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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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(This is the first in a planned series on the interrelated topics indicated in the title of this post.) “In The Claim of Reason [Oxford University Press, 1979: 125], Stanley Cavell imagines that a child ‘little or big, asks me Why do we eat animals? or Why are some people poor and others rich? or What is God? or Why do I have to go to school? or Do you love black people as much as white people? or Who owns the land? or Why is there anything at all? or How did God get here?’ and he goes on to describe confronting such questions—confronting them in a thoughtful way, as opposed to repeating ‘forgone conclusions’—as ‘a task that warrants the name of philosophy.’ ‘It is also the description of something we might call education,’ he adds. John Dewey would have certainly have applauded these words. Indeed, writing in 1915,... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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I’m sharing the following, sans substantive comment, from the beginning of Daniel R. DeNicola’s book, Understanding Ignorance: The Surprising Impact of What We Don’t Know (MIT Press, 2017): “In the familiar metaphor, our ignorance (whether individual or collective) is a vast, fathomless sea; our knowledge but a small, insecure island. Even the shoreline is uncertain: both the history of the human race and psychological research suggests that we know even less than we think we do. Indeed, our ignorance is extensive beyond our reckoning. [….] [Moreover,] [d]espite the spread of universal, compulsory education; despite new tools for learning and great advances of knowledge; despite the breathtaking increases in our ability to store, access, and share a super-abundance of information—ignorance flourishes. [….] [The sort of ubiquitous ignorance found] “in [our] ‘knowledge society’ during the ‘Information Age,’ … is what might be termed public ignorance, by which [is meant] widespread, reprehensible ignorance... Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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I have been reading about human nature and the notion of “self” (and selves) after being inspired by P.M.S. Hacker’s consecutive chapters on “the self and the body” and “the person” in Human Nature: The Categorial Framework (Blackwell, 2007), as well as several titles by Raymond Tallis. As a result, I’d like to share a list of books I’ve found helpful in thinking about human nature and personal identity. It is comparatively short, and I cannot claim it well represents the philosophical literature on these topics although several of the titles have, in fact, been very influential among professional philosophers. This compilation is therefore unabashedly idiosyncratic, yet I’m convinced its contents should be of help to anyone leisurely or systematically exploring questions of human nature and personal identity. Albahari, Miri. Analytical Buddhism: The Two-Tiered Illusion of Self (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). Cassam, Quassim, ed. Self-Knowledge. Oxford University Press, 1994. Duerlinger, James.... Continue reading
Posted Feb 2, 2018 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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In honor of Black History Month, I’m posting bibliographies germane to the observance and celebration of Black history, although some of these lists consider that history in global or cosmopolitan terms. Africana & African American Philosophy After Slavery & Reconstruction: The Black Struggle for Civil Rights, Freedom, and Equality in the U.S. Blacks and Food Justice: A Guide to Resources Blacks on the (Radical) Left The Black Panther Party Detroit: Labor & Industrialization, Race & Politics, Rebellion & Resurgence — A Select Bibliography Frantz Fanon—A Basic Reading Guide Pan-Africanism, Black Internationalism, & Black Cosmopolitanism Slavery South African Liberation Struggles Continue reading
Posted Feb 1, 2018 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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I first read J. David Velleman’s Self to Self: Selected Essays (Cambridge University Press, 2006) when it came out over ten years ago; reading it afresh leaves me far more impressed and moved by its arguments and insights. I used to discuss the chapter, “The Genesis of Shame” in my class on comparative world religions. It’s a moral and philosophical meditation on the Adam and Eve story in Genesis, which I thought gave the students a taste of what it means to look at religious narratives as (possibly) containing “interpretations” and “meanings” that stretch beyond those emphasized by adherents to a tradition or subscribers to a specific worldview (it was not intended to belittle or deny what those believers thought about this same material), much as we understand good literature to be “speaking” in some manner to all of us (of course we need not agree on what it is... Continue reading
