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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
From the Los Angeles Times, July 18, 2021 — By Calvin Woodward, Colleen Long and David Klepper/Associated Press “A cocktail of propaganda, conspiracy theory and disinformation — of the kind intoxicating to the masses in the darkest turns of history — is fueling straight-up delusion over the agonies of Jan. 6. Hate is ‘love.’ Violence is ‘peace.’ The pro-Donald Trump attackers are patriots. Months after the then-president’s supporters stormed the Capitol that winter day, Trump and his acolytes are taking this revisionism to a new and dangerous place — one of martyrs and warlike heroes, and of revenge. It’s a place where cries of ‘blue lives matter’ have transformed into shouts of ‘f— the blue.’ The fact inversion about the siege is the latest in Trump’s contorted oeuvre of the ‘big lie’ compendium, the most specious of which is that the election was stolen from him. It was not. It... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at
... [C]onceptions of the good life [these are central to and found within collective worldviews and individual lifeworlds derived from these] can be open as well as closed, and perhaps, among the vast majority of people, these conceptions are not really as divergent as we have been led to believe [this appears to be the view held as well by the Dalai Lama]. [....] Just possibly, the American Dream might be replaced by one that can he shared by all peoples, holding their humanity in common. — Henry Rosemont, Jr. Henry Rosemont, Jr. was a distinguished philosopher and Sinologist, as well as an activist on the Left. He wrote the following in his Foreword to Michael Luntley’s somewhat neglected and important book, The Meaning of Socialism (Open Court, 1989): “To believe that increased productivity will end poverty is a naïve dream; to believe that ownership and consumption of that productivity... Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at
In case you missed any of them, here is a list of recently (from June and July) updated bibliographies: After Slavery & Reconstruction: The Black Struggle in the U.S. for Freedom, Equality, and Self-Realization The Bedouin Thinking about Comparative Philosophy Democratic Theory and Praxis (updated and revised to include works of democratic praxis) Elections and Voting The Emotions Human Rights Indigenous Peoples: Culture, Law and Politics Slavery Social Security & The Welfare State Torture: moral, legal, and political dimensions Workers, the World of Work, and Labor Law Continue reading
Posted Jul 12, 2021 at
In addition to being morally abhorrent, legally forbidden, and psychologically baneful, there is sufficient evidence that allows us to conclude with confidence that “torture doesn’t work.” Please see this recently updated compilation: Torture: moral, legal, and political dimensions. Continue reading
Posted Jul 9, 2021 at
“Cupidity” is a rich word denoting at once the lust for money, fame, possessions or power. It implies the psychological strength of inordinate desire, desire for things that do not bring true happiness or eudaimonia, hence its association with well-known vices, with more or less lack of character and akrasia. Assuming that akrasia is largely dispositional weakness of will, it is frequently fortified by self-deception, denial, and perhaps pernicious wishful thinking. If I’m not mistaken, cupidity is a word rarely used today, which is unfortunate insofar as both our individual and collective psychology has been deeply conditioned by capitalism and its corresponding ethos which, among other things, is fuel for the fires of cupidity. We live in a time when apocalyptic-like climate and environmental changes, at the very least, will require, at the level of the individual person (as at least a necessary if not sufficient condition), the enlistment of... Continue reading
Posted Jul 8, 2021 at
However, if, as I speak, I relate my experience to the Buddhist teachings, it is not in order to propagate Buddhism. That is not my intention, not even in the slightest. I have reasons for this. —The 14th Dalai Lama (spiritual name Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso, known as Tenzin Gyatso; born Lhamo Dhondup; known as Gyalwa Rinpoche to the Tibetan people) This excerpt, from a “teaching” by the Dalai Lama in France in 2000 and now published in book form, is very interesting, to put it mildly. The Dalai Lama, despite the fact that there have been a fair number of conversions to Buddhism among those in the West, says that he is “convinced that people who adhere to the spiritual tradition of their parents, and live according to its view and philosophy, will find that it suits them very well.” In brief, he does not believe,... Continue reading
Posted Jul 7, 2021 at
I brought this material together after coming across several of the shorter passages below in the form of epigraphs to chapters in David Estlund’s bracingly original and brilliant book, Utopophobia: On the Limits (if any) of Political Philosophy (Princeton University Press, 2020). “Beyond Practicalism” is the title of one of the final chapters in Utopophobia. “There are recognizable barriers from which men have always sought to emancipate themselves, in order to obtain access to something, and appropriate something, that is conceived time and again in the ideas of freedom, joy, happiness, etc., which no cynical irony can expunge. The inexhaustible possibilities of human nature, which themselves increase with cultural progress, are the innermost material of all utopias, and moreover a very real, and in no way immaterial material at that. They inevitably lead to the desire to transform human life.” —Rudolf Bahro * * * “For [Ernst] Bloch, the enemies... Continue reading
