What is JacketFlap

  • JacketFlap connects you to the work of more than 200,000 authors, illustrators, publishers and other creators of books for Children and Young Adults. The site is updated daily with information about every book, author, illustrator, and publisher in the children's / young adult book industry. Members include published authors and illustrators, librarians, agents, editors, publicists, booksellers, publishers and fans.
    Join now (it's free).

Sort Blog Posts

Sort Posts by:

  • in

Suggest a Blog

Enter a Blog's Feed URL below and click Submit:

Most Commented Posts

In the past 7 days

Recent Comments

JacketFlap Sponsors

Spread the word about books.
Put this Widget on your blog!
  • Powered by JacketFlap.com

Are you a book Publisher?
Learn about Widgets now!

Advertise on JacketFlap

MyJacketFlap Blogs

  • Login or Register for free to create your own customized page of blog posts from your favorite blogs. You can also add blogs by clicking the "Add to MyJacketFlap" links next to the blog name in each post.

Blog Posts by Date

Click days in this calendar to see posts by day or month
new posts in all blogs
Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: philosophy, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 277
1. Does torture really (still) matter?

By Rebecca Gordon

The US military involvement in Iraq has more or less ended, and the war in Afghanistan is limping to a conclusion. Don’t the problems of torture really belong to the bad old days of an earlier administration? Why bring it up again? Why keep harping on something that is over and done with? Because it’s not over, and it’s not done with.

Torture is still happening. Shortly after his first inauguration in 2009, President Obama issued an executive order forbidding the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” and closing the CIA’s so-called “black sites.” But the order didn’t end “extraordinary rendition”—the practice of sending prisoners to other countries to be tortured. (This is actually forbidden under the UN Convention against Torture, which the United States signed in 1994.) The president’s order didn’t close the prison at Guantánamo, where to this day, prisoners are held in solitary confinement. Periodic hunger strikes are met with brutal force feeding. Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel described the experience in a New York Times op-ed in April 2013:

I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before.

Nor did Obama’s order address the abusive interrogation practices of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) which operates with considerably less oversight than the CIA. Jeremy Scahill has ably documented JSOC’s reign of terror in Iraq in Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield. At JSOC’s Battlefield Interrogation Facility at Camp NAMA (which reportedly stood for “Nasty-Ass Military Area”) the motto—prominently displayed on posters around the camp—was “No blood, no foul.”

Torture also continues daily, hidden in plain sight, in US prisons. It is no accident that the Army reservists responsible for the outrages at Abu Ghraib worked as prison guards in civilian life. As Spec. Charles A. Graner wrote in an email about his work at Abu Ghraib, “The Christian in me says it’s wrong, but the corrections officer in me says, ‘I love to make a grown man piss himself.’” Solitary confinement and the ever-present threat of rape are just two forms of institutionalized torture suffered by the people who make up the world’s largest prison population. In fact, the latter is so common that on TV police procedurals like Law & Order, it is the staple threat interrogators use to prevent a “perp” from “lawyering up.”

We still don’t have a full, official accounting. As yet we have no official government accounting of how the United States has used torture in the “war on terror.” This is partly because so many different agencies, clandestine and otherwise, have been involved in one way or another. The Senate Intelligence Committee has written a 6,000-page report just on the CIA’s involvement, which has never been made public, although recent days have seen moves in this direction. Nor has the Committee been able to shake loose the CIA’s own report on its interrogation program. Most of what we do know is the result of leaks, and the dogged work of dedicated journalists and human rights lawyers. But we have nothing official, on the level, say, of the 1975 Church Committee report on the CIA’s activities in the Vietnam War.

Frustrated because both Congress and the Obama administration seemed unwilling to demand a full accounting, the Constitution Project convened a blue-ribbon bipartisan committee, which produced its own damning report. Members included former DEA head Asa Hutchinson, former FBI chief William Sessions, and former US Ambassador to the United Nations Thomas Pickering. The report reached two important conclusions: (1) “[I]t is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture,” and (2) “[T]he nation’s highest officials bear some responsibility for allowing and contributing to the spread of torture.”

No high-level officials have been held accountable for US torture. Only enlisted soldiers like Charles Graner and Lynndie England have done jail time for prisoner abuse in the “war on terror.” None of the “highest officials” mentioned in the Detainee Task Force report (people like Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and George W. Bush) have faced any consequences for their part in a program of institutionalized state torture. Early in his first administration, President Obama argued that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past,” but this is not true. Laying blame for the past (and the present) is a precondition for preventing torture in the future, because it would represent a public repudiation of the practice. What “will be gained” is the possibility of developing a public consensus that the United States should not practice torture any longer. Such a consensus about torture does not exist today.

Tolerating torture corrupts the moral character of the nation. We tend to think of torture as a set of isolated actions—things desperate people do under desperate circumstances. But institutionalized state torture is not an action. It is an ongoing, socially-embedded practice. It requires an infrastructure and training. It has its own history, traditions, and rituals of initiation. And—importantly—it creates particular ethical habits in those who practice it, and in any democratic nation that allows it.

Since the brutal attacks of 9/11/2001, people in this country have been encouraged to be afraid. Knowing that our government has been forced to torture people in order to keep us safe confirms the belief that each of us must be in terrible danger—a danger from which only that same government can protect us. We have been encouraged to accept any cruelty done to others as the price of our personal survival. There is a word for the moral attitude that sets personal safety as its highest value: cowardice. If as a nation we do not act to end torture, if we do not demand a full accounting from and full accountability for those responsible, we ourselves are responsible. And we risk becoming a nation of cowards.

Rebecca Gordon received her B.A. from Reed College and her M.Div. and Ph.D. in Ethics and Social Theory from Graduate Theological Union. She teaches in the Department of Philosophy and for the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good at the University of San Francisco. She is the author of Letters From NicaraguaCruel and Usual: How Welfare “Reform” Punishes Poor People, and Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only politics articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

The post Does torture really (still) matter? appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Does torture really (still) matter? as of 4/12/2014 7:53:00 AM
Add a Comment
2. Disposable captives

By Lori Gruen

The decision by the administrators of the Copenhagen Zoo to kill a two-year-old giraffe named Marius by shooting him in the head in February 2014, then autopsy his body in public and feed Marius’ body parts to the lions held captive at the zoo created quite an uproar. When the same zoo then killed the lions (an adult pair and their two cubs) a month later to make room for a more genetically-worthy captive, the uproar became more ferocious.

Animal lovers across the globe were shocked and sickened by these killings and couldn’t understand why this bloodshed was being carried out at a zoo.

The zoo’s justification for killing Marius was that he had genes that were already “well represented” in the captive giraffe population in Europe. The justification for killing the lions was that the zoo was planning to introduce a younger male who was not genetically related to any of the females in the group.

Sacrificing the well-being and even the lives of individual animals in the name of conserving a diverse gene pool is commonplace in zoos. Euthanasia, usually by means less grotesque than a shotgun to the head, is quite common in European zoos. In US zoos, contraception is often used to prevent “over-representation” of certain gene lines. The European zoos’ reason for not using birth control the way most American zoos do is that they believe allowing animals to reproduce provides the animals with the opportunity to engage the fuller range of species typical behaviors, but that also means killing the undesirable offspring. In both European and US zoos, families are broken up and individuals are shipped to other facilities to diversify and manage the captive gene pool.

If this all has a ring of eugenic reasoning, consider what the executive director of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Gerald Dick, had to say: “In Europe, there is a strict attempt to maintain genetically pure animals and not waste space in a zoo for genetically useless specimens.”

A stuffed giraffe, representing Marius, at a protest against zoos and the confinement of animals in Lisbon, 2014

A stuffed giraffe, representing Marius, at a protest against zoos and the confinement of animals in Lisbon, 2014

The high-profile slaughter of Marius and the lions that ate his body focus attention on an important debate about the purpose of zoos and more generally the ethics of captivity. Originally, zoos were designed to amuse, amaze, and entertain visitors. As public awareness of the plight of endangered species and their diminishing habitats grew, zoos increasingly saw their roles as conservation and education. But just what is being conserved and what are the educational lessons that zoo-goers take away from their experiences at the zoo?

