Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Human Rights and Group (or ‘collective’) Rights: Co-Existence & Complementarity

László Moholy-Nagy, “AL 3,” 1926 (oil, industrial paints, and pencil on aluminum)
One of my favorite public intellectuals (writer, lecturer …) on the Left, whose worldview I would characterize, broadly, as exemplifying “spiritual humanism,” recently wrote in response to a comment at his blog, that “there are major problems with the notion of group rights, the belief in which is probably stronger now than it was 30 years ago.” I’m not sure if he believes that these problems are fatal, in other words, that the notion of “group rights” is somehow morally or legally incoherent or normatively indefensible. He may think there can be a philosophical or moral and legal case for group rights but has yet to learn of a plausible version of same. Be that as it may, I want to offer an all-too-brief case on behalf of the normative necessity for a moral and legal concept (and thus various conceptions) of group (or collective) rights to supplement or complement current doctrines of individual human rights. The works gathered together under “recommended reading” below should be (and some have been) essential to constructing a sound and persuasive argument for group rights (for indigenous peoples and minorities) in international law. 

There are perfectly cogent and compelling reasons for the development of the notion of “group rights,” particularly within the contours of international law. The notion of such rights emerged as a result of the more horrific experiences of colonialism and imperialism (including cultural ethical imperialism), including the oppression of, and acts of genocide directed toward, indigenous groups and minority “nations” within nation-states. As a consequence, group rights are intrinsically linked to the idea of collective self-determination insofar as that has been denied to such peoples. Group rights are thus a product of some of the more egregious flaws in the international system of nation-states, international law, and a purely “individualized” concept of human rights. They are an historical by-product of the sundry and sordid effects of the more fervid if not violent ethno-nationalist ideologies that motivated the genesis of particular nation-states around the planet. None of this implies that a conception of group rights should trump individual human rights (including the fundamental idea of human dignity which in several important respects is at the core of the notion of human rights), indeed, it might be morally and legally parasitic upon the latter, assuming the fundamental metaphysical and moral priority of human rights as conventionally understood. Hence recognition and protection of “group rights” may be one important means whereby we protect individual human rights.

Group rights are intended to give meaning, substance or “reality” to the notion of collective self-determination when that has been denied or distorted by the comparatively far more powerful states within which these groups or “nations” of indigenous peoples reside. Like human rights generally, they are subject to the constraints of political legitimacy and ultimately justice. As Allen Buchanan writes in Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination: Moral Foundations for International Law (Oxford University Press, 2004), “Human rights as exclusively individual rights—rights ascribed to individuals—are an inadequate account of justice for a justice-based moral theory of international law. Put more positively, this is the claim that the conception of justice appropriate for international law must include group rights, as well as individual rights.” Buchanan reminds us that international law already recognizes various forms of group rights, as in the legal rights of state or the legal rights of corporations. Buchanan proffers, I think, a persuasive argument for the recognition of another class of group rights, namely, the

“rights of self-government short of independent statehood. …[T]he protection of individual human rights requires both international legal recognition of a limited right to secede and international support for intrastate autonomy arrangements [e.g., Native Americans, Tibetans, the Bedouin…] that accord rights of self-determination short of full statehood to minority groups, including indigenous peoples.”

The notion of group rights invoked here need not threaten, indeed it should support and further, conventional human rights: “A theory can take individual rights as morally primary, but make plenty room for the moral necessity of recognizing legal rights that are group rights.” This is especially urgent when it comes to the prevention and struggle against “ethnic cleansing” and genocide (including ‘cultural genocide’), which assumes or presumes this or that conception of “group rights.”

In fact, there is at least implicit recognition of “group rights” in several “core” UN Human Rights instruments, especially the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966). In discussing the (group) right of self-determination, the UN Human Rights Committee distinguished this right from (individual) human rights.

“The right of self-determination is of particular importance because its realization is an essential condition for the effective guarantee and observance of individual human rights and for the promotion and strengthening of those rights. It is for that reason that States set forth the right of self-determination in a provision of positive law in both Covenants [above] and placed this provision as article 1 apart from and before all of the other rights in the two Covenants.”* 

In his SEP (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) entry on “group rights,” Peter Jones well summarizes the principal moral (and by implication, political, and legal) objections to the idea of group rights as a necessary supplement and complement to the notion of (individual) human rights:

“Worries about the moral implications or consequences of ascribing rights to groups, relate not only to whether we should accept that groups have rights but also to how ready we should be to vest rights in groups. The common thread running through these worries is the threat that group rights may pose to individuals and their rights. Sometimes the concern is for those inside, and sometimes for those outside, the right-holding group.

One concern is that, if we give moral standing to groups as such, we shall lose sight of individuals within the group. If a group can have standing as a group independently of its individual members, those individuals will have no standing on any matter on which the relevant standing lies with the group. On those matters, the separate wills of individuals cannot count. They will not be overridden; they will simply pass unrecognised. Thus, group rights may seem to be starkly at odds with the ‘separateness of persons.’

Another fear concerns the power that group rights may enable a group to wield over its members. When we concede that a group has rights, those may be rights that it holds against its own members and that it can use to regiment their lives. Thus, once again, the rights held and wielded by a group may be rights exercised at the expense of those who fall within it. In one respect, that seems an unnecessarily invidious way of representing the relationship between groups and their members. There is nothing unusual about a group’s organising itself so that it can make decisions collectively, either directly or through appointees, that bind its members severally. [….] The right of a group collectively to make decisions that bind its members severally is a simple description of democracy.

So why has there been so much angst about allowing that groups can have rights over their members? The answer is that, in recent years, group rights have been discussed primarily in relation to groups that have an involuntary membership: groups that are distinguished by their race, ethnicity, culture, or language. People do not choose to be members of these ‘ascriptive’ groups, nor can they easily leave them as they might leave a club or association. If they find the group’s authority oppressive or its way of life intolerable, they cannot simply opt out, since their membership of the group is treated by others—insiders or outsiders or both—as a natural ‘given’ to which normal rights of entry and exit do not apply. That is why Will Kymlicka, for example, a liberal deeply sympathetic to the claims of cultural groups and indigenous peoples, is reluctant to allow that the rights of groups can be directed inwardly as restrictions upon the group’s own members, rather than outwardly as protections against the external world.

Concerns about the potential for oppression implicit in group rights often have an empirical dimension. Demands for group rights are often looked upon most favourably when they are made by indigenous peoples, cultural minorities and religious groups whose way of life is threatened by external influences. But frequently, it is alleged, the real effect of conceding rights to these sorts of group is to reinforce the power of conservative elites whose wishes and interests clash with those of others in the group. Typically, an elite will want to use its power to maintain the traditions and integrity of the group and will be unwilling to tolerate dissent, deviance and demands for reform. It will also seek to maintain the position of those within the group who have traditionally been subordinate. This issue is often described as the problem of ‘minorities within minorities,’ but it can also be a problem of majorities (e.g. women) within minorities. In short, while according rights to a group may enhance the position of some of its members, it may seriously diminish the freedom and well-being of others. [….]