Posted Jan 31, 2018 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, affectionately christened by his devotees and admirers “Mahātmā” Gandhi, was assassinated 70 years ago on this date in 1948. Please see Vinay Lal’s blog post, “Gandhi and His Assassins–Then and Now,” as well as the embedded link to his excellent article, “The Gandhi Everyone Loves to Hate,”* a snippet from which follows: [….] “My contention is that Gandhi furnishes no solace or anchor to those who are accustomed or inclined to view the world in Manichaean categories, and that one of the many reasons why Gandhi creates a profound uneasiness among the many constituencies which had to deal with him – Brahmins and Sudras, Sanatanists and Dalits, Indians and the English, Hindus and Muslims, liberals and Marxists, feminists and patriarchs, communalists and secularists, modernisers and traditionalists, developmentalists and ecologists, even militarists and pacifists – is that he came to embrace the idea of an open-ended conversation even... Continue reading
Posted Jan 30, 2018 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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On rare occasions I disagree with something written by P.M.S. Hacker (a philosopher who frequently swims against the current or is decidedly out of fashion). Here is one such instance. First, he notes correctly that “philosophers [this invariably refers to Western philosophers, but his observation is equally apt for those of Asian provenance as well] since antiquity have been plagued by the thought that illusions, hallucinations and dreams are (or can be) indistinguishable from veridical perception,” a fact that accounts for one of the roots of skepticism. But in his brief discussion of dreams, he claims that, “When one has a lucid dream, one dreams that one is dreaming.” I doubt things are so simple and clear-cut if only because of my own dream experiences (I’ll not here attempt to discuss supporting evidence from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition). For example, when on occasion I am in a dream that is... Continue reading
Posted Jan 29, 2018 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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Today is the birthday (97 yrs!) of Herbert Fingarette. The late Robert C. Solomon wrote that “Herbert Fingarette has long been one of the most original and provocative philosophers in America.” As a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara, I was a Teaching Assistant (TA) for Fingarette’s introductory course on Asian philosophies (with Mary I. Bockover, now a philosophy professor at Humboldt State University in norther California), the first graduate student from outside the Philosophy Dept. chosen to be a TA (I was downstairs in Religious Studies), owing to a recommendation (solicited by Fingarette) from Ninian Smart (whom I miss dearly), a fact I remain perversely proud of. Fingarette has penned philosophical works on a wide variety of subjects with remarkable clarity and insight, some of them now “classics” in their respective areas of inquiry (e.g., the books on self-deception, Confucius, and alcoholism). He struck me as uncommonly kind, at... Continue reading
Posted Jan 20, 2018 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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The following from the “Overture” to Raymond Tallis’s The Explicit Animal: A Defence of Human Consciousness (St. Martin’s Press, 1999; first edition, 1991) strikes me as an insufficiently recognized example of one dimension of the “principle of charity” in philosophy. As such, it is a more “globalized” conception of the principle, which is usually in reference to a “localized” application entailing the “maximization” of coherence, rationality, or truth of the specific arguments of one’s interlocutors (and of course the ‘global’ and ‘local’ dimensions are complementary), particularly if they are ambiguous, vague, or open to interpretation; thus one formulates the “best” or most generous construal of the argument” of one’s interlocutor before criticizing it or assessing its plausibility, soundness, or persuasiveness: “In the pages that follow, several books are subjected to repeated criticism. They include The Computer and the Mind by P.N. Johnson-Laird, Mindwaves edited by Colin Blakemore and Susan Greenfield,... Continue reading
Posted Jan 8, 2018 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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“An extreme expression of the faith of neuroscientism is the emergence of a so-called neuroaesthetics that looks to neuroscience to explain aesthetic experience. Neuroaesthetics has attracted adherents from many disciplines. Certain literary critics, musicologists, and art critics are excited by the idea that examination of the brain of a person enjoying a work of art will throw light on what art does, is, and means. Artists, they believe, are unconscious manipulators of our nervous systems, awakening particular regions of the cortex, or particular types of neurons, singly or in combination. I first became aware of neurological approaches to literature when I read a Commentary in the Times Literary Supplement by the novelist A.S. Byatt (TLS, Sept. 22, 2006). She argued, on the basis of theories advanced by the neuroscientist Pierre Changeux, that the particular pleasure associated with John Donne’s poems was due to syntactic structures which made them especially effective... Continue reading