A recent study suggests that zoo-goers learn about biodiversity by visiting zoos. Critics have suggested that the study is not particularly convincing in linking the small increase in understanding of biodiversity with the complex demands of conservation. Some zoos are committed to direct conservation efforts; the Wildlife Conservation Society (aka the Bronx Zoo) and the Lincoln Park Zoo are just two examples of zoos that have extensive and successful conservation programs. Despite these laudable programs, these WAZA-accredited zoos, like the European zoos, are also in the business of gene management and a central tenet of the current management ethos is to value genetic diversity over individual well-being.

Awe-inspiring animals such as giraffes and gorillas and cheetahs and chimpanzees are not seen as individuals, with distinct perspectives, when viewed, as Dick says, as either useful or useless “specimens.” They are valued, if at all, as representative carriers of their species’ genes.

This distorts our understanding of other animals and our relationships to them. Part of the problem is that zoos are not places in which animals can be seen as dignified. Zoos are designed to satisfy human interests and desires, even though they largely fail at this. A trip to the zoo creates a relationship in which the observer, often a child, has a feeling of dominant distance over the animals being looked at. It is hard to respect and admire a being that is captive in every respect and viewed as a disposable specimen, one who can be killed to satisfy a mission that is hard for the zoo-going public to fully understand, let alone endorse.

Causing death is what zoos do. It is not all that they do, but it is a big part of what happens at zoos, even if this is usually hidden from the public. Zoos are institutions that not only purposely kill animals, they are also places that in holding certain animals captive, shorten their lives. Some animals, such as elephants and orca whales, cannot thrive in captivity and holding them in zoos and aquaria causes them to die prematurely.

Death is a natural part of life, and perhaps we would do well to have a less fearful, more accepting attitude about death. But those who purposefully bring about premature death run the risk of perpetuating the notion that some lives are disposable. It is that very idea that we can use and dispose of other animals as we please that has led to the problems that have zoos and others thinking about conservation in the first place. When institutions of captivity promote the idea that some animals are disposable by killing “genetically useless specimens” like young Marius and the lions, they may very well be undermining the tenuous conservation claims that are meant to justify their existence.

Lori Gruen is Professor of Philosophy, Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and Environmental Studies at Wesleyan University where she also coordinates Wesleyan Animal Studies and directs the Ethics in Society Project. She is the author of The Ethics of Captivity.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only philosophy articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Image credit: Sit-in protest in Lisbon. Photo by Mattia Luigi Nappi, 2014. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The post Disposable captives appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Disposable captives as of 4/10/2014 8:55:00 AM
Add a Comment
3. Philosophy and its history

By Graham Priest

If you go into a mathematics class of any university, it’s unlikely that you will find students reading Euclid. If you go into any physics class, it’s unlikely you’ll find students reading Newton. If you go into any economics class, you probably won’t find students reading Keynes. But if you go a philosophy class, it is not unusual to find students reading Plato, Kant, or Wittgenstein. Why? Cynics might say that all this shows is that there is no progress in philosophy. We are still thrashing around in the same morass that we have been thrashing around in for over 2,000 years. No one who understands the situation would be of this view, however.

So why are we still reading the great dead philosophers? Part of the answer is that the history of philosophy is interesting in its own right. It is fascinating, for example, to see how the early Christian philosophers molded the ideas of Plato and Aristotle to the service of their new religion. But that is equally true of the history of mathematics, physics, and economics. There has to be more to it than that—and of course there is.


Plato, Museo Pio-Clementino, Vatican

Great philosophical writings have such depth and profundity that each generation can go back and read them with new eyes, see new things in them, apply them in different ways. So we study the history of philosophy that we may do philosophy.

One of my friends said that he regards the history of philosophy as rather like a text book of chess openings. Just as it is part of being a good chess player to know the openings, it is part of being a good philosopher to know standard views and arguments, so that they can pick them up and run with them.

There is a lot of truth in this analogy, but it sells the history of philosophy short as well. Chess is pursued within a fixed and determinate set of rules. These cannot be changed. But part of good philosophy (like good art) involves breaking the rules. Past philosophers may have played by various sets of rule; but sometimes we can see their projects and ideas can fruitfully (perhaps more fruitfully) be articulated in different frameworks—perhaps frameworks of which they could have had no idea—and so which can plumb their ideas to depths of which they were not aware.

Such is my view anyway. It is certainly one that I try to put into practice in my own teaching and writing. I find that using the tools of modern formal logic is a particularly fruitful way of doing this. Let me give a couple of examples.

One debate in contemporary metaphysics concerns how the parts of an object cooperate to produce the unity which they constitute. The problem was put very much on the agenda by the great 19th century German philosopher and logician Gottlob Frege. Consider the thought that Pheidippides runs. This has two parts, Pheidippides and runs. But the thought is not simply a list, <Pheidippides, runs>. Somehow, the two parts join together. But how? Frege’s answer (we do not need to go in the details) ran into apparently insuperable problems.

Aristotle went part of the way to solving the problem over two millenia ago. He suggested that there must be something which joins the parts together, the form (morphe), F, of the proposition. But that can be only a start, as a number of the Medieval European philosophers noted. For <Pheidippides, F, runs> seems just as much a list as our original one, so there has to be something which joins all these things together—and we are off on a vicious infinite regress.

The regress is broken if F is actually identical with Pheidippides and runs. For then nothing is required to join F and Pheidippides: they are the same. Similarly for F and runs. But Pheidippides and runs are obviously not identical. So identity is not, as logicians say, transitive. You can have a=b and b=c without a=c. It is not clear that this is even a coherent possibility. Yet it is, as modern techniques in a branch of logic called paraconsistent logic can be used to show. I spare you the details.

A quite different problem concerns the topic in modern metaphysics called grounding. Some things depend for their existence on others. Thus, a chair depends for its existence on the molecules which are its parts; these, in turn, depend for their existence on the atoms which are their parts; and so on.

It contemporary debates, it is standardly assumed that this process must ground out in some fundamental bedrock of reality. That idea was attacked by the great Buddhist philosopher Nāgārjuna (c. 2c CE), with a swathe of arguments. Ontological dependence never terminates: everything depends on other things. Again, it is not clear, Nāgārjuna’s arguments notwithstanding, that the idea is coherent. If everything depends on other things, we have an obvious regress; and, it might well be thought, the regress is vicious. In fact, it is not. It can be shown to be coherent by a mathematical model employing mathematical structures called trees, all of whose branches may be infinitely long. Again, I spare you the details.


Of course, in explaining my two examples, I have slid over many important complexities and subtleties. However, they at least illustrate how the history of philosophy provides a mine of ideas. The ideas are by no means dead. They have potentials which only more recent developments—in the case of my examples, in contemporary logic and mathematics—can actualize. Those who know only the present of philosophy, and not the past, will never, of course, see this. That is why philosophers study the history of philosophy.

Graham Priest was educated at St. John’s College, Cambridge, and the London School of Economics. He has held professorial positions at a number of universities in Australia, the UK, and the USA. He is well known for his work on non-classical logic, and its application to metaphysics and the history of philosophy. He is author of One: Being an Investigation into the Unity of Reality and of its Parts, including the Singular Object which is Nothingness.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only philosophy articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

Images: Bust of Plato, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons. Image of a graph as mathematical structure showing all trees with 1, 2, 3, or 4 leaves, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The post Philosophy and its history appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Philosophy and its history as of 4/4/2014 6:45:00 AM
Add a Comment
4. A question of consciousness

vsi banner

By Susan Blackmore

The problem of consciousness is real, deep and confronts us any time we care to look. Ask yourself this question ‘Am I conscious now?’ and you will reply ‘Yes’. Then, I suggest, you are lured into delusion – the delusion that you are conscious all the time, even when you are not asking about it.

Now ask another question, ‘What was I conscious of a moment ago?’ This may seem like a very odd question indeed but lots of my students have grappled with it and I have spent years playing with it, both in daily life and in meditation. My conclusion? Most of the time I do not know what I was conscious of just before I asked.