A closely related fear concerns the potential of group rights to rival and override the rights of individuals. One of the strongest motivations for ascribing rights to individual persons is to provide them with safeguards. Individuals as individuals are vulnerable to those who wield power in all of its many forms and to the might of numbers. Individuals who hold unpopular views or who live unorthodox forms of life or whose existence proves tiresome or objectionable to others, are in constant danger of being crushed by the many who view them negatively. When we give rights to individuals, we provide them with moral shields that protect them from the excesses of power, including the excesses of collective power. But, if we ascribe rights to groups as well as to individuals, we might find that the rights of individuals are met and overtaken by those of groups, so that rights lose their potency as safeguards for individuals. We might fear that, when the rights of a mighty group conflict with those of a mere individual, it is Goliath rather than David who will more frequently emerge as the victor. 

Group rights conceived collectively may seem less threatening to individuals than group rights conceived corporately. On the corporate conception a group has a moral standing independently of its members; the standing of the group can therefore displace that of its individual members so that their separate wills or interests or voices as individuals count for nothing. By contrast a collective right is held jointly by the individuals who make up the collectivity and is grounded in the standing and interests of those individuals. Thus, on the collective conception, there can be no question of individuals disappearing morally into a group in which they cease to have any independent status.” [….]

Jones briefly replies to skepticism about and the foremost fears surrounding prominent conceptions of group rights in international law and moral and legal theory:

“First, very much depends upon the content that we give group rights. It is possible to invest individual rights with a content that would make them unsavoury, but that would not discredit the very idea of individual rights; similarly, the possibility that we might find some group rights objectionable is no reason to dismiss group rights altogether. Secondly, it would seem strangely arbitrary, given the moral significance that we give to rights, to insist that the objects of rights can be only goods that individuals can enjoy as independent individuals and never goods they can enjoy only in association with others. Some theorists of rights seem to think just that. But we cannot take for granted that no good, whose shared nature was such that it could be the possible object only of a group right, could ever have the significance that would justify its actually being the object of a right.

Thirdly, there is no reason why individual rights and group rights should not both figure in our moral thinking. Indeed, they commonly do. For example, it would be entirely commonplace to hold that a people, as a political unit, has a collective right to be self-determining but only within the limits set by individuals’ human rights. Group rights do not have to clash with individual rights and a complete moral theory would articulate individual rights and group rights so that they formed a coherent set. It may prove impossible to anticipate and avoid every conflict amongst rights, but, even if it does, we need not suppose that conflicts will arise more commonly between group rights and individual rights than amongst individual rights themselves. [….]

Group rights and individual rights can, then, co-exist more or less peacefully, but it is also possible for them to enjoy a more positive and mutually supportive relationship. [….] Indeed, it may sometimes be an individual right that makes the case for a group right. We might argue, for example, that some of the goods to which individuals have rights depend for their realisation upon the health of the communities and cultures to which those individuals belong, so that there is a case for individuals sharing in group rights because those rights serve their individual rights or their individual freedom. Or we might argue that individuals have equal rights to the conditions of self-development, that individual self-development requires common or joint activity, and that that makes the case for group rights to the conditions necessary for that common or joint activity. Or, again, we might hold that amongst the range of options required for individual autonomy are joint options, options to pursue ends that require coordinated activity with other members of one’s group; that too may justify group rights, such as the right of a group to control its own affairs. The claim here might be either that a group right is conducive to, or, more strongly, that it is essential for, the realisation of an individual right. 

* Quoted in McCorquodale (2010): 366-367.

Recommended reading toward the normative—moral and legal—justification of “group (or ‘collective’) rights” in international law:

  • Allen, Stephen and Alexandra Xanthaki, eds. Reflections on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Oxford, UK: Hart, 2011.
  • Alston, Philip, ed. People’s Rights. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2001.
  • Amara, Ahmad, Ismael Abu-Saad, and Oren Yiftachel, eds. Indigenous (In)Justice: Human Rights Law and Bedouin Arabs in the Naqab/Negev. Cambridge, MA: International Human Rights Clinic, Human Rights Program, Harvard Law School/Harvard University Press, 2013.
  • Anaya, S. James. Indigenous Peoples in International Law. New York: Oxford University Press, 2nd ed., 2004.
  • Anaya, S. James. International Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples. New York: Aspen, 2009.
  • Anghie, Antony. Imperialism, Sovereignty, and the Making of International Law. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
  • Behrens, Paul and Ralph Henham, eds. Elements of Genocide. New York: Routledge, 2013.
  • Bisaz, Corsin. The Concept of Group Rights in International Law: Groups as Contested Right Holders, Subjects and Legal Persons. Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff, 2012.
  • Bloxham, Donald and A. Dirk Moses, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Genocide Studies. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2010.
  • Buchanan, Allen. Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination: Moral Foundations for International Law. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Casals, Neus Torbisco. Group Rights as Human Rights: A Liberal Approach to Multiculturalism. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2006.
  • Cassese, Antonio. Self-Determination of Peoples: A Legal Reappraisal. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
  • Crawford, James, ed. The Rights of Peoples. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1988.
  • Davidson, Lawrence. Cultural Genocide. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2012.
  • De Feyter, Koen and George Pavlakos, eds. The Tension Between Group Rights and Human Rights: A Multidisciplinary Approach. Oxford, UK: Hart, 2008.
  • Echo-Hawk, Walter R. In the Light of Justice: The Rise of Human Rights in Native America and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 2013.
  • Felice, William F. Taking Suffering Seriously: The Importance of Collective Human Rights.  Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1996.
  • Ghanea, Nazila and Alexandra Xanthaki, eds. Minorities, Peoples and Self-Determination (Essays in Honour of Patrick Thornberry). Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff, 2005.
  • Ingram, David. Group Rights: Reconciling Equality and Difference. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2000.
  • Jones, Peter, “Group Rights,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  • Jones, Peter. “Collective and Group-Specific: Can the Rights of Ethno-Cultural Minorities be Human Rights?,” in Pentassuglia, G. ed. Ethno-Cultural Diversity and Human Rights. Leiden: Brill|Nijhoff, 2018 (forthcoming).
  • Jones Peter. “Human Rights and Collective Self-Determination,” in Adam Etinson, ed. Human Rights: Moral or Political? Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2017 (in press).
  • Jovanović, Miodrag A. Collective Rights: A Legal Theory. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
  • Keal, Paul. European Conquest and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: The Moral Backwardness of International Society. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  • Kymlicka, Will. Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
  • May, Larry. Genocide: A Normative Account. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  • McCorquodale, Robert. “Rights of Peoples and Minorities,” in Daniel Moeckli, Sangeeta Shah, and Sandesh Sivakumaran, eds. International Human Rights Law. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010: 365-387.
  • McCorquodale, Robert, ed. Self-Determination in International Law. New York: Routledge, 2017 (Ashgate, 2000).
  • Musgrave, Thomas D. Self-Determination and National Minorities. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • Newman, Dwight. Community and Collective Rights: A Theoretical Framework for Rights Held by Groups. Oxford, UK: Hart, 2011.
  • Sistare, Christine, Larry May, and Leslie Francis, eds. Groups and Group Rights. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press, 2001.
  • Tams, Christian, Lars Berster, and Björn Schiffbauer, eds. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide: A Commentary. Portland, OR: C.H. Beck/Hart/Nomos, 2014.
  • Thornberry, Patrick. International Law and the Rights of Minorities. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.
  • United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 13 September 2007. “While as a General Assembly Declaration it is not a legally binding instrument under international law, according to a UN press release, it does ‘represent the dynamic development of international legal norms and it reflects the commitment of the UN’s member states to move in certain directions’; the UN describes it as setting ‘an important standard for the treatment of indigenous peoples that will undoubtedly be a significant tool towards eliminating human rights violations against the planet’s 370 million indigenous people and assisting them in combating discrimination and marginalisation.’” Available:
  • van der Wolf, Willem-Jan, ed. Genocide and International Criminal Law. The Hague: International Courts Association, 2011.
  • Watson, Irene. Aboriginal Peoples, Colonialism and International Law: Raw Law. New York: Routledge, 2015.
  • Xanthaki, Alexandra. Indigenous Rights and United Nations Standards: Self-Determination, Culture and Land. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Detroit: Labor & Industrialization, Race & Politics, Rebellion & Resurgence — A Select Bibliography

