In Pensees, Blaise Pascal writes:
Justice, Force.—It is just that what is just be followed; it is necessary that what is strongest be followed. Justice without force is impotent; force without justice is tyrannical. Justice without force is contradicted, because there are always bad people; force without justice stands accused. So justice and force must be put together; and to do so make what is just, strong and what is strong, just.
Justice is subject to dispute; force is easy to recognize and is indisputable. And so one could not give force to justice, because force contradicted justice, and said that it is was unjust, and said that it was force that was just. And thus, not being able to make what is just, strong, one made what is strong, just.
The week that Sandra Bland died in police custody, I was working through this passage that Derrida quotes in The Beast and the Sovereign with friends, colleagues and students in Italy. Today, two days after another young black man was shot in Ferguson, MO, I have been recalling this passage. Pascal recognizes our problem: we need justice to have force, but if all we have is force, there will be no justice. What is the just way of giving force to justice? Read more
Since Rousseau expressed his concern that government, established to carry out the general will of the people, might become a separate body with its own distinct general will, members of the polity have worried from one end of the political spectrum to the other, that government is imposing its will on the people, rather than executing the people’s will. It’s not even correct to date this concern to Rousseau, since we could argue that such a concern is encapsulated in Thrasymachus’ realpolitik definition of justice — we all know, let’s be honest Socrates, that the laws serve the powerful and not those who are supposed to follow them. In these cases, government is understood to be against us, treading on us with its laws and impositions, limiting our freedom rather than protecting it.
Government and Constitution in Aristotle
Eric Schwitzgebel refers to Aristotle to talk about blameworthiness for implicit biases in his talk at the Pacific APA next week. I’m pleased to join in the appeal to Aristotle to think about contemporary political and ethical problems. My argument is that Aristotle addresses this problem of thinking the government as an imposition by arguing for an account that drives politeuma, or government, closer to an identity with the politeia, constitution or regime. Read more
Neoliberalism: What is it?
I’m currently teaching a course on the Philosophy of Commerce. I think of this course as an effort to get students to challenge the notion that everything could be economized. Following Arendt, I’m trying to get students to see what is lost when pursuits of living or living large (when the pursuit of living becomes excessive) crowd out any consideration for living well, which is to say, for organizing and determining how life ought to be in conversation and contestation with others. This determining how life ought to be is in contrast to just determining what to do in order to live. This concern has been with us for some time, but in the last several decades a new and even more far-reaching economization of life has occurred, wherein individuals have come to think of themselves as entrepeneurial capital projects.
This development is neoliberalism, which is the subject of Wendy Brown’s new book, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution. Read more
This week I was the guest curator-at-large for the Public Philosophy Journal. The Public Philosophy Journal is a website and blog that aims to facilitate public philosophy in the many ways that term could be understood. One way we understand public philosophy is that public issues and concerns can be served by philosophy’s input and analysis. Part of that work is bringing content of note to the attention of both philosophers and public servants or others who are working on these issues. I understood such content to concern public issues that philosophy can and does address such as an article in The Globe and Mail about a new study that locates the causes of anorexia nervosa in the passions and suggests a passion-based cure. The Greeks were themselves very interested in how the care of self was a matter of fostering the passions in the right way, so this convergence of old philosophical ideas and health seemed a good example of public philosophy. This content also includes references to issues or events that have had influence on philosophy, like Alison Bechdel winning a MacArthur genius award for the Bechdel Test she invented as a standard to expose how films rarely depict women as characters in themselves unrelated to the men their roles support. Not only was that important in its own right as a provocative strategy for raising feminist concerns, but Bechdel also influenced the field of philosophy itself, prompting Helen de Cruz to suggest a Bechdel test for philosophy papers. Another kind of notable content includes philosophers and theorists discussing public issues, such as Avi Alpert’s interview with Gabe Rockhill and Nato Thompson about art and politics and Lisa Guenther on television discussing protests against prisons and the death penalty in Tennessee. Finally, there is the discussion of public issues within the field of philosophy, issues like being differently-abled in the field or the persistence of rape culture in philosophy departments. Sometimes public philosophy can even be philosophers taking their work to more public arenas or philosophers being discussed in those arenas, as when Gregory Fried wrote about Heidegger’s Black Notebooks in the LA Times. I wasn’t focusing on any one of these in particular, but all of them together. Read more
Why I started blogging and how its been more of a benefit that I expected.
Since I last posted on the question of whether what we think makes us good or bad people, my thoughts keep returning to how difficult this question is. To reiterate, when I say, what we think might make us good or bad people, I don’t mean whether we think about doing what we might generally acknowledge to be bad things — that you think about how to hurt someone might set you on the path to being a bad person, or that you think hateful thoughts toward someone is likely to make you hurt them, or you think it is good to get ahead by taking advantage of other people. I think the value of those kinds of thoughts is less controversial. What I am considering is whether the ways you think about what is–what we call ontological claims–makes you a good or bad person. Read more
Last week, I finally sat down with some friends and watched the 2012 film, “Hannah Arendt,” by Margarethe von Trotta. The film focuses on Arendt’s trip to Israel to watch the Eichmann trial and the writing of her article for The New Yorker on the trial, Eichmann in Jerusalem. With nice timing, The New Yorker is making its archives including this article available for a limited time on its website so check it out here. Arendt argues in that essay that what was most appalling about the trial and about Eichmann and most frightening for a political environment tending more and more to totalitarianism was that Eichmann did not claim to think. Read more
I wrote most of this post in Nafplio, living close to nature. The photograph is of the abandoned robin’s nest found in our hanging ivy planter.
There’s been a resurgence of conversation in philosophy about the role of the nonhuman in recent years. I’ll be honest, I haven’t given it that much thought. But I came to this ah-hah moment the other day in conversation with my lovely husband about sacrifice as the production of the distinction between gods and beasts and the subsequent production of the space in between: the site of the mortal. How sacrifice does that is complicated (see Vernant, Girard, Burkart and Agamben), but the implication of this account is that the line between the beast and the human (and the god) needs to be produced. Read more
I spent the last two days attending the Faculty Workshop on Democracy and Civic Engagement at Wabash that was organized and facilitated mostly by members of the Rhetoric Department at Wabash. It’s been glorious to slow down and take some time to think about the teaching we spend so much time doing, so I’m feeling rejuvenated and enthusiastic about planning for civic engagement components in the classroom. One issue that kept recurring for me was the tension between, or at least, the question of whether there is a tension between, thinking and acting. Plato and Aristotle both distinguish between actions you do for themselves and actions you do for some end outside of themselves, and they argue that actions that you do for themselves are better than actions you do for some product or goal beyond the action. I found myself concerned that measuring the success of a course in terms of some action that might come of it beyond the thinking that takes place within it privileges action and makes thinking instrumental to action. This dispute reaches back to the ancients. In Politics VII.3, Aristotle remarks that some people think that politics is a better life than philosophy because they think that politics is action but philosophy is not. Aristotle accepts the view that a life of action is better than a life of inaction, but he rejects the idea that philosophy is not action in itself. Read more