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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
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I've never taught Descartes, and while it may be problematic methodologically speaking, at least for a philosophical introduction to Descartes' philosophy, I've warmed up to some of his work in discovering how contemporary philosophers have mined the Cartesian corpus for value. For example, consider Galen Strawson's elaboration of Cartesian naturalism with regard to the mind and mental experience, or John Cottingham's discussion of "Cartesian ethics" (i.e., the moral psychology), or Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad's brilliant comparison of Descartes' dream analogy to similar arguments in the work of the Yogācāra Buddhist philosopher, Vasubandhu and the Advaita Vedāntin philosopher, Śaṅkara, or how Raymond Tallis builds upon aspects of the infamous Cogito argument to articulate what he terms the "Existential Intuition" in his philosophical exploration of first-person being. (references available upon request)
That's "law and economics" legal reasoning with a vengeance (notice several extravagant assumptions made from start to finish).
erratum (third para., last sentence): "as well as conducive to..."
We've discussed similar topics on this blog before so I may be repeating myself, but I find it helpful to examine the possible historical roots of “dickhead theory” philosophical praxis. So, for example, Dena Goodman notes in her book, The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment (1994), that formal education in the West, going all the way back to ancient Greece* (keep in mind that Socrates and his interlocutors in the agora engaged in dialogue and dialectic as an exemplary example of ‘informal’ philosophical education) has been largely “agonistic.” Quoting Walter Ong, she writes that “Students ‘learned subjects largely by fighting over them.’ The primary form the agon took in the education of boys and young men from the Middle Ages on was disputation, a form of ceremonial combat. Ong contends that male insecurity, although it may not have been the ‘cause’ of the agonistic structure of pedagogical and scholarly practice, was certainly fundamentally related to it.” The literal and figurative notion of learning in French schools since Abelard had “been steeped in the language of battle” and up until the “the end of the Old Regime” pedagogical practice was “overwhelmingly oral,” despite the focus on texts and exegesis: “Listening and memorizing were always oral and generally disputatious in form.” With roots in the sixteenth century, the reform of secondary education in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in France placed emphasis on the art of rhetoric or eloquence as “the art of thinking and speaking well.” As Goodman explains, this went hand-in-hand with the Jesuits’ renewal of “militancy” in pedagogical practice. In this model, the agonistic spirit is canalized in the form of a “competition among students” believed to “foster” the kind of individual ambition that led to educational excellence. We find here the pedagogical analogue of the duel, which represents the “merger of personal human relations with militancy.” Perhaps needless to say, the social base of the Republic of Letters provided by the French salon offered an alternative model of intellectual learning and philosophical discourse for the philosophes. And this alternative pedagogical model, if you will, was a deliberate product of the salonnière. The women who governed these salons (e.g., Marie-Thérèse Geoffrin, Julie de Lespinasse, and Suzanne Necker) enforced rules of polite conversation among the guests, transforming the salon “from a leisure institution of the nobility into an institution of the Enlightenment,” one in which the philosophes were compelled to learn a new style of philosophical argument, a new mode of intellectual disputation not fundamentally agonstic in style, thus without the victors and victims of combat. This too was a rhetorical practice of sorts, but one subordinate to the broader and normative art of conversation. Here the “mastery of word” was not synonymous with, or at least reduced the risk of degenerating into, a “mastery over persons.” Unlike agonstic philosophical argumentation, this art is far less prone to the dangers of descent into abusive and circumstantial ad hominen arguments, and is structurally better suited to the intellectual virtues of what today is discussed under the heading of “regulative epistemology,” including, noticeably, intellectual humility and generosity. Indeed, I think it is an auspicious forum for the flourishing of the principle of philosophical charity, as well as conductive to ascertaining the relative truths on all sides of a philosophical debate or argument (which does not preclude assessing their respective strengths and weaknesses). We should also study the modes of philosophy in Chinese and Indic philosophical traditions (to keep it short, and because I'm only familiar with the Confucian and Daoist cases, I won't discuss the Chinese traditions). While philosophical disputations between schools could be “heated” and philosophical debate occasionally combative (consider for instance the monastic style of debate in Tibetan Buddhism: although it appears if not sounds aggressive, it is stylized or ritualized so as to minimize or soften, I suspect, any real aggression or strong combativeness), we find here different styles and modes that suggest philosophical practice need not be analogous to the adversary legal model for the discovery of truth(s). Debate in Indian philosophy appears to have begun along the lines of a conversation between friends but over time not infrequently degenerated into