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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
I’ve put together a short reading list that speaks to questions that arise from “democracy and digital technology” (democracy in theory and practice, and in participatory, deliberative, and representative modes, all of which are essential to ‘open democracy’ in Landemore’s sense). It is intended to be part of a forthcoming larger list that will include material on “artificial intelligence” (AI) while widening the scope to address issues that arise within a democratic society that in significant and often insidious ways is malformed by capitalist political economy (as evidenced in our earlier post on Zephyr Teachout’s NYRB article). It will also contain works more philosophically and ethically oriented (reflecting my critique—some of which is here—of the many extravagant claims often made on behalf of AI): Aaker, Jennifer and Andy Smith (with Carlye Adler) The Dragonfly Effect: Quick, Effective, and Powerful Ways To Use Social Media to Drive Social Change (Jossey-Bass, 2010).... Continue reading
Posted yesterday at
The following is from selected parts of Zephyr Teachout’s “The Boss Will See You Now” (New York Review of Books, Aug. 18, 2022), a review essay of four recent titles about digital surveillance, tracking, and performance monitoring of millions of workers in an affluent capitalist and deeply inegalitarian society (conditions that amount to what Elizabeth Anderson terms ‘private government’). With wholly atomized workers, discouraged from connecting with one another but forced to offer a full, private portrait of themselves to their bosses, I cannot imagine a democracy. * * * [….] “As it happened, the 1980s and 1990s were a major turning point in surveillance, the period when companies went on their first buying sprees for electronic performance-monitoring. In 1987 approximately six million workers were watched in some kind of mediated way, generally a video camera or audio recorder; by 1994, roughly one in seven American workers, about 20 million,... Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at
Reflections on the attempted murder of Salman Rushdie as it relates to widespread perceptions and characterizations of, and generalizations about, “Islam.” See too this statement from Suzanne Nossel of PEN America. Update: Nossel’s opinion piece for The Guardian. Perhaps not surprisingly, more than a few folks on the internet are using the occasion of the assault/attempted murder on Salman Rushdie in New York to spread or reinforce rash or hasty generalizations (and the informal fallacy of ‘converse accident’) that serve to confirm their ignorance of Islamic traditions and embolden their biases and prejudices about “Islam” while also indulging in a kind of virtue signaling that brings virtual applause in its wake. These generalizations concern “Islam” as a religious worldview and philosophy as well as those who are self-described or identified as Muslims. There is nothing peculiar about Islam vis-à-vis other religious worldviews and ideologies or other secular worldviews and ideologies... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at
We should not indulge in denial, nor deceive ourselves, in other words, we should not look away (i.e. deliberately ignore) from what is before our eyes and ears: the fascism of the cult of Trump is not going away anytime soon; a conclusion that is neither alarmist nor simply reflective of partisan hyperbole. If you believe otherwise, you are not paying sufficient attention. I am—or will be—quite happy to be proven wrong and welcome reasonable arguments that attempt to persuade me that I am indeed mistaken. In early spring of last year I stated that the so-called Grand Old Party has morphed into a political party of imaginary and delusionary grievance, of crass and cartoonish schtick, of denial and desperation, of repugnance and regression, of illusion and irrationality, of empty gestures and vain cynicism, of authoritarianism and (actual and aspirational) fascism, of obscene wealth and amoral power, of sycophants and... Continue reading
Posted Aug 4, 2022 at
“There are two main questions we can ask ourselves with respect to the use of lotteries. First, under which conditions would they seem to be normatively allowed or prescribed, on grounds of individual rationality or social justice? Second, in which cases are lotteries actually used to make decisions and allocate tasks, resources and burdens? There is no reason, of course, to expect the answers to these questions to coincide. Hence we can generate two further questions. What explains the adoption of lotteries when normative arguments seem to point against them? What explains the non-adoption of lotteries in situations where they would seem to be normatively compelling? The last question is perhaps the most intriguing and instructive one. I shall argue that we have a strong reluctance to admit uncertainty and indeterminacy in human affairs. Rather than accept the limits of reason, we prefer the rituals of reason.” — Jon Elster,... Continue reading