Posted Jan 7, 2018 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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Apologia: “It has in recent years become fashionable to conceive of ourselves as the helpless products of our genes; free will and responsibility are commonly thought an illusion, to be displaced by genetic and neural determinism; and the theory of evolution in invoked to explain morality and altruism in terms of natural selection. Our affinity with other hominidae has become a subject of extensive research, often aimed at cutting us down to size. The prowess of the great apes is exaggerated, often in order to narrow the perceived gap between animals and us. This development in the Zeitgeist is sadly understandable, but unwarranted [Lest somebody is tempted to draw the wrong inference: this is not, however, the principal motivation of animal ethicists or those hoping to widen and extend our sense of care and concern for our animal brothers and sisters … or cousins. There need be no necessary connection... Continue reading
Posted Jan 5, 2018 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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Last week at the blog of the European Journal of International Law, EJIL: Talk!, there was—for yours truly at any rate—an intriguing and inspiring roundtable on the second edition of Professor B.S. Chimni’s International Law and World Order: A Critique of Contemporary Approaches (Cambridge University Press, 2nd ed., 2017). Below I’ve provided brief excerpts from the posts of the four contributors (I’ve not included my comments to a couple of the posts), although one should read Professor Chimni’s concluding response in full as well by way of a taste of the book and its overarching argument, which might be called, “Toward an Integrated Marxist Approach to International Law.” Duly inspired and motivated by the roundtable, and having read a bit in the relevant literature (which means I’m far from a mastery of same), I decided to put together a bibliography related to Chimni’s work as well as the theoretical and... Continue reading
Posted Jan 1, 2018 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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A preliminary syllabus for exploring and perhaps delineating the contours of individual and shared (or ‘collective’) responsibility: Baehr, Jason. The Inquiring Mind: On Intellectual Virtues & Virtue Epistemology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Baier, Annette C. Reflections on How We Live. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Cane, Peter and John Gardner, eds. Relating to Responsibility (Essays for Tony Honoré on his Eightieth Birthday) Oxford, UK: Hart Publishing, 2001. Bilgrami, Akeel. Self-Knowledge and Resentment. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006. Chatterjee, Deen K., ed. The Ethics of Assistance: Morality and the Distant Needy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Coady, C.A.J. Messy Morality: The Challenge of Politics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Cullity, Garrett. The Moral Demands of Affluence. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Dalrymple, Theodore. Romancing Opiates: Pharmacological Lies and the Addiction Bureaucracy. New York: Encounter Books, 2006. DeNicholas, Daniel R. Understanding Ignorance: The Surprising Impact... Continue reading
Posted Dec 30, 2017 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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Wassily Kandinsky, “Bustling Aquarelle” (1923) Even creatures immersed in and obsessed by amour-propre, or constitutionally prone to self-deception and the deception of others, to chronic wishful thinking and prolonged states of denial, to bouts of anger and despair, even we need small victories, however episodic and evanescent … along with symbols or portents of change and hope, however ambiguous or fragile; tokens and symbols of possibility and progress, however obscure or tentative; beacons on the horizon, however faint and distant; models of emulation, however contingent or imperfect; dreams and wishes, however surreal and unreal; desires and expectations, however inchoate or presumptuous; all surrounded by and interrupted and suffused with moments of pure silence, with occasional if not assiduous observing and witnessing, with daily chores and tasks, with attentive acts of loving and helping, sharing and caring, with spontaneous acts of performing and playing; all the while striving to think and... Continue reading
Posted Dec 13, 2017 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
Background Fact: The recent GOP tax bill “rammed through the Senate” in the middle of the night (technically, early morning) is “filled with perks for America’s wealthiest individuals and largest corporations, many of them paid for by closing loopholes that benefit middle-class people. By 2027, the top one-fifth of earners would receive 90 percent of the tax bill’s benefits, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.” Repeat a lie enough in public, and you (the liar) may come to believe it (whether recipient members of the public come to believe it as well may be an open question, but it appears that at least some of them do). This possibility has been discussed and explained by Jon Elster as exemplifying the wider psychological phenomenon of “deliberate misrepresentation and unconscious but motivated transmutation” and assumes that “people are capable of keeping their private beliefs and their publicly professed... Continue reading
