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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
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 5 days ago 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 Most of us, I suspect, possess or cleave to a desire or wish to be happy. “Most of us” is the requisite qualification because, in the words of Nel Noddings, “there are some gloomy souls who deny that happiness in our chief concern and claim something else as a greater good ….”1 We may even think our status as human beings or persons brings along with it (despite the awkwardness of the locution) a right to be happy, that the pursuit,... 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
“ … [W]hen I teach about the Early Modern period in European and Transatlantic thought, I usually juxtapose the ‘discovery’ of the Americas and the flurry of speculative work following that alongside the Protestant reformation, noting that both of these phenomena reflect a broad ‘empiricist turn’ in Western thought: that is, a turn away from an epistemology grounded in received authority, toward an epistemology grounded in experience and observation. In this framing (which is not particularly controversial, I would like to think!), Scottish Common Sense philosophy is an expression of the empiricist turn – but so is, I would argue, the Second Great Awakening, where wondering where one was being sent for eternity based on the inscrutable mystery of predestination gave some ground to knowing that one had become a child of God because one had experienced an inner transformation (sometimes accompanied, to be sure, with fainting fits, cries of... Continue reading
Posted Mar 29, 2019 at
Patients in analysis … frequently confuse distinct cognitive mental states, one for another. For example, certain phantasies—attitudes with content that one phantasizes or imagines to be the case—are often regarded, experienced, and, in important ways, serve to function as beliefs. However, clearly, they are not beliefs; they are not regulated by evidence and do not aim at the truth. Take, for instance, a patient who, despite his own ample evidence to the contrary, fixedly believes that no one likes him and, in many ways, acts as though it is the case that no one does. I have termed these phantasy-laden mental states ‘neurotic beliefs,’ maintaining that in part the most troubling, life-disturbing, pathological nature of neurosis is caused by this very mis-categorizing; e.g., when these phantasy-like neurotic beliefs are mistaken for beliefs-proper and thereby used to guide (really mis-guide) the patient’s real-world actions. Other patients make an even more serious... Continue reading
Posted Mar 24, 2019 at
“[T]here was probably more genuine communism practiced in nineteenth-century America than in any society, at any time, beyond the hunting and gathering stage. This certainly seemed self-evident to many Europeans. The young Friedrich Engels was among the many European socialists who were stirred by the reports of the American communities, and who first looked to them to provide the example and model for European communism. ‘The first people in America,’ wrote Engels, ‘and indeed in the world who brought into realization a society founded on the community of property were the so-called Shakers.’ The American communities, he confidently declared, had demonstrated that ‘communism, the social life and work based on the common possession of goods, is … not only possible but has actually been realized … and with the best result.’ The communities were themselves to a good extent the product of a wider movement of reform that enthusiastically embraced... Continue reading
Posted Mar 22, 2019 at
Israel is widely believed to be the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East, though it neither confirms nor denies possessing atomic weapons. — Closing sentence from a Huffington Post article last year on Benjamin Netanyahu disparaging the Iran Nuclear Agreement Is there something hypocritical about the world tolerating Israel’s nuclear arsenal, which the country does not officially acknowledge but has been publicly known for decades, and yet punishing Iran with severe economic sanctions just for its suspected steps toward a weapons program? Even Saudi Arabia, which sees Iran as its implacable enemy and made its accommodations with Israel long ago, often joins Tehran’s calls for a ‘nuclear-free region.’ And anyone not closely versed in Middle East issues might naturally wonder why the United States would accept Israeli warheads but not an Iranian program. — From an article by Max Fisher for The Washington Post, December 2, 2013 Israel’s special... Continue reading
Posted Mar 20, 2019 at
The following is a snippet from Martin Hägglund’s recent opinion piece in the New York Times, “Why Mortality Makes Us Free” (March 11, 2019): “The aim of salvation in Buddhism … is to be released from finite life itself. Such an idea of salvation recurs across the world religions, but in many strands of Buddhism there is a remarkable honesty regarding the implications of salvation. Rather than promising that your life will continue, or that you will see your loved ones again, the salvation of nirvana entails your extinction. [emphasis added] The aim is not to lead a free life, with the pain and suffering that such a life entails, but to reach the ‘insight’ that personal agency is an illusion and dissolve in the timelessness of nirvana. What ultimately matters is to attain a state of consciousness where everything ceases to matter, so that one can rest in peace.... Continue reading