Posted Jul 24, 2022 at
This is one of the syllabi I’ve composed for myself this summer that touches on several areas of my research (e.g., democracy, law, moral psychology, virtues and vices, emotions, philosophy of mind and mental conflict ….). I’ve read some of these books in whole or part and am reading them again. I limited myself to 25 titles. I thought perhaps a few readers might be interested in this list. One subject that has perked my interest of late is rhetoric, especially in an Aristotelian sense, both as it bears on democratic communication and discourse and insofar as it remains tethered to ethical or moral, logical and rational norms (hence when its function and appeal is not primarily emotional and when its arguments can be simultaneously sound and persuasive). Democratic rhetoric must be sensitive to the values, principles, and practices of democracy such that it should not be construed solely in... Continue reading
Posted Jul 21, 2022 at
Below one will find the “Epilogue” I recently appended to my latest iteration of the bibliography on Comparative Philosophy. “A comparative philosophy that is worthy of both its constitutive terms cannot be simply about comparison. Simply comparing philosophies but not comparing them philosophically will not do. This is why fusion philosophy decidedly demands of the comparative philosopher not to be satisfied with the role of the comparatist. The comparative philosopher should aim beyond comparison at a philosophical argument (strictly or loosely understood) that can stand on its own, that is, it does not rely on the distinctness of the comparanda. The borders that any comparison necessarily erects should not be left intact as if untouched. Fusion means that borders that separate are at least de-emphasized, perhaps even torn into tatters, but in any case transcended.” — From the “Afterword/Afterwards” by Arindam Chakrabarti and Ralph Weber, co-editors of the volume Comparative... Continue reading
Posted Jul 12, 2022 at
My latest compilation is on Buddhist Philosophy. What follows is the introduction to the bibliography. This list covers philosophically oriented Buddhist titles from within Buddhism, as well as works by those who bring modern philosophical arguments and methods of analysis (and phenomenology, hermeneutics, etc.) to their examination of Buddhist philosophy, occasionally comparing it to other philosophical worldviews (hence those writing first and foremost as Buddhists on the one hand, and those identifying as professional philosophers or using contemporary philosophy to study Buddhist philosophy, on the other; there is occasionally overlap between the two approaches). It also has titles that examine Buddhist psychology and several works on topics in Buddhist aesthetics and philosophy of art. I have a separate bibliography on Buddhist art as well. Like most of my bibliographies, there are two constraints: books, in English (a few exceptions owing to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entries [SEP]). While this... Continue reading
Posted Jul 5, 2022 at
This post was prompted by a news item from the Los Angeles Times: “46 people believed to be migrants found dead in Texas tractor-trailer.” Be it by land or water (the number of the latter being far more numerous than the former), these deaths are not accidents, unavoidable, or some senseless misfortune (leaving aside forced migration during war for now, which is a special case). They are a predictable result of inhumane, cruel, and unnecessary immigration policies. With the ecological and economic havoc caused by global warming, the migratory results of which we are already witnessing, matters will only worsen. We should not turn a blind eye, put our heads in the sand, or indulge in deliberate denial, however tempting during such troubled times as ours, when the scale and scope of our environmental, political, and economic problems can feel daunting if not overwhelming. These are our fellow human beings... Continue reading
Posted Jun 28, 2022 at
The right-wing judicial ideologues on the Supreme Court have only a tenuous grip on conservatism. Their recent rulings exemplify what they used to decry as “judicial activism,” rendering them inconsistent and hypocritical. Moreover, they’ve revealed an equally inconsistent if not incoherent, cynical, and manipulative legal interpretation of the doctrine of stare decisis. Their understanding of rights is illiberal given its ad hoc and regressive disposition. Finally, they’ve demonstrated the irrationality, vacuity and anti-democratic nature that shadows the “Originalist” doctrine of constitutional interpretation. Thus not surprisingly, their rulings warm the perfervid hearts and stir the addled minds of Christian nationalists and anti-democratic militants in this country, including first and foremost, the fascist members of the cult of Trump. I stop here lest my anger get the better of me. See: “The Week from Hell,” by Eric Segall at Dorf on Law. Continue reading
