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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
As one might infer from several recent posts, I’ve been learning as much as I can of late about one of the best known (and rightly so) African-American painters, Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000). As it happens to be Sunday, I thought to share one of Lawrence’s later series of paintings (gouache on paper), Eight Studies for the Book of Genesis (1989) (below: ‘Genesis Creation Sermon’ series). In part, I’m also compensating for the fact that, teaching a course on “world religions” in a philosophy department, I have precious little opportunity to discuss (let alone show examples of) religious art (exceptions being a few words on Eastern Orthodox icons owing to the debate between iconodules and iconoclasts; Islamic calligraphy; and Buddhist stupas). The images here are courtesy of the “The Walter O. Evans Collection of African American Art” at The SCAD Museum of Art, associated with The Savannah College of Art and... Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at
I’m reading Kimberley Brownlee’s Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience (Oxford University Press, 2012) by way of taking a brief break from Jonathan Israel (!) and so as to say some halfway intelligent or at least provocative things in a forthcoming blog post about civil disobedience. I think the book is quite good (‘thank God’ for ceteris paribus clauses and universal pro tanto moral judgments). Here’s a taste: In her analysis of “sincere moral conviction” by way of the “communicative principle of conscientiousness,” Brownlee claims four conditions for acceptance and proper appreciation of this principle, in short: consistency, universality, non-evasion, and dialogic. In a discussion of the “non-evasion” condition, she states that “It requires that we bear the risk of honouring our convictions, which means that we do not seek to evade the consequences and, in some cases, take positive action to support our convictions. It is through... Continue reading
Posted Jan 21, 2015 at
In support of assumptions regarding the “alterability (and redeemability) of people” in her philosophically important book, Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience (2012), Kimberley Brownlee quotes a passage from Avishai Margalit (The Decent Society, 1996) in a footnote: ‘Even if there are noticeable differences among people to change, they are deserving of respect for the very possibility of changing. Even the worst criminals are worthy of basic human respect for the very possibility that they may radically evaluate their past lives and, if they are given the opportunity, may live the rest of their lives in a worthy manner….’ There is always a chance, writes Margalit , ‘no matter how small, that she will repent.’ I agree with Margalit—and Brownlee—on this score, and further believe that this possibility is an assumption or presupposition (perhaps ‘buried’ in the form of an unrecognized or under-appreciated premise) of some human rights... Continue reading
Posted Jan 20, 2015 at
Harriet and the Promised Land, No. 10 (1967) I like to think I’ve expanded my interest to include not just the Negro theme but man generally and maybe if this speaks through the Negro I think this is valid also…. I would like to think of it as dealing with all people, the struggle of man to always better his condition and to move forward…. I think all people aspire, all people strive towards a better human condition, a better mental condition generally.—Jacob Lawrence Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) (1966) In perhaps a non-standard way of honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I’m posting some (images of) art works by one of my favorite artists, Jacob Lawrence (September 7, 1917 – June 9, 2000): “Lawrence is one of the first American artists trained in and by the black community in Harlem, and it is from the people of Harlem that he... Continue reading
Posted Jan 19, 2015 at
Secularism was central to the American Enlightenment as well, hence the institutional separation of church and state as found in the Establishment clause in the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment. The Free Exercise Clause is arguably also part of that secularism (more in theory than in praxis). Secularism in most senses need not mean or imply "non-religious" (e.g., see Jose Casanova's Public Religions in the Modern World. University of Chicago Press, 1994)
I thought it should go without saying, but the attempt at explanation of why someone behaves a certain way (at the individual level, what motivates action) is not equivalent in any way to a defense of the proposed reasons that motivate an actor and that are part of said explanation, nor does it amount to any sort of apology (or ‘excuse’) for the behavior under examination. Rather, it helps those on the outside looking in, as it were, to make sense—insofar as we can make sense—of such behavior (along the lines of ‘nothing human is foreign to me’). So, for example, when a FB friend linked to a speech by Egypt’s president Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi calling for a “revolution” within Islam, I wrote the following: He’s a tyrant, in large measure responsible for crushing the Revolution (such as it was) in Egypt, evidencing no respect for legal due procedure or basic... Continue reading
Posted Jan 11, 2015 at
Here is a comparatively short compilation (hence ‘essential reading’) on “Social Security and the Welfare State.” Continue reading
Posted Jan 10, 2015 at
It seems we need an intervention from outside the mathematical community, perhaps a janitor at MIT, like Will Hunting.
