” to the “Cricketing Marxist,” and The Marxist Spirituality of C.L.R. James. And here is a fitting celebratory essay by Christian Høgsbjergon on James’ “magisterial work,” The Black Jacobins (1938, second ed., 1963): “CLR James and the Black Jacobins.” The following books help illuminate the life and work of C.L.R. James, the “cricketing Marxist” and “urbane revolutionary.” Buhle, Paul. C.L.R. James: The Artist as Revolutionary. London: Verso, 1988. Buhle, Paul, ed. C.L.R. James: His Life and Work. London: Allison & Busby, 1986. Renton, Dave. C.L.R. James: Cricket’s Philosopher King. London: Haus, 2007. Robinson, Cedric J. Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. London: Zed Books, 1983. Rosengarten, Frank. Urbane Revolutionary: C.L.R.... Continue reading
Posted Jan 4, 2016 at
El Lissitzky, 5. Globetrotter (in der Zeit), From Victory Over the Sun (1923) From the Institute for Policy Studies— “Billionaire Bonanza: The Forbes 400 and the Rest of Us” • America’s 20 wealthiest people — a group that could fit comfortably in one single Gulfstream G650 luxury jet — now own more wealth than the bottom half of the American population combined, a total of 152 million people in 57 million households. • The Forbes 400 now own about as much wealth as the nation’s entire African-American population — plus more than a third of the Latino population — combined. • The wealthiest 100 households now own about as much wealth as the entire African American population in the United States. Among the Forbes 400, just 2 individuals are African American —Oprah Winfrey and Robert Smith. • The wealthiest 186 members of the Forbes 400 own as much wealth as... Continue reading
Posted Jan 1, 2016 at
In the course of reading and research for a bibliography on “philosophy, psychology, and methodology for the social sciences,” I came across an intriguing discussion of a book by Jeffery M. Paige, Agrarian Revolution: Social Movements and Export Agriculture in the Underdeveloped World (New York: Free Press, 1975). Paige’s study is invoked by Harold Kincaid in Philosophical Foundations of the Social Sciences: Analyzing Controversies in Social Research (Cambridge University Press, 1996) as “an exemplary piece of social science research.”* I was particularly intrigued owing to my professional (such as it is, being an adjunct instructor) and political interest—to put it blandly—in (among other things) Marxism, for Paige is motivated by a Marxist sociological orientation in ascertaining “the primary causes of agrarian behavior, particularly in developing countries,” yet his study is not simply a predictable or banal academic exercise of “doctrinaire Marxism.” As Kincaid proceeds to show us, Paige “modifies the... Continue reading
Posted Dec 19, 2015 at
At the beginning of the year I posted a “reading guide” on Red-Green (or ‘Eco-’) Socialism. This is an expanded version of that list with more links (still, it is far from exhaustive). It represents what I’m acquainted with by way of the attempt to integrate Marxism (and the Left in general) with ecological and environmental worldviews (I make some further, more specific recommendations in the note appended below): Bahro, Rudolf. Socialism and Survival. London: Heretic Books, 1982. Bahro, Rudolf. From Red to Green: Interviews with New Left Review. London: Verso, 1984. Benton, Ted. Natural Relations: Ecology, Animal Rights and Social Justice. London: Verso, 1993. Bernstein, Henry. Class Dynamics of Agrarian Change. West Hartford, CT: Kumarian Press, 2010. Bernstein, Henry, et al., eds. The Food Question: Profits Versus People. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1990. Burkett, Paul. Marxism and Ecological Economics: Toward a Red and Green Political Economy. Chicago, IL:... Continue reading
Posted Dec 16, 2015 at
Another book I recently read in conjunction with the bibliography on “philosophy, psychology and methodology for the social sciences” was the late Martin Hollis’s Reason in Action: Essays in the philosophy of social science (Cambridge University Press, 1996). While the directed reading regimen was intentional, it turned out to be serendipitous: California is of course in a severe drought (to be sure, more rain than usual is expected this year, but I’ll believe it when I can’t ride my bike to school), and our household and condo. association have taken action in conjunction with the city’s quite reasonable requirements and recommendations on this score. And then I pick up Hollis’s book, the first chapter of which is a prologue and apologia, while the second chapter is titled “Three men in a drought” and opens as follows: “Water was short in the torrid summer of 1976 and there were soon calls... Continue reading
Posted Dec 10, 2015 at
