INDEX

Topics are arranged alphabetically in the INDEX.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Alexis de Tocqueville’s Reflections on America


"Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot."-- Alexis de Tocqueville




Alexis de Tocqueville’s four-volume Democracy in America (1835–1840) is commonly said to be among the greatest works of 19th-century political writing. Its daring conjectures, elegant prose, formidable length and narrative complexity certainly make it a masterpiece, yet exactly those qualities have together ensured, through time, that opinions greatly differ about the roots of its greatness.

Some observers cautiously mine the text for its fresh insights on such perennial themes as liberty of the press, the tyranny of the majority and civil society; or they focus on such topics as why it is that modern democracies are vulnerable to “commercial panics” and why they simultaneously value equality, reduce the threat of revolution and grow complacent.

Some readers of the text treat its author as a “classical liberal” who loved parliamentary government and loathed the extremes of democracy. More often, the text is treated as a brilliant grand commentary on the decisive historical significance for old Europe of the rise of the new American republic, which was soon to become a world empire.

Some observers, very often American, push this interpretation to the limit. They think of Democracy in America in almost nationalist terms: for them, it is a lavish hymn to the United States, a celebration of its emerging authority in the world, an ode to its 19th-century greatness and future 20th-century global dominance.

How should we make sense of these conflicting interpretations?
Read it all here.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Philosophers Discuss Supreme Court Ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges



The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges reveals a lack of clarity as to what marriage is. The Court's language suggests that the equality of civil unions requires calling two distinct things by the same name: marriage.

Civil partnerships of same-sex couples and male-female marriage are now on the same legal footing in all 50 states. That does not mean they are the same thing, however. We have yet to see how the courts, U.S. corporations, the media, etc. will hold these distinct entities in balance. Will the balance tilt toward the equality of unequal pigs described by George Orwell?

The Supreme Court decision breaks with international precedent. Other countries call the same-sex legal arrangement a "partnership" or a "pact" and in these nations the issue was resolved much more quickly and justly. There was never the confusion about how marriage is properly defined.

Norway has had "registered partnerships" since 1993.

Sweden has called them "registered partnerships" since 1994.

Hungary and Iceland have had "registered partnerships" since 1996.

France has called them “civil solidarity pacts” since 1999.

In Denmark “registered partnerships” were first recognized in 1998 as an alternative to marriage and an option for heterosexual couples. Adoption by homosexual couples was approved in 2000.

The Netherlands, Finland and Germany have had "registered partnerships" since 2001.

It is clear that gay and lesbian couples deserve spousal benefits. The majority of Americans are for fairness. However, the legal waters are muddy and there will be more law suits.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stated that hundreds of public officials in Texas were seeking guidance on how to implement what he called a flawed decision by an "activist" court. Thousands of county clerks in Texas who object to gay marriage can refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, because while the Supreme Court justices had "fabricated" a new constitutional right, they did not in Paxton's legal opinion diminish, overrule, or call into question the First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion.

County clerks are elected officials. Many will refuse to issue licenses out of respect for the views of those who put them in office. Some will refuse on religious grounds to issue "marriage" licenses for same-sex couples. There will be more law suits.

The following philosophers have written brief comments about the Supreme Court decision:

Elizabeth Brake (Arizona State)
Cheshire Calhoun (Arizona State)
Clare Chambers (Cambridge)
John Corvino (Wayne State)
Brook Sadler (South Florida)
Edward Stein (Cardozo)
Kevin Vallier (Bowling Green).

Read what these philosophers have to say here.


Related reading:  Native American Tribes Ban Gay Marriage



Saturday, June 20, 2015

G. K. Chesterton on Drawing the Line

Sketch by Dan DeWitt, Ph.D
Dean of Boyce College
(From his book Clerihews)
"Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere."-- G. K. Chesterton. The Illustrated London News, May 1928

"What we dread about our neighbours, in short, is not the narrowness of their horizon, but their superb tendency to broaden it." -- G.K. Chesterton, Heretics

"Anarchism adjures us to be bold creative artists, and care for no laws or limits. But it is impossible to be an artist and not care for laws and limits. Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold, creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffee with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe. The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits. You can free things from alien or accidental laws, but not from the laws of their own nature.

