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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
Robert Kuttner, “Blaming Liberalism,” a review of Patrick J. Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed (Yale University Press, 2018; paperback edition, with new preface, 2019), The New York Review of Books, November 21, 2019 (Vol. LXVI, No. 18) This, in my judgment, is essential reading for avowed Leftists if only because intellectually feeble, philosophically obtuse, and politically perilous jeremiads against “Liberalism” will not cure what environmentally, socially and economically ails us (one reason I agree with the bulk of this review essay by Kuttner of Patrick J. Deenen’s book). If socialists fail to sufficiently parse the history of Liberalism so as to identify its intrinsic virtues for democratic theory and praxis, we will be left with the post-harvest husk of democracy. There is, no doubt, this and that to criticize in the Liberal tradition (for instance, when its erstwhile defenders stray far from its political soil into the murky waters of metaphysics,... Continue reading
Posted Nov 6, 2019 at
Miscellaneous material, comments and musings (in no particular order): “The Birth of Chicano Studies” by Sandy Banks for California State University Los Angeles Magazine A review in MERIP of Julie Peteet, Space and Mobility in Palestine (Indiana University Press, 2017) “Left with nothing.” “On the day Bennie Coleman lost his house, the day armed U.S. marshals came to his door and ordered him off the property, he slumped in a folding chair across the street and watched the vestiges of his 76 years hauled to the curb. Movers carted out his easy chair, his clothes, his television. Next came the things that were closest to his heart: his Marine Corps medals and photographs of his dead wife, Martha. The duplex in Northeast Washington that Coleman bought with cash two decades earlier was emptied and shuttered. By sundown, he had nowhere to go. All because he didn’t pay a $134 property... Continue reading
Posted Oct 24, 2019 at
“President Trump said Monday that a limited number of U.S. troops will remain in Syria to man a garrison on the southern border with Jordan and ‘to secure the oil’ elsewhere in the country. ‘I don’t think it’s necessary, other than we secure the oil,’ Trump said of the U.S. military presence. ‘We need to secure the oil.’ A ‘small number of troops’ would also remain in southern Syria at the request of Israel and Jordan, he added in remarks to reporters at a meeting of his Cabinet in Washington. The decision to leave more than 20 percent of the U.S. force in Syria behind was the second time in less than a year that Trump announced a complete withdrawal, only to walk it back under heavy bipartisan criticism from lawmakers and disquiet within his own administration.” Comment: With regard to what we charitably describe as “foreign policy,” President Trump’s... Continue reading
Posted Oct 22, 2019 at
Some understood this from the beginning; others came to the conclusion after watching Trump in office after a few months; yet others cut him more slack, according him the benefit of doubt in a manner that made transparent their gullibility (a twinge of doubt aroused by his reckless decision to abandon the Kurdish forces and people in Syria); while a remaining and appalling number of intransigent if not hysterical Republicans—in the wake of overwhelming historical, behavioral, empirical, and legal evidence that in a rational world would change their minds—continue to support a would-be authoritarian or even despotic but unequivocally undemocratic President who could neither pass a 6th grade civics test (of yesteryear) nor articulate a coherent conception of what it means to live in a constitutional democracy: Donald Trump is a deadly parasite on the body politic. Mutually reinforcing and debilitating psychological processes and phenomena operate on both sides of... Continue reading
Posted Oct 17, 2019 at
The Cuban Revolution of 1959 was one of the most profound revolutions in Latin American history—in many ways more profound than the nineteenth-century wars for independence, which, despite the enormous human and military destruction, and despite the winning of political independence, did not overturn the structures of Latin American society. The Cuban revolution was part of the worldwide anticolonial and revolutionary ferment that followed World War II. The post-Stalinist, Third World revolutionary Marxism that it helped to define was also a factor in the emergence of a youthful New Left in Europe and the United States. — The The Cuba Reader: History, Culture, Politics, edited by Aviv Chomsky, Barry Carr, Alfredo Prieto, and Pamela Maria Smorkaloff (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2nd ed., 2019): 309 I recently posted my latest bibliography for the Cuban Revolution (26 July 1953 – 1 January 1959). It will be my last compilation so as... Continue reading
Posted Oct 14, 2019 at