Posted Jun 26, 2022 at
Hilary Putnam’s “scientific realism” (there are several conceptions of this realism) entailed, among other things and for example, “the affirmation of the theoretical or ‘unobservable’ entities of our successful sciences, especially physics, e.g. the reality of electrons.” I would argue, as have others in philosophy and psychoanalysis, that psychoanalysis as a science1 likewise affirms the existence of theoretical or unobservable entities (that make for the ‘reality’ of unconscious and ‘primary process’ mentation which is ‘a-rational and associatively-based,’ this unconscious reality can be both ‘dynamic’ and cognitive or ‘adaptive’) with epistemic and explanatory effects or consequences, for instance, the corresponding mental states are causes of desires, beliefs, and behavior … and psychic disorders of various kinds (contrast ‘secondary process mentation,’ which involves awareness, is largely rational, rule-following, and ‘logical’ in the manner of common sense, allowing us to see psychological events as continuous or determinist, causal, rational, and explainable). This notion... Continue reading
Posted Jun 21, 2022 at
Propaedeutic “Science is under attack. People are losing confidence in its powers. Pseudo-scientific beliefs thrive. Anti-science speakers win public debates. Industrial firms misuse technology. Legislators curb experiments. Governments slash research funding. Even fellow scholars are becoming sceptical of its claims. And yet, opinion surveys regularly report large majorities in its favour. Science education expands at all levels. Writers and broadcasters enrich public understanding. Exciting discoveries and useful inventions flow out of research laboratories. Vast research instruments are built at public expense. Science has never been so popular or influential. This is not a contradiction. Science has always been under attack. It is still a newcomer to large areas of our culture. As it extends and become more deeply embedded, it touches upon issues where its competence is more doubtful, and opens itself to well-based criticism. The claims of science are often highly questionable. Strenuous debate on particular points is not... Continue reading
Posted Jun 19, 2022 at
None of what follows this introduction is written by yours truly, still, I thought it might be of interest to some of our readers. It concerns subject matter I hope to address now and again over the summer. Long-time readers of this blog will be aware of my abiding interest in the values and purposes of psychoanalytic theory and therapy, especially in the wake of Adolf Grünbaum’s critique of psychoanalysis,1 as it provoked vigorous philosophical arguments and debates both about the scientific standing of psychoanalysis in general as well as specific beliefs, hypotheses, and theories within psychoanalysis in particular, some of which do not depend upon or pivot around the science question, and which I happen to believe has been resolved in favor of Freud and psychoanalytic psychology (be it Freudian, Kleinian, etc.). Psychoanalysis can thus in part be characterized as a novel science of human subjectivity (the other principal... Continue reading
Posted Jun 15, 2022 at
Some of what follows is from something I first posted in 2008 at Daniel Goldberg’s Medical Humanities Blog (and cross-posted at Ratio Juris). I have only slightly revised it. The remainder of the material having to do with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is new. The title of this post refers to two books: Theodore Dalrymple’s Romancing Opiates: Pharmacological Lies and The Addiction Bureaucracy (Encounter Books, 2006) and the late Herbert Fingarette’s Heavy Drinking: The Myth of Alcoholism as a Disease (University of California Press, 1988). The second half of the post addresses some features of AA, although, as you will see, Fingarette’s book is germane to both parts. The Wikipedia entry on Dalrymple introduces our author: “Anthony (A.M.) Daniels (born 1949) is a British writer and retired physician (prison doctor and psychiatrist), who generally uses the pen name Theodore Dalrymple. He has written extensively on culture, art, politics, education and medicine,... Continue reading
Posted Jun 10, 2022 at
