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.]

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Beyond Capitalist-Attenuated Time: Freedom, Leisure, and Self-Realization — A Basic Bibliography

This bibliography, with an epigraph and apologia, is now available on my Academia page.                              

Friday, June 09, 2017

Living in the past: Trump’s putatively populist economic nostalgia program

Donald Trump’s economic plan (as inferred from his budget proposal), such as it is, looks backward with overweening nostalgia, believing that “one of the greatest achievements in all of economic history,” namely, the “Great Leap Forward of the American level of labor productivity that occurred in the middle decades of the twentieth century,” can be attained once more, hence his singular and inordinate fondness for “industries that powered the American economy in the mid-20th century, particularly manufacturing, fossil fuel extraction, and construction.” His campaign slogan to “Make America Great Again” (which first appeared in Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign), makes literal or at least sub-conscious reference to this period of economic history, the budget plan enshrining both socio-economic nostalgia and messianic yearning. According to Robert J. Gordon,
“… [T]he year 1970 marks a distinct break point between faster and slower growth.* The ten decades between 1870 and 1970 deserve their accolade … as the ‘special century.’ The inventions of the second industrial revolution gathered momentum between 1870 and 1920 and then between 1920 and 1970 created the most rapid period of growth in labor productivity experienced in American history, bringing an utter change from 1870 in most dimensions of human life. The inventions of the third revolution, though revolutionary within their sphere of influence—entertainment, communication, and information technology—did not have the same effects on living standards as had electricity, the internal combustion engine, running water, improving life expectancy, and the other Great Inventions of the special century, not to mention the improvement in the human condition as work hours declined from 60 to 40 per week.
By definition, growth in output per person equals growth in labor productivity plus growth in hours worked per person in the population. Starting in the late 1960s, there was a distinct slowdown in labor productivity growth. However, growth in output per person avoided suffering a similar slowdown until after 2000, because its growth rate exceeded that in labor productivity by the contribution of rising hours of work per person. This occurred as women shifted from house work to work in the market, meaning that each woman who made this shift raised average hours of market work for the population as a whole. Since 2000, we have seen a sharp decline in growth output per person and its two components—growth in productivity and in hours of work per person—after corrections for the ups and downs of the business cycle. [….]
The aggregate record across all sectors of the economy shows that productivity growth slowed down markedly after 1970 and experienced a brief revival during 1996-2004 that most analysts attribute to the influence of the invention of the web, search engines, and e-commerce, as well as to the sharp spike of investment in information and communication technology (ICT) equipment. In the past decade, productivity growth has been even slower than it was between 1970 and 1996. This story of slowdown, revival, and further slowdown, as told by the economy-wide data, conceals substantial differences in performance across sectors of economic activity.” [….]
Today we are in the midst (perhaps even the downside) of a “third industrial revolution” (IR #3) that began with the first mainframe computers in the 1950s and now “encompasses the digital age of information and communication technology” (its principal benefits for ‘productivity growth’ having occurred between 1994 and 2004). The kind of growth during this period is conspicuously different, quantitatively and qualitatively, from the prior “special century” which, as Gordon says, “changed everything.” To be sure, changes have and are occurring, but they’re of the bleaker kind:
“The problem created by the computer age is not mass unemployment but the gradual disappearance of good, steady, middle-level jobs that have been lost not just to robots and algorithms but to globalization and outsourcing to other countries, together with the concentration of job growth in routine manual jobs that offer relatively low wages. The gradual slowing of economic growth … combines disappointing productivity growth over the past decade with a steady rise of inequality over the past three decades. …[H]eadwinds … have intervened to prevent most Americans from enjoying real economic gains equal to the growth of economy-wide output per hour. These headwinds constitute barrier to the equal distribution of productivity gains, including the effects of rising inequality, educational stagnation, declining labor force participation, and the fiscal demands of an aging population. [….]
The combined effects of growing inequality, a faltering educational system, demographic headwinds, and the strong likelihood of a fiscal correction imply that the median disposable income will grow much more slowly in the future than in the past. When combined with the implications of a smaller effect of innovation on productivity since 1970, there is little room for growth at all. When all the headwinds are taken into account, the future growth of real median disposable income per person will barely be positive and fall far below the rate enjoyed by generation of Americans dating back to the nineteenth century.” — Robert J. Gordon, The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War (Princeton University Press, 2016).
Which brings us back to Trump’s economic plan, apparently crafted within the presuppositions, assumptions, and parameters of another economic era, one decidedly behind us:
“Rusty lever won’t lift U.S. economy”
By Ronald Brownstein for the Los Angeles Times, 9 June 2007 (Brownstein is a senior editor at The Atlantic)
“[Trump is] attempting to restore the primacy of industries that powered the American economy in the mid-20th century, particularly manufacturing, fossil fuel extraction, and construction. In the process he is sublimating—if not opposing—the needs of the sectors driving growth today: information technology, professional services, clean energy, entertainment, education, tourism, and healthcare.
With decisions such as last week’s blustery withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, Trump is betting on industries whose greatest contribution to American prosperity is behind them. [….] When Trump talks about the economy, manufacturing and fossil fuel production usually take first billing, followed by construction—the target of this week’s infrastructure proposals. [….]
… [E]ven if you count Trump’s approach as an unqualified benefit for his favored industries, he’s still banking on sectors that have been shrinking for decades. [….] Measured as a share of total U.S. employment, Trump’s three favored industries have plummeted precipitously. In 1965, manufacturing, mining and construction provided about one in every three non-agricultural jobs. Today, it’s fewer than one-in-seven jobs. [….]
The entire article, as of this writing, not available on the Los Angeles Times website, can nonetheless be found here.
* This has considerable bearing on the Trump administration’s projections of economic growth under his proposed budget plan: “The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that, under current laws and policies, the economy will grow 2.3 percent this year but growth will average just 1.9 percent a year over the coming decade (i.e., between now and 2027). As a candidate, President Trump boasted that his economic plan ‘would conservatively boost growth to 3.5 percent per year on average  . . . with the potential to reach a 4% growth rate.’ And Secretary Mnuchin has said that under President Trump’s policies, economic growth will pick up to ‘3 percent or higher.’”
Further reading: For a “global” dimension missing from Gordon’s argument, please see the following, a couple of which I’ve cited several times before on this blog (our authors have different perspectives on this ‘dimension’):

  • Arrighi, Giovanni. The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power and the Origins of Our Times. London: Verso, 2010 ed.
  • Brenner, Robert. The Economics of Global Turbulence. London: Verso, 2006.
  • Desai, Meghnad. Marx’s Revenge: The Resurgence of Capitalism and the Death of Statist Socialism. London: Verso, 2002.
  • Harvey, David. The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
  • Offe, Claus. Disorganized Capitalism: Contemporary Transformations of Work and Politics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985.
  • Robinson, William I. A Theory of Global Capitalism: Production, Class, and State in a Transnational World. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.
  • Shaikh, Anwar. Capitalism: Competition, Conflict, Crises. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.
  • Žižek, Slavoj. Trouble in Paradise: From the End of History to the End of Capitalism. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House Publishing, 2015 (Allen Lane, 2014).