One of Trump’s tweets from yesterday: “As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!). They must, with Europe and others, watch over ....” If this is not a tipping point for those unwilling or reluctant to conclude that Trump is mentally or psychologically unfit for office, nothing will be. His remaining obdurate public supporters can only be deeply ensnared in the muck and mire of denial, self-deception and wishful thinking, psychological armour and blinders they share with his Republican Party lackeys, bootlickers and sycophants in his administration and Congress, who in addition are bereft of moral backbone and ethical integrity, performing their grotesquely inane public defenses of Trump’s behavior as mere apparitions of politicians in a would-be democracy,... Continue reading
Posted Oct 8, 2019 at
“ … [T]he illegitimately and sometimes insanely, extended misuse of the term ‘information’ is absolutely pivotal to establishing the conceptual confusions necessary to the seeming fruitfulness and explanatory power of much modern thought about the mind and the brain [in philosophy, evolutionary psychology, and cognitive science, for example]—and ourselves. This converges in the computational theory of mind [this can be traced back to the early work of Hilary Putnam, and becomes particularly influential with the philosophical work of the late Jerry Fodor and the writings of the philosopher and cognitive scientist, Daniel Dennett, and is well popularized by the linguist and cognitive psychologist, Stephen Pinker]. By playing on different meanings of ‘information’ and transferring epithets like a volleyball [across several nets], it is possible to argue that minds, brains, organisms, various artefacts such as computers and even non-living thermodynamic systems are all information-processing devices. Because they are deemed to be... Continue reading
Posted Oct 2, 2019 at
One of the few times Trump has spoken the truth occurred when he admitted he would do nothing about (alleged) climate change (about which, of course, he is appallingly ignorant, of a piece with his inexcusable ignorance of science or indeed about any field of organized inquiry and knowledge as represented, for example, by the natural and social sciences) if that meant affecting corporate profits (and the avaricious accumulation of money and wealth generally). So, even when he is honest, we get a frightening glimpse into his manifestly irrational and a-rational beliefs and the workings of his mind, a mind long mired in denial, self-deception, and wishful thinking, exacerbated so as to cause a surfeit of all manner of harms, given his narcissistic megalomania (or exemplification of all—or virtually all—of the diagnostic symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder), rendering his beliefs in the form of phantasies, illusions, and delusions. This is... Continue reading
Posted Sep 6, 2019 at
So, let me ask, what is knowledge of human beings? How does it enter into our understanding of ourselves and others as individuals? Can it be acquired by scientific observation, and does it have the kind of generality, precision, and objectivity characteristic of science? Wittgenstein asks: can one learn this knowledge? Let me quote his very brief answer: ‘Yes; some can. Not, however, by taking a course in it, but through “experience”—Can someone else be man’s teacher in this? Certainly. From time to time he gives him the right tip.—This is what “learning” and “teaching” are like here.—What one acquires here is not a technique; one learns correct judgments. There are also rules, but they do not form a system, and only experienced people can apply them right. Unlike calculating-rules.’ The experience which Wittgenstein has in mind is the kind one has in living one’s own life. It refers to... Continue reading
Posted Sep 5, 2019 at
Several times a year I post an updated list of the bibliographies available on my Academia page (the start of the school year for many being one of those times). I have also included a separate list of my writing on a variety of topics as well as the “study guides” for several religious worldviews I used to give to my students. All of the material is in alphabetical order on the site, save the study guides, which are found at the bottom of the page. Transdisciplinary Perspectives on Addiction Africana & African American Philosophy After Slavery & Reconstruction: The Black Struggle for Civil Rights, Freedom, and Equality in the U.S. Salvador Allende and the Quest for Socialism R. Ambedkar American Indian Law (this list goes considerably beyond ‘law’) Samir Amin (3 September 1931 - 12 August 2018) Analogy & Metaphor Anarchism: Philosophy & Praxis Animal Ethics, Rights, and Law... Continue reading
Posted Aug 27, 2019 at