quarrelsome forms that relied on tricks and clever devices designed to confound and defeat one’s opponents, individuals no longer viewed as equal partners engaged in the pursuit of truth (cf. the two types of debate found in the Meno). Even the intellectually combative Cārvāka appreciated that form of debate Socrates said took place between “friendly people,” referring to such debate as sandhāya sambhāsā, “debate among fellow scholars who are friends” (B.K. Matilal), by way of contrast to debate conducted in “the spirit of opposition and hostility.” A fourfold classification of forms of debate by a Nyāya philosopher, finds two forms characteristic of “seekers after truth,” and the other two forms employed by “proud people” who merely intend to defeat others, and thus “tricky devices” are permissible in the latter two forms. I would go so far as to suggest that Jain epistemology and philosophy more widely (in particular, its doctrines of anekāntavāda, syādvāda, and nayavāda) rule out the notion of an agonistic or combative mode of philosophizing wherein one imagines the goal is merely to refute or defeat the arguments of one’s opponents. I have elsewhere described this model of truth as “para-propositional,” insofar its truly unique and provocative “standpoint” epistemology and perspectival rationalism, which emphasizes (because mandates) the relative truths of all genuine philosophical arguments, will not let us forget how beholden they these arguments are to sundry presuppositions (the hidden parameters of belief and assertion) that preclude our absolutizing their truths and encourage us to actively seek out and appreciate their respective degrees of partial or relative truths, truths which, as it turns out, we may be ourselves be quite blind to but others may articulate with perspicuity. * See the comment by Manyul Im in this thread (with its very different portrait of Jesuit educational praxis!):
Thanks for this: distressing, yet...not surprising: why?
Toggle Commented Dec 10, 2014 on Monetization of FOIA requests? at Legal Ethics Forum
Thanks Milan. I suspected you thought this way. On my FB page I expanded this a bit, hoping it starts a prairie fire: "Hear ye, hear ye!" All of us should adamantly and loudly refuse to endorse, and call out anyone employing, the fashionable political slogan that asks us, with regard to the public "revelations" about torture, that we "look forward, not backward," for that shamelessly implies we ignore (i.e., act dismissive of, show contempt for, fail to appreciate the moral and legal significance of, obscure the moral and legal value of...) the fundamental moral and legal (hence also, criminal) importance of notions of accountability, responsibility, and culpability, all of which are, in large measure, "backward looking."
Toggle Commented Dec 10, 2014 on The CIA's Lawyers at Legal Ethics Forum
Should we not call into question the assumption that "the current administration wishes to 'look forward, not backward,'" for that implies we ignore (i.e., act dismissive of, show contempt for, fail to appreciate the moral and legal significance of, obscure the moral and legal value of...) the fundamental moral and legal importance of notions of accountability, responsibility, and culpability, all of which are, in large measure, "backward looking."
Toggle Commented Dec 10, 2014 on The CIA's Lawyers at Legal Ethics Forum
That the significance of, an emphasis on, or simply enhanced appreciation of legal ethics was a direct result or by-product of the Watergate affair cannot alone suffice as an explanation for why Judge Posner expresses the belief that "instruction in legal ethics [is not] an important part of legal education." To the extent that Posner or anyone else believes that amounts to a sufficient explanation would mean they are committing the informal logical fallacy of origins, i.e., the genetic fallacy, defined as "a fallacy of irrelevance where a conclusion is suggested based solely on something or someone's origin rather than its current meaning or context. This overlooks any difference to be found in the present situation, typically transferring the positive or negative esteem from the earlier context." Posner himself does not say that is why he is dismissive of the significance of legal ethics in the law school curriculum; and let us suppose he in fact does believe this accounts (in a causal way) for its insignificance: that would still not inform us as to why he believes it is not an important part of legal education, for the causal claim is empirical and therefore does not, by itself, amount to a normative claim or explanation about "importance" (or lack thereof). Indeed, the empirical proposition might be compatible either belief: legal ethics is "important" or, legal ethics is "insignificant."
Judge Posner can be infuriating: sometimes he seems quite smart and eminently sensible, even open to changing his mind on cherished beliefs (as he did on his economic views), other times he says some fairly outrageous things (perhaps simply to draw attention to himself), as was the case, I believe, with some of his thoughts on "law and literature" and "intellectuals."
In my late teens, I was a truck driver delivering office furniture; in my 20s, I worked for the Santa Barbara Recycling Center back when it was quite labor intensive and a tad dangerous (tossing bundled newspaper up into trucks and later throwing 80-100 lb. bales of newsprint on pallets, among other things); in my 30s, I was a construction laborer (before learning finish carpentry); and in between worked for a time on wildlife fire crew (among other jobs). So, I’ve worked in 3 of the 10 of the listed here as among the “ten most dangerous.” I never would have guessed any of these to be more dangerous than being a police officer!