Try it. Were you aware of that faint humming in the background? Were you conscious of the birdsong? Had you even noticed the loud drill in the distance that something in your brain was trying to block out? And that’s just sounds. What about the feel of your bottom on the chair? My experience is that whenever I look I find lots of what I call parallel backwards threads – sounds, touch, sights, that in some way I seem to have been listening to for some time – yet when I asked the question I had the odd sensation that I’ve only just become conscious of it.

Back in 1890 William James (one of my great heroes of consciousness studies) remarked on the sounds of a chiming clock. You notice the chiming after several strikes. At that moment you can look back and count one, two, three, four and know that now it has reached five. But it was only at four that you suddenly became conscious of the sound.

William James

What’s going on?

This, I suggest, is just one of the many curious features of our minds that lead us astray. Whenever we ask ‘Am I conscious now? we always are, so we leap to the conclusion that there must always be something ‘in my consciousness’, as though consciousness were a container. I reject this idea. Instead, I think that most of the time our brains are getting on with their amazing job of processing countless streams of information in multiple parallel threads, and none of those threads is actually ‘conscious’. Consciousness is an attribution we make after the fact. We look back and say ‘This is what I was conscious of’ and there is nothing more to consciousness than that.

Are we really so deluded? If so there are two important consequences: One spiritual and one scientific.

Many contemplative and mystical traditions claim we are living in illusion; that we need to throw off the dark glasses of the false self who seems to be in control, who seems to have consciousness and free will; that if we train our minds through meditation and mindfulness we can see through the illusion and live in clearly awareness right here and now. I am most familiar with Zen and I love such sayings as, ‘Actions exist and also their consequences but the person that acts does not’. Wow! Letting go of the person who sees, thinks, and decides is not a trivial matter and many people find it outrageous that one would even want to try. Yet it is quite possible to live without assuming that you are consciously making the decisions – that you are a persisting entity that has consciousness and free will.

From the scientific point of view, throwing off these illusions would totally transform the ‘hard problem of consciousness’. This is, as Dave Chalmers, the Australian philosopher, describes it, the question of ‘how physical processes in the brain give rise to subjective experience’. This is a modern version of the mind-body problem. Almost everyone who works on consciousness agrees that dualism does not work. There cannot be a separate spirit or soul or persisting inner self that is something other than ordinary matter. The world cannot be divided, as Descartes famously thought, into mind and matter – subjective and objective, physical material and mental thoughts. Somehow the two must ultimately be one – But how? This ‘nonduality’ is what mystical traditions have long described, but it is also the hope that science is grappling with.

And something strange is happening in the science of consciousness. The last few decades have seen fantastic progress in neuroscience. Yet paradoxically this makes the problem of consciousness worse, not better. We now know that decisions are initiated in part of the frontal lobe, actions are controlled by areas as far apart as the motor cortex, premotor cortex and cerebellum, visual information is processed in multiple parallel pathways at different speeds without ever constructing a picture-like representation that could correspond to  ‘the picture I see in front of my eyes’.  The brain manages all these amazing tasks in multiple parallel processes. So what need is there for ‘me’? And what need is there for subjective experience? So what is it and why do we have it?

Perhaps inventing an inner conscious self is a convenient way to live; perhaps it simplifies the brain’s complex task of keeping us alive; perhaps it has some evolutionary purpose. Whatever the answer, I am convinced that all our usual ideas about mind and consciousness are false. We can throw them off in the way we live our lives, and we must throw them off if our science of consciousness is ever to make progress.

Susan Blackmore is a freelance writer, lecturer and broadcaster, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Plymouth. She is the author of Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction.

The Very Short Introductions (VSI) series combines a small format with authoritative analysis and big ideas for hundreds of topic areas. Written by our expert authors, these books can change the way you think about the things that interest you and are the perfect introduction to subjects you previously knew nothing about. Grow your knowledge with OUPblog and the VSI series every Friday, subscribe to Very Short Introductions articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS, and like Very Short Introductions on Facebook.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only psychology articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Image credit: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The post A question of consciousness appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on A question of consciousness as of 4/4/2014 3:53:00 AM
Add a Comment
5. When science stopped being literature

By James Secord

We tend to think of ‘science’ and ‘literature’ in radically different ways. The distinction isn’t just about genre – since ancient times writing has had a variety of aims and styles, expressed in different generic forms: epics, textbooks, lyrics, recipes, epigraphs, and so forth. It’s the sharp binary divide that’s striking and relatively new. An article in Nature and a great novel are taken to belong to different worlds of prose. In science, the writing is assumed to be clear and concise, with the author speaking directly to the reader about discoveries in nature. In literature, the discoveries might be said to inhere in the use of language itself. Narrative sophistication and rhetorical subtlety are prized.

This contrast between scientific and literary prose has its roots in the nineteenth century. In 1822 the essayist Thomas De Quincey broached a distinction between the ‘the literature of knowledge’ and ‘the literature of power.’ As De Quincey later explained, ‘the function of the first is to teach; the function of the second is to move.’ The literature of knowledge, he wrote, is left behind by advances in understanding, so that even Isaac Newton’s Principia has no more lasting literary qualities than a cookbook. The literature of power, on the other hand, lasts forever and draws out the deepest feelings that make us human.

The effect of this division (which does justice neither to cookbooks nor the Principia) is pervasive. Although the literary canon has been widely challenged, the university and school curriculum remains overwhelmingly dominated by a handful of key authors and texts. Only the most naive student assumes that the author of a novel speaks directly through the narrator; but that is routinely taken for granted when scientific works are being discussed. The one nineteenth-century science book that is regularly accorded a close reading is Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859). A number of distinguished critics have followed Gillian Beer’s Darwin’s Plots in attending to the narrative structures and rhetorical strategies of other non-fiction works – but surprisingly few.

Charles Darwin

It is easy to forget that De Quincey was arguing a case, not stating the obvious. A contrast between ‘the literature of knowledge’ and ‘the literature of power’ was not commonly accepted when he wrote; in the era of revolution and reform, knowledge was power. The early nineteenth century witnessed remarkable experiments in literary form in all fields. Among the most distinguished (and rhetorically sophisticated) was a series of reflective works on the sciences, from the chemist Humphry Davy’s visionary Consolations in Travel (1830) to Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology (1830-33). They were satirised to great effect in Thomas Carlyle’s bizarre scientific philosophy of clothes, Sartor Resartus (1833-34).

These works imagined new worlds of knowledge, helping readers to come to terms with unprecedented economic, social, and cultural change. They are anything but straightforward expositions or outdated ‘popularisations’, and deserve to be widely read in our own era of transformation. Like the best science books today, they are works in the literature of power.

James Secord is Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge, Director of the Darwin Correspondence Project, and a fellow of Christ’s College. His research and teaching is on the history of science from the late eighteenth century to the present. He is the author of the recently published Visions of Science: Books and Readers at the Dawn of the Victorian Age.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only humanities articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Image credit: Charles Darwin. By J. Cameron. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The post When science stopped being literature appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on When science stopped being literature as of 4/3/2014 4:41:00 AM
Add a Comment
6. Is our language too masculine?

vsi banner
As Women’s History month comes to a close, we wanted to share an important debate that Simon Blackburn, author of Ethics: A Very Short Introduction, participated in for IAITV. Joined by Scottish feminist linguist Deborah Cameron and feminist psychologist Carol Gilligan, they look at what we can do to build a more feminist language.

Is our language inherently male? Some believe that the way we think and the words we use to describe our thoughts are masculine. Looking at our language from multiple points of views – lexically, philosophically, and historically – the debate asks if it’s possible for us to create a gender neutral language. If speech is fundamentally gendered, is there something else we can do to combat the way it is used so that it is no longer – at times – sexist?

What do you think can be done to build a more feminist language?

Simon Blackburn is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge. Until recently he was Edna J. Doury Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina, and from 1969 to 1999 a Fellow and Tutor at Pembroke College, Oxford. He is the author of Ethics: A Very Short Introduction.