My latest bibliography has a long title but is comparatively short: “Detroit: Labor & Industrialization, Race & Politics, Rebellion & Resurgence.” It is “framed”  with two murals by Diego Rivera and two poems by Philip Levine.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Frantz Fanon — A Basic Reading Guide

Frantz Fanon mural, in the morning,” by Bruce Clarke

Frantz Omar Fanon (20 July 1925 – 6 December 1961) was a Martinique-born Afro-Caribbean psychiatrist, philosopher, revolutionary, and writer whose works are influential in the fields of post-colonial studies, critical theory, and Marxism. As an intellectual, Fanon was a political radical, Pan-Africanist, and Marxist humanist concerned with the psychopathology of colonization, and the human, social, and cultural consequences of decolonization.”

  • Bulhan, Hussein Abdilahi. Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression. New York: Plenum Press, 1995. 
  • Cherki, Alice (Nadia Benabid, tr.) Frantz Fanon: A Portrait. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006.  
  • Fanon, Frantz (Richard Philcox, tr.) Black Skin, White Masks. New York: Grove Press, 2008 (Éditions du Seuil, 1952). 
  • Fanon, Frantz (Richard Philcox, tr.) The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press, 2004 (Présence Africaine, 1961).  
  • Fanon, Frantz. A Dying Colonialism. New York: Grove Press, 1994 (Monthly Review Press, 1965; in French, 1959). 
  • Fanon, Frantz (Haakon Chevalier, tr.) Toward the African Revolution. New York: Grove Press, 1988 (Monthly Review Press, 1967).  
  • Fanon, Frantz (Nigel C. Gibson, ed.) Decolonizing Madness: The Psychiatric Writings of Frantz Fanon. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. 
  • Gibson, Nigel C., ed. Rethinking Fanon: The Continuing Dialogue. Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 1999.  
  • Gordon, Lewis R. Fanon and the Crisis of European Man: An Essay on Philosophy and the Human Sciences. New York: Routledge, 1995. 
  • Gordon, Lewis R. What Fanon Said: A Philosophical Introduction to His Life and Thought. New York: Fordham University Press, 2015.  
  • Gordon, Lewis R., T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, and Renee T. White, eds. Fanon: A Critical Reader. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1996.  
  • Hudis, Peter. Frantz Fanon: Philosopher of the Barricades. London: Pluto Press, 2015. 
  • Lee, Christopher J. Frantz Fanon: Toward a Revolutionary Humanism. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2015. 
  • Macey, David. Frantz Fanon: A Biography. London: Verso, 2nd ed., 2012.  
  • Sartre, Jean-Paul. “Colonialism is a System,” Les Temps Modernes, No. 123, March-April 1956 (speech made at a rally ‘for peace in Algeria’), reprinted in Jean-Paul Sartre, Colonialism and Neocolonialism (Azzedine Haddour, Steve Brewer, and Terry McWilliams, tr.) New York: Routledge, 2001: 30-47. 
  • Sartre, Jean-Paul. Preface to Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (1961), reprinted in Jean-Paul Sartre, Colonialism and Neocolonialism (Azzedine Haddour, Steve Brewer, and Terry McWilliams, tr.) New York: Routledge, 2001: 136-155.  
  • Sekyi-Otu, Ato. Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996. 
  • Zeilig, Leo. Frantz Fanon: The Militant Philosopher of the Third World Revolution. London: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., 2016.
A related bibliography on “Pan-Africanism, Black Internationalism, & Black Cosmopolitanism” is here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

From Aristotelian moral psychology to Freud … and from Socratic to Psychoanalytic Midwifery