Posted Dec 3, 2017 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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It happened this way in Germany, Cambodia, Rwanda, and countless other sites of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and mass persecution. The pamphlets, megaphones, and radio broadcasts came before the pogroms, murders, and forced relocations. And today, we have even more effective ways to reach millions of people at a time, as the president’s more than 43 million followers on Twitter can attest; the established media only magnify his reach.—Daniel Altman* As Larry May explains in his book, Genocide: A Normative Account (Cambridge University Press, 2010), “[i]n international law, genocide has a specialized meaning that is not necessarily consonant with that of the public’s understanding of genocide, because it includes acts that do not involve mass killing.” To wit: Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a)... Continue reading
Posted Dec 1, 2017 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
Assuming, as I think we should, that Trump egregiously displays all of the standard symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) or, simply, pathological narcissism, we should begin to direct more attention, anger, disgust, impatience, and the available means of persuasion toward members of Congress who, by their silence and inaction (with very few exceptions to this generalization), are now absolutely complicit and thus individually and collectively responsible for his behavior in office, including the myriad harmful consequences that directly and indirectly follow therefrom. It is not likely that Trump will experience, without therapeutic intervention, spontaneous remission of his mental illness, which means he will continue to exhibit a conspicuous inability to distinguish facts and reality from wishful thinking and illusions (perhaps occasional delusions as well), which means he will continue to lack a disposition to truth, indeed, he will continue to shamelessly lie (and lack any sense of guilt for... Continue reading
Posted Nov 30, 2017 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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In Alchemies of the Mind: Rationality and the Emotions (Cambridge University Press, 1999), Jon Elster notes two psychological assumptions we routinely hold: “that depressed people tend to believe that things are worse than they in fact are and that those in more exuberant moods tend to believe they are better.” Elster believes the second clause after the conjunction is valid, while the former clause “is probably wrong,” a conclusion based largely on “striking psychological findings over the past fifteen years:” “[T]he only persons who are capable of taking an unbiased view of the world are the depressed. They are ‘sadder but wiser,” a research finding we can classify as “depressive realism” theory. While Elster characterizes the aforementioned experimental findings as “far from final,” he understandably sees them as robust, according them presumptive truth. Elster highlights some typical findings within this theory: “In experiments designed to test subjects’ understanding of their... Continue reading
Posted Nov 30, 2017 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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Is there a difference between “jealousy” and “envy?” It seems we often use these terms interchangeably but some have thought or argued that they’re not quite the same. When we discussed the parable of the “prodigal son” in my class, I asked the students if the “older brother” was feeling jealousy or envy (or possibly both?!), or if the distinction was at all meaningful. Most students believed these terms were different words for the same emotion. I was inclined to argue otherwise. In any case, and apropos of the material I’m reading, consider La Rochefoucauld: “Jealousy is in some measure just and reasonable (raisonnable), since it merely aims at keeping something that belongs to us or we think belongs to us, whereas envy is a frenzy (fureur) that cannot bear anything that belongs to others.” Aaron Ben-Ze’ev says the meaning of these two terms overlap and that “some languages do... Continue reading
Posted Nov 24, 2017 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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I was quite moved upon reading the following passage yesterday from Vincent Geoghegan’s persuasive and profound book, Utopianism and Marxism (Methuen, 1987): “In moments of despair [Rosa] Luxemburg was driven to conceive of happiness in terms of a rejection of politics: ‘I cursed the damn “politics” that stopped me from answering father’s and mother’s letters for weeks on end. I never had time for them because of those world-shaking problems…. And my hate turned against you because you chained me to the accursed politics…. Yesterday I was almost ready to give up, once and for all, the goddamn politics (or rather the bloody parody of our ‘political’ life) and let the whole world go to hell. Politics is inane Baal worship, driving people—victims of their obsession, of mental rabies—to sacrifice their entire existence.’ Part of this is clearly the inevitable degree of hardship and sweat associated with any conceivable form... Continue reading