The Very Short Introductions (VSI) series combines a small format with authoritative analysis and big ideas for hundreds of topic areas. Written by our expert authors, these books can change the way you think about the things that interest you and are the perfect introduction to subjects you previously knew nothing about. Grow your knowledge with OUPblog and the VSI series every Friday, subscribe to Very Short Introductions articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS, and like Very Short Introductions on Facebook.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
>Subscribe to only philosophy articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

The post Is our language too masculine? appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Is our language too masculine? as of 3/29/2014 9:27:00 AM
Add a Comment
7. Ted Cohen (1939–2014)


Ted Cohen, legendary professor at the University of Chicago and scholar of aesthetic philosophy, whose expertise included, “jokes, baseball, television, photography, painting and sculpture, as well as the philosophy of language and formal logic,” passed away last Friday at age 74.

From the University of Chicago News:

While some philosophers aim to construct large-scale theories, others “look with a very fine, acute eye at specific phenomena and work from the example outwards, beginning with the ordinary and exposing the extraordinary within it,” said Cohen’s longtime friend and colleague Josef Stern. “Ted was that kind of philosopher.”
From the Chicago Maroon:

Many students remembered him as an expert in his field and an excellent professor, always welcoming others’ insight and connecting his rambling anecdotes back to the text. The “classic image” of him smoking outside of Harper Memorial Library wearing a red beret will also be a part of that memory, said fourth-year Julie Huh. “His presence exuded such nonchalance, and he always took his time with his cigarette outside Harper.”

We remember Ted Cohen as the author of Jokes: Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters (1999) and contributor to The Great Latke–Hamentash Debate (2005), the latter of which chronicles the event held each November at the University of Chicago, moderated by Cohen and marked by his droll wit.

Add a Comment
8. Gloomy terrors or the most intense pleasure?

By Philip Schofield

In 1814, just two hundred years ago, the radical philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) began to write on the subject of religion and sex, and thereby produced the first systematic defence of sexual liberty in the history of modern European thought. Bentham’s manuscripts have now been published for the first time in authoritative form. He pointed out that ‘regular’ sexual activity consisted in intercourse between one male and one female, within the confines of marriage, for the procreation of children. He identified the source of the view that only ‘regular’ or ‘natural’ sexual activity was morally acceptable in the Mosaic Law and in the teachings of the self-styled Apostle Paul. ‘Irregular’ sexual activity, on the other hand, had many variations: intercourse between one man and one woman, when neither of them were married, or when one of them was married, or when both of them were married, but not to each other; between two women; between two men; between one man and one woman but using parts of the body that did not lead to procreation; between a human being and an animal of another species; between a human being and an inanimate object; and between a living human and a dead one. In addition, there was the ‘solitary mode of sexual gratification’, and innumerable modes that involved more than two people. Bentham’s point was that, given that sexual gratification was for most people the most intense and the purest of all pleasures and that pleasure was a good thing (the only good thing in his view), and assuming that the activity was consensual, a massive amount of human happiness was being suppressed by preventing people, whether from the sanction of the law, religion, or public opinion, from engaging in such ‘irregular’ activities as suited their taste.


Bentham was writing at a time when homosexuals, those guilty of ‘the crime against nature’, were subject to the death penalty in England, and were in fact being executed at about the rate of two per year, and were vilified and ridiculed in the press and in literature. If an activity did not cause harm, Bentham had argued as early as the 1770s and 1780s, then it should not be subject to legal punishment, and had called for the decriminalization of homosexuality. By the mid-1810s he was prepared to link the problem not only with law, but with religion. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was taken by ‘religionists’, as Bentham called religious believers, to prove that God had issued a universal condemnation of homosexuality. Bentham pointed out that what the Bible story condemned was gang rape. Paul’s injunctions against homosexuality were also taken to be authoritative by the Church. Bentham pointed out that not only did Jesus never condemn homosexuality, but that the Gospels presented evidence that Jesus engaged in sexual activity, and that he had his male lovers — the disciple whom he loved, traditionally said to be John, and the boy, probably a male prostitute, who remained with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane after all the disciples had fled (for a more detailed account see ‘Not Paul, but Jesus’).

Bentham was writing after Malthus had in 1798 put forward his argument that population growth would always tend to outstrip food supply, resulting in starvation and death until an equilibrium was restored, whereupon the process would recommence. Bentham had been convinced by Malthus, but Malthus’s solution to the problem, that people should abstain from sex, was not acceptable to him. He pointed out that one advantage of non-procreative sex was that it would not add to the increase of population. Bentham also took up the theme of infanticide. He had considerable sympathy for unmarried mothers who, because of social attitudes, were ostracized and had little choice but to become prostitutes, with the inevitable descent into drink, disease, and premature death. It would be far better, argued Bentham, to destroy the child, rather than the woman. Moreover, it was kinder to kill an infant at birth than allow it to live a life of pain and suffering.

Bentham looked to ancient Greece and Rome, where certain forms of homosexual activity were not only permitted but regarded as normal, as more appropriate models for sexual morality than that which existed in modern Christian Europe. Bentham attacked the notion, still propagated by religious apologists, that homosexuality was ‘unnatural’. All that ‘unnatural’ meant, argued Bentham, was ‘not common’. The fact that something was not common was not a ground for condemning it. Neither was the fact that something was not to your taste. It was a form of tyranny to say that, because you did not like to do a particular thing, you were going to punish another person for doing it. Because you thought something was ‘disgusting’ did not mean that everyone else thought it was disgusting. You might not want to have sex with a sow, but the father of her piglets thought differently.

These writings were, for Bentham, a critical part of a much broader attack on religion and the ‘gloomy terrors’ inspired by the religious mentality. By putting forward the case for sexual liberty, he was undermining religion in one of the areas where, in his view, it was most pernicious. Bentham did not dare publish this material. He believed that his reputation would have been ruined had he done so. He died in 1832. He would have been saddened that it still retains massive relevance in today’s world.

Philip Schofield is Professor of the History of Legal and Political Thought in the Faculty of Laws, University College London, Director of the Bentham Project, and General Editor of the new authoritative edition of The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham. The latest volume in the edition, Of Sexual Irregularities, and other writings on Sexual Morality, was published on 30 January 2014. The research that led to the preparation of the volume was funded by the Leverhulme Trust. The Bentham Project is responsible for Transcribe Bentham, the prize-winning scholarly crowdsourcing initiative, where volunteers transcribe previously unread Bentham manuscripts.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only philosophy articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Image credit: Jeremy Bentham, aged about 80. Frontispiece to Jeremy Bentham, Principles of Legislation, edited by John Neal, Boston: Wells and Lilly, 1830. Public domain

The post Gloomy terrors or the most intense pleasure? appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Gloomy terrors or the most intense pleasure? as of 3/19/2014 5:51:00 AM
Add a Comment
9. Kitty Genovese and the bystander effect: 50 years on

By Alfred Mele

A famous experiment on the behavior of bystanders was inspired by an electrifying episode in New York City in 1964 when Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death in the middle of a street. According to newspaper reports, although many people witnessed the early morning attack from their apartment windows when they heard screams, no one tried to stop the assault, and no one even called the police.

Kitty Genovese was killed in Kew Gardens, Queens, on her way home. Kew Gardens Road by Edgar Zuniga Jr. CC BY-ND 2.0 via Flickr.

Kitty Genovese was killed in Kew Gardens, Queens, on her way home. Image: Kew Gardens Road by Edgar Zuniga Jr. CC BY-ND 2.0 via Flickr.

John Darley and Bibb Latané (1968) conducted an influential experiment in the wake of the Genovese murder. Participants were told that they would be talking about personal problems associated with being a college student. Each was in a room alone, thinking that he or she was talking to other students over a microphone. Sometimes participants were led to believe that there was only one other participant (group A), sometimes that there were two others (group B), and sometimes that there were five others (group C). In fact, the voices they heard were recordings. Participants were told that while one person was talking, the microphone arrangement would not let anyone else talk. At some point, the participant would hear a person – the “victim” – say that he felt like he was about to have a seizure. The victim would ask for help, ramble a bit, say that he was afraid he might die, and so on. His voice would be abruptly cut off after he talked for 125 seconds, just after he made choking sounds.

The percentage figures for participants who left the cubicle to help before the voice was cut off are striking: group A 85%, group B 62%, group C 31%. Also, all the participants in group A eventually reported the emergency, whereas only 62% of the participants in group C did this. Clearly, participants’ beliefs about how many other people could hear the voice – none, one, or four – had an effect on their behavior.

