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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
Mike Dorf at his blog today: “Last week, Vice President Pence announced the creation of a ‘Space Command,’ a first step towards what President Trump hopes to obtain from Congress: a ‘Space Force’ as a full-fledged new branch of the military to take its place alongside the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. Despite the appeal of a Space Force to pre-adolescent boys whose mommies and/or daddies tuck them into Star Wars-themed blankets (and to a president whose emotional age matches the youngest of these boys), a Space Force is a terrible idea.” I agree. Mike’s post, however, is not about international law and the weaponization of space (distinguishable to some extent from the ‘militarization’ of space, which has already taken place) but rather asks the question, “Would a Space Force be constitutional?” I’ll leave the possible answers to that question to Mike and his colleagues who are... Continue reading
Posted 9 hours ago at
“President Trump appeared to acknowledge on Monday something his aides have declined to confirm for months: that his White House had aides sign nondisclosure agreements. The president made the statement in a post on Twitter about Omarosa Manigault Newman, a former contestant on ‘The Apprentice’ who became an assistant to the president, and whose new book makes unflattering claims about Mr. Trump and his family. ‘Wacky Omarosa already has a fully signed Non-Disclosure Agreement!’ Mr. Trump tweeted, using the type of moniker he often deploys against people who say disparaging things about him. For months, officials in the West Wing have refused to confirm reports by The New York Times and other news outlets that aides were ordered to sign nondisclosure agreements, which legal experts say are essentially unenforceable for government employees.” — Maggie Haberman in The New York Times, August 13, 2018 * * * “A non-disclosure agreement (NDA),... Continue reading
Posted yesterday at
” Samir Amin (Arabic: سمير أمين‎) was an Egyptian-French Marxian economist. Please see Amin’s article, “Revolution or Decadence? Thoughts on the Transition between Modes of Production on the Occasion of the Marx Bicentennial,” Monthly Review, May 2018 (Vol. 70, No. 1). * * * “Samir Amin: a vital challenge to dispossession” By Nick Dearden for Red Pepper, August 13, 2018 [lightly edited] “Samir Amin (1931-2018) was one of the world’s greatest radical thinkers – a ‘creative Marxist’ who went from Communist activism in Nasser’s Egypt, to advising African socialist leaders like Julius Nyerere to being a leading figure in the World Social Forum. Samir Amin’s ideas were formed in the heady ferment of 1950s and ’60s, when pan-Africanists like Kwamah Nkrumah ran Ghana and Juliuys Nyrere Tanzania, when General Nasser was transforming the Middle East from Amin’s native Egypt and liberation movements thrived from South Africa to Algeria. Africa looked... Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at
Introduction & Apology By “realist” I mean something roughly similar to the way Hilary Putnam used this term in his later work (hence its ‘pragmatist’ quality), and the sort of psychology I have in mind can be psychoanalytic, humanistic, or existential, that is, psychology that is particularly sensitive to what is called philosophical anthropology. By “philosophical anthropology” is intended in large part an appreciation of the psychological dimensions of human nature that, after P.M.S. Hacker, is broader in coverage than what is typically treated in philosophy of mind or philosophical psychology. What is more, this psychology is in no way confined or beholden to so-called scientific (or ‘academic’) psychology, be it behaviorist, experimentalist, empiricist (in a post-positivist sense), or cognitive, which does not mean it need be utterly dismissive of such psychology. The late Ilham Dilman termed our realist psychology, “thoughtful” psychology, in the sense that it accords “[pride of]... Continue reading
Posted Aug 7, 2018 at
Hilary Putnam shares a passage from John Dewey at his Marxian and democratic best: “Dewey’s social philosophy is not simply a restatement of classical liberalism; for, as Dewey says, the real fallacy of classical liberalism [a fallacy which persists with vengeance in neoliberalism] ‘lies in the notion that individuals have such a native or original endowment of rights, powers, and wants that all that is required on the side of institutions and laws is to eliminate the obstructions they offer to the ‘free’ play of the natural equipment of individuals [if you will, the ‘libertarian fallacy’]. The removal of obstructions did have a liberating effect upon such individuals [e.g., the bourgeoisie and the nobility, including declassed aristocrats, with some trickle down and spillover effects on some members of the lower classes] as were antecedently possessed of the means, intellectual and economic, to take advantage of the changed social conditions, but... Continue reading
Posted Aug 6, 2018 at
“ … I think [Wittgenstein] gives us an example of how philosophical reflection can be something other than creating new tempests in old teapots, or of finding new teapots to create tempests in. At its best, philosophical reflection can give us an unexpectedly honest and clear look at our own situation, not a ‘view from nowhere’ but a view through the eyes of one or another wise, flawed, deeply individual human being. If Wittgenstein wants to make a bonfire of our philosophical vanities [e.g., the desire for metaphysical certainty or the quest for metaphysical foundations, or the alienated ‘attitudes’ incarnate in relativistic ‘escape’ or hard (or constitutional) skepticism], this is not a matter of sheer intellectual sadism; if I am reading Wittgenstein correctly, those vanities, in his view, are what keep us from trust, and, perhaps even more important, keep us from compassion.” From the concluding paragraph of Putnam’s chapter,... Continue reading