Posted Jul 5, 2021 at
Perhaps some of you will be interested in the interview with Amartya Sen from a couple of years ago published in the New Yorker. I am including only those parts devoted to recent Indian politics and questions related to democracy. The link embedded in the title will provide you access to the full interview. The New Yorker Interview “Amartya Sen’s Hopes and Fears for Indian Democracy” By Isaac Chotiner, October 6, 2019 The big thing that we know from John Stuart Mill is that democracy is government by discussion, and, if you make discussion fearful, you are not going to get a democracy, no matter how you count the votes, Amartya Sen says. “Amartya Sen, the Indian economist, philosopher, and public intellectual, lives on a quiet street in Cambridge, just around the corner from Harvard Square. His home, which he shares with his wife, the historian Emma Rothschild, is spacious... Continue reading
Posted Jul 1, 2021 at
This is yet another excellent article by Sen who, among other qualities, is one of our most knowledgeable and incisive public intellectuals on democratic theory and praxis, which I hope to write about in a future post. “Illusions of empire: Amartya Sen on what British rule really did for India” By Amartya Sen for The Guardian 29 June 2021 It is true that before British rule, India was starting to fall behind other parts of the world – but many of the arguments defending the Raj are based on serious misconceptions about India’s past, imperialism, and history itself. “The British empire in India was in effect established at the Battle of Plassey on 23 June 1757. The battle was swift, beginning at dawn and ending close to sunset. It was a normal monsoon day, with occasional rain in the mango groves at the town of Plassey, which is between Calcutta,... Continue reading
Posted Jun 30, 2021 at
“Wishful thinking—the longing to bend the present world into a different and better future—is often mocked, but the plain fact is that it is a regular feature of the human condition.* Whenever we refer to the world around us in language, we habitually allude to thing that are absent. We conjecture, we say things that miss the mark, or that express yearnings for things to be other than they are. We live by our illusions. The language through which we speak is an unending sort of short little dreams in the course of which we sometimes fashion new ways of seeing things, using words that are remarkably apposite and strangely inspiring to others. The feminine dēmokratia was one of those tiny terms that sprang from a little dream, with grand effect. It was to rouse millions of people in all four corners of the world—and give them a grip on... Continue reading
Posted Jun 25, 2021 at
“In the long run, the Supreme Court has helped secure greater protection for civil rights and civil liberties not because judges are smarter or nobler, but because the American people have demanded it. When social movements like the civil rights movement or the feminist movement convince the center of the country that their claims are just, the court usually comes around. Sometimes it gets ahead of the center of public opinion, and sometimes it’s a bit behind. But in the long run it reflects the national mood about the basic rights Americans believe they deserve. The great engine of constitutional evolution has not been judges who think they know better than the American people. It has been the evolving views of the American people themselves about what rights and liberties they regard as most important to them. Rather than a set of shackles designed by long-dead slave-owners, the framers bequeathed... Continue reading
Posted Jun 21, 2021 at
There are beliefs, actions, values, and so forth that we might define or describe as (i) rational, (ii) irrational, (iii) nonrational (the question of rationality, in other words, does not enter the picture), and (iv) para-rational, supra-rational, or extra-rational. With regard to (iv), the idea is that there is respect for rationality as such, that is, its significance, importance, value, and so on, but the phenomenon in question involves some sort of transcendence or going beyond what is rational, in other words, this Aufheben or Aufhebung involves “sublation” without abolishing, denying, or contradicting what is rational, thus “preserving” rationality while transcending it. Among the sundry phenomena we might group within (iv) we cite, in general, psychological, emotional, experiential, aesthetic, pragmatic, and religious or spiritual (including ‘mystical’) phenomena. In other words, these are not necessarily (thus they can or might be) simply irrational or non-rational but capable of being para- or... Continue reading
Posted Jun 18, 2021 at
Please note: Despite the photos, I am not addressing the Book of Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible (Hebrew: מִשְלֵי, Míshlê [Shlomoh], ‘Proverbs [of Solomon’], which is part of Ketuvim, ‘Writings,’ the third section of Tanakh), what Christians call the Old Testament,1 nor am I speaking to Erasmus’ annotated collection of Greek and Latin proverbs, Adagia,2 compiled during the Renaissance. “True enough, ordinary people do not produce bodies of written reflection expounding their views of life. [We can readily imagine several likely explanations for this fact: they are comparatively disadvantaged: oppressed or exploited, they are preoccupied with ‘making a living’ and their discretionary time, such as it is, involves entertainment or forms of escape form the drudgery or dreariness of their everyday lives, they are poorly educated, their social and economic circumstances are conducive to neither individuation or self-realization, and so forth and so on.] But other roads lead into their... Continue reading
