Tag: Philosophy (Page 1 of 3)


By: Hendrik van der Breggen

“Be tolerant” is today’s oft-heard moral imperative. This principle of tolerance sounds good, but careful thinkers should ask: Is it sound?

Answer: No, and yes.

It turns out that there are two senses of “tolerance.”  Let’s call them Tolerance 1 and Tolerance 2. (If my labels seem to lack imagination, blame Dr. Seuss.)

Tolerance 1 is the contemporary popular understanding of tolerance. On this understanding, all views or identity claims and expressions are accepted as equal and true and good.

“It’s all interpretation” or “it’s all perspective” or “it’s all feeling” or “it’s who I am,” so a view/ identity/ expression may be “true for you, but not for me” (and vice versa).

According to Tolerance 1, you are intolerant if you disagree with someone’s ideas or self-identity or self-expression/ conduct. To say someone is actually mistaken or wrong violates Tolerance 1. Such intolerance is a “sin.”

But, sin or no sin, Tolerance 1 is false.

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Trump & the Politics of Conscience

By: Jared Marcel Pollen

In this month, twenty-four years ago, Vaclav Havel wrote a speech entitled “Politics & Conscience,” a speech he intended to deliver on the occasion of receiving an honorary degree from the University of Toulouse that spring in 1984, a speech he was unable to deliver due to the fact that the Communist government of Czechoslovakia had revoked his passport. The piece opens with Havel recalling the sight of a factory that scored his boyhood walks to school:

“It spewed dense brown smoke and scattered it across the sky. Each time I saw it, I had an intense sense of something profoundly wrong, of humans soiling the heavens. I have no idea whether there was something like a science of ecology in those days; if there was, I certainly knew nothing of it… Still that ‘soiling of the heavens’ offended me spontaneously.”

This indignation, registerable even to a child, is based on the intuitive knowledge that some things constitute an affront to our nature, and cannot be covered up or explained away with any political justifications – not economic growth, modernization, job creation, the “greater good,” etc. For there is a natural ethic upon which all politics is founded, and then there are the ideological moralities that attempt to map themselves onto it. You can demonstrate this using any number of examples. Take, for instance, an abattoir: it is a house of death, designed for the sole purpose of slaughtering living creatures. Whether you believe the abattoir should be owned privately, or by the state, whether its employees should be paid fifteen dollars an hour, or twenty-five, whether those employs deserve to be unionized or not; or whether the abattoir deserves to be powered by clean sustainable energy or by coal – none of it changes the essential moral ugliness of its existence.

Just shy of ten years after writing this speech, Havel would become the first democratically elected president of the newly formed Czech Republic, a country I have been a temporary resident of for the last ten months. At the moment, I am in my attic apartment, overlooking a rank of factories that lie north of the Vltava river, their blinking candy cane stacks a distant feature contained within the segment of my skylight. I spend an inordinate amount of time with my head out this window, observing this scene, but my thoughts are not on smoke plumes or killing floors. These days, my thoughts are on the first year of the Trump presidency, now in the books, and the three years that are still ahead. These thoughts, however, are driven by the same indignation imbued by a floor full of hanging carcasses. Which is to say that Trump, and the cultural phenomenon that brought him to power, represents not just a corrosion of democratic politics (as if that weren’t bad enough) but a corrosion of moral conscience. It also represents the ascension of virtually every bad human quality to the level of power. The disgust I feel towards the Trump presidency, therefore, is not political, it is human. He is not merely offensive to politics, he is offensive to nature.

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The Malaise of Liberalism

Alex Knepper from New American Perspective looks for a defense of liberalism in the face of the revival of nationalism and socialism.

By: Alex Knepper

There are few things clearer in contemporary politics than the need for an alternative vision to homo economicus, in both its liberal and socialist manifestations — man with neither roots nor telos but content merely with animalized comfort — and the right’s proposed flight back into the inadequate and unbelievable claims of the ancestral. It is also clear that there is no faction in American politics which can obviously serve as a vehicle for this alternative.

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The Woman Question in Plato’s Republic

By: Mary Townsend and Political Animal

In the era of women’s marches and #metoo movements, the role of women in society is being challenged from many quarters. To better understand the controversy, it is worth recalling that the fundamental question is one that human beings have had to wrestle with in every age and in every regime.