“In a world which recognized the phenomenological truth of the body, the existential truth of freedom, the Marxist truth of exploitation, and the human truth of the bond, the derogatory category of the Other would be eradicated. Neither the aged nor women, nor anyone by virtue of their race, class, ethnicity or religion would find themselves rendered inessential. Beauvoir knows that it is too much to hope for such a world. She understands the lures of domination and violence. Throughout her career, however, she used philosophical and literary tools to reveal the possibilities of such a world and appealed to us to work for it.”—Debra Bergoffen, at the conclusion of her entry on Beauvoir in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Today is the birthday of Simone de Beauvoir (9 January 1908 – 14 April 1986), so I wanted to share something from the archives of Ratio Juris I posted several... Continue reading
Posted Jan 9, 2015 at
For what it's worth, I second the two comments above about the value of bringing "Bertrand Russell's the big screen," especially in light of his family life, "social vision," and political activism (although one hopes Ray Monk would not be the primary source for material!).
Marcus Aurelius has appeared in a couple of films, but I'd like to see a movie about Cicero. We _might_ want to distinguish between Enlightenment philosophes and philosophers proper (the former including what today we refer to as public intellectuals and thus broader in scope than the latter class), in any case, I think Nicolas de Condorcet would be an ideal subject for film, including his remarkable wife and salon hostess, Madame de Condorcet. There's plenty of biographical material to attempt a movie (or separate movies) about the lives, loves, and philosophical views of de Beauvoir and Sartre (Camus could come into the picture as well!), perhaps by focusing on a particular period, say, the war years, or the '60s. To the extent one considers Václav Havel a philosopher, his life and views (with nods toward Jan Patočka...) would be ideal for the screen . I enjoyed the film "Iris" about Iris Murdoch, but if I recall correctly, it did not convey her philosophical views in any significant degree.
“In Marx’s analysis, the growing destruction of nature under capitalism is not simply a function of nature having become an object for humanity; rather, it is primarily a result of the sort of object that nature has become. Raw materials and products, according to Marx, are bearers of value in capitalism, in addition to being constituent elements of material wealth. Capital produces material wealth as a means of creating value. Hence, it consumes material wealth not only as the stuff of material wealth but also as a means of fueling its own self-expansion—that is, as a means of effecting the extraction and absorption of as much surplus labor time from the working population as possible. Ever increasing amounts of raw materials must be consumed even though the result is not a corresponding increase in the social form of surplus wealth (surplus value). The relation of humans and nature mediated by... Continue reading
Posted Jan 5, 2015 at
My latest bibliography on “sullied (natural and social) sciences” is here. From the introduction: This compilation endeavors to help us appreciate where, when, how, and (especially if only hopefully) why the practice of science has gone (or is in danger of going) awry, egregiously failing to modestly conform to or at least sufficiently approach our ideal or best conceptions or models of what constitutes science as a form of intellectual inquiry and field of knowledge praxis. Not unrelated to this aim, is the desire to provide titles that enable one to better understand the pitfalls of “scientism,” as well as arrive at a nuanced if not sophisticated grasp of the methodological distinctions between the natural and social sciences (without assuming the former are ‘hard’ and the latter are ‘soft,’ in effect, failing to properly emulate the most putative exemplar of the former, namely, physics). I share the late John Ziman’s... Continue reading
Posted Jan 2, 2015 at
Yet more vintage Elster: “…[W]ith respect to an important subset of the emotions we can learn more from moralists, novelists, and playwrights than from the cumulative findings of scientific psychology. These emotions include regret, relief, hope, disappointment, shame, guilt, pridefulness, pride,* hybris, envy, jealousy, malice, pity, indignation, wrath, hatred, contempt, joy, grief, and romantic love. By contrast, the scientific study of the emotions can teach us a great deal about anger, fear, disgust, parental love, and sexual desire (if we count the last two as emotions). [….] I believe…that prescientific insights into the emotion are not simply superseded by modern psychology in the way that natural philosophy has been superseded by physics. Some men and women in the past have been superb students of human nature, with more wide-ranging personal experience, better powers of observation, and deeper intuitions than almost any psychologist I can think of. This is only what... Continue reading
Posted Dec 28, 2014 at
Jacob Lawrence, The Migration Series, Panel No. 1 (1940–41) —“In an article on the organization of leisure, Harold Wilensky traces what he calls ‘the compensatory leisure hypothesis’ and ‘the spillover leisure hypothesis’ back to Engels’ work The Conditions of the Working-Class in England in 1844.* The first states that the worker who is alienated at work compensates by active and energetic leisure activities; the second that ‘he develops a spillover leisure routine in which alienation from work becomes alienation from life; the mental stultification produced by his labour permeates his leisure.’ …[W]e may ask whether a conjunction of the two mechanisms might not offer a more satisfactory account than either of them taken separately.”—Jon Elster (Indeed!) * The article (which one can find online): H. Wilensky, “Work, Careers, and Social Integration,” International Social Science Journal 12 (1960): 543-560. —Among the individuals I’ve come to rely on for an understanding of... Continue reading
Posted Dec 27, 2014 at
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!