Posted Jun 13, 2021 at
What follows is from the volume edited by John Hayes, The Selected Writings of Maurice O’Connor Drury: On Wittgenstein, Philosophy, Religion and Psychiatry (Bloomsbury Academic, 2017), as well as Ray Monk’s better known biography, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius (Jonathan Cape Ltd., 1990/The Free Press, 1990): Drury: “Wittgenstein constantly urged his pupils not to take up an academic post and become teachers of philosophy. Though later he did admit to me with regard to a few of his pupils he had been wrong; they had turned out to be excellent teachers. But certainly in my own case and that of many others he was most emphatic that we must earn our livelihood in some other way. This advice of his has been misinterpreted. Wittgenstein never advised anyone to give up philosophy, if by that is meant thinking about first principles and ultimate problems. [….] Why, then, did he strongly... Continue reading
Posted Jun 10, 2021 at
Monument to Michael Servetus in Geneva, Switzerland I am doing a bit of exploration/research into Wittgenstein’s thoughts on religious worldviews as well as psychoanalysis and came across something I want to share, but first a brief introduction to his work as a philosopher (one who was highly critical of professional philosophy as it existed in Europe and North America). Ludwig (Josef Johann) Wittgenstein (26 April 1889 – 29 April 1951) “was an Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language.” The following is from the introduction to his SEP (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) entry: “Considered by some to be the greatest philosopher of the 20th century, Ludwig Wittgenstein played a central, if controversial, role in 20th-century analytic philosophy. He continues to influence current philosophical thought in topics as diverse as logic and language, perception and intention, ethics and... Continue reading
Posted Jun 9, 2021 at
Peggy Noonan reported on Saturday that “15% of Americans agree that the government, media, and financial worlds are controlled by Satan-worshipping pedophiles.” Hopefully, most of them were simply casting contempt on the pollsters, but the distance between the crazies and the Trumpers is trivial. Many of us are outraged by the fact that the Republicans are out to prevent their opponents from voting and are unwilling to condemn the Orange Monster. But it is worth noting that our constitution is deliberately anti-Democratic. The Senate is obviously anti-majoritarian. Eliminating the filibuster would help make the Senate more democratic, but the sunny Founder’s hope that the Senate would be a place of sober deliberation has become a pipe dream. Please note: I am posting this for Steve Shiffrin, although I am responsible for the title. By way of reinforcing his argument, one might read Robert Dahl’s democracy-motivated critique, How Democratic Is the... Continue reading
Posted Jun 7, 2021 at
I have long suspected—alongside others—that Wittgenstein understood both philosophy and religion in some sort of “therapeutic” sense insofar as that means a profoundly spiritual and ethical orientation that puts a primacy of spiritual praxis, the search for truth, and living a life suffused with what are often thought to be religious (but not exclusively religious) or spiritual virtues such as love, compassion, profound respect of others as persons and the natural world, faith, trust, and selflessness, for example (this being far from exhaustive of ethical and religious virtues), all the while struggling, to cure the “diseases of belief and desire,” in the words of David Burton in his essay on Buddhist philosophical therapy (in the edited volume by Ganeri and Carlisle below). Either directly or as a welcome by-product of such spiritual praxis, one often finds an arduous and passionate commitment to the amelioration, relief, and elimination of the unnecessary... Continue reading
Posted Jun 6, 2021 at
A fact-value dichotomy is pernicious and profoundly (or epistemically, morally, and psychologically) mistaken. While conceptually and otherwise distinguishable, facts and values are best viewed in a necessary or obligatory relation of entanglement. Because fascist and proto-fascist members of the cult of Trump in the Republican Party have played loose with facts since (and to a significant extent before) Trump first campaigned for the Presidency, in other words, because they have ignored or distorted facts, have lied about what is factual, preferring myths, illusions, delusions, and phantasies to a social and ontological reality that is intrinsically connected to determination of what is true, to a concern for what bears a connection to socially supported and warranted or justified facts, there’s been a tendency in mass and social media to rely on and emphasize a rather simplistic or crude or convenient notion of facts that blithely ignores fact/value entanglement if only because... Continue reading
Posted Jun 2, 2021 at
When I was in the college classroom introducing religious worldviews to my students (being a city college, some of the students were middle-age), I used an analogy to help them consider how a religious or spiritual worldview might differ from one that is purely secular, say, of a humanist or existentialist kind, or simply one, not necessarily coherent as a whole (perhaps in part not even intelligible) and thus more like a bricolage, assembled from this or that source, more or less intentionally, but still functioning like an ideology or worldview for most purposes in the lifeworld of the student (unlike science, religions, so to speak, can and often do proffer a ‘theory of everything’). I would ask them to consider how a physicist might describe their desks (a description that may vary a bit depending on the particular field of physics) in comparison to how they might describe them.... Continue reading