“That there can be unconscious knowledge at all and the recognition of the great importance of unconscious knowing in mental life, together constitute one of the most basic assumptions of psychoanalytic theory. However, from the philosophical viewpoint most modern epistemologists [and most contemporary work in philosophy of mind] have contended that belief, rather than knowledge, is the most fundamental mental attitude.” In Unconscious Knowing and Other Essays in Psycho-Philosophical Analysis (Oxford University Press, 2010), Linda A.W. Brakel discusses and analyzes the epistemic and ontological priority given to notions of true belief, in particular “justified true belief,” hence the dominant philosophical view in which knowledge is explained in terms of belief, belief being “maintained as the foundational attitude, conceptually prior to knowledge.” Invoking in part the philosopher Timothy Williamson’s Knowledge and Its Limits (Oxford University Press, 2000), Brakel argues for a “radical epistemic view,” namely, that knowledge “comes first, conceptually and... Continue reading
Posted Aug 19, 2019 at
Linda A.W. Brakel, who by training and profession is both a psychoanalyst and a philosopher, demonstrates how this particular combination can yield important insights that uniquely benefit psychoanalytic theory and therapy as well as philosophy. Philosophically her work is on par with such stellar exemplars in the philosophical examination of psychoanalysis as Marcia Cavell, Ilham Dilman, Sebastian Gardner, Jonathan Lear, A.O. Rorty, Richard Wollheim, Jon Mills, Tomas Pataki, and John Wisdom, among others. In what follows I highlight some aspects of one of several incisive and compelling arguments in her book, Philosophy, Psychoanalysis, and the A-Rational Mind (Oxford University Press, 2009). This has to do with her conceptual distinction between “desires” and “wishes” (a distinction Freud himself failed to make), one result of which is her contribution to making sense of, if not solving, the akratic or “weakness of will” problem (i.e., acting against one’s better judgment) in philosophy. As... Continue reading
Posted Aug 16, 2019 at
Jesus’ teaching on poverty and wealth was anchored in the Scriptures, in particular, it shared with Psalms and the Prophets the key idea that God was somehow on the side of the poor. At the same time, however, Jesus’ message about the dangers of wealth was radical and provocative at the time (and of course remains so two millennia later). — Ann Wierzbicka, What Did Jesus Mean? (Oxford University Press, 2001): 385 From Meagan Day’s article, “A Grift From God,” Jacobin (10 August 2019): “The prosperity gospel is a movement within American Christianity, also known as the Word of Faith, that says God wants you to be rich, but you have to will his financial blessing into being. Forty percent of Evangelicals are taught the prosperity gospel, according to which the root cause of poverty is faithlessness. [….] Prosperity gospel ministers don’t usually stop at urging positive thinking. To manifest... Continue reading
Posted Aug 10, 2019 at
Prison offers, curiously, a time to make art, with men on life sentences sometimes being the most serious about developing their craft. Boredom also assures the motivation of Tobola’s poets: ‘Unlike my college students, who were required to take composition, my inmate students came to class because they wanted to learn.’ But the book also raises questions about creative work, its potential and its limits. A prison classroom or theater is a crucible, a lab for working out what art can do when separated from economies of grants, sales, and prestige. Art is a form of resistance. It is an attempt to maintain one’s humanity and individuality even while wearing a uniform and tagged with a number. Art builds community. As any reader of prison or internment camp memoirs knows, the creation of art in captivity does not require an official program. In moments of crisis, people instinctively draw on... Continue reading
Posted Aug 5, 2019 at
Now Dayton, Ohio: it makes one think these mass shootings are somehow planned, but I am not sure (sans compelling evidence) they are coordinated, perhaps arising out of acts of conspiracy, except, as it were, social psychologically (one act, inspiring another, and so forth), but it is clearly white supremacist, xenophobic nationalism (a variety of fascism) that is ideologically behind the wheel. And it is indeed, homegrown terrorism. Let’s be emphatic about this, the President of the U.S. is at least indirectly—thus not legally but morally because politically—culpable owing to his xenophobic and racist rhetoric at campaign speeches, in interviews, and on Twitter. He is using the “bully pulpit” (in part and by implication, in Theodore Roosevelt’s sense to ‘exhort, instruct, or inspire,’ but the adjective no longer means ‘excellent’ or ‘first-rate’ but rather is in the degrading and ugly spirit of its contemporary meaning as both a noun and... Continue reading
Posted Aug 4, 2019 at