Posted Aug 3, 2018 at
I just read, in Hilary Putnam’s Renewing Philosophy (Harvard University Press, 1992), this wonderfully incisive passage on non-paternalistic (i.e., democratic) liberation (my description)* by John Dewey, penned in his deceptively simple yet refreshing prose: “The conception of community good may be clarified by reference to attempts of those in fixed positions of superiority to confer good upon others. History shows us that there have been benevolent despots who wish to bestow blessings on others. They have not succeeded, except when their actions have taken the indirect form of changing the conditions under which those live who are disadvantageously placed. The same principle holds of reformers and philanthropists when they try to do good to others in way which leave passive those to be benefited. There is a moral tragedy inherent in efforts to further the common good which prevent the result from being either good or common—not good, because it... Continue reading
Posted Aug 2, 2018 at
My latest bibliography is on “Islam, the Arts, and Aesthetic Experience.” This compilation began as a section in my Islamic Studies bibliography. I am updating sections of that rather large list and posting them as discrete bibliographies (Sufism was the first of such). The adjective “basic” is warranted for several reasons, one of which is intended to indicate that this list is far from comprehensive, let alone exhaustive. Two constraints remain conspicuous: books, in English. Continue reading
Posted Aug 2, 2018 at
And now there is among socialist intellectuals an intelligent movement, but also alongside it, an unthinking and fashion-driven rush, in the direction of non-planning or minimally planning market socialist society. Market socialism is socialist because it overcomes the division between capital and labour; there is, in market socialism, no class of capitalists facing workers who own no capital, since workers themselves own the firms. But market socialism is unlike traditionally conceived socialism in that its worker-owned firms confront one another, and consumers, in competitive market-contractual fashion; and market socialism is also, and relatedly, unlike traditionally conceived socialism in that it reduces, even though it does not entirely eliminate, the traditional socialist emphasis on economic equality. Equality is prejudiced because market competition means winners and losers, who end up less well off than the winners do. I believe that it is good for the political prospects of socialism that market socialism... Continue reading
Posted Jul 30, 2018 at
“The value of Equality [sic] is, perhaps, a unique contribution of the Jewish religion to the culture of the West. [….] The idea of equality appears in the Jewish Bible [what Christians term the ‘Old Testament’] as the idea that all human beings are created in the image of God. [….] Later, of course, the idea of equality was detached from its specifically religious roots: one effect of this separation, an effect we see right to the present day, is that the idea of equality becomes somewhat mysterious, and for that reason, exposed to scoffing.” — Hilary Putnam in his book, The Many Faces of Realism (Open Court, 1987): 44. Putnam was wise enough to qualify the proposition in the first sentence with the adverb “perhaps.” Before going further, permit me to share Putnam’s further and somewhat tentative [cf. ‘perhaps,’ ‘vague,’ ‘may,’ ‘seems’] specification of this principle as inherited from... Continue reading
Posted Jul 26, 2018 at
In the real world we must pay our way before we can start the reconstruction of social life. We must defer to the conditions of economic agency and get them right before we can afford to consider the conditions of moral agency. This is wrong. … [W]e do not need to turn our back on the needs of the economy to effect the changes required for socialism. We need only turn our back on the needs of Capital. And if most political economy fails to see the room for a distinction here, so much the worse for it. There is no reason, only blind habit, for accepting the priority of the conditions of free-market agency over those of moral agency. Of course we must pay our way in the world, but it is our world, and it is for us to decide what counts as paying our way. It is... Continue reading
Posted Jul 25, 2018 at
By Ella Bergmann-Michel My latest bibliography, “transdisciplinary perspectives on addiction,” is here. The introduction/abstract: More than a few titles are not about addiction qua addiction, but deal with subject matter pertaining to the psychological, ethical and cultural questions that surround addiction as self-destructive behavior in the context of variables, causes, and consequences that are, we might say, at once individual or intrapersonal and interpersonal (in an intimate sense) and social. Yet the distinctions serve a purpose, as they are essential in addressing the specific dynamics and dialectics of interaction between these two dimensions or poles so as to better understand the nature of addiction in the contemporary world. The following bibliographies contain titles indirectly germane to our topic: (i) Beyond Capitalist-Attenuated Time: Freedom, Leisure, and Self-Realization; (ii) Biological Psychiatry, Sullied Psychology and Pharmaceutical Reason; (iii) Buddhism and Psychoanalysis; (iv) Emotions; (v) Freudian Psychology; (vi) Health: Law, Ethics & Social Justice;... Continue reading
Posted Jul 16, 2018 at
