Category: Theory (Page 3 of 5)

Heart-Mind Cosmos: Panentheism in Mahayana Buddhism And Early 19th Century German Idealism

By: Stefan Schindler

In the late 17th century, Isaac Newton synthesized the European scientific discoveries of the previous two hundred years. This scientific revolution had been built on the scientific method formulated by Francis Bacon, who insisted that nature’s secrets could be unveiled through a combination of rational theorizing and rigorous empirical testing.  This was called the experimental method.  All previous knowledge was thrown into question in what Descartes called “methodical doubt.”

The point was to establish science on a firm foundation.  Assumptions and superstitions were to be replaced with certainties.  Accordingly, mathematics was the language for the formulation of the laws of nature.

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Was Nietzsche an aristocratic elitist?

By: Ippolit Belinski
An earlier version of this article appeared on Paradox of the Day.

Nietzsche is often portrayed as an aristocratic elitist, whose main concern was with higher morals and who strongly opposed any type of herd mentality. This is generally true, albeit very crudely formulated (and indeed oversimplified). But it does not mean—as is often claimed—that Nietzsche was also an elitist aristocrat in his political views.

It is often claimed that, because Nietzsche was concerned with higher morals, he therefore disavowed any sense of egalitarian community. By this reading, he staunchly opposed democratic principles, or any form of politics which aims towards equality.

I believe this account is highly problematic.

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What Fascism Is Not, What It Is, and Why It Matters

Howl of the Day: May 31, 2016

Fascism, as a term, has become almost synonymous with injustice. And this common view of fascism is a good place to begin understanding the phenomenon. Once the term is scrutinized just a bit, however, fascism becomes a more difficult thing to understand. This is despite the fact (and to certain extent, because of the fact) that the media is saturated with loud speeches and vivid images on the subject.

Fascism is so familiar to us as a shorthand for injustice that it is hard to see beyond that surface impression. But fascism cannot simply be the same as injustice. However objectionable it is, there are surely other political ills.

For example, the use of force to implement political policies is often referred to as fascistic. The same with political commonplaces, such as declarations of war and the existence of inequity. But force is employed in every type of regime, both good and bad, and inequities of some kind are ubiquitous. Without recourse to some standard of justice, there is no way to distinguish fascism from liberalism, or tyranny from democracy.

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Judge Posner on Meta-Ethics and Rational vs. Nonrational Argumentation

By:Jeremy Kingston Cynamon

Moral theory is like a system of mathematics that has never gotten beyond addition.R. Posner

Introduction

In his book, Problematics of Moral and Legal Theory, Judge Richard Posner offers a serious critique of the professionalization of moral philosophy that has gone largely ignored by that social milieu. More broadly, his meta-ethical views explaining the nature of morality, which I will reconstruct in this piece, are quite incisive. I generally agree with Posner’s skepticism towards moral realism, and will not attempt to problematize his arguments in this regard. However, in his attempt to delineate different types of moralists (“moral entrepreneurs” from “academic moralists”) he draws some dubious distinctions.

Particularly concerning is his distinction between rational and nonrational argumentation.[1] In my view, it is political rather than philosophical; a sort of social artifact without internal logic. There is, of course, such a thing as a bad argument, but this is not equivalent to a nonrational argument – at least in Posner’s schema, and in academic parlance more generally. Rationality/Nonrationality can be a marginally useful distinction of style, but I argue that it is often misused to track content and thereby unreflectively weaken the normative weight of radical arguments.

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Silence as Speech: Reading Sor Juana’s Primero Sueño in the Light of her Final Silence

By: Rich Frontjes

Speakers and Listeners in Public Discourse

American public discourse is theoretically founded on the freedom of speech.  This freedom to speak, however, in no way guarantees entry into conversations where the common good is considered, assessed, or decided.  Free speech is the freedom to speak publicly—but participation in public discourse requires inclusion.  And inclusion is variously brokered: depending on the conversation, its participants, and the power dynamics at work, any given stream of public discourse involves a boundary.  On one side are the participants, and on the other side are the listeners—or, frequently, those whose attention is focused elsewhere.

In contemporary society, the boundary between participants and listeners exists partly as a function of access to media.  Individuals or groups with the (financial or other) power to gain access to media increase their chances of entering the public discourse.  The powerless, of course, are typically also voiceless.  But financial power has not always been the key that opened the door to participation in public discourse: various epochs and cultural moments have likewise had various modes of adjudicating participation in public discourse.

The present power of media outlets to perform this boundary-keeping function once resided largely within other institutions.  The Roman Catholic Church and its functionaries exercised considerable control over public discourse for centuries of European history and cultural development.  Exploring how participation in public discourse has been adjudicated in a specific past instance elucidates a dynamic which clarifies the nature of contemporary public speech.  In the example of the Mexican nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648-1695), we discover a turn of events in which ecclesial power brokers attempted to enforce silence upon an otherwise astoundingly prolific poet.[1]

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Sullivan, Trump, and Tyranny in America

Howl of the Day: May 3, 2016

Veteran political commentator and online media all-star, Andrew Sullivan, emerged from semi-retirement yesterday, firing broadsides. In an article for New York Magazine, Sullivan mounted an impassioned defense of elitism in America, arguing that the ever-greater democratization of American society and politics has made the nation ripe for tyranny.