Posted Mar 14, 2019 at
At The Faculty Lounge, I made the following reply (corrected here, as there is a rather large number of typos in the original post) to another interlocutor who said, in part, that “the scientific method is a devastating challenge to the relativist ideology that dominates ethnography and many areas of the social sciences.” The phrase “relativist ideology” lacks a clear or unambiguous referent or meaning here, if only because what “relativism” means varies widely (the term ideology is also notoriously vague or at least in need of a working or stipulative definition or proper qualification given its many meanings, but we can put that aside for now), thus we might say, “there is relativism and there is relativism.” With regard, say, to value judgments and rationality, absolute relativism is incoherent. In anthropology, “relativism” became a methodological principle when its practitioners were doing field work in “exotic,” non-Western countries quite different... Continue reading
Posted Mar 12, 2019 at
“What We Owe a Rabbit” Thomas Nagel for the New York Review of Books, March 21, 2019 Review of Christine M. Korsgaard’s Fellow Creatures: Our Obligations to the Other Animals (Oxford University Press, 2018) [edited] “Christine Korsgaard is a distinguished philosopher who has taught at Harvard for most of her career. Though not known to the general public, she is eminent within the field for her penetrating and analytically dense writings on ethical theory and her critical interpretations of the works of Immanuel Kant. Now, for the first time, she has written a book about a question that anyone can understand. Fellow Creatures: Our Obligations to the Other Animals is a blend of moral passion and rigorous theoretical argument. Though it is often difficult—not because of any lack of clarity in the writing but because of the intrinsic complexity of the issues—this book provides the opportunity for a wider audience... Continue reading
Posted Mar 7, 2019 at
“The Heart Sūtra (Sanskrit: प्रज्ञापारमिताहृदय Prajñāpāramitāhṛdaya; Chinese: 心經 Xīnjīng) is a popular sutra in Mahāyāna Buddhism. Its Sanskrit title,... Continue reading
Posted Mar 1, 2019 at
Our posts of bibliographies and brief reading guides in recognition, honor, and celebration of Black History Month comes to a close with this—our thirteenth—post on Blacks and Food Justice: A Guide to Resources. If you have been unable to keep up with our postings or by way of making it easy to view the material in our posts for the month, I have listed the bibliographies and guides below (in alphabetical order, thus not the order in which they appeared here throughout the month of February) with embedded links. I hope at least a few of our readers have found (or will find) them helpful. For what it’s worth, I was disappointed that, at least at the law and other blogs I read routinely, there was, unlike in past years, comparatively little or nothing deliberately posted for Black History Month. Sartre memorably wrote: “[Marxism] remains [...] the philosophy of our... Continue reading
Posted Feb 27, 2019 at
Our twelfth and next to last post in recognition, honor, and celebration of Black History month is a bibliography titled South African Liberation Struggles. In addition to the fight against apartheid, these emancipatory struggles encompass the pre- and post-apartheid periods insofar as they incarnate not only the quest for social justice and thus the triune motto of the French Revolution, namely, liberté, égalité, and fraternité, but represent as well the individual and collective effort of blacks in South Africa and elsewhere on the African continent for (meaningful or true) self-determination, self-realization, and fulfillment (or eudaimonia). (You can see larger images of the books pictured here if you click individually on the respective photos.) Continue reading
Posted Feb 25, 2019 at
Today’s post—our eleventh—in recognition, honor, and celebration of Black History Month, is a comparatively short reading guide for Malcolm X (May 19, 1925 – February 21, 1965), né Malcolm Little, and after his pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca, also known as Malik el-Shabazz. “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” “A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.” “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for or against.” “I am for violence if non-violence means we continue postponing a solution to the American black man’s problem just to avoid violence.” “If violence is wrong in America, violence is wrong abroad. If it is wrong to be violent defending black women and black children and black babies and black men, then it is wrong for America to draft us, and make us... Continue reading
Posted Feb 23, 2019 at
