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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
Let us take a brief look at two passages from Larry Solum’s defense of “Originalism” as a legal approach to interpreting our constitution in an op-ed the other day for the Los Angeles Times: (i) “Originalists believe that judges are bound by the constitutional text and that its words should be read as the public would have understood them at the time each provision was written.”* (ii) Two hundred and forty years ago John Adams wrote of the importance of “a government of laws and not of men.” This ideal is not some musty platitude whose time has passed. If the events of recent years show anything, it is that we should fear the arbitrary rule of individuals, who do what they want and not what the law requires. The core of originalism is the rule of law. And that is not something we should fear.” Re: (i) We should... Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at
QAnon is typically described as “a far-right conspiracy theory.” I think we should get rid of the word “theory” in this description or definition (at best, it is a pseudo-theory). It accords this specific (and ever-changing) cluster of socially or culturally and politically incoherent and irrational ideas with some semblance of respectability: calling to mind the rationality, facts, hypotheses, evidence, abstract or principled thinking that bear upon or directly involved in explanation and understanding, not only in the sciences, but in everyday life and practical reasoning as well (e.g., no part of this putative ‘theory’ is based on fact). QAnon is not a theory, a term that accords this clusterfuck too much credence or plausibility when it is, in fact, completely bereft of same. It is rather a full-fledged collective phantasy (unfortunately, there is comparatively little literature on this subject) … and that is how it should be described. I... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at
In reading Amy Barrett’s “opening statement” today before the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing, I came across the following standard or ritualized utterance made on such occasions: “I come before this committee with humility about the responsibility I have been asked to undertake, and with appreciation for those who came before me.” The word that jumps out at me is “humility,” because when used in this manner under these circumstances and on these occasions, it suggests to me a “pragmatic contradiction,” the contradiction arising from the very act of the (performative?) utterance itself. The putative possession of humility by the speaker is undercut by a claim made under these sorts of circumstance and on these kinds of occasions. Understood as a ritualized linguistic utterance of deference, it is intended to ingratiate oneself to members of the committee and indeed to all those viewing the confirmation hearings (and that is not pertinent... Continue reading
Posted Oct 12, 2020 at
In reading afresh Roger Ames’ Art of Rulership: A Study of Ancient Chinese Political Thought (1994; I first read it in the late 1990s), I came across a wonderful passage which makes a comparison between morally and spiritually noble or ideal-typical “sage-rulers,”* as well as canonical Chinese philosophers, with the proverbial “common man” in society, that is, the ruler’s subjects, a comparison that, one could say, insinuates (as it does in other passages of this text) the dependence of the ruler on his people. In the case of our two philosophers, it could be said to illustrate the epistemic condition of being well-versed in “knowing that” does not necessarily encompass a “knowing how” (that is, non-propositional knowledge or ‘knowledge by acquaintance’): ‘Even sage-rulers such as T’ang and Wu would be unable to match the Yüeh people in maneuvering a small craft on the rivers and lakes. Even an outstanding minister... Continue reading
Posted Oct 11, 2020 at
The Confucian ruler, regulating his conduct so that his activities reflect a commitment to the expression of his moral stature, is able to influence his subordinates and transform his people. This is the political principle of the guidance and transformation of the people through moral example. — Roger T. Ames While the passage that follows below from the Analects of Confucius represents, in the form of the ruler, a strikingly benevolent form of paternalistic governance, it might or perhaps should be viewed as useful in addressing the subject of moral and psychological individuation or “self-rule” (in democratic theory, which often uses the language of ‘autonomy’ here, this can be understood to apply to both the individual and the group or society), in particular, for those who’ve yet to make sufficient progress on what, in Confucian terms, is the path of self-cultivation. As Roger Ames explains in The Art of Rulership:... Continue reading
Posted Oct 10, 2020 at
[Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday in October is in reference to the indigenous peoples of the Americas. It is distinguished from the global celebration of International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, 9 August.] Adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: 13 years later (12 September 2020) The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was adopted by the General Assembly on 13 September 2007, with 144 countries voting in support, 4 voting against and 11 abstaining. Thirteen years have passed since the UN Declaration was adopted by the General Assembly. Since then, the four countries voting against have reversed their position and now support the Declaration. Today the Declaration is the most comprehensive international instrument on the rights of indigenous peoples. It establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples... Continue reading
Posted Oct 8, 2020 at