According to a pessimistic view, findings of this kind suggest that we have very little control over our behavior – that human behavior is largely driven by the situations in which we find ourselves and the effects these situations have on unconscious, automatic behavior-producing processes. I’m not so pessimistic. Obviously, there’s a difference between not doing something and not being able to do it. Even in group C, about a third of the participants went out to get help. My guess is that most of the others could have done the same – that it was to some extent up to them whether they did or didn’t help. Are we to believe that it was simply impossible for the non-helpers to behave like the helpers?

A pessimist may claim that everything we do is completely determined by the situations in which we find ourselves, that we have no control at all over how we respond to these situations, and that the non-helpers therefore couldn’t have helped. The claim is off base. If situations really did completely determine behavior, then everyone in the same situation would act the same way. But only 69% of the people in group C refrained from helping; the others helped. This pessimistic view of decisions isn’t true to the facts.

What can we do to get potential non-helpers to help? Lots of people find striking “news” about human behavior interesting; articles claiming that neuroscientists have shown that free will is an illusion, for example. The classic situationist experiments aren’t news now, of course, but they continue to be cited in new studies on situationism or automaticity. One way to spin news about these studies is pessimistic: for example, being in a group that witnesses an emergency has an enormous effect on your behavior, and there is nothing you can do about it. Another way to spin the news is not: now that you know about the bystander effect, do you have a better chance of resisting your inclination to remain passive the next time you find yourself in a group that witnesses an emergency? Here we see two very different takes on the same findings.

There are plenty of self-help books on self-control. People learn techniques for resisting or avoiding temptation with a view to making their lives better. People who read such books know what they want to avoid – binge eating, uncontrolled gambling, excessive drinking, or whatever it may be – and they try to learn how to avoid it. When a cause of harmful behavior flies under everyone’s radar, not much can be done about it. But once a cause of harmful action or inaction is brought to light, prospects for amelioration may become brighter. A public that is educated about the bystander effect is less likely to display it. For a discussion of some indirect evidence of this, see A. Mele and J. Shepherd, “Situationism and Agency.”

Keep in mind that even if you’re never a subject in a scientific experiment, being in a bystander situation is a realistic possibility. So, if you saw a young woman being assaulted on a busy street or an old man slip and fall in a crowded mall, would it be up to you to some extent whether you tried to help? The situationist experimental findings fall far short of proving that it wouldn’t be. And knowing what you do about the bystander effect, you might make a special effort to step up to the plate and take control of the situation. Knowledge is power. Forewarned is forearmed.

Alfred Mele is the William H. and Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy at Florida State University. He was director of the $4.4 million Big Questions in Free Will Project (2010-13) and is the author of ten books, including Effective Intentions (2009), Backsliding (2012), and A Dialogue on Free Will and Science (2014). His book Free will be published soon by Oxford University Press.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only brain sciences articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

The post Kitty Genovese and the bystander effect: 50 years on appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Kitty Genovese and the bystander effect: 50 years on as of 3/13/2014 5:51:00 AM
Add a Comment
10. Law and the quest for justice

vsi banner

By Raymond Wacks

The law is always news. It plays a central role of law in our social, political, moral, and economic life. But what is this thing called law? Does it consist of a set of universal moral principles in accordance with nature? Or is it merely a collection of largely man-made rules, commands, or norms? Does the law have a specific purpose, such as the protection of individual rights, the attainment of justice, or economic, political, and sexual equality? Can the law change society as it has done in South Africa?


Nelson Mandela, the first President of a democratic South Africa, with the author Raymond Wacks, following his release from 27 years of imprisonment.

Even the sensationalist criminal trials—real or imagined, staple movie and television fare—capture features of the law that routinely vex legal philosophers. They spawn awkward questions about moral and legal responsibility, the justifications of punishment, the concept of harm, the judicial function, due process, and many more. The philosophy of law, in other words, is by no means exclusively an abstract, intellectual pursuit. Indeed several legal philosophers contribute to important contemporary discussions about highly controversial questions such as abortion, euthanasia, pornography, and human rights.

No society can properly be understood or explained without a coherent conception of its law and legal doctrine. The social, moral, and cultural foundations of the law, and the theories which both inform and account for them, are no less important than the law’s ‘black letter’. Among the many topics within legal theory’s spacious borders is that of the definition of law itself: before we can begin to explore the nature of law, we need to clarify what we mean by this often elusive concept.

Ronald Dworkin (1931-2013) sought to show that law is inextricably bound up with moral values.

One question that continues to dominate legal philosophy is the seemingly intractable problem of the relationship between law and morals continues to dominate academic debate. Can law be as neutral and value-free as legal positivists seek to demonstrate, or is law steeped in inescapable moral values? Can law be analytically severed from morality? Or is the pursuit of neutrality and objectivity by legal positivists—from John Austin and Jeremy Bentham to the Realists and their modern followers—a sanguine will o’ the wisp? Is a ‘science of law’ (exemplified by Hans Kelsen’s ‘Pure Theory’) a fantasy? Is HLA Hart’s focus upon the ‘municipal legal system’ still helpful in our age of globalization and pluralism? If law does have a purpose, what might it be? Can it secure greater justice for all who share our planet?

None of these questions has a simple answer. But it is in their asking—and careful reflection upon them—that we might better understand the nature and purpose of law, and thereby perhaps secure a more just society. In the face of injustice, it is easy to descend into vague oversimplification and rhetoric when reflecting upon the proper nature and function of the law. Analytical clarity and scrupulous jurisprudential deliberation on the fundamental nature of law, justice, and the meaning of legal concepts are indispensable tools. Legal philosophy has a decisive role to play in defining and defending the values and ideals that sustain our way of life.

Raymond Wacks is Emeritus Professor of Law and Legal Theory. His areas of interest are legal theory, privacy, and human rights, and he has published numerous books and articles on various aspects of law, including Understanding Jurisprudence: An Introduction to Legal Theory (OUP, 2012), Law: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2008), and Privacy: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2010), and Philosophy of Law: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, second edition 2014)

The Very Short Introductions (VSI) series combines a small format with authoritative analysis and big ideas for hundreds of topic areas. Written by our expert authors, these books can change the way you think about the things that interest you and are the perfect introduction to subjects you previously knew nothing about. Grow your knowledge with OUPblog and the VSI series every Friday, and like Very Short Introductions on Facebook. Subscribe to Very Short Introductions articles on the OUPblog via emailor RSS.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via emailor RSS.
Subscribe to only philosophy articles on the OUPblog via emailor RSS.
Image credit: (1) By Raymond Wacks: Nelson Mandela with Raymond Wacks. Do not reuse without express permission. (2) By David Shankbone. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The post Law and the quest for justice appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Law and the quest for justice as of 3/7/2014 4:18:00 AM
Add a Comment
11. William Godwin’s birthday

By Mark Philp

Do people at the end of the eighteenth century celebrate their birthdays? More precisely, what did William Godwin (1756-1836) — philosopher, novelist, husband of feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97) and father of Mary Shelly (1797-1851) — do on his birthday, which falls on 3 March?

Godwin was a man of some exactitude. As a major contributor to the development of utilitarianism, the weighing of competing concerns and interests and the rigorous exercise of private judgment on the basis of rational reflection is a central theme in his philosophy. But his concern with detail is also reflected in the diary that he kept for the last 48 years of his long life. He used the diary to note things very precisely, if often cryptically — such as the entry in 1825: ‘void a large worm’; or in his twice daily recording of the interior temperature of the house for the last ten years of his life.

But he did not note birthdays. He mentions the birthday of Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) in 1788 because there is a party for Gibbon hosted by the bookseller Thomas Cadell. In 1825 he mentions that of Mary Lamb, sister of the essayist Charles Lamb, when she was 61, possibly also because there was some event. The only other appearance of the phrase in the Diary is in relation to a play which he identifies as Birth Day (probably by the German dramatist Kotzebue), which he sees (in whole or part) on five occasions. Moreover, he makes nothing of his own birthday — 3 March — whether it be his 40th, 50th, 60th, or 80th. The diary entries for his birthdays are wholly undifferentiated from other days. Moreover, there is no evidence that he celebrated Mary Wollstonecraft’s birthday, nor those of any of his children.


