On the 24th June 2015, Feminist Legal Studies and the London School of Economics Law Department hosted an afternoon event with Professor Wendy Brown, Class of 1936 First Professor of Political Science, University of California. Professor Brown kindly agreed to discuss her scholarship on feminist theory, and its relationship to both the law and neoliberalism. The event included an interview by Dr Katie Cruz and a Q&A session, which are presented here in an edited version of the transcript. Sumi Madhock, (...) Professor of Gender Studies, LSE chaired the interview and discussion and introduced Professor Brown’s work. Katie Cruz asked Wendy Brown to reflect upon topics that span her scholarship and activism, including the state of critical, feminist, and Left approaches to rights, neoliberalism, despair and utopianism, and the future of feminist theory and practice in the context of neoliberalism and current debates about intersectionality. Participants in the discussion asked questions on a wide range of issues, including the limits of feminist engagement with law as a tool for social change, the dominance of neoliberalism, imperialist feminism, Islamophobia, secularism, and our attachment to the figure of homo politicus. (shrink)
In Better Never to Have Been, David Benatar argues that existence is always a harm. His argument, in brief, is that this follows from a theory of personal good which we ought to accept because it best explains several???asymmetries???. I shall argue here that Benatar's theory suffers from a defect which was already widely known to afflict similar theories, and that the main asymmetry he discusses is better explained in a way which allows that existence is often not a harm.
The “Adam Smith problem” has traditionally been concerned with the issue of authorial integrity: the issue of how a single author, Adam Smith, could have written two such apparently dissimilar, even contradictory, works as The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations. As the problem to be resolved was the single authorial origin of two such works, the perceived incompatibilities between them were explained in terms of Smith's intellectual biography – for example, Smith's travels to France, Smith's meetings (...) with the physiocrats, or the mental incapacities of an aging man. The current consensus is that the Adam Smith problem is a “pseudo problem” and that Smith's works represent a unified project, but the same reference to authorial origins now provides thr opposite claim that “the same man” wrote both books. Here the postulate of authorial integrity, “of stable integrated character, not subject to deep intellectual doubts or fissures” provides an assurance that such a man is unlikely to have written two entirely different books, an assurance underwritten by a coherent authorial intentionality that guarantees the consistency of the two works. (shrink)
In his Comment ‘Adam Smith on the Morality of the Pursuit of Fortune’, Richard Arlen Kleer accepts much of the argument in my article ‘Signifying Voices’ but insists that I have ‘gone too far’. Kleer agrees that there is a moral hierarchy in Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments where benevolence and self-command are ranked higher than justice and prudence, but he is uneasy with the conclusion that economic activity and the pursuit of gain are ‘amoral’ activities and insists that (...) they do have a significant moral standing. In addition, although Kleer accepts a good deal of the stylistic analysis, again he is uneasy with the results that are derived from it. This reply will take each of these aspects in turn. (shrink)
There is a well-known remark in Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations which even some philosophers sympathetic to his work have found very hard to accept. It reads: Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundation either. It leaves everything as it is. Surely, it is said, that is carrying matters too far. Wittgenstein's hyperbole should be excused as a harmless stylistic flourish.
Is it possible for a person to understand that what he proposes to do is morally wrong and yet prefer to do it nonetheless? I shall argue that wickedness consists in a defect of character that results in one's often having just such preferences. Yet many philosophers think that wickedness so conceived is impossible, because, for them, having such a preference is incompatible with believing, or at least knowing, that the act would be wrong.