[I should note that while my interest in Indian philosophy of art was first awakened upon learning about rasa (a port of entry, as it were), there is much more to Indian/Indic philosophy of art and aesthetics than this concept.] rasa: taste; flavor, savor; nectar of delight; aesthetic emotion; a central concept in Indian or Sanskrit aesthetics. The earliest systematic treatment of this concept is found in Bharata’s Nātyaśastra (2nd century BCE), the oldest surviving treatise on music and dance. The properly aesthetic portions of the treatise, however, were added several centuries later. Rasa characterizes the audience’s affective response to the drama. It is dependent upon situationally particular personal emotional experience or bhāva (here, ‘basic’ and durable emotions as well as transitory and ‘accessory’ emotional states, with a focus on the significance of the former). Thus the love I feel for my spouse is in some sense the basis of,... Continue reading
Posted Oct 4, 2020 at
… [T]he work accomplished through ritualization is very inadequately grasped by the notion of social control. Ritualization is not a matter of transmitting shared beliefs, instilling a dominant ideology as an internal subjectivity, or even providing participants with the concepts to think with. The particular construction and interplay of power relations effected by ritualization defines, empowers, and constrains. Ritualized practices, of necessity, require the external consent of participants while simultaneously tolerating a fair degree of internal resistance. As such they do not function as an instrument of heavy-handed social control. Ritual symbols and meanings are too indeterminate and their schemes too flexible to lend themselves to any simple process of instilling fixed ideas. Indeed, in terms of its scope, dependence, and legitimation, the type of authority formulated by ritualization tends to make ritual activities effective in grounding and displaying a sense of community without overriding the autonomy of individuals or... Continue reading
Posted Oct 2, 2020 at
Although emotions punctuate almost all the significant events in our lives, the nature, causes, and consequences of the emotions are among the least understood aspects of human experience. It is easier to express emotions than to describe them and harder, again, to analyze them. — Aaron Ben-Ze’ev * * * Because there are reasons and justifications for feeling emotions, because emotions can, to a degree, be suppressed, because their manifestation is, to some extent, controllable, because the expression of persistent emotions in words and deeds is largely intentional, and because our emotions provide us with reasons (and hence too with motives) for voluntary and intentional action, emotions can be educated. [….] Equally, children and adults alike need to learn to control the manifestations of their immediate and spontaneous emotional responses, as well as the expression of emotional responses in what they say. They need to learn to reflect on the... Continue reading
Posted Sep 27, 2020 at
I do not think there is such a thing as (absolutely) “pure science,” even if the motivations or curiosity of the scientists engaged in this putative endeavor are invoked to explain why this is nonetheless believed to be the case. They may fancy themselves, comparatively speaking, conducting “basic” or “fundamental” research, which is not instrumental by intent or design, distinguishable, that is, from “applied” science or work clearly connected in some manner to technology, but the nature and history scientific research invariably (in the bosom of time as it were) brings such “pure” science down to earth, connects it, somehow, some way, with those sciences that have effects in the real world. In so far as “research and development” or applied science accurately describes over ninety per cent of modern scientific activity, what characterizes this “pure” science is its research distance from any known application or practical relevance, in other... Continue reading
Posted Sep 24, 2020 at
George Padmore (né Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse, 28 June 1903 – 23 September 1959) was an author, journalist, Left organizer and activist against colonialism, imperialism and Empire, one-time Communist Party member, socialist, and Pan-Africanist intellectual. This post is in memory and honor of the all-too-short life and work of George Padmore. In an earlier post I attempted to characterize the “Marxist spirituality” of C.L.R. James (a good friend of Padmore’s going back to the days of their youth in Trinidad) and in this case I want again to suggest we appreciate, in the broadest and deepest sense, a kindred “humanist spirituality” that suffused Padmore’s worldview while firmly grounded in the communism and Pan-Africanism he viewed as integral to the ends of Black self-determination and emancipation (Padmore’s ‘communist’ and socialist beliefs and commitments appear to have more or less survived his former formal identity as a Communist Party member). The following... Continue reading
Posted Sep 23, 2020 at
One of my favorite philosophers has died. Her work received nowhere near the attention granted Richard Rorty, to whom she was once married. While my judgment does not mean much, I happen to think she was a better philosopher than him. I continue to consult her book, Mind in Action: Essays in the Philosophy of Mind (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1988), which I came across at a used bookstore shortly after it was published. There are, to my mind, a comparatively small number of philosophers who take Freud seriously,1 and she is one of them. Relatedly, she helped to resurrect interest in moral psychology,2 which was virtually absent from the halls of professional philosophy in the West for much of the twentieth century. Rorty’s death also moved me to re-post this: Some contemporary (living and dead) philosophers I relish reading who happen to be women: Carol Gould, Susan Haack, Simone... Continue reading
Posted Sep 22, 2020 at