Trump’s views and policies are, as a preponderance of evidence attest, racist, plain and simple (they’re also nationalist, mercantilist and xenophobic; plutocratic and kleptocratic; in short, neo-fascist, but we’re leaving that aside for the moment), thus it is egregiously implausible and irrational to assert or argue otherwise. Those individuals in this country who refuse to believe this are displaying symptoms of an authoritarian character structure (e.g., ‘tendencies to compliance, to idealization of and identification with authority,’ as well as sadomasochism, all of which is psychologically anchored in if not fueled by states of denial, self-deception, wishful thinking, and so forth), in keeping with their uncritical loyalty to Trump and his political preferences and desires as expressed in a rhetoric further corroded and disfigured by narcissistic megalomania. Trump’s incendiary and grotesque anti-democratic rhetoric, alongside the fact that allies or members of the radical right are part of the White House, has... Continue reading
Posted Jul 12, 2018 at
Some years ago I initiated a series of post “on anger,” only two of which I completed (see here and here), and I’m still not sure when or even if I will get around to completing the series. By way of some rectification, I’ve written the following, which merely skims the surface so to speak, but will have to suffice for now: Anger is often a vice, and many if not most of us lack self-control when we are angry (e.g., when ‘consumed’ by anger). Spinoza’s conception of anger was a bit different from that of Seneca and the Stoics generally, yet he shared their view that anger is invariably and entirely a negative emotion inherently fraught with danger. And the Buddhist view on anger is virtually identical to that of the Stoics, although they do not have “our” concept of emotion(s) as such, classifying anger as one of the... Continue reading
Posted Jul 6, 2018 at
The following books are contemporary works on democratic theory and praxis that have both critical and constructive virtues and often represent radical or at least imaginative approaches to ongoing topics in discussions and debates on democracy. They were chosen in part on this occasion because they also treat—sometimes indirectly or by implication—pressing issues and problems of democratic practice in the United States. I originally wanted to confine the list to ten titles, but found I could not! Of course this small compilation reflects my tastes and values on such matters, so it is in some measure idiosyncratic, but I’m convinced that, objectively or impartially speaking, all of these works are worthy of your consideration if not close reading. You’re of course free to inform me what you think I should have included but did not, keeping in mind that I did not want this list to be very long (i.e.,... Continue reading
Posted Jul 4, 2018 at
Below is my comment on one of the late Justice Scalia’s remarks in his dissent in PGA TOUR, Inc. v. Martin, 532 U.S. 661 (2001): “But since it is the very nature of a game to have no object except amusement (that is what distinguishes games from productive activity), it is quite impossible to say that any of a game’s arbitrary rules is ‘essential.’” The essence of games as “amusement” might be true in those instances where “the action begins and ends in itself” (‘it is not the marbles that matter but the game’), where, in the words of Johan Huizinga, “the result of the game is unimportant and a matter of indifference.” But I doubt it’s true that “amusement” is the only object of a game, which would appear to render it the essence of a game. Although such a view is not far from Bernard Suits’ definition of... Continue reading
Posted Jul 3, 2018 at
I try to read Slavoj Žižek as much as is humanly possible (that is, in light of the fact that there are others ‘out there’ that deserve to be read as well), if only because he writes about virtually everything, including most matters about which I care about or at least have enough interest to generate an opinion or two. That he writes with verve and panache (no doubt that description does not do his prose justice) both attracts and repels, in my case, the former motion predominates. Finally, anyone who is at once an “Hegelian philosopher, Lacanian psychoanalyst, and political activist,” is bound to stir up things in a way so as to warrant our undivided attention (a rare thing these days), although I confess never having warmed up to either Hegel or Lacan (I have read most of that written by the former, even if it was quite... Continue reading
Posted Jun 29, 2018 at
After acknowledging that artificial intelligence engineers “are a long way off from knowing how to develop systems that can feel pleasure or pain, or have human-like emotions,”* Wendell Wallach and Colin Allen are, nonetheless, no less hopeful for the prospects of progress on this front: “[S]ensory technology is an active area of research, and it is here that one might look for the foundations of feelings and emotions” in AI and robotics. So, the pivotal assumption is that sensory modalities provide the (causal) foundations of feelings and emotions and, in principle, we can construct technologies somehow capable of replicating these animal and human modalities which will thus get us that much closer to developing the requisite AI technologies in possession of the ability to “feel pleasure or pain, or have human-like emotions.” This is, in effect, at once both a reductionist and emergentist model (‘reductionist’ insofar as it traces feelings... Continue reading
Posted Jun 27, 2018 at