There is so much material worthy of detailed discussion and further elaboration in Jonathan Lear’s latest book, Wisdom Won from Illness: Essays in Philosophy and Psychoanalysis (Harvard University Press, 2017), one hardly knows—as we say—where to begin. And I say this before having finished the book! For now permit me to share one snippet selected from an essay on why Lear believes Freud provides us with the means whereby we can continue the “unfinished” project of Aristotle’s moral psychology. As Lear reminds us, Bernard Williams describes a distinctively moral psychology as an enterprise that employs “the categories of meaning, reason and value, but leaves it open, or even problematical what way moral reasons and ethical values fit with other motives and desires, how far they express those other motives and how far they are in conflict with them.”
One could certainly argue that contemporary moral philosophy and ethics is fairly impoverished when it comes to providing plausible, let alone compelling pictures of moral psychology (as with all such generalizations, there are exceptions), a state of affairs in part due to the academic division of intellectual labor as well as the comparatively few number of philosophers who do work in ethics or moral philosophy while simultaneously possessing an abiding and sympathetic interest in Freudian and post-Freudian psychology. With virtue and care ethics, moral psychology has begun to carve out some space within professional philosophy, but that is largely due to considerations of character as well as our emotional life, “and our emotions tend to be conscious experiences.”
Unlike Williams however, Lear finds much of value in the ancient psychology of Plato and Aristotle with regard to the nonrational part of the soul, describing the latter’s endeavors as “unfinished,” with Freudian psychoanalysis providing us with “valuable insight into the communicative relations between the rational and nonrational parts of the soul” or psyche. In particular, the “nonrational soul has a significant unconscious dimension and … it proceeds according to its own form,” in other words, “unconscious mental activity has a distinctive nature:”
“The unconscious, Freud teachers, proceeds according to the loose associations and condensations of primary process mental activity. It works in a mode that is exempt from contradiction and in temporality of timelessness; it substitutes psychical reality for external reality. By coming to understand this alternative form of mental activity, we can work out in significant detail the voice of the nonrational soul. It also emerges from Freud’s case studies that the nonrational soul—the part he called the ‘unconscious’—is typically engage in a basic project: trying to address a problem of human existence, albeit in a nonrational and childish way. [….] And psychoanalysis, the praxis, is the attempt to facilitate communication [or, put differently, harmonic integration] between the nonrational and the rational soul.”
Lear suggests, however, that there has been in common circulation a “misconception of what psychoanalysis is,” and this misconception is not limited to the layperson, but found in contemporary philosophy as well, namely, “the idea of the psychoanalyst as an expert on what is hidden in another person’s unconscious mind.” One might intuitively appreciate how such a claim might rankle us to the extent that we resent the notion that another individual might be capable of knowing us much better than we know ourselves (although it is certainly true that others, especially those quite close to us, may have knowledge about ourselves that we, for whatever reason, conspicuously lack), particularly that part of us which is, so to speak, hidden within and yet is capable of having a considerable impact on our mental states, our character, our agency in the world. After providing specific examples from philosophers who invoke this picture of psychoanalytic expertise, Lear sketches the basic contours of this misconceived model, one in which  
“the psychoanalyst is an expert at taking an empirical stance with respect to the analysand, perhaps picking up unusual bits of available evidence and then making an inference to what must be going on in the analysand’s unconscious mind. The analyst might also be good at encouraging the analysand to take just such an empirical stance with respect to herself.
Of course, in popular culture there are the familiar images of the analyst as someone relentlessly searching for repressed memories, or the analyst who somehow has the keys to unlock the psychic basement and a special light to shine under the cobwebbed stairs.”
According to Lear, these pictures or models are based in some measure on things Freud himself once said or did at the beginning of his career: “Freud was on the hunt for repressed memories, and he was willing to make so-called deep interpretations of what was purportedly going on in the analysand’s mind. An interpretation is considered ‘deep’ if it is not easily available to the analysand’s own self-conscious experience.”
Yet the “mature form” of knowledge in psychoanalysis informs us that
“Freud fairly quickly realized that simply telling a person the contents of her unconscious not only had no positive therapeutic effect, but it also regularly provoked irritation and resistance; on occasion it led to the analysand breaking off treatment. In effect, he recognized that simply telling another person the truth about himself was not a therapeutic method. …[T]he more Freud thought about therapeutic efficacy the more he was led to abandon deep interpretations or the search for the historic truth about a moment in the past, and concentrate instead on facilitating the analysand’s own associations. On this conception, the psychoanalyst is not an expert about the hidden contents of another’s mind. Rather, the analyst is a facilitator of the free thought and free speech of another. The emphasis now is on the analyst facilitating a process through which the analysand himself or herself will come to be able to speak its meaning. In this sense, psychoanalysis stands in a tradition of Socratic midwifery.”
My bibliography for Freudian and Post-Freudian Psychology is here. Readers may also be interested in this transdisciplinary compilation for the emotions.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Happy Birthday Woody Guthrie! (July 14, 1912 – October 3, 1967)

As we’re in the midst of summer, probably most of us would rather listen to the songs than read what follows, all the same, I’m hoping there are a few hardy (perhaps even ‘communist’) souls that can’t resist reading something about the life and work of Guthrie.
In Michael Denning’s groundbreaking and provocative book, The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century (Verso, 2010 ed.), Woody Guthrie (along with Carlos Bulosan and Ernesto Galarza) is invoked to exemplify a compelling alternative to the Popular Front’s “grapes of wrath” (the ‘Okie exodus’) narrative of migrant agricultural workers in California. Guthrie, Bulosan and Galarza together provide us with a “less visible attempt of farmworkers to represent themselves politically and aesthetically.” As Denning writes, the former narrative, which became part of American mass culture, “has always been taken as an emblem of depression-era populism, embodying the ‘documentary impulse’ of representing ‘the people.’” Denning explains precisely how (e.g., through novels and film) and why the “grapes of wrath” narrative gained its conspicuous popularity, one reason owing to its focus on  “white Protestant ‘plain people.’”
Let’s take an all-too-brief look, with Denning, at how Guthrie gives us a migrant narrative in which the subjects are more or less representing themselves (or exercising their agency), rather than their work and lives being represented (i.e., documented) by others. After making his way to California in the mid-1930s as an itinerant musician and sign painter, Guthrie and his brother Jack landed a radio show in Los Angeles that began with “cowboy songs” and was soon transformed into a
“mixture of old-time ‘hillbilly’ songs, downhome philosophy, and Dust Bowl ballads [that] became popular among the California migrant workers. He met the young Communists who were organizing the farmworkers, including Will Geer, an actor who had come out of the workers theater movement. Joining Geer’s troupe of four, Folksay, Guthrie sang and performed skits at migrant camps and picket lines throughout the San Joaquin Valley. By May 1939, he was writing a column of humor, cartoons, and song lyrics, ‘Woody Sez,’ for the People’s World [‘People’s World came about when the Daily Worker, the east coast Communist Party USA daily newspaper, which was founded in 1924, and the Communist Party USA’s west coast daily newspaper, The Daily People’s World, merged to become People’s Weekly World.’], and in October 1939 Guthrie and Geer led a group of artists to support the strikers in the Madera County cotton strike.”
Soon thereafter, Guthrie ventured to New York
“and became part of the movement culture of the Popular Front. On 3 March 1940, he appeared at one of the earliest Popular Front folk-music recitals: the ‘Grapes of Wrath’ benefit for the Steinbeck committee, which features ‘American Ballad Singers and Folk Dancers,’ including Aunt Molly Jackson, Will Geer, Leadbelly, and the Golden Gate Quartet. Guthrie also forged connections with Popular Front figures in the New Deal state and the culture industries. Later in March, he was recorded by the radical folklorist Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress archives. In April, he appeared on Norman Corwin’s network radio show, ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’ (which had featured [Paul] Robeson’s ‘Ballad for Americans’), singing ‘Do Re Mi.’ In May 1940, Guthrie recorded the classic Dust Bowl Ballads, a song cycle based on the Dust Bowl migration, for RCA Victor.”
Denning proceeds to explain how the Dust Bowl Ballads serve as a counterpoint to the Grapes of Wrath, with a wonderful introduction to and analysis of several songs. We thus learn from Denning that,
“[l]ike many of the migrants, Guthrie had never been comfortable with the word ‘Okie,’ which was, after all, used as a slur and an insult. He never uses the work in the songs of the Dust Bowl Ballads, and his distance from the word can be seen in his chains of substitutions: ‘Talking about Okie songs, or Arkie songs, or just plain old songs of the Migratious Trail,’ he writes in Direction; I looked into the lost and hungry face of several hundred thousand Oakies, Arkies, Texies, Mexies, Chinees, Japees, Dixies, and even a lot of New Yorkies,’ he quips in the liner notes. He was equally uncomfortable with the name ‘Dust Bowl refugee’ ….”
The “migrant narrative,” concludes Denning, exemplified in the works of Guthrie, Carlos Bulosan, and Ernesto Galarza, “became one of the forms that ‘proletarian literature’ took in the United States, providing a structure by which plebian artists, intellectuals, and organizers could represent their world.” The means and media, as it were, of this relatively “direct” or unmediated collective self-representation of the migrant world, is in contrast to the “documentary” form of representation common to the well-known works of John Steinbeck, Dorothea Lange, and Carey McWilliams (among others):
“The representation of the ‘grapes of wrath’ by the artists and intellectuals of the Popular Front was a complex formation. For the cultural front of California’s agricultural valleys included both the artists and intellectuals who came to the fields and produced the powerful representations that gripped the nation in 1939 and 1940—figures like Lange, Taylor, Steinbeck, and McWilliams—and the artists and intellectuals who emerged from the struggle in those fields—figures like Guthrie, Bulosan, and Galarza.* Cultural historians have tended to focus on the first group of figures, precisely because the cultural politics of the movement and of the cultural apparatuses accented their contributions. As a result, the ‘documentary’ stance of these artists and intellectuals has often seemed to characterize the aesthetic ideologies of the cultural front generally. The work of the second group is often overlooked because it rarely coincides with moments of public attention, it rarely attempts to serve as a public document of a social condition, and it depends on for its cultural success on the fate of its community.”
In Guthrie’s case, he
“had a brief celebrity in 1940 as the Dust Bowl balladeer, appearing on network radio, recorded by Victor; though he never achieved the commercial success of the western swing bands of Bob Wills or Spade Cooley, he was part of the musical culture of the Southwest. Nevertheless, despite the legacy of Oklahoma socialism, Guthrie’s Popular Front communism did not take hold among the white immigrants from the Southwest; their populism was what James Gregory has called ‘plain-folk Americanism.’ With the defeat of the CIO’s [Congress of Industrial Organizations] UCAPAWA [United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied Workers of America], Guthrie left the organizing campaigns of the California fields and found his primary audiences in the movement culture of New York’s Popular Front and the CIO unions of the Northeast and Midwest. When Guthrie crossed the country with the Almanac singers in the summer of 1941, they sang union songs for the Transport Workers in New York, at a labor rally in Philadelphia, at the NMU’s [National Miners Union] convention in Cleveland, for striking furworkers in Cicero, at a Popular Front theater in Chicago and a CIO picnic in Milwaukee, for an International Harvester picket line in Minneapolis, ending with the longshoremen in San Francisco. Guthrie had reconstructed himself as a CIO singer. But the collapse of the CIO’s left-wing movement culture in the face of the anti-Communist purge of the unions coincided with the onset of Guthrie’s debilitating illness.”
* For an introduction to the historic and political context of that struggle, the following should suffice:
  • Daniel, Cletus. Bitter Harvest: A History of California Farmworkers, 1870-1941 (University of California Press, 1981). 
  • Dyson, Lowell K. Red Harvest: The Communist Party and American Farmers (University of Nebraska Press, 1982).
  •  Flores, Lori A. Grounds for Dreaming: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the California Farmworker Movement (Yale University Press, 2016). 
  • Loftis, Anne. Witnesses to the Struggle: Imaging the 1930s California Labor Movement (University of Nevada Press, 1998).

