Archive for the ‘Political Theory’ Category


Akan Concept of the Person

September 8, 2010

 ()Here’s friend, colleague, and Cameroonian philosopher Ajume Wingo on ABC Radio talking about the Akan concept of the person.



May 4, 2010

Brad DeLong digs in today on Stephanie Grace at Harvard Law School regarding comments that she’s made about African Americans being, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent. Here’s what she says, posted originally last week at Above the Law:

I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent. I could also obviously be convinced that by controlling for the right variables, we would see that they are, in fact, as intelligent as white people under the same circumstances. The fact is, some things are genetic. African Americans tend to have darker skin. Irish people are more likely to have red hair. (Now on to the more controversial:) Women tend to perform less well in math due at least in part to prenatal levels of testosterone, which also account for variations in mathematics performance within genders. This suggests to me that some part of intelligence is genetic, just like identical twins raised apart tend to have very similar IQs and just like I think my babies will be geniuses and beautiful individuals whether I raise them or give them to an orphanage in Nigeria. I don’t think it is that controversial of an opinion to say I think it is at least possible that African Americans are less intelligent on a genetic level, and I didn’t mean to shy away from that opinion at dinner.

Oh dear. This is a fine little mess. Maybe I can just point out two quick problems.  First, African Americanism is a false category. At best, African Americans are, almost randomly, simply people with black skin, or maybe people who self-identify as black people, or who self-identify as African American. That’s not a real category of people. It’s nowhere near as firm as a category like gender, which also has problems. It’d be like saying something of this sort: people born in the state of Virginia (full disclosure: I was born in Virginia) are genetically predisposed to be less intelligent than people born in the state of New York. It may be true that people born in the state of Virginia are genetically predisposed to be less intelligent… but it doesn’t tell us very much that they are. What such a claim does is reinforce some stupid ideas about people born in the state of Virginia, which isn’t really very helpful in the grand scheme of things.

And here’s the other problem: intelligence is also a pretty stupid category. Sure, it’s important for some things, like doing well on IQ tests; but it’s not a requirement for citizenship, it’s not the unique attribute that generates human rights, and it’s not even a requirement for doing well in a supposed meritocracy of the sort that we like to imagine we have. It’s a nearly useless and value-free category, like saying that people born in Virginia are more genetically predisposed to have crossed-eyeballs or bigger feet or blonder hair than people from other parts of the country.

There are other problems too — like that speaking in averages about classes of people doesn’t offer much in the way of useful generalizations at the level of the particular — but I’ll let those slide. For the time being, the important point is not that Stephanie Grace has made claims that may or may not, from a demographic standpoint, be true — and look, on one level, there is a certain tautological truth about what she says: any non-randomly selected cluster of people can be shown to have demographic differences, the etiology of which is nevertheless questionable — but that she has employed categories that reveal a substantial amount about her deficiencies in moral and political reasoning.

More here and here.


Libertarian Gold

April 16, 2010

John Holbo has a nice post over at Crooked Timber. He continues the thread inspired by the outrageous claim of Bryan Caplan’s that somehow the ladies were freer back in the 1880s than they are today. It’s an interesting post if only because he suggests that there are sociological reflections of conceptual distinctions in libertarianism, and also because he runs his argument through the establishment of liberty as property:

I think it is not generally recognized – it seems right to me, correct me if I am wrong! – that the thick/thin libertarian distinction, even though it can be fuzzy, in practice, marks out two fundamentally distinct kinds of political philosophy, based on totally different principles. This gets disguised because there is considerable overlapping consensus at higher levels; and the thin side, in particular, tends to be systematically confused about where it is coming from (where it has to be coming from, to be what it is). Once we see this, a few things that are a bit strange about libertarianism, as a sociological phenomenon, look less strange. Also, maybe it turns out that libertarianism is a Bigger Tent than liberalism, philosophically, even though it is sometimes classed as a mere fringe of the liberal tent. Liberalism really is one kind of thing, broadly speaking. But not libertarianism – which is really two fundamentally different kinds of thing in one. (You could debate that, arguing that liberalism, too, has some pretty serious and deep internal divisions. But that’s not today’s topic.)