“ … [I]t is quite conceivable that an artificial agent [like a robot] might display moral judgment without utilizing the same cognitive or affective tools a human agent would apply.” — Wendell Wallach and Colin Allen, Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right from Wrong (Oxford University Press, 2009) Hmmm. My understanding of what moral judgment means and entails comes solely from (i.e., is absolutely dependent upon my prior understanding of) how human beings have used and understood same. In other words, how could an “artificial moral agent” (AMA) exercise moral judgment sans the cognitive and affective powers used by human beings in making moral judgments. The claim makes no sense to me: it seems not only implausible but absurd. Yes?—unless one wants to reply that it’s “conceivable” solely in terms of the imagination, or a dream, or science fiction …. Continue reading
Posted Jun 26, 2018 at
A two-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched and detained near the U.S.-Mexico border (John Moore/Getty Images) My latest bibliography is on “the ethics, law, and politics of immigration and refugees.” Continue reading
Posted Jun 16, 2018 at
In a volume edited by Wendell Wallach and Colin Allen, Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right from Wrong (Oxford University Press, 2009), our editors open the Introduction with the breathless statement that scientists at the Affective Computing Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) “are designing computers that can read human emotions,” as if this is a foregone conclusion awaiting technical development or completion. Wallach and Allen, respectively a consultant and writer affiliated with Yale’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics and a Professor of History and Philosophy of Science and of Cognitive Science, also inform us that “today’s [computer] systems are approaching a level of complexity … that requires the systems to make moral decisions—to be programmed with ‘ethical subroutines’ to borrow a phrase from Star Trek” (the blurring of boundaries between contemporary science and science fiction, or the belief that much that was once science fiction on this score is... Continue reading
Posted Jun 13, 2018 at
After Kant, because human animals alone have dignity they can make necessary and compelling or objective claims on each other (hence reciprocal notions of ‘obligation’ or ‘duty’ and ‘right’), and thus our actions are capable of embodying or expressing the “motive” proper to morality, one that also accounts for the (rational) recognition of the objective worth of others as “ends in themselves.” Dignity is an intrinsic value that signifies absolute worth, “a value that cannot be compared to, traded off against, or compensated for or replaced by any other value” (Allen Wood). Our dignity is owing to our rational normative agency (or ‘autonomy’), as we are beings that bring, so to speak, moral value or goodness into the world. Acting morally here means, in one sense, acting for the sake of humanity in one’s person, thereby respecting the objective worth of humanity as an end in itself and calling upon... Continue reading
Posted Jun 3, 2018 at
“ … Zionism was a settler colonial movement, similar to the movements of Europeans who had colonized the two Americas, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Settler colonialism differs from classical colonialism in three respects. The first is that settler colonies rely only initially and temporarily on the empire for their survival. In fact, in many cases, as in Palestine and South Africa, the settlers do not belong to the same nation as the imperial power that initially supports them. More often than not they ceded from the empire, redefining themselves as a new nation, sometimes through a liberation struggle against the very empire that supported them (as happened during the American Revolution for instance). The second difference is that settler colonialism is motivated by a desire to take over land in a foreign country, while classical colonialism covets the natural resources in its new geographical possessions. The third difference... Continue reading
Posted Jun 2, 2018 at
Our country’s penchant for self-righteous posturing, its overt “messianic and missionary,” “big stick and bombs” foreign policy, combined with its covert “secret” and not-so-secret wars (e.g., the large laundry list that makes for the CIA’s bag of ‘dirty tricks,’ from regime overthrow to ‘targeted killings’ and torture), have rendered the fine—albeit ambiguous—political art of diplomacy a mere dark shadow of its former self. All of this was embodied with bombast and bluster in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent speech at the aptly named Heritage Foundation that proclaimed in predictably pompous rhetoric a “new Iran strategy,” although in historical terms, there was precious little that was truly new, much like resurrected fashions that attract those devoid of historical knowledge and a dispositional and feckless taste for fads of any kind. For example, Pompeo announced, without a trace of irony or satire: “No more wealth creation for Iranian kleptocrats. No more... Continue reading
Posted May 25, 2018 at
What makes a person seek analysis? I can’t recall a philosopher, as a member of that select group who’ve both sympathetically explored and critically examined Freudian psychoanalysis, treat this question in any more than a perfunctory manner. In Freud, Insight and Change (1988), Ilham Dilman now provides us with an exception to the rule. In the excerpt that follows below, Dilman “briefly review[s] the kinds of ostensible psychological problems for which people seek analytic psychotherapy.” At a future date I would like to discuss to what extent the “categories of problems” for which people seek psychoanalytic therapy amount to reasons that are the same as, different from, or overlap with, the reasons for which people may become intellectually and emotionally interested in, or spiritually and philosophically attracted, to Buddhism. Psychoanalysis is a therapy designed for certain forms of mental disturbance, disquiet or illness rooted in Western traditions of philosophy, psychology,... Continue reading
Posted May 21, 2018 at