Page from William Godwin’s journal recording Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin’s (Mary Shelley’s) birth on 30 August 1797

In contrast, he noted over three hundred deaths in the diary — including ‘Execution of Louis’ on 21 January 1793, Edmund Burke on 8 July 1797, the assassination of the Prime Minister Spencer Percival on 11 May 1812, the death (also by assassination) of the German dramatist Kotzebue on 23 March 1819, but also a host of more quotidian occasions involving friends and acquaintances. Interestingly, these dates are all exact – other than Burke, who we now believe to have died the following day! But the exactitude of the others is striking because it means that Godwin was going back to his diary to fill in details as he became aware of them – the news of Louis’ execution took some 36 hours to reach Britain, and Kotzebue’s death would have travelled more slowly. This suggests that he took at least one of life’s major events very seriously, and noted the occasion with retrospective precision.

Is Godwin unusual? That he notes very occasional birthdays of others suggests both that he was, and, because he notes so few, that he was not. Or he was not unusual in the circles in which he moved — the literary and cultural circles of London in the last decades of the eighteenth and first thirty years of the nineteenth century. Moreover, he came from a family of dissenting ministers and was himself a minister in the years following his education, before turning in the 1780s to history and philosophy and an increasing agnosticism, punctuated by periods of atheism. In that tradition — nurtured on such texts as James Janeway’s, A Token for Children being an exact account of the conversion, holy and exemplary lives and joyful deaths of several young children (1671) — the manner of one’s life and death has infinitely more significance than the mere fact of birth.

This contrast is also evident in Godwin main philosophical work – Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) — is clear that there is little sacred in mere life. It is what a person does with his or her life — above all what they do for others and for the general good of the community that counts in our evaluation of them. While Godwin speculated that the lot of humanity would involve increasing subordination of the physical to the intellectual, with a concomitant shift to increasing longevity and eventual immortality, it is also clear that he took the measure of his fellow men and women in terms of how they lived their lives — hence his almost obsessive recording of the deaths of his contemporaries, both famous and obscure. The ending of life marks the point for its final reckoning. In Godwin’s philosophy that evaluation is to be made in terms of the person’s contribution to the good of one’s fellow human beings — above all, one’s contribution to their intellectual development and the expansion of the powers of mind and human knowledge. And, on that account, maybe we should commemorate Godwin’s death day instead — 7 April 1836.

Mark Philp is Professor of History and Politics at the University of Warwick. He has published widely on eighteenth century political thought and social movements and on contemporary political theory, including Reforming Ideas in Britain (2013), Thomas Paine (2007), and Political Conduct (2007). He directed the Leverhulme funded digitization and editing project on the diary of William Godwin. He co-directs the research project ‘Re-Imagining Democracy 1750-1850’ which has published Re-imagining democracy in the Age of Revolutions: America, France, Britain and Ireland (2013).

For over 100 years Oxford World’s Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more. You can follow Oxford World’s Classics on Twitter, Facebook, or here on the OUPblog. Subscribe to only Oxford World’s Classics articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only literature articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Image credit: Page from William Godwin’s journal. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The post William Godwin’s birthday appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on William Godwin’s birthday as of 3/3/2014 8:48:00 AM
Add a Comment
12. Siri Hustvedt: The Powells.com Interview

Siri Hustvedt's latest novel, The Blazing World, is aptly titled; it is a tour de force about a larger-than-life artist, Harriet ("Harry") Burden, whose three great works used "masks" — male artists who claimed the works as their own. Hustvedt frames the book as an anthology of Harry's life and work after her death, including [...]

0 Comments on Siri Hustvedt: The Powells.com Interview as of 2/28/2014 5:34:00 PM
Add a Comment
13. The great Oxford World’s Classics debate

By Kirsty Doole

Last week the Oxford World’s Classics team were at Blackwell’s Bookshop in Oxford to witness the first Oxford World’s Classics debate. Over three days we invited seven academics who had each edited and written introductions and notes for books in the series to give a short, free talk in the shop. This then culminated in an evening event in Blackwell’s famous Norrington Room where we held a balloon debated, chaired by writer and academic Alexandra Harris.

For those unfamiliar with balloon debates, this is the premise: the seven books, represented by their editors, are in a hot air balloon, and the balloon is going down fast. In a bid to climb back up, we’re going to have to throw some books out of the balloon… but which ones? Each editor spoke for five minutes in passionate defence of their titles before the audience voted. The bottom three books were then “thrown overboard”. The remaining four speakers had another three minutes each to further convince the audience, before the final vote was taken.

The seven books in our metaphorical balloon were:

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell (represented by Dinah Birch)
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (represented by Helen Small)
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (represented by Roger Luckhurst)
A Memoir of Jane Austen by James Edward Austen-Leigh (represented by Kathryn Sutherland)
The Poetic Edda (represented by Carolyne Larrington)
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (represented by Fiona Stafford)
The Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle (represented by Lesley Brown)

So who was saved? Find out in our slideshow of pictures from the event below:

Kirsty Doole is Publicity Manager for Oxford World’s Classics.

For over 100 years Oxford World’s Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more. You can follow Oxford World’s Classics on Twitter, Facebook, or here on the OUPblog. Subscribe to only Oxford World’s Classics articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only literature articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Image credits: All photos by Kirsty Doole

The post The great Oxford World’s Classics debate appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on The great Oxford World’s Classics debate as of 2/27/2014 8:53:00 PM
Add a Comment
14. The essential human foundations of genocide

By Louis René Beres

“In the end,” says Goethe, “we are creatures of our own making.” Although offered as a sign of optimism, this insight seems to highlight the underlying problem of human wrongdoing. After all, in the long sweep of human history, nothing is more evident and palpable than the unending litany of spectacular crimes. Most spectacularly of all, these properly codified public wrongs include genocide, terrorism, and crimes against humanity.

After Nuremberg, after the Holocaust, one might have expected a far-reaching change in human conduct, a welcome reduction of egregious harms occasioned by both new knowledge and new law. Yet, let us look around us at the present moment. The views are not encouraging. Look at Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan, Sudan, Uganda, and the Congo. Let us try to figure out the presumptively democratic but also riotous ethos sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East. Not to be forgotten, there is present-day Iran. Today, its faith-based leaders openly declare a determinedly genocidal intent against Israel. Let us also consider Cambodia, Argentina, Rwanda, Somalia, and the former Yugoslavia.

War and genocide are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Sometimes, war is simply the optimal means by which an intended genocide can be most efficiently carried out. How has an entire species, miscarried from the start, scandalized its own creation? Are we all potential murderers of those who live beside us?

What about slavery? In every form and permutation, this “natural” crime continues to grow, insidiously but without evident disguise, in Mali and Mauritania, and in other more conspicuous places. Shall we recall the murderous diamond mines of Sierra Leone and Liberia? And let us not forget the ever-widening radius of human child trafficking, an ancient and medieval practice, now especially visible in Nigeria and Benin.

Where is civilization? These devastating crimes are still far-flung and robust. Paradoxically, they are flourishing even now, in the “developed” and thoroughly “modern” 21st century.

For as long as we can identify the tangled skeins of world history, the corpse has been in fashion. Today, on several continents, whole nations of corpses are the rage. As for the international community, it stands by as it has so often, incredulously, with self-righteous indignation, sheepish, yet also arrogant, simultaneously calculating and lamenting its own self-reinforcing impotence.

Why? The answer has several intersecting levels, and several overlapping layers of pertinent meaning. At one level, certainly the one most familiar to political scientists and legal scholars, the basic problem lies in the changing embrace of power politics. Representing a transformation of traditional political realism, the relentless deification of states has finally reduced billions of prospective individuals to barely residual specks of significance.

In such an world, wherein the “self-determination of peoples” is a weighty value, sanguinary executions of the innocent must always be expected and applauded. Moreover, such executions, sometimes a thinly disguised or expressly secular form of religious “sacrifice,” are heralded defiantly as “sacred.” To prevent terrorism, genocide, and crimes against humanity, nation-states must first be shorn of their presumed sacredness.

Before even this can happen, however, individuals must first be allowed to discover alternative and equally attractive sources of belonging. Somehow, humanity must finally conquer the continuing incapacity of individual persons to draw true, vital, and existential meaning from within themselves.