Latest Republican-crafted health care bill: from bad to worse (or: Republicans are shameless)

Either the Republicans are dissembling, or they’re simply well-versed in collective self-deception, denial, and wishful thinking. Can it be that they truly do not understand the mechanisms intrinsic to private insurance markets? Or is it that they simply don’t care? One of the more obvious ways insurance markets might fail has to do with “adverse selection” (another way is said to relate to ‘moral hazard,’ but I’m inclined to believe that is not a prominent problem for health insurance markets). Robert E. Goodin explains how this works:

“If participation in the insurance scheme were voluntary, and if individuals had better information concerning their own true risks than did underwriters, then better-than-average risks would opt out of the scheme (preferring to self-insure) and only bad risks would be left in. Premiums would have to rise to cover the above-average level of claims for those now left in the pool. As they did, more and more people would find it to their advantage to opt out. Eventually, only the very worst risks would remain in the pool, and the whole scheme would collapse.”

As Goodin concludes, to “remedy the problem of adverse selection, insurance must be made compulsory.”* 

Now consider the latest Republican health care bill:

“The revised GOP bill includes [Texas Sen. Ted] Cruz’s proposal that insurers be permitted to offer cheaper, skimpier plans that fall short of what the Affordable Care Act defined as basic coverage, as long as they continue to offer at least one plan that meets the Obamacare requirements. The upshot, of course, is that younger, healthier people would flock to the cheaper plans, leaving the costlier, more comprehensive policies to the sick.

That, in turn, would create two separate risk pools: healthy people and those requiring medical care. Without healthier people’s premiums to offset claims submitted by the ill, insurers would have no choice but to raise rates for the sick.

And voila, we’re back where we started prior to Obamacare, with coverage in the individual insurance market once again unaffordable for people with pre-existing conditions and treatment once again inaccessible to all but the wealthiest Americans. The sick once again would flood emergency rooms, and hospital bills for everyone would rise to accommodate those increased costs. All in the name of lowering insurance costs for healthy people, who need coverage least.

‘The new Republican plan has gone from horrible to absolutely awful,’ said Gerald Kominski, director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. ‘The first version guts Medicaid, and now this version does the same for exchange marketplaces,’ he told me. ‘Republicans should be ashamed.’” For the entire article by David Lazarus for the Los Angeles Times, see here. 

* From Goodin’s book, Reasons for Welfare: The Political Theory of the Welfare State (Princeton University Press, 1988). As Goodin explains, “[m]uch welfare state activity can thus be justified as social insurance designed to remedy the failures of private insurance markets. Much of it cannot, however. [….] The reason is that insurance is not fundamentally redistributive at all.” Lest the reader draw the wrong inference from these quotes from Goodin, we should note that he believes the “true justification of the welfare state is not … to be found in the rigidly economistic logic of correcting market failures, narrowly conceived. Instead, it is to be found in the role of the welfare state in safeguarding the preconditions of the market.” [emphasis added] We need not cite these preconditions here, so suffice to say that the welfare state “provides certain sorts of thing for certain sorts of people outside the market. And in providing for dependent agents outside the market, it does so on terms that render them substantially independent in their market transactions.”

Friday, June 30, 2017

La Rochefoucauld’s Maxims (3)

Today’s selection of maxims is presented for your delectation without any comment.
  • “Our self-esteem is more inclined to resent criticism of our tastes than of our opinions.”
  • “Greater virtues are needed to bear good fortune than bad.”
  • “Everybody complains of his memory, but nobody of his judgment.”
— La Rochefoucauld

Monday, June 19, 2017

La Rochefoucauld’s Maxims (2)

The epigraph is germane to our third maxim from La Rochefoucauld below.

“The argument for the promising rule goes by appeal to the value that the practice of promising has for us as members of a society. The chief value of the practice of promising is social coordination and cooperation—promises (and cognate phenomena like contracts and agreements) allow people to trust one another, which in turn allows for all sorts of cooperative benefits, e.g., divisions of labor, solutions to coordination problems and collective action problems, exits from prisoners dilemmas, etc. The theory is first offered by Hobbes (Leviathan xiii–xv).