Many analyses of belief in the soul ignore the soul in the words. Dislocations of concepts occur when words are divorced from their normal implications. The ‘soul’ is sometimes the dislocated utterer of such words. Pictures, including pictures of the soul leaving the body, may mislead us by suggesting applications which they, in fact, do not have. But pictures of the soul may enter people's lives as desires for a temporal eternity. Contrasting conceptions of immortality and eternal life depend on (...) a willingness to say farewell to life. Atheistic denials of temporal eternities, do not appreciate these other possibilities. (shrink)
In a series of lectures on minds and persons, I am going to take advantage of the occasion to ask what kind of person should one be if one has a philosophical mind. I ask the question because it is itself a philosophically contentious issue. Indeed, I shall be offering answers in a climate which is generally hostile to them. I want to aise the issue in three contexts: first, in relation to questions which have been treated epistemologically, but which (...) I think belong to logic; second in relation to miracles; and third in relation to moral convictions. I shall spend most of my time on the first context. (shrink)
If classical Western theism is correct that God's timeless omniscience is compatible with human free will, then it is incoherent to hold that this God can in any strict sense be immutable and a se as well as omniscient. That is my thesis. ‘Classical theism’ shall refer here to the tradition of philosophical theology centring on such mainstream authors as Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas. ‘Divine omniscience’ shall mean that the eternal God knows all events as a timeless observer of them. (...) ‘Human free will’ shall mean that human beings are, at least sometimes, self-determining agents who make choices not decisively caused to be what they are by external or internal factors other than the free willing itself – choices that these agents have the capacity and the freedom to make differently than they do. Except where stipulated otherwise, ‘divine immutability’ shall ‘mean that God is neither subject to, nor capable of, change in being, knowing, or willing, since God is immune to external influences, and without internal needs, of the sorts that might give rise to such change. Finally, ‘aseity’ shall be used to underline the divine immunity to external influences, since a being that is wholly a se or self-caused , cannot be open to such influences, cannot be made to be what or how it is by anything other than itself. (shrink)
Very often moral disagreements can be resolved by appealing to factual considerations because in these cases the parties to the dispute agree as to which factual considerations are relevant. They agree, that is, with respect to their basic moral standards. Hence, when their disagreement about the non-moral facts is resolved, so is their moral disagreement. But sometimes moral disagreement persists in spite of agreement on factual considerations. When this happens, and when neither party is guilty of illogical thinking, we have (...) a case of moral deadlock. (shrink)
That the legacy of Berkeley's philosophy has been a largely sceptical one is perhaps rather surprising. For he himself took it as one of his objectives to undermine scepticism. He roundly denied that there were ‘any principles more opposite to Scepticism than those we have laid down’. Yet Hume was to write of Berkeley that ‘most of the writings of that very ingenious author form the best lessons of scepticism, Bayle not excepted’. And it has become something of a commonplace (...) to say that Berkeley's philosophy is sceptical in direction, if not in intention. He is represented as a half-hearted sceptic, applying radical empiricist principles in his treatment of matter but baulking at their implications when he came to consider spirits. Hume is credited with being the more thoroughgoing of the two. Berkeley had denied the substantiality of extended things. Hume felt obliged, by parity of reasoning, to deny the substantiality of the self. On his account of the mind there is ‘properly no simplicity in it at one time, nor identity in different’. It is commonly supposed that Berkeley, in maintaining the quite contrary view that we know ourselves to be simple, undivided beings, showed a lack of rigour or consistency. (shrink)
Generally, I find gatherings of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness more interesting and congenial than the Tucson conferences. There are at least two reasons for this, the first one obvious: the former is smaller. Less crowds, more chances to participate in discussions . The second reason reflects my predispositions, and of course those of the ASSC: the talks, research, and speculation are closely data-driven. I find it highly refreshing to attend talks on consciousness which are reporting experiments (...) done by groups employing stringent quality controls, and to hear speculation which is carefully restrained to inferences that closely and clearly follow from consensually verified data. I find it hopeful that researchers have not abandoned lines of inquiry which have decades of experiments to back them up merely because they have not yet found answers to some particular questions. But hey, these are my own biases; I'm someone who thinks the Skeptical Inquirer is a valuable resource. (shrink)
It has been said that the tendency to make use of examples drawn from literature in discussing problems in moral philosophy is not only dangerous, but needless. Dangers there certainly are, but these have little to do with the reasons offered for the needlessness of such examples. Examples drawn from literature, it is said, introduce an unnecessary complexity into one's philosophising. Indeed, as Peter Winch has pointed out, according to ‘a fairly well-established … tradition in recent Anglo-Saxon moral philosophy … (...) it is not merely permissible, but desirable, to take trivial examples. The rationale of this view is that such examples do not generate the emotion which is liable to surround more serious cases and thus enable us to look more coolly at the logical issues involved’, and it carries the implication that ‘moral concerns can be examined quite apart from any consideration of what it is about these concerns which makes them important to us’. (shrink)