Linda A.W. Brakel provides us with an amusing illustration of the dynamic (i.e., psychologically meaningful) unconscious (as one of the three principal assumptions of psychoanalysis): “Take a very common sort of slip of the tongue I experienced. I was in the backyard calling my husband whom I saw to be occupied with some yard activity. He did not respond, a fact that did not surprise me as much as the realization that I was using our dog’s name to call him, not my husband’s. I laughed. Now, the names Art and Jet are not dissimilar—and that was a physical cause of the slip; but why would I (a neurologically intact person) confuse my husband’s name with that of our dog’s? This slip of the tongue seems neither psychologically lawful nor determined until we posit a dynamic unconscious cause of this commonplace psychological event. My husband, whom I love, seemed to... Continue reading
Posted Jul 31, 2019 at
From “The Problem of Mindfulness” by Sahanika Ratnayakeis for Aeon: “In claiming to offer a multipurpose, multi-user remedy for all occasions, mindfulness oversimplifies the difficult business of understanding oneself. It fits oh-so-neatly into a culture of techno-fixes, easy answers and self-hacks, where we can all just tinker with the contents of our heads to solve problems, instead of probing why we’re so dissatisfied with our lives in the first place. As I found with my own experience, though, it’s not enough to simply watch one’s thoughts and feelings. To understand why mindfulness is uniquely unsuited for the project of real self-understanding, we need to probe the suppressed assumptions about the self that are embedded in its foundations. [….] With the no-self doctrine [P. anatta/S. anātman], we relinquish not only more familiar understandings of the self, but also the idea that mental phenomena such as thoughts and feelings are our own.... Continue reading
Posted Jul 28, 2019 at
The simplistic binaries that frame conversations of Palestinian armed struggle evoke the condescension expressed by colonial overloads toward the resistance of indigenous peoples. ‘Palestinians have a culture of hate,’ commentators blast on American TV screens. ‘They are a people who celebrate death.’ These familiar accusations, quick to roll off tongues, are both highly effective at framing public discourse and insulting as racist epithets. On the other end of the spectrum, I recalled conversations with Europeans and Palestinians who critiqued my reference to Palestinian armed struggle as ‘violence.’ They saw this framing as a form of condemnation [as if Liberal Capitalist Democracies never resort to such violence!], casting armed struggle in a negative light [like the French and American Revolutions?!]. Support of the rifle, they argued, was not only comprehensible and dignified, but necessary. It was the only way to secure Palestinian rights against a murderous and unrelenting occupation. [….] The... Continue reading
Posted Jul 23, 2019 at
Westerners are today shy of admitting how often magic trumps logic in their thinking. But the trauma of war lays bare essential human truths. Public discourse during the Great War – in books, newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, letters, manifestos and almanacs – was merely the visible expression of fear, anxiety, horror, rage and grief. After 1918 magic was no longer just an emanation from the cosmos, but something inside the self, closer to the unconscious and subconscious states around which psychology and psychiatry would build new ways of understanding how people survive. — From the conclusion to Malcolm Gaskill’s review, “Ministry of Apparitions,” of Owen Davies’ book, A Supernatural War: Magic, Divination and Faith during the First World War (Oxford University Press, 2019), in the London Review of Books, Vol. 41 No. 13, 4 July 2019. For an entertaining critique of New Age magical thinking and affectations, the episode “Quickie Nirvana”... Continue reading
Posted Jul 12, 2019 at
“‘The Stars and Stripes Forever’ is a patriotic American march written and composed by John Philip Sousa, widely considered to be his magnum opus. By a 1987 act of the U.S. Congress, it is the official National March of the United States of America.” Having for the first time read the lyrics to this American march song (which, it seems, are not well known), I could not help but be struck by the tones of nationalistic and militarist triumphalism, the sort of stuff that encourages dangerous phantasies, wishful thinking, and illusions (not the least of which are incarnate in the Military-Industrial Complex or ‘Pentagon of Power’ and an unsustainable defense budget that trumps domestic needs or public welfare and well-being, i.e., the common good), both individual and collective. It meshes well with Trump’s pathological narcissism (‘narcissistic personality disorder’1), political paranoia, xenophobic nationalism, and megalomania, and is aptly symbolized by the... Continue reading
Posted Jul 5, 2019 at
