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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
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
“In general, in the English-speaking world, there has been a regrettable tendency for philosophers and psychoanalysts to ignore each other. There are important exceptions. But in general there has been an intellectual splitting that has led to impoverishment on both sides. Philosophers, for their part, take seriously such notions as autonomy, authenticity, freedom and happiness in their accounts of human life and its possibilities. But it is difficult to see how these notions can be adequately addressed without taking into considerations Freud’s genetic account of how the psyche comes to be.”—Jonathan Lear “Freud revolutionized our understanding of certain forms of ‘mental trouble’ and their treatment. The kind of work that led to his discoveries obviously does not belong to philosophy. So it does not fall within the province of philosophy to tell Freud, or any other psychoanalyst, how to proceed. Yet in this matter of appreciating Freud’s discoveries and the... Continue reading
Posted Jun 7, 2019 at
I’ve substantially updated the bibliography for “transitional justice” which, together with 109 other bibliographies on diverse topics (in addition to essays, some published and unpublished work, and ‘study guides’ for a handful of religious worldviews) is available on my Academia page (to see everything there, one has to patiently scroll down the page). As with all such compilations, I welcome suggestions for additional titles (most of these lists have two constraints: books, in English). Continue reading
Posted Jun 6, 2019 at
Whether it is in his frenzied tweeting (the grammar of which suggests he could not graduate high school) or “encounters” with the press, like yesterday on the South Lawn of the White House, where he spoke, among other things, to Mueller’s remarks on the Special Counsel investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, symptoms of Trump’s narcissistic megalomania are on full and painful display. Trump rhetorically exemplifies the egregiously fallacious use of ad hominem “arguments” (yes, there are non-fallacious ad hominem arguments, as I hope to demonstrate!) which should not surprise, given that he absolutely must personalize everything, being constitutionally unable to view things without even a meager measure of—while lacking even the slightest pretense to—objectivity, impartiality, and thus realism, utterly bereft of any perspective that does not habitually orbit around his desires, wishes, and phantasies, that does not repetitiously and tirelessly refer back to something about him. The... Continue reading
Posted May 31, 2019 at
The following passage is by the Brazilian economist, social scientist and writer Eduardo Giannetti [da Fonseca] (b. February 23, 1957) from the Preface to his book, Lies We Live By: The Art of Self-Deception (Bloomsbury, 2000): “The analytic philosophy of self-deception is in a way the reverse of the exhortatory therapeutics of self-help [the therapeutic analogue, as it were, of instant gratification]. Nothing could be further from this book than the aim of ‘curing,’ converting or convincing anyone to change. I do not believe in the efficacy of homilies and ‘cures’ in the form of capsules of self-help [Americans have an apparent addiction to such ‘therapies,’ as evidenced in non-fiction best-seller lists], just as I am skeptical of the possibility of any form of ‘regeneration’ by means of moral persuasion. I do, however, believe in the strength of the desire [a desire the person may disavow, refuse to acknowledge, or... Continue reading
Posted May 29, 2019 at
Herbert Fingarette (20 January 1921 – 2 November 2018) on the “splitting of the ego” and self-deception The following is but taste of the argument from Fingarette’s essay, yet it is intended to entice you into reading the original in its entirety. I’ve appended a short list of books on self-deception (not all of which are penned by philosophers) and there is a Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) entry on same should anyone want to further explore this topic (the SEP entry’s bibliography contains the requisite journal articles as well). For those not used to a regular diet of philosophy or who are fairly new to philosophical writing by professional philosophers, a less intimidating but no less informative entry on self-deception is found at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP) under “Self-Deception, Ethics and.” Freud’s “doctrine on defence and the unconscious constitutes the most elaborately worked out, the most extensively... Continue reading
Posted May 28, 2019 at
In examining Freud’s writings “we find that his and other psychoanalytic references to ‘woman’ are in dialogue with an emphatically plural account of a multitude of ‘women.’ Freud’s description of women and his interactions with them comprise a large cast of characters, a pantheon of higher and lesser ideal-typical goddesses and mortals to complement an accompany Oedipus, Narcissus, Moses, and other in psychological glory ignominy. We also find actual, historically specific, late nineteenth- and twentieth-century named and nameless women in clinical cases and vignettes. [….] Freud describes woman as subject of her own psyche, that is, as living experiences or self and conscious and unconscious mental processes, as subject to herself. Woman as subject expands into woman as subject-object, that his, object to her own subjectivity as she internally relates to and identifies with or against another internally experienced woman. Woman as subject and subject-object contrasts with woman as object... Continue reading
Posted May 25, 2019 at
George Bisharat argues the case for a democratic, one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (a general argument I happen to agree with) in an op-ed today in the Los Angeles Times: [….] “The two-state solution is dead, laid low by a thousand cuts – or, more precisely, by the hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, whose immovable presence ensures that no genuinely sovereign Palestinian state will ever emerge there. Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have both played a role in delivering the final blows: Trump with his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and Netanyahu by promising voters prior to his recent reelection to begin annexation of the West Bank. [….] It is time to face some undeniable facts: First, despite Israel’s every effort to establish and maintain a Jewish majority, the two... Continue reading
Posted May 23, 2019 at