Hobbes’ framework for assessing the rationality of moral rules assumes that the over-arching goal is to exit the state of nature into a civil society. In the Hobbesian state of nature, our expansive natural rights, our over-large appetites and our natural inclination to dominate result in constant, irresolvable conflict, what Hobbes called the war of all against all (Lev. xiii: 88–89). Against this backdrop Hobbes claims that practices that allow us to escape this condition are ‘Laws of Nature.’ i.e., mandates of rational self-interest,* and that keeping promises is one of those practices (Lev. xv: 100 ff). Hobbes takes promises to be a part of the larger and more complex system of contract. A contract for Hobbes is a mutual transfer of rights in things. A covenant is a contract where one of the parties must perform after the other, and thus promises the first performer his later performance. Hobbes takes covenants to be the ‘fountain and original of justice,’ and the keeping of covenants is a mandate of the Law of Nature (Lev. xiv: 100).

Hobbes’ picture is complicated by the fact that he doesn’t think that the appreciation of the fact that promise-keeping is valuable is sufficient to guarantee compliance. He thinks this because he thinks that people are passionate creatures whose reason is often overwhelmed by those passions, and because he conceives of covenants as cases where the promisee puts himself at risk by trusting the promisor. Such risk is forbidden by the first law of nature (self-defense) unless the promisee has some very good reason to assume that the promiser won’t betray his trust. And since mere reason isn't enough (ex hypothesi) to make that guarantee, promisees can’t trust promisers. As such, Hobbes claims that promises made merely on the grounds of trust are not promises at all (cf. Lev. xiv: 96 & xv: 102). Hobbes’ solution is to ground promissory obligations not directly in the rationality of keeping promises, but rather in the rational fear of the sovereign, whose job it is to enforce contracts by punishing renegers. In this way, Hobbes has an indirect justification of promissory obligations by appeal to the rationality of promise-keeping: Rationality mandates the establishment of a sovereign, who will enforce contracts by threat of punishment. The existence of the plausible threat from the sovereign in turn makes promise keeping rational. So promises aren’t a way to exit the state of nature, rather they are a necessary component of civil society made possible by the exit from the state of nature by the establishment of a sovereign.”—Allen Habib 

* That the Hobbesian “Laws of Nature” are merely “mandates of self-interest” is an eminently arguable proposition and one I believe, after S.A. Lloyd, to be false. Lloyd argues “that the only end reliably served by the Laws of Nature is the common good, or the good of humanity generally, and not the preservation or profit of the individual agent who is to follow those laws.” Please see her Morality in the Philosophy Thomas Hobbes: Cases in the Law of Nature (Cambridge University Press, 2009), as well as her earlier book, Ideals as Interests in Hobbes’s Leviathan: The Power of Mind over Matter (Cambridge University Press, 1992).

“We all have strength enough to endure the troubles of others.” — La Rochefoucauld 

“We often pride ourselves on even the most criminal passions, but envy is a timid and shamefaced passion we never dare acknowledge.” — La Rochefoucauld 

“Our promises are made in proportion to our hopes, but kept in proportion to our fears.” — La Rochefoucauld

Sidebar on the last maxim: In the case of Anglo-American contract law, however, it seems promises are an exception to rule of the second clause, that is, insofar as promises are not “kept in proportion to our fears,” at least when that fear is in reference to considering or calculating the consequences for breach of contract (cf. the ‘law and economics’ idea of ‘efficient breach’), the fear in question in reference to the possible (legal) penalties in the wake of that breach (we won’t here touch upon the sanctions that might follow the violation of a social norm).* The remedies for breach of contract are not intentionally (or unintentionally) punitive, hence one reason Seana Shiffrin points out that the legal “doctrines of consideration, mitigation, and the ban on punitive damages [emphasis added] are in tension with the corresponding [moral] structure of promising.” Shiffrin does appreciates the fact that “because it [i.e., law] is a cooperative activity of mutual governance that takes institutional form, its moral values and principles may well be distinct from those comprising interpersonal morality.” Nonetheless, she proceeds to argue that
“If either moral agency must be accommodated from respect for agents’ interests in leading moral lives or a robust culture of promissory commitment is necessary for a flourishing political society, then we have a political interest in ensuring that we do not as a community invoke and recognize promises within our political institutions but then treat them or act on rationales inconsistent with their value. Even if our interest in invoking promises is not directly one of supporting or encouraging the culture of promising, we may still have a duty, taking something of the form of a constraint, not to act or reason in ways that are in tension with the maintenance of a moral culture of promising.”

Shiffrin’s overarching motivating concern revolves on the possibility of articulating a (presumably prescriptive) theory of contract “that would treat the conditions of moral agency and the culture of promising in a more complementary way,” in other words, how might we “conceive of a distinctively legal normative conception of contract that would sit more comfortably with our moral agency.” 

* In this discussion I am not assuming (nor need we assume) that contracts are best (descriptively) explained by the “promised-based or autonomy argument” or contract theory (of obligation) made (in)famous by Charles Fried’s Contract as Promise (1981) (it seems clear by now that no one principle—promise, consent, efficiency, what have you—can suffice to explain the praxis of contract law). And I agree with Brian Bix that the “ideal of freedom of contract (and its corollary, freedom from contract) is not always fully realized,” indeed, “the deviations from the ideal are pervasive, especially in consumer transactions.

References & Further Reading:
  • Ayres, Ian. And Gregory Klass. Insincere Promises: The Law of Misrepresented Intent. Yale University Press, 2005.
  • Benson, Peter, ed. The Theory of Contract Law. Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  • Bix, Brian. Contract Law: Rules, Theory, and Context. Cambridge University Press, 2012.
  • Cunningham, Lawrence A. Contracts in the Real World: Stories of Popular Contracts and Why They Matter. Cambridge University Press, 2012.
  • Fuller, Lon L. The Morality of Law. Yale University Press, revised ed., 1969.
  • Habib, Allen, “Promises,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  • Hardin, Russell. Trust and Trustworthiness. Russell Sage Foundation, 2002.
  • Kreitner, Roy. Calculating Promises: The Emergence of Modern American Contract Doctrine. Stanford University Press, 2007.
  • Shiffrin, Seana Valentine. “The Divergence of Contract and Promise,” Harvard Law Review 120 (2007): 708-753. Available:  
  • Shiffrin, Seana Valentine. “Are Contracts Promises?” in Andrei Marmor, ed. The Routledge Companion to the Philosophy of Law. Routledge, 2012. Available (unedited version):
  • Zaibert, Leo. “Intentions, Promises, and Obligations,” in Barry Smith, ed., John Searle. Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Beyond Illusions & Delusions: Knowledge of Ignorance and the Disposition to Truth