You may, if you like, free a tiger from his bars; but do not free him from his stripes. Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump: you may be freeing him from being a camel. Do not go about as a demagogue, encouraging triangles to break out of the prison of their three sides. If a triangle breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end. Somebody wrote a work called “The Loves of the Triangles”; I never read it, but I am sure that if triangles ever were loved, they were loved for being triangular. This is certainly the case with all artistic creation, which in some ways is the most decisive example of pure will. The artist loves his limitations: they constitute the thing he is doing. The painter is glad that the canvas is flat. The sculptor is glad that the clay is colourless." -- G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, "The Suicide of Thought"

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Academic West Fails to Engage the East



In his recent Hippo Reads essay describing why he left academic philosophy, Eugene Park makes two important claims. First, he says most Anglo-American philosophy departments, especially those often considered the best, do not engage with non-Western philosophical traditions. Second, he says this is because “professional philosophers today often perceive non-Western thinkers as inferior.”

The first claim – that most Anglo-American philosophy departments don’t engage with non-Western philosophy – cannot be denied. It can be verified just by looking at the courses offered in most Anglo-American philosophy departments.

However, in a response to Park’s essay, Brian Leiter, a prominent philosopher at the University of Chicago and the embattled editor of an influential ranking of Anglo-American philosophy departments (whose resignation has been the subject of a recent petition), denies Park’s second claim. Leiter suggests the reason most departments don’t engage with non-Western philosophy is nothing as nefarious as their perceiving non-Western traditions as inferior. Rather, it is a matter of ignorance. Leiter writes: “My own impression, from having talked to a lot more philosophers than Mr. Park and for a much longer period of time, is that most Anglophone philosophers have no opinion at all about non-Western philosophy because they are simply ignorant of it.”

Read it all here.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Desire to Learn




"Upon this first, and in one sense this sole, rule of reason, that in order to learn you must desire to learn, and in so desiring not be satisfied with what you already incline to think, there follows one corollary which itself deserves to be inscribed upon every wall of the city of philosophy: Do not block the way of inquiry." --Charles Sanders Peirce, 1896


Peirce identifies the "desire to learn" as essential to learning. Educator Aaron J. Magnan has asked, "Do you think we can 'teach' or model a desire to learn? What role does the educator have in this modality?"

That's an excellent question.

When children are nurtured in a home where there are books and a love of reading, it is common for those children to become good readers. For me, it was the love of gardening because there were gardening enthusiasts in my family. There is a desire to enter into what we see gives pleasure to those around us, especially in our immediate families. I would say that the desire to learn begins there, in the home. Sadly, there are few homes where enthusiasm for philosophical conversation exists.

My philosophy classes tend to be small. A year long college-level course in Philosophy and Ethics is not a popular elective with high school students. Some who take the course are motivated initially by the challenge; others by what they have heard from former students: that you will learn a great deal about virtually everything! In Philosophy class, we have specific areas of exploration: metaphysics, ontology, epistemology, ethics, etc., but all things are interconnected. The educator's role is to help students see this, and to do so with the same enthusiasm as the artist painting a masterpiece or the gardener creating another Eden.




Wednesday, May 20, 2015

C.S. Peirce's Principles of Learning


Charles Sanders Peirce
(1839-1914)

"Upon this first, and in one sense this sole, rule of reason, that in order to learn you must desire to learn, and in so desiring not be satisfied with what you already incline to think, there follows one corollary which itself deserves to be inscribed upon every wall of the city of philosophy: Do not block the way of inquiry." --Charles Sanders Peirce, 1896




Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Benefits of Philosophical Studies


Penn State New Kensington's associate professor of philosophy, Donald Bruckner

Interest in Philosophy on the university level has increased in the past decade. There are more colleges offering undergraduate philosophy programs today than a decade ago, according to the College Board. Some schools with established programs include the University of Chicago, Rutgers, Texas A&M, Notre Dame, the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and the University of Pennsylvania.

In part, the increased interest is due to the fact that American public schools have failed to address students' interest in metaphysical topics.  Additionally, intelligent young people are discovering that philosophy is useful in a wide range of fields, especially in business and technology.

Dr. Damon Horowitz quit his technology job and got a Ph.D. in philosophy -- and he thinks you should too.

"If you are at all disposed to question what's around you, you'll start to see that there appear to be cracks in the bubble," Horowitz said in a 2011 talk at Stanford. "So about a decade ago, I quit my technology job to get a philosophy PhD. That was one of the best decisions I've made in my life."

Read more here.