Although generally unseen, the core problem we face on earth is the universal and omnivorous power of the herd in human affairs. This power is based upon individual submission. Ultimately, the problem of international criminality is always one of distraught and unfulfilled individuals. Ever fearful of having to draw meaning from their own inwardness, most human beings, like a moth to a flame, will draw closer and closer to the nearest collectivity.

Whatever the gripping claims of the moment, the herd spawns contrived hatreds of dissimilarity that can make even mass murder seem warm, welcome, and reasonable. Fostering a persistent refrain of “us” versus “them,” it encourages each submissive member to ceremoniously celebrate the death of “outsiders.”

The overriding task, then, must be to discover the way back to ourselves as persons. Understood in terms of the contemporary prevention of genocide, terrorism, and crimes against humanity, we are thus commanded to look beyond ordinary politics, and toward a determinedly worldwide actualization of authentic persons.

At its source, the unrecognized but critical human task is to migrate from the Kingdom of the Herd, to the Kingdom of the Self. In succeeding with this very nuanced and unambiguously grand movement, one must first want to live in the second kingdom. We must fix the fragmented and fractionated world at its most elementary individual source. Then, after so many millennia of brutishness and exclusion, we could do whatever is needed to enable our fellow human beings to find sufficient comfort and reassurance outside the segregating and always-potentially murderous herd.

Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is the author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and international law. He was born in Zürich, Switzerland. Dr. Beres is Professor of Political Science at Purdue. He is a frequent contributor to OUPblog.

If you are interested in this subject and want to learn more, The Oxford Handbook of Genocide Studies is the first book to subject both genocide and the young discipline it has spawned to systematic, in-depth investigation. Thirty-four renowned experts study genocide through the ages by taking regional, thematic, and disciplinary-specific approaches. The work is multi-disciplinary, featuring the work of historians, anthropologists, lawyers, political scientists, sociologists, and philosophers.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.

The post The essential human foundations of genocide appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on The essential human foundations of genocide as of 2/12/2013 7:38:00 AM
Add a Comment
15. Competition results: who’s your favourite philosopher?

To celebrate the publication of our second Philosophy Bites book, Philosophy Bites Back, authors Nigel Warburton and David Edmonds released a 39 minute podcast episode of a wide range of philosophers answering the question ‘Who’s Your Favourite Philosopher?’

Listen to Who’s Your Favourite Philosopher?

[See post to listen to audio]

Twitter Competition
We also asked you to let us know on Twitter who your favourite philosopher is and why. The competition is now closed and we received over 150 entries, which you can view on Storify. We can now reveal the winning entries,  as chosen by Nigel Warburton and David Edmonds!

View the story “Philosophy Bites Back: The Winning Tweets” on Storify

David Edmonds is an award-winning documentary maker for the BBC World Service and a Research Associate at the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at Oxford University. Nigel Warburton is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the Open University. They are co-authors of Philosophy Bites (OUP, 2010) and Philosophy Bites Back (OUP, 2012), which are based on their highly successful series of podcasts. You can also follow @philosophybites on Twitter.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only philosophy articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

The post Competition results: who’s your favourite philosopher? appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Competition results: who’s your favourite philosopher? as of 1/23/2013 5:26:00 AM
Add a Comment
16. Are the political ideals of liberty and equality compatible?

Are the political ideals of liberty and equality compatible? In this video, OUP author James P. Sterba of University of Notre Dame, joins Jan Narveson of University of Waterloo, to debate the practical requirements of a political ideal of liberty. Not only Narveson but the entire audience at the libertarian Cato Institute where this debate takes place is, in Sterba’s words,  ”hostile” to his argument that the ideal of liberty leads to (substantial) equality.  Sterba goes on to further develop that argument in From Rationality to Equality.

Click here to view the embedded video.

James P. Sterba is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. His latest work, From Rationality to Equality, publishes in February 2013. His previous publications include Three Challenges to Ethics (OUP, 2001), The Triumph of Practice over Theory in Ethics (OUP, 2005) and Does Feminism Discriminate Against Men? A Debate, with Warren Farrell (OUP, 2007). He is past president of the American Philosophical Association (Central Division).

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only philosophy articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only law and politics articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

The post Are the political ideals of liberty and equality compatible? appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Are the political ideals of liberty and equality compatible? as of 1/22/2013 5:42:00 AM
Add a Comment
17. Self-help isn’t what it used to be

By Peter W. Sinnema

Self-help isn’t what it used to be. At least, its early renditions were cast in a style alien to the contemporary ear.

The concept was first named (and voluminously expounded) by Samuel Smiles in his 1859 best-seller, Self-Help: With Illustrations of Character, Conduct, and Perseverance. Erstwhile apothecary, railway secretary, newspaper editor, and biographer, Smiles’ birth in Haddington, Scotland marks its bicentennial on December 23. If this populist Victorian sage is worth remembering for anything, it must be for his original self-help book, translated into Dutch, French, German, Italian, Danish, Japanese, Croatian, Czech, Arabic, Turkish, and various native languages of India within his own lifespan, and purchased by more than a quarter-million readers by the time of the author’s death in 1904.

Smiles Samuel black white

Smiles’ own moral and professional diligence embodied the cardinal virtue of his homespun philosophy: perseverance. He outlined his gospel of “energetic individualism” in refreshingly simple terms, encouraging humble mechanics and beleaguered artisans to own and cultivate the “power of self-help, of patient purpose, resolute working, and steadfast integrity” as they struggled to improve their lot in the new age of mass industry. Smiles promoted self-help as practiced or habitual independence, a disciplined husbandry of the inner man “effected by means of … action, economy, and self-denial.”

Given that Smiles published his aphoristic opus at a time when the nascent welfare state was represented by the grim apparatus of the workhouse—that infamously unpleasant asylum for the destitute reorganized under the oppressive Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834—present-day readers may be taken aback by the animosity with which Smiles condemned all “help from without”: states and statutes could do nothing to “make the idle industrious, the thriftless provident, or the drunken sober.” Smiles denied the power of institutions to ameliorate individual vice and ignorance, and in anticipation of Margaret Thatcher’s notorious declaration that “there is no such thing as society,” he regarded nations as nothing more than aggregates of individual conditions. The remedy for social evil and decay thus resided “not so much in altering laws and modifying institutions, as in helping and stimulating men to elevate and improve themselves by their own free and independent individual action.”

Smiles ran with his self-help idea for some forty years, enjoying social and commercial success with books on related themes such as Character (1871), Thrift (1875), and Duty (1880). Dying only three years after the state funeral of Queen Victoria, Smiles was quickly typecast as a spokesman for the worst hypocrisies of his era. In his socialist masterpiece The Ragged-Torusered Philanthropists (1906), Robert Tressell lambasted Self-Help as bourgeois propaganda “suitable for perusal by persons suffering from almost complete obliteration of the mental faculties,” while more recently E. J. Hobsbawm added Smiles to his list of “self-made journalist-publishers who hymned the virtues of capitalism” (The Age of Revolution, 1789-1848: 1961). Surely these are justifiable indictments of a man whose best-known work opens with the parsimonious bromide, “Heaven helps those who help themselves”!

Before we relegate Smiles’ invocation of self-mastery and laborious endurance to the dustbin of history, however, we’d do well to recall the singular contribution made by his account of “indefatigable industry” to our contemporary culture of self-help. True, Smiles’ highly repetitive and at-times cumbrous tribute to the “spirit of self-help” can read like a naïve, even perverse plumping of mere doggedness in the face of a hostile world. But then, repetition is of decisive rhetorical importance for Smiles, just as it is for any effective self-help author of the twenty-first century.