Propositions pivotal to the “default liberal optimism about human welfare:”
  1. People tend to fare best when they possess, more or less, the greatest possible freedom to live as they wish. Exceptions will be marginal. Ideally, people will face circumstance of maximally unbounded and unburdened choice. 
  2. More freedom in determining the character of one’s life is almost always better, in terms of average well-being, with exceptions representing a fringe of special cases. 
  3. The benefits of option freedom are not marginal but major. A great increase in option freedom will typically yield large gains in well-being. 
  4. Individuals are almost always better positioned to make choices concern their well-being than anyone else, aside from limited resources and matters of special expertise. 
  5. People not only do best in conditions of unbounded choice; they tend to do pretty 
  6. Option freedom benefits individuals primarily through the successful exercise of their own agency. This is because it enables them to tailor their lives to their particular needs.
The Systematic Imprudence thesis:
Human beings are systematically prone to make a wide range of serious errors in matters of personal welfare. These errors are weighty enough to substantially compromise the expected lifetime of well-being for individuals possessing a high degree of freedom to shape their lives as they wish, even under reasonably favorable conditions (education, etc.).
From Daniel M. Haybron’s The Pursuit of Unhappiness: The Elusive Psychology of Well-Being (Oxford University Press, 2008).
*    *    *
“The Socratic allegories, unlike the Homeric myths, inherently encourage dissatisfaction with the existing state of affairs. They thus motivated us to try to go on in different ways. If Socrates is right that we have been living in a dream [cf. the complex—and different—use of dreams and dreaming in the Advaita Vedanta and Buddhist traditions1], then these allegories serve as a wake-up call. If he is right that, unbeknownst to us, we have been living in prison [the Platonic Cave], then in becoming aware of that we begin to chafe at the chains. [….]
As such, the Cave seeks to instill a new form of Socratic ignorance. As is well known, in the Apology, Socrates says that he discovered that he was the wisest among humans because he knew that he did not know. But the Cave is a story that is designed to put Glaucon, and anyone else ready to hear it, into a position in which they can begin to recognize that they do not know. Socrates says that education is not a matter of putting knowledge into souls, but of turning the whole soul away from the darkness and toward the light [as several classical Greek and Indic philosophies, as well as teachings in the Judaic tradition would have it, it is a matter of having a proper disposition to truth2]. Certainly, what we are turning away from are images, shadow, echoes, allegories, not recognized as such. Thus we are turning away from a dreamlike state. And what we are turning toward is a recognition that if we are to understand what these images, we must grasp that they are images, and we must struggle to understand what these images are images of. Indeed, the process of turning away is constituted by coming to recognize the ‘allegorical’ nature of ordinary experience [this has a Daoist flavor3]. We may not yet be able to say what the deeper meanings are [although perhaps philosophical, psychoanalytic, or spiritual therapy can help!4]—thus we remain ignorant—but we are able to glimpse that the images are pointing toward deeper meanings; and thus we at least know that we are ignorant. So the allegory of the Cave facilitates a Socratic movement from being ignorant, yet ignorant of one’s ignorance, to being ignorant but aware that one is ignorant. And insofar as ordinary life is like a dream [thus involving illusions and delusions5], then we are moved toward Socratic ignorance, we begin to wake up.”—Jonathan Lear, from one of the essays in his latest book, Wisdom Won from Illness: Essays in Philosophy and Psychoanalysis (Harvard University Press, 2017)
  1. See, for example, the superb treatment of prominent dream allegories and arguments in these two worldwiews in Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad’s brilliant book, Advaita Epistemology and Metaphysics: An Outline of Indian Non-Realism (RoutledgeCurzon, 2002): chapter 2, “Śankara, Vasubandhu and the idealist used of dreaming,”38-92.
  2. For a brief discussion that introduces the ancient pedigree of this concern in the context of Fromm’s use of the locution, “the pathology of normalcy,” please see Daniel Burston’s The Legacy of Erich Fromm (Harvard University Press, 1991): chapter 6, “Consensus, Conformity, and False Consciousness: ‘The Pathology of Normalcy,’” 133-158.
  3. Cf. Michael LaFargue’s commentaries on numerous passages in the Daodejing in his book, The Tao of the Tao Te Ching (a translation and commentary) State University of New York Press, 1992.
  4. Relevant titles on the value of psychoanalytic therapy are found in the first two sections of this bibliography: For various understandings of “philosophical therapy,” please see Jonardon Ganeri and Clare Carlisle, eds. Philosophy as Therapeia, Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement: 66 (Cambridge University Press, 2010); Martha Nussbaum’s (now) classic study, The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics (Princeton University Press, 1994); and Michael McGhee’s Transformations of Mind: Philosophy as Spiritual Practice (Cambridge University Press, 2000). On “religious” or, perhaps better, spiritual therapies (‘exercises’), see: John Cottingham’s The Spiritual Dimension: Religion, Philosophy and Human Value (Cambridge University Press, 2005) and John Haldane’s essay, “On the very idea of spiritual values,” in Anthony O’Hear, ed. Philosophy, the Good, the True and the Beautiful (Cambridge University Press, 2000): 53-71.
  5. For illustrations of the (not exclusively) Buddhist perspective on this, see Jan Westerhoff, Twelve Examples of Illusion (Oxford University Press, 2010).
Further Reading (i.e., in addition to the titles found above):
  • Barnes, Annette. Seeing through Self-Deception. Cambridge University Press, 1997.
  • Bilgrami, Akeel. Self-Knowledge and Resentment. Harvard University Press, 2006.
  • Boudon, Raymond. The Art of Self-Persuasion. Polity Press, 1994.
  • Cohen, Stanley. States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering. Blackwell, 2001.
  • Cooper, John M. Pursuits of Wisdom: Six Ways of Life in Ancient Philosophy from Socrates to Plotinus. Princeton University Press, 2012.
  • Cottingham, John. Philosophy and the Good Life: Reason and the Passions in Greek, Cartesian and Psychoanalytic Ethics. Cambridge University Press, 1998.
  • Dawes, Robyn M. Everyday Irrationality. Westview Press, 2001.
  • Elster, Jon. Sour Grapes: studies in the subversion of rationality. Cambridge University Press, 1983.
  • Elster, Jon. Alchemies of the Mind: Rationality and the Emotions. Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  • Fingarette, Herbert. Self-Deception. University of California Press, 2000.
  • Giannetti, Eduardo. Lies We Live By: The Art of Self-Deception. Bloomsbury, 2000.
  • Gillett, Grant. Subjectivity and Being Somebody: Human Identity and Neuroethics. Imprint Academic, 2008.
  • Hacker, P.M.S. Human Nature: The Categorial Framework. Blackwell, 2007.
  • Hutto, Daniel D. Folk Psychological Narratives: The Sociocultural Basis of Understanding Reasons. MIT Press, 2008.
  • Hutto, Daniel D. Narrative and Understanding Persons. Cambridge University Press (Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement: 60), 2007.
  • Hutto, Daniel D., ed. Narrative and Folk Psychology. Imprint Academic, 2009.
  • La Rochefoucauld (Leonard Tancock, tr.) Maxims. Penguin Books, 1959.
  • Lynch, Michael P. Truth in Context: An Essay on Pluralism and Objectivity. MIT Press, 1998.
  • Lynch, Michael P. Truth as One and Many. Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Murdoch, Iris. Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals. Chatto & Windus, 1992.
  • Murdoch, Iris (Peter Conradi, ed.) Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature. Penguin Books, 1999 (Chatto & Windus, 1997).
  • Rustin, Michael. The Good Society and the Inner World: Psychoanalysis, Politics and Culture. Verso, 1991.
  • Siderits, Mark, Evan Thompson, and Dan Zahavi, eds. Self, No Self? Perspectives from Analytical, Phenomenological, and Indian Traditions. Oxford University Press, 2011.
  • Smith, Christian. What Is a Person? University of Chicago Press, 2010.
  • Tallis, Raymond. The Explicit Animal: A Defence of Human Consciousness. St. Martin’s Press, 1999 edition.
  • Tallis, Raymond. The Hand: A Philosophical Inquiry into Human Being. Edinburgh University Press, 2003.
  • Tallis, Raymond. I Am: An Inquiry into First-Person Being. Edinburgh University Press, 2004.
  • Tallis, Raymond. The Knowing Animal: A Philosophical Inquiry into Knowledge and Truth. Edinburgh University Press, 2004.
  • Tallis, Raymond. Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity. Acumen, 2011.
  • Teichmann, Roger. Nature, Reason, and the Good Life: Ethics for Human Beings. Oxford University Press, 2011.

