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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
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 6 days ago 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
In my research on psychoanalytic philosophy (of mind), psychology, and therapy, I have come across, not surprisingly of course, critiques, analyses, and discussions of “psychoanalysis and women,” a topic that understandably and rightly overlaps with “psychoanalysis and feminism.” I am more or less a novice (in terms of systematic investigation) on this topic and, being a man, tread this intellectual territory with some trepidation. But apprehension or fear in such matters is usually overcome or diminishes with time and the corresponding increasing familiarity with the terrain. For now, these titles are providing me with the requisite sense of direction and bearings, serving as maps for further exploration. If you know of a book that you believe likewise indispensable in this regard, please share it with us in the comments. Appignanesi, Lisa and John Forrester. Freud’s Women. New York: Basic Books, 1992. Benjamin, Jessica. The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and... Continue reading
Posted May 22, 2019 at
Consider and compare these three recent news items: (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 buyer in the latest sale was Robert E. Mnuchin, a former executive at Goldman Sachs who currently plies his trade as an art dealer. He’s the father of Treasury... Continue reading
Posted May 18, 2019 at
A handful of incisive passages—sundry-sized gems—gleaned from Anthony Storr’s book, The Art of Psychotherapy (Routledge, 2nd ed., 1990): “Modern man tends to escape his problems by turning to drugs and drink, or by distracting himself with passive entertainment. The ease with which we can turn on the television set [or play with a smartphone], in some instances, prevent the realisation of creative capacities for solving conflict, just as it hampers children’s capacity for creative play.” “No psychotherapist, and no system or theory has the ‘key’ to understanding human beings.” “Today, psychotherapists are consulted by people whose symptoms are ill-defined and who are not ‘sick’ or ‘ill’ in any conventional, medical sense [he is not saying that those with symptoms of mental illness1 do not see psychotherapists, only that the class of patients, clients, or analysands is now greater than that group of individuals]. They present what [Thomas] Szasz has quite... Continue reading
Posted May 15, 2019 at
Along with the psychological climate of psychotherapy, the physical setting represents a standard medium for therapist expression in general and for the expression of power in particular [we’ll have to set aside here several definition of power or the various conceptions and types of power, in both negative and positive terms]. ‘Physical setting’ refers to the arrangement and contents of the office space as well as the visible aspects of the person (therapist) and his or her accoutrements. Characteristics of the setting often have important symbolic meanings for both client and therapist. In the eyes of the participants, characteristics of the setting typically express power, nurturance, or other salient phenomena related to therapeutic behavior. Physical setting characteristics probably exert greatest influence early in psychotherapy, prior to the development of a deeper and more thoroughly articulated therapeutic relationship. Once power communications are finding more direct if not verbal avenues for expression,... Continue reading
Posted May 13, 2019 at
If there’s any field in which the Trump administration excels, it’s in coming up with more ways to disadvantage the already disadvantaged in American society. Undermining the healthcare system, tormenting immigrants, throwing people off Medicaid — the list is almost endless. — From Michael Hiltzik’s article today in the Los Angeles Times, “Trump proposes to use a sham inflation rate to throw millions off poverty rolls” The political policies and legal effects of the President and his bootlicking lackeys and sycophants within the Administration and the Republican Party (and to an increasing extent, the judicial system), by design (i.e., deliberately thus intentionally) and occasionally by default, are systematically harming the most economically disadvantaged and vulnerable in our society, although this vulnerability may on the whole be a bit more complex insofar as it could be related to race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, disability, religious identity, what have you; in... Continue reading
Posted May 9, 2019 at
“Shocking New Report on Loss of Nature Paints a Terrifying Picture for the Future of Humanity” Up to 1 million species are at risk of extinction. John Vidal for HuffPost, 05/06/2019 “Planet Earth has been put on red alert by hundreds of leading scientists who have warned that humanity faces an existential threat within decades if the steep decline of nature is not reversed. The conclusions of the greatest-ever stock-taking of the living world, published on Monday, show that ecosystems and wild populations are shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing completely, and up to 1 million species of land and marine life could be made extinct by humans’ actions if present trends continue. Food, pollination, clean water and a stable climate all depend on a thriving plant and animal population. But forests and wetlands are being erased worldwide and oceans are under growing stress, says the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and... Continue reading
Posted May 6, 2019 at
The existence of the experimental method [in psychology] makes us think we have the means of getting rid of the problems which trouble us; but the problem and method pass one another by.—Wittgenstein The following is from the Preface to Ilham Dilman’s Raskolnikov’s Rebirth: Psychology and the Understanding of Good and Evil (Open Court, 2000). In my estimation, Dilman remains one of the foremost philosophical analysts of psychoanalytic psychology (alongside the likes of Richard Wollheim, Sebastian Gardner, and Jonathan Lear): he is at once incisively critical and deeply appreciative of psychoanalysis, exhibiting the virtues of a philosopher while writing in a style that extends a philosophical temperament and insight well beyond the boundaries of professional philosophy. As I’ve said elsewhere: “Occasionally one comes across a philosopher who, one believes quite strongly, was unduly neglected when alive, and thus virtually forgotten or ignored after his or her death. Ilham Dilman perfectly... Continue reading
Posted May 3, 2019 at