With this in mind, the editors of Political Animal Magazine spoke to Mary Townsend, the author of The Woman Question in Plato’s Republic. Her book examines how Plato dealt with the role of women in his Republic. We asked Townsend to tell us a little about the “Woman Question” and Plato’s thoughts on the matter. The following is what she had to say.

Political Animal: The title of your book refers to “The Woman Question” – what is “The Woman Question”, and how does Plato deal with it in the Republic?

Mary Townsend: The “Woman Question” is the open, living, and perennially fraught question of what women’s nature, role, and political position in the human community is or ought to be. Plato’s Socrates’ answer is without parallel: he pulls apart the polis in search of the women who will be educated in philosophy and rule as philosopher-queens.

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Perfect Storm

By: Hendrik van der Breggen

I think our culture is facing a convergence of three popular philosophical theses which threatens to undo us. I’ll set out the three theses and then I’ll set out the storm.

Thesis 1: There is no objective truth.

This means that truth can’t be a relation between what one believes and what is actually the case independently of what one believes, so one cannot be mistaken about what is real. (One can only be “inauthentic,” i.e., not in touch with one’s feelings, which leads to thesis 2.)

Thesis 2: Truth is subjective, i.e., it’s what you feel.

Thesis 3: Disagreeing with someone is the same as hating that someone. Witness the negative reactions on some university campuses to speakers expressing views contrary to the views of students, faculty, and administrators.

Here’s the perfect storm: I am whatever I feel—and you’re a bigot for challenging that.

Let’s put some flesh on this storm.

Recently, white American man Adam Wheeler, who now calls himself Ja Du, has decided he is transgender and Filipino. And people are defending Ja Du’s status as a Filipino woman.

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Performing a Seduction: Performance Art Houston’s “Political Seducer’s Diary”

By: By Jeanette Joy Harris and Steven Martz

“The Political Seducer’s Diary,” is an Instagram-based performance art exhibit by Performance Art Houston that ran from November to December 2017 on @PerformanceArtHouston. Inspired by Kierkegaard’s “The Seducer’s Diary,” the exhibit delved into the question of how “what is beautiful” might determine “what is just” and ultimately affect politics.

Jeanette Joy Harris, the organizer of the project and one of the contributing artists, reflects on it below:

The Instagram handle @kimkierkegaardashian has six posts, most of which would certainly make the great Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard cringe. One is a picture of one elephant giving another a bouquet of daisies, saying, “Some people won’t love you no matter what you do and some people won’t stop loving you no matter what you do. Go where love is!” Appropriate for Kim Kardashian’s very public romantic life, but ironic for a man who abandoned romantic love for a lifetime of philosophy. In short, @kimkierkegaardasian has used celebrity appeal to promote a philosopher. In this context, it is hard not to envision Kardashian in a tight designer dress, seducing people into attending a Kierkegaard lecture by using the type of banal pick-up line that a hostess would use to woo you into a sidewalk cafe.

As an artist, curator, and writer based in Houston, I am interested in this combination of the aesthetic and seduction, and especially in how it overlaps with public dialogue and politics. This is the goal of my recent Instagram-based, performance art exhibition, “The Political Seducer’s Diary.” Using social media as a platform, I invited eight artists from around the world to consider how aesthetics and seduction affect public life.

Julia Claire Wallace, director of Experimental Action, invited me to participate in the organization’s larger project that explores how performance art interacts with social media. Like me, Wallace is interested in the political possibilities of Instagram, particularly since its image-based platform would seem to make political speech a difficult endeavor. After conversations with Wallace and a recent reading of Kierkegaard’s “The Seducer’s Diary,” I asked my artists to delve deeper into how “what is beautiful” might determine “what is just” and ultimately affect politics. This resulted in the two-month exhibition, “The Political Seducer’s Diary,” which ran from November to December 2017 on @PerformanceArtHouston. Each artist took control of the handle for one week and looked at topics from assault to consumerism.

My project had two goals: First, to use the term ‘political’ in the classical sense, broadening it to a description of issues that are shared in community. This opened up the possibility for artists to look at social issues beyond party politics. Second, to use Kierkegaard’s articulation of aesthetics in “The Seducer’s Diary” as a starting place to ask the question: what if aesthetics not only guided our personal actions but political actions, as well?