Plenty Coups (Crow: Alaxchíia Ahú, ‘many achievements;’ 1848 – 1932) was the principal chief of the Crow Nation (‘Apsáalooke’) and a visionary leader.* Wise people, one might argue, possess epistemic self-confidence, yet lack epistemic arrogance. Wise people tend to acknowledge their fallibility, and wise people are reflective, introspective, and tolerant of uncertainty. Any acceptable theory of wisdom ought to be compatible with such traits. [Most theories of wisdom] ... require a wise person to have knowledge of some sort. All of these views very clearly distinguish knowledge from expertise on a particular subject. Moreover, all of these views maintain that wise people know ‘what is important.’ The views differ, for the most part, over what it is important for a wise person to know, and on whether there is any behavior, action, or way of living, that is required for wisdom. Wisdom is not just one type of knowledge, but... Continue reading
Posted Jun 5, 2022 at
A Facebook post (now posted here earlier today) by my dear friend Steve Shiffrin moved me to comment of one aspect of his post, to which is added a preliminary attempt to explain this phenomenon in group psychological terms that draw from the wellspring of psychoanalysis. Replacement “theory” is not really a theory, and we accord it sociological and political (or simply scientific) plausibility if not credibility should we use this term indiscriminately and or uncritically. It is part of a rigid if not closed ideological belief system that is racist and implicitly or explicitly cleaves to notions of white supremacy. This idea is part myth, part phantasy (with a history: according to a recent op-ed in the LA Times by Jason Stanley and Federico Finchelstein, white replacement phantasy and ‘its ideological predecessors have been central to fascist movements in Europe, Asia, the United States and elsewhere’) and invites if... Continue reading
Posted May 25, 2022 at
Most Americans prefer the myopic life found aboard the Titanic, that is, the psychological states of malignant narcissism and present hedonism, to the imaginative utopian foresight, difficult planning and arduous work necessary to rebuild Noah’s Ark, which assumes an appreciation of the capacities and powers made available to us through individual and collective “self-binding” and constraints (Jon Elster, among others). Perfervid U.S./MAGA nationalist identity is irrationally yet inextricably intertwined with the developmentally arrested qualities of a cultural adolescence (Werner Sombart*) stuck in the muck and mire of a hyper-technological and high finance capitalist ethos that is increasingly susceptible to moments of violent regression steeped in self-deception, states of denial and the hallucinatory phantasies of illusion and delusion. Which brings us to the chapter title, ”Who Will Build the Ark?,” in Mike Davis’s book, Old Gods, New Enigmas: Marx’s Lost Theory (Verso, 2018), a small snippet from which I quote: “Scholarly... Continue reading
Posted May 23, 2022 at
It appears the Tariq Ali’s book, Churchill: His Times, His Crimes (Verso, 2022), is doing us the same invaluable public service that Christopher Hitchens, Greg Grandin, and William Shawcross (and some others) earlier performed with their works on Kissinger.* Of course the Right is apoplectic when its idealized and mythic portraits are brought back to earth, when people learn these men were morally and legally responsible for barbaric, inhumane and cruel policies, decisions and actions during times of both war and putative peace, as millions needlessly suffered and died under their imperious leadership, as they became political exemplars of some of the worst character vices of heart and mind. * Please see: Bass, Gary J. The Blood Telegram: India’s Secret War in East Pakistan (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013). Grandin, Greg. Kissinger’s Shadow: The Long Reach of America’s Most Controversial Statesman (Metropolitan Books, 2015). Hitchens, Christopher. The Trial of Henry Kissinger... Continue reading
Posted May 17, 2022 at
First, I’d like to draw your attention to Just Security’s post on a “Model Indictment for the Crime of Aggression Committed against Ukraine.” Alas, this would be even more powerful had the actions of state leaders, for example, in the U.S., the UK, France, Israel, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, led to charges for this (i.e., crime of aggression) and/or related war crimes at various times and places beginning with WWII (a just war on the Allied side did not excuse the commission of war crimes, violations of the Geneva Conventions, etc.). But because two wrongs do not make a right, crimes under the aegis of international criminal law are no less pellucid in this instance. We hope and pray for the day when international criminal law is not reducible to “victor’s justice” (Danilo Zolo, among others). We need a more parliamentary or democratic model of the U.N., one in which... Continue reading
Posted May 12, 2022 at