A Facebook friend asked me this morning, “Do you think the brownshirts may be coming?” Herewith my reply (composed before my first cup of tea): They’re already here (indeed, they’ve been here for some time), although they’re of uniform mind not costume (apart from white hoods and robes). And now they’re leaving footprints in the muck and mire. They’re willing to render themselves more visible to the rest of us because social and mass media has both deliberately (owing to its uncritical fawning deference to any sort of fame or celebrity) and inadvertently fanned the flames of demagogic fascist leadership, exemplified most egregiously in the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. Their individual and collectively shameless motivational structures having been awakened, xenophobic nationalism and fascism finds sufficient fuel in the ever-increasing number of immature and developmentally distorted character-types. With ample ideological sanction from above, as it were, the unconscious libidinal and... Continue reading
Posted Dec 8, 2015 at
My latest bibliography, on “Philosophy, Psychology, & Methodology for the Social Sciences,” is here. If you cannot access it, drop me a note and I will send a PDF version through cyberspace. Continue reading
Posted Dec 5, 2015 at
In a previous post, I promised we would examine Sridhar Venkatapuram’s “impressive and urgent book,” Health Justice: An Argument from the Capabilities Approach (Polity Press, 2011). I’m not prepared to do that quite yet, but I do want to share with you something from him on the limitations of the “bio-medical” model of health and the corresponding need to change the prevailing epidemiological paradigm in modern medicine, which is “substantively linked to the notion of disease.” The “bio-statistical theory of health” ensconced in this epidemiology “is the informational engine of medical care and public health.” Venkatapuram’s “capability approach” to health and health justice (which entails a ‘conception of health as a meta-capability to achieve a cluster of basic capabilities and functionings’) endeavors to transcend (thus not eliminate) the “dominant biomedical and risk factor model of disease causation and distribution” in its role as the overarching theory that, in turn, governs... Continue reading
Posted Dec 4, 2015 at
Jon Elster on “qualitative social science”: “I believe the best training for any social scientist is to read widely and deeply in history, choosing works for the intrinsic quality of the argument rather than the importance or relevance of the subject matter. Here are some models: James Fitzgerald Stephen, A History of the Criminal Law of England; E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class; G.E.M de Ste Croix, The Class Struggles in the Ancient Greek World; Joseph Levenson, Confucian China and Its Modern Fate; Paul Veyne, Le pain et le cirque; G. Lefebvre, La grande peur; Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic…. What these writers and others of their stature have in common is that they combine utter authority in factual matters with an eye both for potential generalizations and for potential counterexamples to generalizations. By virtue of their knowledge they can pick out ‘telling detail’... Continue reading
Posted Dec 3, 2015 at
“Giving Thanks,” Horace Pippin (1942) “Enough is as good as a feast.”—Sir Thomas Malory (d.1471) “Never look a gift horse in the mouth.”—John Heywood (c.1497-1580) “Since we cannot get what we like, let us like what we can get.”—of Spanish provenance “When eating fruit, remember the one who planted the tree.”—of Vietnamese provenance “ ‘Thank you’ is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding.”—Alice Walker “Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.”—William Arthur Ward (1921-1994) “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”—William Arthur Ward “Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”—Marcel Proust “Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words.... Continue reading
Posted Nov 26, 2015 at
In the words of Gilbert Achcar (see below), “Maxime Rodinson (1915-2004) was the last survivor of an exceptional group of French Orientalists—in the pre-Saidian non-pejorative meaning of this term, i.e. scholars of Islam and the Arab world—who lived through most of the twentieth century and rose to fame in the 1960s, a decade that saw the emergence of an impressive contingent of French thinkers whose names loom large in the social sciences of our time. The group of brilliant Orientalists to which Rodinson belonged, and which included other luminaries such as Jacque Berque and Claude Cahen, reclaimed the field of Arab and Islamic studies with impeccable erudition, scientific rigour, and a critical solidarity with the peoples they studies that made their writings largely free from the deficiencies of the colonial ‘Orientalism’ of yesteryear and their own time.” I happen to be reading Maxime Rodinson’s work afresh after many years, having... Continue reading
Posted Nov 19, 2015 at
Here too, as I've been having other problems and thought this was related to those...! Glad to see things back on track.