Posted May 28, 2021 at
The following titles concern topics that at various points overlap with each other even if their respective analyses are sometimes made in apparent ignorance in work in nearby fields of intellectual inquiry. My particular focus concerns democratic theory and practice, as well as notions of collective agency and responsibility. As in my prior post, what should be included within this list is material from psychoanalytic psychology, especially (individual and) group psychology (or ‘the psychology of groups’ or ‘social psychoanalysis’), of the sort found, for example (and thus among others), in the pioneering studies of Wilfred Bion, R.D. Hinshelwood, and James M. Glass, on the one hand, and Erich Fromm on the other (perhaps I can add those titles at a later date). Finally, it is my strong belief that this represents the kind of literature avowed Marxists, socialists, anarchists should be—or become—intimately familiar, assuming their commitment to what we now... Continue reading
Posted May 25, 2021 at
Argument: There is no longer a plausible or viable “two-state” solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Assumptions (which case serve as premises): If one is still speaking of a “two-state” solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it shows you have not been paying attention to the history and politics in the Palestinian territories, that you lack a basic understanding of the nature of Zionist settler colonialism and the role of Zionist nationalism in Israel politics, that you are indulging in ideological myths and fantasies that lack a meaningful orientation to social, economic, and political facts (on the ground, as we say), that you do not grasp the nature of Palestinian self-determination, that you do not sufficiently appreciate the logic, values and principled practices of democratic theory and practice and the corresponding significance of human dignity and human rights … and so forth and so on. Should you persist in believing in the... Continue reading
Posted May 22, 2021 at
“The Garden of Earthly Delights” in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, c. 1495–1505, attributed to Hieronymus Bosch (born Jheronimus van Aken, c. 1450 – 9 August 1516). Click on image to enlarge. What (some) modern people couldn’t help but notice after Freud, through their symptoms, their dreams, their slips of the tongue and their bungled ambitions—especially modern people who were no longer religious believers—was how unconscious they were, how removed from a clear sense of their own intentions, how determinedly ignorant they were about their pleasure. And, in Freud’s language, this meant how conflicted they were about their appetites, and so how fundamentally divided there were against themselves. As if people no longer knew what was in their best interests or, what their interests were; or indeed whether they had best interests. Modern people could live as if they couldn’t care less about themselves. They would, for example, risk everything... Continue reading
Posted May 21, 2021 at
“What we call a Black Swan (and capitalize it) is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact (unlike the bird). Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.” “Our tendency to perceive –to impose—narrativity and causality—are symptoms of the same disease: dimension reduction.” “We have to accept the fuzziness of the familiar ‘because’ no matter how queasy it makes us feel (and it does make us queasy to remove the analgesic illusion of causality). I repeat that we are explanation-seeking animals who tend to think that everything has an identifiable cause and grab the most apparent as the explanation. Yet there may not... Continue reading
Posted May 9, 2021 at
“In the writings of such once popular writers as Erich Fromm, Philip Rieff, Herbert Marcuse, and Erik Erikson, one looks in vain for clarity as to the precise issues in ethics that psychoanalysis is capable of illuminating. [….] [P]hilosophical ethicists have not been particularly interested in psychoanalysis by and large. Those few philosophers who have studied psychoanalysis sympathetically and in depth (e.g., [Paul] Ricoeur, Jürgen Habermas, [Richard] Wollheim) have been concerned only incidentally with its ethical import. To be sure, Richard Rorty has recently drawn out what he takes to be the ethical implications of psychoanalysis, but his views are based more on an impressionistic reading of how Freud supports his own post-modernist moral pragmatism than on careful study of what Freud actually holds. In the writing of most ethicists, Freud, if he is mentioned at all, is treated as the chief modern enemy of morality, whose work is best... Continue reading
Posted May 2, 2021 at
As invariably happens, when doing the research for a bibliography (in this case, on the European Enlightenment) I come across titles on persons or subjects that I’ve not known about or, if familiar by title or renown, I’ve yet to read at any length or with proper care (in some cases of course, I simply was or am not sufficiently interested). Thus the life and especially works of two such individuals has provoked and intrigued me in ways I have not anticipated. The first, David Hume,1 some of whose works I read breezily (!) in graduate school, never inspired me, likely because I was distracted by thoughts and things in those days rather outside the orbit of Hume’s concerns. The second, Denis Diderot,2 I’ve long been drawn to, but never found the time to look at in depth, in part because I was not confident about the secondary literature on... Continue reading
Posted Apr 28, 2021 at