I wrote an essay, “Toward Socialism,” fairly quickly, several years ago (2018). I wanted it to be succinct as such things go, believing I would later expand on its principal assumptions, premises, and arguments, but today I find myself content with it as it stands. It would be helpful, however, to have a separate piece on just what socialism entails (and might entail) for a Liberal welfare state such as ours (as in the work of David Schweickart and the late Erik Olin Wright); some of which may apply to other countries with more benevolent, generous and equal (which in effect means increased freedom) welfare state regimes, as well as states around the world both more democratic and less democratic than the U.S. (increasingly, there are states significantly more democratic than the U.S., assessed by the various criteria used by those institutes and organizations ‘measuring’ such things). The following bibliographies... Continue reading
Posted May 10, 2022 at
“The Mòzǐ (墨子) is a foundational text in Chinese ethics, political theory, epistemology, logic, semantics, just war theory, economics, and science. On... Continue reading
Posted May 8, 2022 at
While the U.S. celebrates Labor Day (another telling instance of the ideological meaning of American ‘exceptionalism’) on the first Monday in September, May 1st is recognized around the world as a workers’ holiday, a global (or international) day of solidarity between workers of all nationalities. It was bound up with the struggle for the shorter workday – a demand of major political significance for the working class: “Eight hours for work —eight for rest—and eight for what we will.” Thus, in many parts of the world today is the true “Labor Day.” The auspicious nature of this date goes back to celebratory spring festivals and is still an excuse for Morris dancing: in the words of Emma Goldman, “If I can’t dance, I won’t be part of your revolution!” Eric Hobsbawm writes that “From the start the occasion attracted and absorbed ritual and symbolic elements, notably that of a quasi-religious... Continue reading
Posted May 1, 2022 at
The GOP is the political party of imaginary if not delusionary grievances, of crass and clownish schtick, of denial and desperation, of repugnance and regression, of illusion and irrationality, of empty gestures and vain cynicism, of authoritarianism and aspirational fascism, of obscene wealth and amoral power, of sycophants and cults, of self-deception and phantasy, of white supremacy (and racism generally) and narcissistic privilege, of putatively Christian nationalism, a faux populism of bread and circuses that has failed to conceal, let alone contain, a degraded and debased political practice mired in a toxic dump of greed, corruption, and sleaze. Republicans effectively tolerate and thus provide a de facto endorsement of the epidemic of gun violence and mass shootings in this country. The Republican Party continues to peddle QAnon phantasies, continues to minimize the constitutional and democratic threats, dangers and deadly consequences of the Jan. 6th insurrection, and continues its perfervid devotion... Continue reading
Posted Apr 29, 2022 at
Are we, or might we become, artificial intelligences “living” in a virtual or artificial reality (a ‘simulation’)? “There’s a new creation story going around. In the beginning, someone booted up a computer. Everything we see around us reflects states of that computer. We are artificial intelligences living in an artificial reality — a ‘simulation.’ It’s a fun idea, and one worth taking seriously, as people increasingly do. But we should very much hope that we’re not living in a simulation.”—Eric Schwitzgebel in an op-ed in the LA Times. (Schwitzgebel is a well-known philosopher at UC Riverside who has a blog titled The Splintered Mind, where this article is also found, with links and additional material.) I don’t think “simulation” is a “fun idea” (outside of science fiction) if only because or especially in the light of the fact that far too many people today are liable to believe virtually any... Continue reading
Posted Apr 24, 2022 at
Introduction I address a few of the arguments of Turing out of respect for his intellectual brilliance, as conveyed in this introduction. “Alan (Mathison) Turing (23 June 1912 – 7 June 1954) was an English mathematician, computer scientist, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, and theoretical biologist. Turing was highly influential in the development of theoretical computer science, providing a formalisation of the concepts of algorithm and computation with the Turing machine, which can be considered a model of a general-purpose computer. He is widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence. * * * “Alan Turing did not fit easily with any of the intellectual movements of his time, aesthetic, technocratic or marxist. In the 1950s, commentators struggled to find discreet words to categorise him: as ‘a scientific Shelley,’ as possessing great ‘moral integrity.’ Until the 1970s, the reality of his life was unmentionable. He is still... Continue reading
Posted Apr 22, 2022 at