Wassily Kandinsky, Yellow-Red-Blue (1925) By way of distinguishing brains from minds (including the unique and irreducible properties of consciousness), AI (artificial intelligence) from human intelligence,* and human (animal) nature from animal nature simpliciter, I proffer the following titles: • Bennett, M.R. and P.M.S. Hacker. Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003. • Bennett, Maxwell, Daniel Dennett, Peter Hacker, John Searle, and Daniel Robinson. Neuroscience and Philosophy: Brain, Mind and Language. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. (I prefer the arguments of Bennett, Hacker, and Robinson over Dennett and Searle.) • Descombes, Vincent (Stephen Adam Schwartz, tr.). The Mind’s Provisions: A Critique of Cognitivism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001. • Finkelstein, David H. Expression and the Inner. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003. • Gillett, Grant. Subjectivity and Being Somebody: Human Identity and Neuroethics. Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic, 2008. • Gillett, Grant. The Mind and Its Discontents. New York:... Continue reading
Posted Nov 7, 2015 at
The following is a draft of a revised entry on “Democracy” for a new edition of an encyclopedia on Islam (it is the only one of my entries I’m revising). The format is slightly different than the actual submission but the content is identical: “Democracy & Islam.” Continue reading
Posted Oct 23, 2015 at
An indispensable work on both (a few of) the causes and (some of) the effects of the political and cultural orientation of the “paperback generation” [i.e., ‘baby boomers’] is Loren Glass’s Counterculture Colophon: Grove Press, the Evergreen Review, and the Incorporation of the Avant-Garde (Stanford University Press, 2013). First, the Wikipedia introduction to Grove Press: “Grove Press is an American publishing imprint that was founded in 1951. Imprints include: Black Cat, Evergreen, Venus Library, and Zebra. Barney Rosset purchased the company in 1951 and turned it into an alternative book press in the United States. He partnered with Richard Seaver to bring French literature to the United States. The Atlantic Monthly Press, under the aegis of its publisher, Morgan Entrekin, merged with Grove Press in 1991. Grove is now an imprint of the publisher Grove/Atlantic, Inc.” And now a provocative snippet from Glass’s Counterculture Colophon: “On the one hand, individual... Continue reading
Posted Oct 20, 2015 at
“The philosophical convergence between both embattled /materialist and detached idealist philosophers is captured in a short poem by René Char (14 June 1907 – 19 February 1988): ‘Towards your frontier, you humiliated, I walk at last with confidence, warned that truth does not necessarily precede action.’ This poetical aphorism opens two windows on the eternal dialectics between truth and action, theory and practice, philosophy and politics, as I see them unfolding in the Middle East convulsions of the early twenty-first century. Let me paraphrase the great French poet. The first part says: ‘Toward the frontier of humiliated life, in the long night of the modern Middle East age of ruthless dictators, the men and women of the revolution walk with the certainty of truth.’ In this first window into the Middle East revolution, marching is physical action, and the marching operates with confidence and inevitability in its self-consciousness. The nexus... Continue reading
Posted Oct 7, 2015 at
My bibliography on “The Great Depression and The New Deal” is available here. Continue reading
Posted Oct 4, 2015 at
“Juan Felipe Herrera’s Global Voice and Vision” Los Angeles Review of Books, September 23, 2015 By Rigoberto González “When the Library of Congress made the official announcement on June 10 that Juan Felipe Herrera had been selected the next Poet Laureate of the United States, the first Latino to hold the honorary post of ‘consultant in poetry’ since the first appointment in 1937, the news went viral on social media and was met with universal praise. Though the prolific and popular Herrera is by no means an obscure candidate — he is also currently a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and his new and selected volume Half of the World in Light received the prestigious National Book Critics Circle Award — there was something unexpectedly refreshing about his selection. The next Poet Laureate of the United States comes from an ethnic community that’s quickly changing the demographic of... Continue reading
Posted Sep 27, 2015 at
Herbert Lee & Louis Allen “Herbert Lee was a 42 year old a dairy farmer and father of nine children in Amite County. He had been a member of the NAACP since the early 1950s. When SNCC voting rights activists started working in Amite and Pike counties in the fall of 1961, Lee, a close friend of the Amite County NAACP branch chairman E.W. Steptoe, became involved, helping to transport the workers and orient them to the locale. In mid-September, Assistant United States Attorney John Doar and others from the Justice Department interviewed several persons in Amite County about infringements of the voting laws. They learned that one E.H. Hurst, a member of the Mississippi state legislature, had been threatening to harm activists in Amite, including Herbert Lee. On the morning of September 25, E.H. Hurst ran into Herbert Lee at a cotton gin. Lee, who grew up with Hurst,... Continue reading
Posted Sep 25, 2015 at