It is well attested, in the words of Leo Rangell’s introduction to Otto M. Fenichel’s The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (W.W. Norton & Co., 1996, first published in 1945),* that [a]fter Freud’s death, it was Fenichel, in effect, who collated the Freudian scientific oeuvre for the psychoanalysts of the time.” His works served as “teaching aids” for training analysts and provided “the psychoanalytic world a general theory that would be comprehensive for psychopathology and embrace normal behavior as well [as Erich Fromm and more recently Adam Phillips remind us, just what constitutes ‘normal’ mental health and behavior has not often been directly, let alone coherently or sufficiently, addressed both within and outside psychoanalytic circles].” Fenichel was an “integrator and systematizer,” a “clinician-theoretician” whose “erudition and scholarship were prodigious; his perceptions, incisive; his presentation, lively; his method, objective and fair.” By contrast, Harold Bloom characterized Fenichel as the “grim encyclopaedist of... Continue reading
Posted Jul 3, 2019 at
In an essay, “A Triangle of Hostility?—Psychoanalysis, Philosophy and Religion,” John Cottingham1 writes: “as a generalization, it appears that contemporary philosophical thought is on the whole inimical to psychoanalytic ideas. (I am speaking here of the analytic branch of philosophy: among so-called ‘continental’ philosophers, psychoanalytic modes of thought have been extremely influential).” While published over ten years ago, this assertion, with the appropriate exceptions, remains largely true. Generally speaking, anglophone academic analytic philosophy accuses Freud’s theories “of being unscientific, over-sweeping, and, by some critics, virtually incoherent: since the defining characteristic of the mind is consciousness (so runs the objection), doesn’t the concept of unconscious mentation verge on the absurd? There are admittedly staunch philosophical defenders of Freud to be found,2 but I think it is fair to say the prevailing reaction of analytic philosophy towards psychoanalytic ideas is either oddly indifferent or markedly hostile.” Cottingham proceeds to address the relation... Continue reading
Posted Jun 28, 2019 at
These brief thoughts were intermittently composed over the past several months and make, I think, for light summer reading. Compare these three recent news items (political and cultural symptoms of a pathological moral psychology among the powers-that-be): (i) “Federal prosecutors are pursuing criminal charges against activist Scott Daniel Warren for doing nothing more than giving food, water and shelter to migrants trekking through the desert.” “[P]rosecutors charged Warren with several counts of one of those offenses, conspiracy to transport and harbor migrants. A federal felony that could land Warren in prison for 20 years.” (ii) “President Trump has indicated that he is considering pardons for several American military members accused or convicted of war crimes, including high-profile cases of murder, attempted murder and desecration of a corpse, according to two United States officials.” (iii) Jeff Koons’ stainless steel sculpture of a rabbit (‘Rabbit’) sold at auction for $91 million. “The... Continue reading
Posted Jun 20, 2019 at
“’Human kind cannot bear very much reality,’ T.S. Eliot said [see “Burnt Norton,” Four Quartets (Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1943)]. What our psychology, too, stresses is how hard the process of self-awareness is, how painful, sometimes searingly painful [it is], to face the reality of who we are. Not that this is surprising when we remember that it was the unbearability of this pain that produced our defenses against awareness in the first place, when we began our splitting off, or repression, of aspects of ourselves [cf. the ‘fragmented’ mind, the divided self, our capacity to ‘compartmentalize,’ etc., all of which, strictly speaking, are logically distinct from, even if perhaps thought to provide some sort of evidence for, the ‘modularity of mind’ theory in cognitive science and philosophy of mind which goes back to the late philosopher Jerry Fodor [see his book, The Modularity of Mind (MIT Press, 1983)]. Part... Continue reading
Posted Jun 17, 2019 at
Moral philosophy is the mirror that self-consciousness holds to morality, and it tends to distort that which it reflects. It idealizes it. It gives it a cohesiveness or a clarity that it lacks, and it exhibits it as uniformly benign, which it isn’t. It gets away with this because it ignores or obscures the story of morality. Restored to its proper place in the life-history of the individual, morality does not, self-evidently, or even evidently, have the features that moral philosophers have given it. — Richard Wollheim, The Thread of Life (Cambridge University Press, 1984): 199. There is a set of apparently anomalous psychological activities—self-deception, akrasia, the irrational conservation of the emotions, agent regret—that present problems for theories of rational agency. Having put aside [in the first half of her book] the distinctions of faculty psychology, and having placed cognitive, rational, activities within a larger psychological context, we are in... Continue reading
Posted Jun 12, 2019 at