Psychological egoism is, I suppose, regarded by most philosophers as one of the more simple-minded fallacies in the history of philosophy, and dangerous and seductive too, contriving as it does to combine cynicism about human ideals and a vague sense of scientific method, both of which make the ordinary reader feel sophisticated, with conceptual confusion, which he cannot resist. For all of these reasons it springs eternal, in one form or another, in the breasts of first-year students, and offers excellent (...) material for their philosophy instructors, who like nothing better than an edifice of sturdy appearance but with rotten foundations on which to display their skill as demolition experts. (shrink)
To many Western students of India, svarāj and mokṣa have often seemed to represent two very different ideals of freedom, the former social, political, and modern; the latter individual, spiritual, and traditional. It is not surprising that the Hindu ideal of spiritual freedom is most commonly known by the term mokṣa , for it is this word that is usually listed as the fourth and supreme goal in the famous four ends of man . The first three ends, desire , (...) success , and morality , find their fulfillment within society, while mokṣa , it is generally said, takes one beyond society. It is pertinent to note, as Ingalls and others have pointed out, that mokṣa is a relatively late term, which came to be added to the older, first three goals of man. As a noun, mokṣa does not appear until the latest of the Upanisads, and then only three times, in Śvetāśvatara 6.16 and Maitrī 6.20 and 30. In addition, some orthodox schools did not accept the ideal of mokṣa for several more centuries, the Mīmāṁsā denying it until the eighth century A.D. (shrink)
My title advertizes a paradox. The characteristic complaint of the sceptic is that others make assumptions they are not entitled to make. A philosophical sceptic is committed to a systematic refusal to accept such assumptions in the absence of the kind of justification they think is required. A sceptic who, none the less, helps himself to such an assumption, seems to be caught in a paradoxical position. This is the kind of situation in which, it seems, certain eighteenth-century sceptical philosophers (...) were placed in relation to the ‘principle’ of natural order. They did not doubt that there is such a principle, that there is a source or ultimate cause of the order to be found in the universe. And yet, on their own terms, is not the existence of such a principle something we should expect them to have doubted? What I shall try to do in this lecture is to bring out why they did not doubt the existence of such a principle and how serious their failure to do so is for their sceptical position. (shrink)
In approaching the topic, ‘Objectivity and Cultural Divergence’, there is little doubt that certain styles of philosophizing will conceive of the task confronting them as that of devising or at least calling attention to standards of rationality by which distinctions between objectivity and divergence are to be drawn. This mode of philosophizing is marked by the confidence it has in its own methods. It seldom occurs to it to question its own operations; to ask whether the heterogeneity of our culture (...) does not itself create difficulties for the practice of philosophy. It is to such questionings as these, however, that I want to direct attention in this lecture. (shrink)
In his 1950 Marett Lecture, Professor Evans-Pritchard gave an account of important methodological developments which had taken place in social anthropology. I should like to use the occasion to concentrate on some of the deep contemporary divisions in another subject which interested R. R. Marett, namely, the philosophy of religion. I shall do so, however, by reference to some of the methodological issues which concerned Evans-Pritchard.
Christopher Miles Coope offers a letter, drafted by Helen Taylor but certified by Mill, in which Mill asserts the duty to vote, as evidence that he could not have regarded harmfulness to others as a necessary condition of moral wrongness. But it is clear that Mill regarded the duty to vote as one of imperfect obligation, and the wrongness of not fulfilling it as a matter roughly of not doing enough, in this case not doing one's fair share. He has (...) room for the common-sense harmlessness of staying at home. At the same time he grounds political duties in the harmfulness of neglecting the power of legislation and in the possibility, consistently maintained, that one can harm by inaction. Mill's view, central to his relation between morality and liberty, remains at work here, while also suggesting reflections on the peculiarity of his conception of harm. (shrink)
In what sense can we not help thinking that every event has a cause? One answer is, that this begs the question: we can think of events as uncaused. Well, we can think of events in isolation from causes, and we can formulate the proposition that some events have no cause, or that no event needs a cause. But the first of these does not constitute thinking of an event as not caused , but thinking of an event not-as-caused ; (...) while the implications of the second, forming anti-causal propositions, are obscure. I can verbally formulate the proposition ‘some events are uncaused’; the question is, whether it makes sense to affirm it. Now I can verbally formulate the proposition ‘some triangles are quadrilateral’, and we must not say that this does not make sense ; for I know the criteria for being a triangle, and I know the criteria for being quadrilateral; and the proposition simply asserts that there are some figures which satisfy both sets of criteria. That this is logically impossible is true, but it is not unintelligible. It does not, however, make sense to affirm a logical impossibility, simply because I cannot meaningfully affirm what I do not understand and believe to be possible , and if I understand what it means to be both triangular and quadrilateral, I cannot also believe it to be possible, since to understand what it means for a plane figure to have three sides is to understand that this excludes its having any other number of sides, e.g. four. But ‘some events are not caused’ is not logically incoherent in this way, or not apparently so; for in thinking of an event I am by definition thinking of a happening in isolation from any cause; I am thinking of it not as caused . Thus ‘some events are uncaused’ is not incoherent ex vi terminorum. (shrink)