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Deconstructing Karl Popper’s Paradox of Intolerance

By: Mohamed Farija
One of the winning submissions from the Battle of Ideas op-ed contest on the theme of Free Speech.

Racism. Sexism. Xenophobia. These problems have plagued humanity since time immemorial and there’s no sign that they’re going away anytime soon. Despite these problems, I choose to believe that the majority of people are decent human beings who inherently desire to live in a tolerant society.

An integral aspect of a tolerant society is people’s ability to have and promote differing viewpoints i.e. freedom of speech. However to declare such freedoms as unlimited is to give unsavory voices a place at the table.

Thus we are brought to Karl Popper’s Paradox of Intolerance. “Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”

However Popper did not suggest intolerant ideas have to be silenced, i.e. that his paradox be used to limit freedom of speech. Rather, actions of intolerance such as violence or oppression should be eradicated from a liberal society, even through force. “In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols.”

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John Dewey and Art

By: Alaina Hammond

John Dewey (1859-1952) was perhaps the leading educational philosopher of the early twentieth century, and viewed humanity as a creative force when interacting with its environment. His 1934 book, Art As Experience, expounds upon this belief system.

A large part of Dewey’s purpose in writing this book seems to be saving art from the pedestal of the museum. “The factors that have glorified fine art by setting it upon a far-off pedestal did not arise within the realm of art nor is their influence confined to the arts” (p. 4). The word “glorified” used here in a derogatory sense is parallel to his dismissal of the Platonic ideals of beauty. To glorify something is not to improve it, or even to elevate it in anything but an artificial sense. Rather, it is to imbue it with a false identity of the ethereal, or the other.

Moreover, there is no formal art that is inherently superior to the other. To use a contemporary reference, a graphic novel is not less noble, or automatically worse, than a literary one. If both are well-written (and in the former case, drawn) they should be judged on their own merits rather than compared to each other. On the other hand, as television is not inherently worse than literature, a good show surpasses a badly written book.

Dewey examines the specifics of art’s place in the world. He wonders: If artists are a kind of interpreter, are they interpreting the world to themselves? Or interpreting something to something else? What are they doing, besides participating in the physical process of making art with physical materials found in space-time?

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The Libertarian Error

By: Richard Oxenberg

I. Introduction

As Congress gears up for another round of massive tax cuts whose benefits will primarily go to the wealthiest, it might be worthwhile to consider the underlying rationale for these cuts.

In general, there are two arguments presented in justification for such cuts. The first is a utilitarian argument. The claim is that tax cuts for the wealthy will stimulate the economy and make things generally better for everyone. There are many good reasons to think that this is not true, but I am going to leave this claim aside for now as it is largely a practical question concerning how a capitalist system operates.

The more fundamental, and more philosophical, justification comes from the libertarians. The libertarian claim is that taxation for any other purpose than the defense of liberty is illegitimate, indeed, a kind of theft. According to the libertarians, the government simply has no right to impose taxes for such services as public education, aid to the poor, health care, social security, or any other service that does not involve a direct protection from those who might deprive us of liberty (e.g., criminals or foreign invaders).

This libertarian idea has gained a lot of traction in recent decades, even among many who would not identify as libertarian. It provides the ideological foundation for the hostility toward government, indeed toward democracy as a form of government, fostered by the radical right. I believe it is deeply flawed. The following is my attempt to say why.

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Penelope’s Choice

By: Michael Grenke

The Odyssey’s Penelope is a Thinker, a person who is effective in facing her world and its problems by thinking her way out of them. She is, perhaps, even more of a thinker than her much-devising husband, as he is still, occasionally, given to “solving” his problems with brute force. It is in Penelope that Homer more purely explores the possibilities and limitations of Odyssean cleverness. The emblem of Penelope’s cleverness is the device by which she tricks her suitors for three years, her weaving. She uses the weaving to buy herself time, but the weaving is itself an image of time. Time is a weaving and unweaving; it makes and unmakes beings and relations. In her deception, Penelope gives the impression time has no consequence for human beings. And understood thus, time poses a great difficulty that attends and deforms the kind of thinking in which Penelope engages.

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