Beginning with a reading of Plato and culminating in an assault on Trump, Sullivan warns against the rise of populist anti-establishment politics. To him, Trump is a demagogue, a tyrant-in-waiting of the type that Plato identified as particularly likely to emerge in excessively democratic regimes.

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Buddha’s Political Philosophy

By: Stefan Schindler

Do not build fifty palaces, your highness. After all, you can only be in one room at a time.
Nagarjunaa second century CE Buddhist sage, to an Indian king

Nagarjuna’s suggestion – combining wisdom and wit – exhibits the essence of Buddha’s political philosophy: simplicity, humility, compassion.

To open a vista onto Buddha’s vision of a just society, this essay takes a brief look at Siddhartha Gautama’s life story; sketches the Buddhist worldview; traces the evolution of Buddhism; and concludes with an outline of Buddha’s political philosophy.

Along the way, we’ll draw parallels between Buddhist and Platonic thought, and reference the embrace of Buddhist ideals by peacemakers in the modern and postmodern world.

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Trigger Warning: You Are Not Triggered!

A conversation between the Editors of Political Animal and a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology about the misuse of the term “triggered”, its cultural context, and implications.

The term “triggered” has shot into the mainstream in recent years. From Tumblr blogs warning their readers about possible triggers in subjects as varied as rape, death, and slimy things, to university students calling for trigger warnings on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby due to its portrayal of misogyny and physical abuse, the language of triggering has entered the global consciousness.

Originally conceived by clinicians dealing with “shell-shocked” soldiers in WWI, “trauma triggers” are experiences (situations, sounds, places, etc.) that cause someone to recall a previous traumatic memory. This technical usage expanded as post-traumatic stress disorder became better understood in the late 20th century.

Now being “triggered” has broken free of its clinical origins and is widely used online and in classrooms, often in contexts that have little to do with the idea of recalling a previous trauma. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as the term entered popular usage, it also became divorced from its technical roots.

What is more surprising is that the popular usage of triggered has circled back to clinical psychology, and is beginning to distort the technical meaning of the term in the field where it originated.

This article is a back and forth between the editors of PA and a clinical psychology doctoral candidate about how they see the term triggering being misused in their practice.

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Sanders at Dearborn: A Socialist Love-Story

Howl of the Day: Mar 16, 2016

In the wake of Bernie Sanders’ victory in the Michigan primary, one of the main themes in the press coverage is that the pundits were taken aback by the large numbers of Arabs and Muslims who voted for Sanders [1] [2] [3]. Cities such as Dearborn, which has the largest concentration of Arab-Americans in the nation, went heavily for Sanders to the surprise of many in the media. This surprise, if it is one, is attributed to the fact that Sanders is Jewish. And, of course, to the prejudicial assumption that few people would expect large numbers of Arabs and Muslims to vote for a Jewish candidate.

With that assumption proving unfounded, the media has rushed to an opposite and equally dubious sweeping assumption, viewing the high levels of support for Sanders among Arab and Muslim voters as evidence that anti-Semitism is not widespread in their communities.

The claim that Sanders’ support in Dearborn suggests there is little anti-Semitic feeling among Arabs and Muslims in America, or even beyond, is as great a folly as the claim that there is no more racism in America, since it has elected a black president. Many of the leading figures in the design and rise of European socialism were secular Jews–including Marx himself and Trotsky– yet, as 20th century European history makes abundantly clear, attraction to the socialist cause was not an antidote for anti-Semitism.

Despite the tone of desperate wishfulness in the articles that propose it to be so, Sanders’ ethnic and religious background had little or nothing to do with the results. The media should be asking why these communities voted for Sanders, rather than why they voted for him despite his being Jewish. The results are much more clearly understood as driven by Sanders’ views and his ideological commitments.

Bernie Sanders is a self-professed democratic socialist, and socialism is one of the few Western political ideologies to have taken root in a big way in the broader Arab and Muslim world or to find consilience there. For this reason, Sanders is probably the least surprising candidate to have garnered such support in these communities.

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Varys – A Eunuch

PART 2 OF THE CHARACTER DISCUSSION OF VARYS

The degree and kind of a man’s sexuality reach up into the ultimate pinnacle of his spirit.Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

One fact we learn early on about Lord Varys, and are reminded of frequently, is that he is a eunuch. His castration is one of the central features of his character.

Looking across the series, we see other examples of eunuchs, most notably in the Meereenese warrior, Strong Belwas, and the slave soldiers from Astapor, known as the Unsullied.

All of these characters are extraordinary in some way. Varys is one of the wisest characters in the series, the Unsullied some of the finest warriors. This connection between castration and talent is suggestive. G.R.R. Martin seems to be hinting that sexual desire is an impediment to the development of other kinds of human excellence.

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