Dakṣiṇāmūrti E-mail correspondence with Elisa Freschi became the subject of a guest blog post at The Indian Philosophy Blog. If you’re not familiar with Advaita Vedānta (an important school within the Vedānta tradition generally*), please see here. For a basic introduction to bhakti-yoga (or -mārga), see here. * This school, in turn, is one of six philosophical schools of Hinduism or ṣaḍ-darśanas: the six orthodox (āstika) schools of Indic philosophy, namely, Navya-Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika, Sāṅkhya, Yoga, Pūrva Mīmāṃsā, and Vedānta. Continue reading
Posted Nov 30, 2014 at
Erratum: the prosecutor's middle initial is a "P." Is it at all relevant that he is also "the son of a St. Louis police officer who was killed in the line of duty"?
Regarding the conduct of St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert P. McCulloch, see this post over at the Legal Ethics Forum:
In several worldviews: Hinduism, Daoism, and Christianity, for example, there are oft-cited admonitions to the effect of the importance of becoming "like a child" (e.g., 'unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,' and 'Concentrating your qi and attaining the utmost suppleness, can you be a child?').
Analogous to the Pascalian prescription for acting as if one believes and has faith (‘Follow the way by which they began; by acting as if they believed, taking the holy water, having masses said, etc. Even this will naturally make you believe, and deaden your acuteness.’), and akin to Confucian insight (at least with regard to the concept of li), a contemporary social science description speaks to a (proven?*) strategy for indirectly prompting political actors to eschew a reliance on violent methods to achieve their aims: “[T]he sustained participation of political actors in new institutional settings can trigger a reflexive and unconscious process of socialization variously described in the literature as ‘role playing,’ ‘mimicking,’ ‘copying,’ and ‘emulating’ prescribed norms of behavior. When political actors enter a new institutional environment, they are under pressure to conform with its established rules of speech and conduct. And once they adapt to such expectations,... Continue reading
Posted Nov 16, 2014 at
Immediately following is material from a post by the folks at the National Security Archive at George Washington University on the proximate cause (used here in its non-legal sense) of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, a concrete symbol of the breakdown of Communist Party-State regimes that first began in Poland and Hungary in 1989, quickly followed by the demise of similar governments in the German Democratic Republic, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania. For understanding the proverbial big picture, in other words, the historical and political causes of—and thus the sound reasons that account for—the end of the East-Central European Party-State regimes, we need to examine Mikhail Gorbachev’s implementation “from above” (in the first instance) of perestroika (‘restructuring’) and glasnost (public openness or ‘publicity’) in the former Soviet Union, as well as the vigorous underground political activity (e.g., the vast underground publishing networks and self-education societies in Poland) and more conventional... Continue reading
Posted Nov 9, 2014 at
As we are reminded by the Zinn Education Project, today is the birthday of Dorothy Day (November 8, 1897 – November 29, 1980), co-founder, with Peter Maurin, of the Catholic Worker Movement and newspaper. Here is a short list of titles, most of which are about Dorothy Day and The Catholic Worker movement and newspaper. The FBI still includes the movement on its list of “domestic advocacy groups” that it believes necessary to keep tabs on. I’ve also added a list of “further reading” on Christian nonviolence in both the radical Catholic and Protestant justice and peace traditions. The Catholic Worker Movement: Coles, Robert. A Spectacle Unto the World: The Catholic Worker Movement. New York: Viking, 1973. Coles, Robert. Dorothy Day: A Radical Devotion. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1987. Cornell, Thomas C. and James H. Forest, eds. A Penny a Copy: Readings from the Catholic Worker. New York: Macmillan, 1968. Coy,... Continue reading
Posted Nov 8, 2014 at
The latest draft of my bibliography for human rights is here. Continue reading
Posted Oct 26, 2014 at
The latest draft of my bibliography for democratic theory is here. Continue reading
Posted Oct 26, 2014 at
The latest draft of my bibliography on torture is available here. Continue reading
Posted Oct 25, 2014 at
The latest draft of my bibliography for punishment and prison is available here. Continue reading
Posted Oct 25, 2014 at
The latest draft of my bibliography for philosophy of law and legal theory is here. Continue reading
Posted Oct 25, 2014 at