Two compilations today mark our tenth installment in recognition, honor, and celebration of Black History Month: Frantz Fanon and the bibliography for Pan-Africanism, Black Internationalism, & Black Cosmopolitanism. Continue reading
Posted Feb 21, 2019 at
Our ninth post in recognition, honor, and celebration of Black History Month covers titles on Philosophy and Racism. Continue reading
Posted Feb 19, 2019 at
Characterized, roughly speaking, as similar “therapies of desire,” Freudian psychoanalysis and Buddhist meditation techniques (which do not exhaust the kinds of such therapies, as the Stoics attest) have interesting commonalities and significant overlap, although of course the Buddhist worldview emerged as an Indic śramaṇa tradition “sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE,” while psychoanalysis began at the end of the nineteenth-century in the cultural climate of European modernity. A fair number of books, largely but not exclusively from Buddhists (some of whom are psychotherapists) have sought to address the various constructions of similarities and differences. I’m inclined to believe this subject has yet to be explored with the kind of philosophical and psychological depth and complexity it deserves, a judgment which is not intended to detract from the otherwise significant contributions and insights of this literature, which began, it appears, with Erich Fromm, D.T. Suzuki, and Richard De Martino’s... Continue reading
Posted Feb 18, 2019 at
Today’s post—our eighth—in recognition, honor, and celebration of Black History Month, provides a link to a reading guide on the Haitian Revolution as well as material from a prior post on that revolution in the art of Jacob Lawrence (September 7, 1917 – June 9, 2000), an African-American painter, storyteller, and professor of art at the University of Washington in Seattle. * * * We seek only to bring men to the liberty that God has given them, and that other men have taken from them only by transgressing His immutable will. — François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture (20 May 1743 – 7 April 1803) From [Frederick] Douglass’s time to ours, events in Haiti have continued to inspire African American responses in various genres, including journalism, oratory, music, and poetry. Far from fading, the Haitian Revolution has remained significant and has taken on new meanings during the twentieth century, as contemporary events... Continue reading
Posted Feb 17, 2019 at
The provision of medical care and service at one of the Black Panther Party’s free medical clinics (People’s Free Medical Clinic/PFMC). (Image found here)* For today’s post—our seventh—in recognition, honor, and celebration of Black History Month, we are sharing two related bibliographies: the Black Panther Party, and Blacks on the Left. * See Alondra Nelson’s Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination (University of Minnesota Press, 2011). Bill Whitfield of the Black Panther chapter in Kansas City serves free breakfast to children before they go to school, April 16, 1969. (Photograph by William P. Straeter, AP) Continue reading
Posted Feb 15, 2019 at
Today’s post (our sixth) in recognition, honor, and celebration of Black History Month is the “basic reading guide” for the life and work of C.L.R. James. Continue reading
Posted Feb 13, 2019 at
I recently finished reading Veronika Fuechtner’s Berlin Psychoanalytic: Psychoanalysis and Culture in Weimar Republic Germany and Beyond (University of California Press, 2011) and want to share some material from her conclusion which, I suspect (or hope), may interest those of you sympathetic to, if not convinced of the unique psychological, social psychological and political value of, psychoanalytic theory and praxis. Without going into specifics, we can characterize “Berlin Psychoanalytic” as a diverse network of people, discourses, and a corresponding cultural praxis. In particular, the psychoanalytic theory and practice that emerged from the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute (BPI) after WW I can be distinguished by the prominence of the following elements: “the preoccupation with war neurosis that for some analysts and artists also translated into an investment in social change through psychoanalysis; the institutional or intellectual openness to other social movements and theoretical approaches of the time, such as socialism, feminism, and... Continue reading
Posted Feb 12, 2019 at
“In 1968, John Watson was selected as editor of Wayne State University’s Daily Collegian, which he changed to ‘The South End,’ in recognition of Wayne State’s location south of General Motors. He turned the newspaper into a resource for radical causes, tackling race and class issues on a daily basis. This included reporting on the wildcat strikes of DRUM and other similar revolutionary actions.” Source: Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University Today’s post in honor and celebration of Black History Month is the compilation, Detroit: Labor & Industrialization, Race & Politics, Rebellion & Resurgence. Our prior posts: (i) here, (ii) here, (iii) here, and (iv) here. Continue reading
Posted Feb 11, 2019 at