“… [T]here has been a lot of attention given the ethics of in vitro fertilization—should we or should we not? To me, the question seems wrongly posed; instead, one should ask the prior question, which the in vitro fertilization techniques are presumably designed to answer: how can we increase the number of wanted, healthy babies? [Today, we would not presume this exact question in the first instance; more on that below.] If I ask that question, I also begin to ask what prevents wanted, healthy babies surviving; and I note that in Britain the principal mortality rate—that is, the number of babies dying at or just after birth—is much higher in certain geographical areas—for instance, Liverpool—than others—such as, for instance, Hampstead. I note that there is a several fold greater chance of a baby not surviving if it is born to a mother in poverty, or in the manual working... Continue reading
Posted Sep 18, 2020 at
Since Donald Trump’s tenure in office and the Republican domination of the Senate, one thing, alas, we can affirm without any hesitation or reservation: “[m]uch can be said for the dictum that truth is stranger than fiction.” This was written by Nicholas Rescher as part of a larger discussion emphasizing the fact that nature is “pervasively complex and inexhaustible in its details,” including the further and humbling fact that this complexity is far greater than the cognitive and affective equipment we bring to its study and characterization, unsurprising given that “we ourselves are merely a minor constituent of nature itself,” experience to date having convinced us that “nature’s intricacy proceeds without stop.” I’m invoking this dictum not with regard to the scientific study of the natural world but in relation to recent experiences with and perceptions of our social world, and thus in reference to our nation’s moral, cultural and... Continue reading
Posted Sep 14, 2020 at
We have, at the very least (and most recently), the following titles to provide us with an overabundance of evidence, an embarrassment of riches, by way of painting a realistic and terrifying portrait of Donald J. Trump: as a person, his pathological character, and the nature of his Presidency (his rhetoric, his behavior, and his ‘policies’): Cohen, Michael. Disloyal: A Memoir (Skyhorse Publishing, 2020). Lee, Brandy X., et al. The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017). Rucker, Philip and Carol Leonnig. A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America (Penguin Press, 2020). Trump, Mary L. Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man (Simon & Schuster, 2020). Woodward, Bob. Rage (Simon & Schuster, 2020). Not having read all of these, preliminary reports and early reviews suggest a remarkable degree of consensus such that, among other things, we can conclude... Continue reading
Posted Sep 13, 2020 at
An eminently reasonable and urgent proposal: The President should be charged with felony murder on the domestic front and “crimes against humanity” in international criminal law In effect, because the President was worried about “panic” on Wall Street* and refused to develop a coherent national public health strategy to fight the COVID-19 pandemic (including, and for personal political reasons having to do with his re-election strategy, deliberately refusing to sufficiently defer to the requisite scientific and medical expertise of public health experts), all the while habitually deceiving and lying to the American people, tens of thousands of people lost their lives and many more experienced a dramatic and unprecedented (i.e., horrific) decline in their basic welfare and well-being (loss of small business, significant loss of income, loss of jobs, housing…). Among other things, this is criminal behavior of the highest (or ‘lowest’) order. In terms of international criminal law, I... Continue reading
Posted Sep 13, 2020 at
Hilda Bernstein is another exemplar of what we have in previous posts termed “laudable communism,”* which differs in significant and sundry ways from, say, the Party-State Communism of the former Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (countries in which indispensable Liberal principles and values indissolubly linked to democratic theory and praxis were severed from putatively Marxist or socialist ideas and ideals of one kind or another). Immediately below is Bernstein’s (edited) entry on Wikipedia, followed by a brief yet well-written biography by Tanya Barben (found at Revisions: Expanding the Narrative of South African Art). “Hilda Bernstein was a British-born author, artist, and an activist against apartheid and for women’s rights. She was born Hilda Schwarz in London and emigrated to South Africa at the age of 18 years and became active in politics. She married fellow activist Lionel ‘Rusty’ Bernstein in March... Continue reading
Posted Sep 8, 2020 at
(In Part 2 I’ll try to extend some of the lessons drawn from Part 1 but primarily speak to cosmopolitan philosophy sans borders. There will be a Part 3 if I’m able to make synthetic coherence of possible implications and consequences such that 1+2 = 3.) “The Hedgehog and the Fox is an essay by philosopher Isaiah Berlin—one of his most popular essays with the general public—which was published as a book in 1953. However, Berlin said, ‘I never meant it very seriously. I meant it as a kind of enjoyable intellectual game, but it was taken seriously. Every classification throws light on something.’” * * * Berlin’s now famous distinction between the “hedgehog” and the “fox,” which he applied to both writers and philosophers, does make for a pleasant intellectual parlor game, although I will take it, like Ronald Dworkin, a bit more seriously. In Dworkin’s pithy summary of... Continue reading
Posted Sep 3, 2020 at
Several times a year I post an updated list of the (now 119) bibliographies freely available (for viewing or download) on my Academia page, the start of the school year, such as it is during the pandemic, being one of those times. It is easier to see the list in toto this way because it takes a bit of time to scroll down the Academia page site to view what’s there. I’ve also included a separate list of my writing (published and unpublished, although not all of the former is found here) on a variety of topics as well as the “study guides” for several religious worldviews (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Daoism, and Confucianism) I used to give to my students at Santa Barbara City College (there is not a ‘study guide’ for Buddhism, because I used to provide a chapter from a book introducing fundamental Buddhist ideas as well... Continue reading