La Rochefoucauld’s Maxims (introductory post)

Several years ago I occasionally posted on my Facebook page selections from La Rochefoucauld’s (Tr. Leondard Tancock) Maxims (Penguin Books, 1959, first published in 1665) and I thought perhaps Ratio Juris readers might enjoy them as well. It is one way to mark the start—and is in the spirit—of summer. Permit me to introduce the first group of these with some wise observations from Jon Elster:   

“Alone among the moralists, La Rochefoucauld offered something like a theory of human motivations. In fact, his views about unconscious motivation and unconscious cognition are probably more valuable than anything found in twentieth-century psychology. To some extent it is true, as Jean Lafond says, that ‘a certain verbal exuberance together with the exaggeration required for an original assertion turns the psychology into mythology.’ Yet…some systematic views can be extracted from what first appear as a random collection of diamond-like maxims.” — Elster on “the French Moralists” in a work that evidences his singular capacity to see with remarkable clarity both the forest and the trees in the study of emotions, namely, Alchemies of the Mind: Rationality and the Emotions (Cambridge University Press, 1999). The four writers he treats in one part of the book—Montaigne, Pascal, La Rochefoucauld, La Bruyère—“mark the beginning and the end of the greatest era in French intellectual and cultural history.” Whether or not he intended it as such, we might read this, in part at least, as an indirect comment on the overweening infatuation with postmodern French philosophers among more than a few academic intellectuals.  

I sometimes comment on one or more maxim (as below) by way of saying something directly or indirectly related to the perspectival truth ensconced in a particular maxim.   

“One of the reasons why so few people are to be found who seem sensible and pleasant in conversation is that almost everybody is thinking about what he wants to say himself rather than about answering clearly what is being said to him. The more clever and polite think it enough simply to put on an attentive expression, while all the time you can see in their eyes and train of thought that they are far removed from what you are saying and anxious to get back to what they want to say. They ought, on the contrary, to reflect that such keenness to please oneself is a bad way of pleasing and persuading others, and that to listen well and answer to the point is one of the most perfect qualities one can have in conversation.” — La Rochefoucauld  

“Spiritual health is no more stable than bodily; and though we may seem unaffected by the passions we are just as liable to be carried away by them as to fall ill when in good health.” — La Rochefoucauld  

“Nothing makes it so difficult to be natural as the desire to be so.” — La Rochefoucauld  

Indeed. This last maxim calls to mind a mental fallacy Jon Elster, after the late psychologist Leslie Farber, termed “willing what cannot be willed” (that is, in reference to those mental state or states of affairs in the world—like spontaneity or sleep—that cannot be the direct product of willing but are rather the—indirect—outcome or by-product effect of other mental states or actions). See Elster’s Sour Grapes: studies in the subversion of rationality (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983): 43-66.  

And yet, in Daoism, for example, we learn that one can engage in an “intentional project” to “be natural,” which in this case is characterized as wu-wei (lit., non-action). Livia Kohn’s entry on this concept from The Encyclopedia of Taoism, 2 Vols. (in Pregadio, ed. 2008: 1067) provides us with a succinct formulation: “Wuwei or ‘non-action’ means to do things the natural way, by not interfering with the patterns, rhythms and structure of nature, without imposing one’s own intentions upon the world.” The “natural way” is not meant here in the sense of how most of us, most of the time, “naturally” behave or act (which may be a function of habit, mindlessness or inattentiveness) but has a more specific or technical meaning depending on the way in which the natural world is said to be intrinsically in harmony with or expressive of (in an immanent sense) of the Dao. Thus wu-wei is not, literally, non-action but refers instead to a qualitatively distinct and uncommon kind of action, what the late Huston Smith called “creative quietude,” meaning one acts with a still or clear (‘unmuddied’) mind in a manner that embodies or incarnates or exemplifies the Dao. Such action is characterized by a freedom and spontaneity (ziran) that come from a heart-mind experiencing, it seems, an ecstatic or blissful oneness (or simply a kind of contentedness) with “all-there-is.” It is the characteristic and conspicuous action of the sage (shengren) and the ideal ruler in the political realm and is, arguably, a direct product of ascetic praxis and mystical states of consciousness. In short, wu-wei is acting with a meditative heart-mind (like a polished mirror, to use a prominent metaphor) in harmony with the natural world and tian while instantiating the Dao.  

Ascetic self-discipline, training in the arts, and meditative praxis are necessary yet not sufficient conditions for wu-wei. In other words, while “making every effort,” “striving,” “working hard” or even “willing” are, in one important sense, truly the antithesis of wu-wei, arduous striving, self-discipline and training the mind are no less integral to the eventual accomplishment of wu-wei. The “acting naturally” that is wu-wei, therefore, does not come naturally to us, hence we are instructed, by way of an “intentional project,” to “return to the uncarved block,” dampen the passions and still the mind, all by way of attaining a “second” nature in Joel Kupperman’s sense, as it requires forms of self-discipline and self-knowledge that are arduous, that involve ascetic or ascetic-like training of the body and the heart-mind (i.e., reason and the emotions). Only then might we prove capable of acting in a timely fashion with the consummate skill, grace and spontaneity befitting alike the exigencies of daily situations and unique circumstance, and in a manner indicative of our ability to “be” one with Dao. In sum, acting naturally in the Daoist sense means cultivating what for us does not come naturally, and thus self-cultivation brings about, so to speak, a second nature, a nature in accord with the natural world, and capable of spontaneously and effortlessly realizing the Dao. [This material is taken from a short unpublished essay found here.]