“How does Freud create a [new] science out of a self-analysis?” (John Forrester) is a question akin if not identical to asking, ”How did Siddhattha Gotama (of the Sākiyas)—the Buddha—create a spiritual and philosophical therapy (or new religion) out of meditation?” (a question posed by students of religion). While I think these are worthwhile queries for any number of reasons, I will not attempt to address them here, although even their cursory consideration may prove provocative and fruitful. These exemplary and creative historical endeavors are not of course instances of creation ex nihilo, for in both cases we situate their emergence within traditions, cultures, societies—their religious, philosophical, and scientific contexts and predecessors, for example—that serve as necessary yet not sufficient conditions for both Buddhism and psychoanalysis.* And in spite of their obvious historical, geographical, and cultural distances and thus differences from each other, both Buddhism and psychoanalysis proffer distinctive philosophies... Continue reading
Posted Apr 30, 2019 at
Insight … combines the direct experience, or recovery in consciousness,1 of aspects of oneself, so far deemed, with a perspective in the light of which their role in one’s patterns of behaviour and their consequences for one are understood. [….] But though this insight involves an inner change in which dissociated aspects of oneself are recovered, this is not the same thing as what is meant as ‘finding oneself.’ From the one inner change to the other there is much inner work to be done. “The neurotic—and this, to some extent, applies to everyone—has reached certain solutions to his inner conflicts in early childhood. These solutions involve splitting off and denying certain aspects of himself, devoting some of his energies to maintaining this state of affairs. Consequently, he has confined himself to certain modes of response and closed himself to certain forms of interaction and experience. What he has thus... Continue reading
Posted Apr 26, 2019 at
The most important issue about torture remains the moral issue of the deliberate infliction of pain, the suffering that results, the insult to dignity, and the demoralization and depravity that is almost always associated with this enterprise where it is legalized or not. — Jeremy Waldron Apologists often assume that torture works, and all that is left is the moral [and/or legal] justification. If torture does not work, then their apology is irrelevant. Deciding whether one ought or ought not to drive a car is a pointless debate [or decision] if the car has no gas. — Darius Rejali The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, a treaty the United States has ratified, making it U.S. law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, contains an absolute ban on torture: ‘No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war,... Continue reading
Posted Apr 18, 2019 at
The following is from the beginning of an extensive article, “Eyes on a city’s test of basic income,” found on the front page of today’s Los Angeles Times: “Young, sincere and raised on the edge of poverty, Sukhi Samra has a mother who worked two minimum-wage jobs when she was a kid — days at a gas station and nights at a Subway. Her father is disabled. She knows what an extra $500 a month would have bought her family. ‘I spent a lot of 5th and 6th grade just, like, in those tables at Subway so that I could keep my mom some company and spend some time with her,’ Samra said. ‘Five hundred a month would have meant that my mom spent a couple more hours at home with us every night.’ At 23, Samra is now head of the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, a pilot program to... Continue reading
Posted Apr 15, 2019 at
[The ‘title’ of the post does not assume that only mothers or women are caregivers (e.g., home during the summer because they don’t work, etc.). In other words, one can re-write this sentence in any number of ways so long as it contains the child expressing his (genuine?) feeling of boredom.] In ordinary states of boredom the child returns to the possibility of his own desire. That boredom is actually a precarious process in which the child is, as it were, both waiting for something and looking for something, in which hope is being secretly negotiated; and in this sense boredom is akin to free-floating attention. In the muffled, sometimes irritable confusion of boredom the child is reaching to a recurrent sense of emptiness out of which his real desire can crystallize. [….] The child’s boredom starts as a regular crisis in the child’s developing capacity to be alone of... Continue reading
Posted Apr 8, 2019 at
These finely if not exquisitely crafted thoughts about the nature of psychoanalysis are from the Preface to Adam Phillips’ Promises, Promises: Essays on Psychoanalysis and Literature (Basic Books, 2001)* [yours truly is responsible for the bracketed material, which I hope is not too intrusive]: “As a therapy, [psychoanalysis] investigates character in language in order to make people happier, and find their lives more interesting.” “… [P]sychoanalytic writing (and practice) of every persuasion still sounds a bit like religion, a bit like metaphysics, a bit like anthropology, a bit like science. And a bit like what was still called in the earlier days of psychoanalysis, literature [and, I would add, at least on occasion, a bit like philosophy]. Indeed, it has been to literature that psychoanalysts [beginning with Freud himself] have turned when they grow weary of their supposed system, of their technological psychological sentences.” “Psychoanalysis, at its best, should be... Continue reading
Posted Apr 4, 2019 at
Whether one believes in religion or not, we are all seeking something better in life—the very notion of our life is toward happiness. — The Dalai Lama Happiness, it is said, is seldom found by those who seek it, and never by those who seek it for themselves. — F. Emerson Andrews Happiness is not a state to arrive at, but a manner of traveling. — Margaret Lee Runbeck Is happiness the satisfaction one obtains when one’s desires are satisfied? Or is it the capacity to be pleased with what one has and enjoy what one does? Is the happy person one who enjoys life or one who has attained inner peace? How far does happiness depend on his state of soul, his values and attitudes to things, and how far on his external circumstances? What can one do to be happy? Can the desire for happiness be anything other... Continue reading
Posted Apr 2, 2019 at
The following is a large portion of a powerful op-ed piece that appears today in the Los Angeles Times (a longer version is found at TomDispatch): “I was an Army grunt at the pointy end of the American spear. But no longer.” By Danny Sjursen, March 31, 2019 “I’m one of the lucky ones. Leaving the madness of U.S. Army life with a modest pension and all of my limbs intact feels like a genuine escape. Both the Army and I knew it was time for me to go. I’d tired of carrying water for empire and they’d grown weary of dealing with my dissent and with footing the bill for my PTSD treatment. I entered West Point in July 2001, a bygone era of relative peace, the moment, you might say, before the 9/11 storm broke. I leave an Army that remains, remarkably, engaged in global war, patrolling an... Continue reading
Posted Mar 31, 2019 at