Posted Aug 31, 2020 at
“Only in the past couple of centuries, as every community has gradually been drawn into a single web of trade and a global network of information, have we come to a point where each of us can realistically imagine contacting any one of our six billion conspecifics and sending that person something worth having: a radio, an antibiotic, a good idea. Unfortunately, we could also send, through negligence as easily as malice, things that will cause harm: a virus, an airborne pollutant, a bad idea. And the possibilities of good and ill are multiplied beyond all measure when it comes to policies carried out by governments in our name. Together, we can ruin poor farmers by dumping our subsidized grain into their markets, cripple industries by punitive tariffs, deliver weapons that will kill thousands upon thousands. Together, we can raise standards of living by adopting new policies on trade and... Continue reading
Posted Aug 28, 2020 at
From idealized worldview to idiosyncratic lifeworld: Marxist, Buddhist, spiritual humanist …. This is a revised version of something I posted on Facebook back in February of this year (I have no idea if anyone read it). I thought to revise it a bit after my wise FB friend, Richard Melton, wrote in response to my avowed identification as a Marxist and socialist democrat (not a full specification of my lifeworld* because I wanted simply to distinguish my political and economic views from those of the late moral and political philosopher Gerald Gaus), that he is an “eclectic left-of-center non-Marxist quasi-progressive with social democratic leanings (it’s getting more difficult to define myself these days).” There is perhaps a roughly equal number of virtues and vices (as to the former, it helps one avoid at least rigid orthodoxy and righteous dogmatism, while the latter might include a failure to meet minimal philosophical... Continue reading
Posted Aug 27, 2020 at
Friday’s free association and temporary cessation of reality—so to speak— leads to a question (in which the pandemic, the climate crisis, wildfires in California, Trump and the Republican Party, unemployment, poverty, hunger, indeed, the myriad causes and consequences of needless forms of suffering are, for a moment, out of the picture): La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680), whose maxims were refined over a number of years within the French literary salon of Madame de Sablé, * wrote “True eloquence consists in saying all that is required and only what is required.” Notice the period here is embraced by the closed quotation mark. Today it is accepted if not the manual of style preference or norm (I have not consulted the several style manuals to determine whether or not this is consensual) to place the period outside the quotation mark (similarly with commas). I find the former usage typographically (if not grammatically or linguistically)... Continue reading
Posted Aug 21, 2020 at
Some years ago I did a fair amount of self-directed reading in the philosophy of science and methodology in the natural and social sciences. What follows are some of the highlights and conclusions from my notes arranged so as to exhibit a measure of coherence although remaining well short of essay form. All the same, I hope you find them interesting, if not provocative (those of you who’ve known me since the days teaching at the community college or blogging at Ratio Juris will perhaps be familiar with at least some of this material). I want to sketch in a very preliminary manner and with broad brush strokes, several reasons for finding persuasive what I’ll term a “non-reductionist and modest or (‘soft’) scientific realism,” a philosophy of science (or ‘meta-science’) that is explicit about the “limits” of science with regard, for instance, to explaining the nature of consciousness, the composition... Continue reading
Posted Aug 18, 2020 at
The following, slightly edited (and sans embedded links), is from the Wikipedia entry on Ruth First (4 May 1925 – 17 August 1982), a South African anti-apartheid activist, journalist and scholar. She was assassinated on this date in 1982 with a parcel bomb built by the South African police while working in Mozambique. (I put together the list of her books at the end of the entry.) “Ruth First’s Jewish parents, Julius First and Matilda Levetan, emigrated to South Africa from Latvia in 1906 and became founding members of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA), the forerunner of the South African Communist Party (SACP). Ruth First was born in 1925 and brought up in Johannesburg. Like her parents, she joined the Communist Party, which was allied with the African National Congress [ANC] in its struggle to overthrow the South African government. As a teenager, First attended Jeppe High School... Continue reading
Posted Aug 17, 2020 at
If you have some knowledge of philosophy of law or legal theory, especially the views of our foremost legal theorists and philosophers (e.g., Hart, Dworkin, Coleman, Shapiro, Finnis, among others), the snippet immediately below may be of interest. I just finished reading one of the better treatments of H.L.A. Hart’s theory of legal positivism in a book in which I would not have suspected to find such a discussion and critique: Patrick Capps’ Human Dignity and the Foundations of International Law (Hart Publishing, 2009): 23-76. I should perhaps first note that most works about human dignity and law that I’ve found either plausible or compelling have been about dignity’s apparent axiomatic value with regard to the foundations of international legal human rights, so the scope of this argument is wider if not more difficult. Setting that argument aside for our purposes, consider the following from the conclusion of the analysis... Continue reading
Posted Aug 15, 2020 at