Shot Through With Swastikas

November 9, 2009

A book review in the NY Times covers the forthcoming publication of Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy. I haven’t yet seen the book, but it sounds like a preposterous thesis to me.

It must be false to assert that Heidegger’s work is thoroughly imbued with Nazism. It’s an outrageous claim; far more outrageous than even the claim that Marx’s work is thoroughly imbued with Marxism. On one way of thinking, Marx’s work obviously is thoroughly imbued with Marxism, since Marx wrote it; but it’s not at all clear to me that all of the thoughts in Marx’s work are thoroughly “Marxist.”

Plus, there’s the added complication that just because it may be imbued with a particular view (which I don’t think it is), that therefore it ought not to be taught.

This article a few weeks back generated a storm of criticism. Check out the comments section for a few chuckles.


The Unraveling of Private Property

November 9, 2009

The New York Times has a nice story on the property rights struggles of Moscow residents.

The Soviet government’s land monopoly may have ended some two decades ago, but the ability of the authorities to give and take away territory has not, real estate experts here say.

While private land ownership is not forbidden today as it was in the Soviet era, current real estate laws are vague: residents can buy homes and apartments, for instance, but not the land they stand on. In all cases people are left open to the caprice of corrupt officials and businessmen.

Aw, but come on. They should rejoice in this ambiguity. In such ambiguity lies emancipation. Here, from the 1844 manuscripts:

The abolition [Aufhebung] of private property is therefore the complete emancipation of all human senses and qualities, but it is this emancipation precisely because these senses and attributes have become, subjectively and objectively, human. The eye has become a human eye, just as its object has become a social, human object – an object made by man for man. The senses have therefore become directly in their practice theoreticians. They relate themselves to the thing for the sake of the thing, but the thing itself is an objective human relation to itself and to man, and vice versa. Need or enjoyment have consequently lost its egotistical nature, and nature has lost its mere utility by use becoming human use.

See? All clear now.


Arrested Anti-Development

October 15, 2009

Q+A: Environmental Activist Mike RoselleHere’s an interview with Environmental activist Mike Roselle in Time Magazine. I sat around a campfire with Roselle about twelve years ago, rehashing some of his tales from the early days of Greenpeace.  As should be clear from this interview, he’s a pretty radical dude, he’s taken some pretty aggressive actions, and as a result of this, his stories are truly fascinating.  I don’t think I said anything the whole night.

Among the courses that I teach regularly, one of my favorite is an upper division course on property and protest. The course is ultimately geared to address conceptual concerns that strike me as more centrally at the heart of environmental issues than those that generally frame the debate: namely, nature and wilderness.  Instead, I look directly at what is moving the issue: property and protest.  We address a range of theories about the origin and legitimacy of property rights and then ask questions about the extent to which property rights fall into place against other concerns, like human rights and environmental policy.  We also look at various activist strategies, including symbolic protest, nonviolent civil disobedience, monkey wrenching, property destruction, and sabotage.   As far as readings, the course starts with history from the Sagebrush Rebellion and the Wise Use Movement, and then moves back through the history of property rights, past some of the legislative ‘takings’ cases, and up through the tactics of Earth First! It’s a great class, if I do say so myself.

I may be picking up this book to add to my syllabus.  Any feedback or thoughts on Roselle’s tales would be much appreciated.  Also, if anyone has suggestions for readings from the Wise Use movement, particularly regarding actions and events that have shaped reactions to the environmental crowd, I’d be interested to hear those as well.


McMahan on Proportionality and Self-Defense in War

October 3, 2009

Thom Brooks (Philosophy, Newcastle) over at the Brooks Blog links to this video:

Worth a view.  (Jeff McMahan is an influential applied philosopher at Rutgers University, which is generally viewed as an influential philosophy department.)