Posted Nov 11, 2017 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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To date, and rather surprisingly given the violent (and non-violent) struggles of oppressed peoples around our planet in the twentieth century, those who specialize in normative political theory and the ethics of war (or just war theory) have had precious little to say, at least in any systematic or theoretical sense, about what constitutes a “legitimate, armed, non-terrorist resistance to oppression” (in particular, when such oppression takes the form of violence by the state), in other words, “what are the moral rules or constraints and parameters of justifiable armed resistance and revolution?” Christopher J. Finlay’s book, Terrorism and the Right to Resist: A Theory of Just Revolutionary War (Cambridge University Press, 2015), addresses these questions by providing us, in the words of one reviewer, with “a lucid, persuasive and comprehensive extension of revisionary just war theory to cases of resistant violence.” The morality of revolutionary war is given a fair... Continue reading
Posted Nov 10, 2017 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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In the political domain … acts of knowing and persuading rested upon wise use of the Odes. … [I]n any social gathering, true virtuosi of the Odes, whether male or female, could safely express their innermost feelings without fear of offending others. (Early traditions attributed a number of odes to women.) [….] Regarded as the product of suitable emotions aroused in the singer, the odes served as a versatile rhetorical tool by which to arouse sympathetic emotions in audiences public or privileged, lettered or unlettered. Just as the odes taught that skillful and rewarding relations depend on a proper appreciation of the objects deserving admiration, so the deeper pleasures available to humans—self-knowledge, friendship, sexual pleasure, and connoisseurship—relied on an extraordinary capacity to cultivate in oneself and others the desire for more refined social interplay. In the end, the ethical followers of Confucius claimed this province of ordinary human interaction, with... Continue reading
Posted Nov 5, 2017 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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All descriptive, explanatory, and normative language is, in one (I hope) nontrivial sense, “anthropocentric.” Indeed, language itself is anthropomorphic by definition, even if it need not be strongly anthropocentric (as in concepts of impartiality, objectivity and truth, for example, or in scientific endeavors to understand the natural world). Poets, philosophers and scientists, as well as the rest of us, depend on human language to communicate, and thus we are necessarily implicated in anthropomorphic and often anthropocentric expressions, conceptualizations, and characterizations or, at the very least, anthropomorphic presuppositions, assumptions and presumptions. Even the “deepest” ecologist and the most devoted Daoist cannot free themselves from, or avoid the constraints of, anthropomorphism. Consider, for instance, the latter: although the Daodejing of the Daoist—one of the most exquisitely profound expressions of classical Chinese philosophy—includes many (evocative) suggestions or “imperatives” to follow (literally and figuratively) the course or order of nature, it too is unavoidably... Continue reading
Posted Oct 30, 2017 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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I rarely read biographies (for several reasons not worthy of your time), but I’ve just begun Linda Hamalian’s A Life of Kenneth Rexroth (W.W. Norton & Co., 1991), largely favorable reviews of which I recall when it first appeared. Just a few pages in and so far, so good. It’s little gems like this which will hold my attention: “In their Bohemian moods, the Rexroths [Kenneth’s parents, Charles and Delia] entertained circus performers and burlesque artists, but with their family background of political activism, they also sought out the company of social reformers. By Rexroth’s account, Charles’s father [Kenneth’s grandfather], George, was a descendant from the Schwenkfeldians, the German Pietist sect that originated in the sixteenth century. George Rexroth, a plumber, voted the Socialist ticket and called himself an anarchist. He was apparently a friend of Eugene Debs, founder of the Social Democratic Party [only one of many notable accomplishments],... Continue reading
Posted Oct 28, 2017 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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My latest bibliography is on Radical Catholicism (The Catholic Worker Movement, Liberation Theology...). It is available at either Academia.edu or ResearchGate. Here is the introduction: Some of these titles are outside Catholicism proper although the forms of Protestant Christianity they exemplify have much in common (as recognized by the respective members of the concerned parties) with Catholic radicalism. I included a few of these works if only to avoid the impression that Catholicism has a monopoly on this Christian mode of religious radicalism! Like most of my bibliographies, this one has two principal constraints: books, in English. And it is intended to be representative (thus not exhaustive) of the literature. [And no, I am not a sales representative for Orbis Books.] You should be able to access all of my bibliographies, listed below, at these two sites. Africana & African American Philosophy After Slavery & Reconstruction: The Black Struggle for... Continue reading
Posted Oct 26, 2017 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com