Luis González’s Hasta La Victoria Siempre, c/s (1975) (click on image for larger view) “Humor and kinship among veterans led members of the Rebel Chicano Air Front to adopt the ironic name of the Royal Chicano Air Force after their acronym—RCAF—was misidentified with the Canadian military. Operating out of their Sacramento, California headquarters (the Centro de Artistas Chicanos), they organized community programs, designed murals, and printed posters in support of the United Farm Workers Union. This collaborative spirit shines in Hasta La Victoria Siempre, c/s, a print by Luis (or Louie ‘the Foot’ González), based on his brother Héctor’s photograph of a United Farm Workers pro-labor rally. Interested in concrete poetry, Luis González wove the typed words long live, strike, and tomorrow into a fluid pattern.” (My bibliography for César Chávez & the United Farm Workers is here.) Continue reading
Posted Sep 22, 2015 at
Around the world, between a quarter and half a million children go blind each year as a result of a deficiency in vitamin A and within twelve months, half of them die. Golden Rice was created to tackle this problem, by genetically engineering Vitamin A into the rice grain. It is golden because its vitamin A comes from beta carotene, which also puts the orange in carrots. One of the areas of the world where Golden Rice is designed to be consumed is Asia, where a high proportion of calories are derived from rice consumption, and where vitamin A deficiency is endemic. [….] The technology presents itself as a feel-good solution for politicians who’d rather not face the more profound, persistent and difficult questions of politics and distribution. There’s more than enough vitamin A to go around. Half a carrot contains the recommended dose of vitamin A. The plain fact... Continue reading
Posted Sep 21, 2015 at
Henrietta Shore, “Artichoke Pickers,” 1936, oil on masonite panel. Described as “one of the most beautiful of all WPA [Works Progress Administration, later renamed the Work Projects Administration] murals in California,” “[i]t depicts people working in a field near the Santa Cruz coastline, where the mural was installed.” My bibliography on César Chávez and the United Farm Workers (UFW) is here. Two related compilations: The Sullied Science & Political Economy of Hyper-Industrial Agriculture (Or: ‘Toward Agroecology & Food Justice’): A Basic Bibliography, and Workers, the World of Work & Labor Law: A Basic Bibliography. Yolanda López, “Homenaje a Dolores Huerta,” from Women’s Work Is Never Done series, silkscreen, 1995. Here we find “juxtapose[d] an image of Dolores Huerta as an activist in 1965 with an image take from the 1995 broccoli harvest. To protect their lungs from dust and pesticides, the women in this print wear bandanas, which actually provide... Continue reading
Posted Sep 18, 2015 at
“We are creatures of history, for every historical epoch has its roots in a preceding epoch. The black militants of today are standing upon the shoulders of the New Negro radicals of my day, the twenties, thirties, and forties. We stood upon the shoulders of the civil rights fighters of the Reconstruction era, and they stood upon the shoulders of the black abolitionists. These are the interconnections of history, and they play their role in the course of development.”—A. Philip Randolph On this day in August in 1925, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) came into existence when 500 porters met in Harlem, renewing their union organizing efforts. “During this meeting, they secretly launched their campaign, choosing [A. Philip] Randolph, not employed by Pullman and thus beyond retaliation, to lead the effort. The union chose a motto to sum up their resentment over the working conditions: ‘Fight or Be... Continue reading
Posted Aug 25, 2015 at
Pablo Picasso, Trois femmes, 1908 “The real problem with ‘pink Viagra’” By Emily Nagoski, Los Angeles Times (August 23, 2015) “The drug has many names: flibanserin, Addyi, Ectris, Girosa or, colloquially, ‘pink Viagra.’ Whatever you want to call the long-in-the-making libido pill for women, it recently gained FDA approval despite ‘serious, serious safety concerns’ and benefits that are ‘modest, maybe less than modest.’ But as a science-driven sex educator, I am less troubled by the risk of low blood pressure and fainting than I am by the drug maker’s reinforcement of an outdated, scientifically invalid model of sexual desire. [….] The FDA’s analysis of the data showed that only about 10% of the research participants taking flibanserin experienced ‘at least minimal improvement,’ while the remaining 90% experienced nothing at all. This is a drug with such potentially serious side effects that the FDA is requiring special training and certification before... Continue reading
Posted Aug 24, 2015 at
“…[E]very human being experiences different types and durations of physical and mental impairments, or different periods of health and illness , and lives for varying lengths of time due to the combined interactions of her internal biological endowments and needs, behaviours, external physical environment and social conditions. [….] The centrality of human health and longevity to social justice is so patently obvious to some people that they simply take it as a starting point. This is particularly apparent in the remarkable history of physicians becoming social and political reformers, and even armed revolutionaries because of their understanding of manifest injustice in such aspects as the causes, consequences, persistence through generations, or distribution patterns of preventable ill-health and premature mortality in a population. But such an understanding is not limited only to physicians or those who work in the front lines of healthcare and public health. For example, Amartya Sen, the... Continue reading
Posted Aug 21, 2015 at