Helen, Perhaps you’re aware of it, but I think some of Robert Goodin’s work on issues of “deliberative democracy” [e.g., Reflective Democracy (2003) and Innovating Democracy: Democratic Theory and Practice after the Deliberative Turn (2008)] addresses several topics raised here. He discusses, for instance, the role of cultural institutions and policies that expand our political imagination, thereby making individuals more susceptible to the “better argument,” i.e., liable to (rational) persuasion (social scientists of course refer to this as ‘transforming’ or ‘laundering’ preferences, being a mix of beliefs with passions, tastes, dispositions, etc.). For example, and historically speaking, “Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin famously helped people imagine what it might be like to be a slave, thus fuelling the Abolitionist movement, and E.M. Forster’s Passage to India likewise helped Britons imagine what it might be like to be a colonial subject, encouraging sympathy with demands for decolonization.” Traditional literary forms may of course in some measure be supplanted by modern media today, so we should therefore consider, say, the role of films to tell the kinds of stories that embed the more pressing “debates” and issues of our day and age (which accords artists the sorts of epistemic, moral, and social responsibility they often shirk or disavow, but such responsibility need not entail agitprop or simple minded moralizing or undue constraints on artistic creativity). This allows people to “get out of their comfort zone,” to consider points of view that they’re not otherwise privy to, inclined to consider, and so forth without at the same time “losing face” (being humiliated) or too intimately apprised of their own ignorance or debilitating biases that may occur in interpersonal settings of one kind or another. As Colin McGinn has noted, “a tremendous amount of moral thinking and feeling is done when reading novels (or watching plays and films, or reading poetry and short stories). In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that for most people this is the primary way in which they acquire ethical attitudes, especially in contemporary culture.” Reasoners are first and foremost, persons, flesh-and-blood beings with hearts, minds, and bodies, and thus the right kind of stories (or, if you prefer, narratives) can serve as a compelling form for “making arguments” and changing people’s minds within in the social fora and intimate settings they commonly circulate and live their lives. We need to think beyond mass-media staged and moderated debates and its corresponding means of framing arguments (e.g., there are simply ‘two sides’ to every issue, both sides having roughly ‘good’ arguments, etc.) on urgent topics dear to us. For more at what I’m trying to convey here, please see Jerome Bruner’s little book, Making Stories: Law, Literature, Life (2002). On the corresponding role for art more generally, see Berys Gaut’s Art, Emotion and Ethics (2007). Goodin again: “Policies and institutions that facilitate social mixing [Hélène Landemore’s book, Democratic Reason: Politics, Collective Intelligence, and the Rule of the Many (2013) is here relevant]—having people whose social circumstances are radically unlike your own living nearby, going to school with you or your children, riding public transportation alongside you—can again serve as an aid to the political imaginary.” Expanding the “political imagery” is important not only for the aforementioned and well-worn polarized debates, but giving due hearing to what Goodin terms “mute interests” (both human and non-human), be it those of “a homeless person or a Kurdish peasant,” a dolphin, whale, or orangutan, of future generations. Attention needs also to be drawn to various communities Goodin identifies that situate and socialize would-be rational agents or individual reasoners not captured by the Enlightenment’s legacy of communities of “interest:” communities of “generation” (e.g., the context of childhood socialization), …of “meaning” (e.g., language, worldviews), …of experience, …of regard (e.g., ‘reference groups’), and, more troubling and dangerous, communities of “subsumption,” those sorts of groups in which we “lose ourselves,” merge our identities with the collective or crowd or cult, or “total institutions.”
erratum (oops): "in which we arrive at the same conclusion"
Samir, Re: The world he 'sees' has the shapes and forms that it does because they are the ones he has imposed on it. I've had numerous dinner-time conversations with my dear wife over many years in which we come arrive at the same conclusion: that co-workers, colleagues, neighbors, friends, or family members are "seeing only what they want to see" (a term of art between us, not meant to be taken too literally: for example, as if one is simply imposing one's will on the world, although it often involves that too). No doubt the same might be said of both of us on occasion! Indeed, I think this is more or less true for all of us, with Lawrence and Scorsese illuminating the phenomenon with extreme cases. While some may need psychological therapy of one kind or another to break these lens, Buddhists would "argue" that, assuming we are otherwise psychologically stable (have some basic ego identity), we can only overcome such subjectively imposed and unduly constrained "seeing" (i.e., that common yet disturbing sort of 'subjectivity' that is conspicuous by its remoteness from moral and psychological individuation...) through mind training or meditation practices (in conjunction with intellectual virtues and a proper ethical grounding, the other two dimensions of the Eightfold Path). I don't think Buddhists necessarily have a monopoly on prescriptions for what ails us in this regard, but it's no less suggestive a remedy for what appears, to this reader at least, to be a ubiquitous form of self-imposed "suffering."