Smiles’ secular hagiography of “labourers in all ranks and conditions of life, cultivators of the soil and explorers of the mine, inventors and discoverers, manufacturers, mechanics and artisans, poets, philosophers, and politicians” derives its affective grit, its capacity to inspire and reform, from iterative structure. Self-Help’s biographical exemplars (there are literally hundreds of them, from Charles Abbott and Peter Abelard to John Ziska and Francesco Zuccarelli) are invariably martyred—to unsympathetic wives, malicious priests, ruthless state functionaries, failed technologies—but ultimately to the requisites of gripping narrative and readerly pleasure. In the end we want to emulate these suffering stalwarts because, as Smiles himself pointed out in his revised 1866 preface to Self-Help, the redundant plotline of affliction-perseverance-success “proved attractive … by reason of the variety and anecdotal illustrations of life and character which it contains, and the interest which all more or less feel in the labours, the trials, the struggles, and the achievements of others.”

Even the most erudite self-help guru must embrace the compositional obligations of repetition and (auto)biographical exemplarity that originated with Smiles. Kathleen Norris’s moving exploration, at once recondite and unsentimental, of the acedia that grips our Western culture, the spiritual torpor that is self-help’s universal, symptomological object, is a case in point. Her study of the “restless boredom, frantic escapism, commitment phobia, and enervating despair that plagues us today,” driving millions to the bottle or the therapist’s office, acquires its poignancy from her insistence that the pressing question, “Why care?” can only be answered “by relating [her] personal history with acedia, telling stories from … infancy, childhood, and adolescence” (Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life: 2008). Norris’ self, exposed, diagnosed, and at least partly healed through the telling of personal history, is the modern-day version of Smiles’ paradigmatic, self-motivated individual in expectant pursuit of “elevation of character, without which capacity is worthless and worldly success is naught.”

Peter W. Sinnema is Professor of English at the University of Alberta. His teaching and research focuses on Victorian literature and culture. He is the editor of the Oxford World’s Classics edition of Self-Help by Samuel Smiles. A bestseller immediately after its publication in 1859, Self-Help propelled its author to fame and rapidly became one of Victorian Britain’s most important statements on the allied virtues of hard work, thrift, and perseverance.

For over 100 years Oxford World’s Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only literature articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Image credit: By Samuel Smiles (d. 1904) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The post Self-help isn’t what it used to be appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Self-help isn’t what it used to be as of 12/23/2012 4:19:00 AM
Add a Comment
18. Competition: who’s your favourite philosopher?

To celebrate the publication of our second Philosophy Bites book, Philosophy Bites Back, authors Nigel Warburton and David Edmonds have released a 39 minute podcast episode of a wide range of philosophers answering the question ‘Who’s Your Favourite Philosopher?’

Listen to Who’s Your Favourite Philosopher?

[See post to listen to audio]

Twitter Competition
We’d like to hear who is your favourite philosopher. Pick your favourite philosopher and let us know why in a tweet (140 characters or fewer), incorporating the hashtag #philosophybites. We’ll be monitoring your suggestions from @oupacademic and @philosophybites. The competition closes on  10 January 2013 and our top five entrants will receive a copy of Philosophy Bites Back. The winning entries and a selection of shortlisted tweets will be posted to OUPblog in January 2013, and may well also appear in the next book in the Philosophy Bites series. To get you started, here are a few of ideas:

TIM CRANE: Descartes. Not because what I think what he said was true, but because he was incredibly clear in his vision of things.

ALAIN DE BOTTON: Nietzsche has a fascinating metaphysical structure to his thought, writes beautifully, and has a sense of humour.

RAYMOND GEUSS: Thucydides. My favourite philosopher because nobody else thinks he’s a philosopher, but I think he is.

BRIAN LEITER: Oh Fred. Nietzsche. I call him Fred. Because he’s a great writer, and he’s more right than wrong about most of the things he has views on.

GALEN STRAWSON: Kant. Every time I hear the words the Critique of Pure Reason I involuntarily salivate.

Good luck!

David Edmonds is an award-winning documentary maker for the BBC World Service and a Research Associate at the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at Oxford University. Nigel Warburton is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the Open University. They are co-authors of Philosophy Bites (OUP, 2010) and Philosophy Bites Back (OUP, 2012), which are based on their highly successful series of podcasts. You can also follow @philosophybites on Twitter.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only philosophy articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Image credit: Twitter ‘t’ icon by mfilej, Flickr.

The post Competition: who’s your favourite philosopher? appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Competition: who’s your favourite philosopher? as of 12/10/2012 5:23:00 AM
Add a Comment
19. Negri reviews Agamben

But how did Agamben get here, to this radicalized nihilism, where he swims delighting in the fact he has overcome (or concluded) Heidegger’s project? He has come across a long journey that is articulated in two directions: one a truly political-judicial critique, the other an archeological one (a theological-political dig). Carl Schmitt is at the center of this journey: he guides the two directions, the one that leads to qualifying power as exception and therefore as force and destiny, an absolute instrumentation without any technical quality and the sadism of finality; on the other hand, one that leads to the qualification of potency as theological illusion, i.e. impotency, in the sense of the impossibility of relying on its effectiveness. Therefore, he incites unproductiveness, thus denouncing the necessary frustration of will, of the masochism of duty. The two go together. It is nearly impossible, recovering the actuality of the Schmittian concepts of the “state of exception” and the “theological-political”, to understand if they represent the biggest danger or instead if they are simply an opening to their truth. Metaphysics and political diagnostics surrender to indistinctness. But that would be irrelevant if this indistinctness didn’t drown any possible resistance. Let’s go back to the two identified lines: the whole journey that follows Homo Sacer develops on this double track. The second track is summarized in The Kingdom and the Glory...

The sacred dilemma of inoperosity. On Giorgio Agamben’s Opus Dei by Antonio Negri.

Add a Comment
20. Is Ontology Making Us Stupid?

Graham Harman with his new ontology proposes a veritable semantic descent (or we could call it an “objectal descent”), to reverse the linguistic turn, and to replace it with an ontological turn... My thesis is that much of OOO is a badly flawed epistemology masquerading as an ontology...

Provocative critique of Harman's OOO from Terence Blake. Blake picks up on a fear of mine that, having offered us the really real world, OOO seems to renege on the promise and simply re-instate, at a different level of abstraction, the Kantian distinction between phenomenon and noumenon...

Add a Comment
21. On Cell-Phone Solitude

"Contemporary Western culture makes the peace of solitude difficult to attain. The telephone is an ever-present threat to privacy...and the invention of the car telephone has ensured that drivers who install it are never out of touch with those who want to talk to them." So wrote Anthony Storr in his book Solitude: A Return [...]

0 Comments on On Cell-Phone Solitude as of 9/26/2012 2:39:00 PM
Add a Comment
22. Mark Poster RIP

Sad to hear of the death of critical theorist Mark Poster:

It is with deep sadness that we share the news that our esteemed colleague Mark Poster, Emeritus Professor of History and Film & Media Studies, passed away in the hospital earlier this morning. Mark Poster was a vital member of the School of Humanities, and for decades one of its most widely read and cited researchers. He made crucial contributions to two different departments, History and Film & Media Studies, and played a central role in UCI's emergence as a leading center for work in Critical Theory...

Mark Poster was a major figure in the rapid development of media studies and theory in the USA and internationally. While as an intellectual historian he could draw on Frankfurt School thought as well as on cybernetics, he was particularly interested in the potential of poststructuralism for media studies. From his translations of Baudrillard to his dissemination of Foucault, Poster played a highly influential role in the study of media culture, including television, databases, computing, and the Internet; he continued to offer crucial commentary on the relevance to technology and media of cultural theory, and his numerous articles and books have been translated into a number of different languages. Reflective of the breadth of his interests and expertise, Poster held courtesy appointments in the Department of Information and Computer Science and in the Department of Comparative Literature. First hired at UCI in 1968, Poster had recently retired after 40 years of service to the School and the Campus (more...)

Add a Comment
23. Translation: the philosopher’s task

Given my double passion for science and philosophy, the problem of clarifying the links between the two and between what I refer to as local orabstract modes of thought (such as the sciences, the arts and politics) has always been of utmost importance to me. To treat this problem, I wished to challenge both the solutions that subject these different modes to philosophical authority (be it ontological, transcendental, epistemological, encyclopedic or other), and the solutions which – inversely – subject philosophy to the model furnished by one of these modes, to the detriment of the others (as, for example, Husserl’s conception of philosophy as archi-science, Heidegger’s conception of philosophy as archi-poetry, or Levinas’s conception of philosophy as archi-ethics). In Benjamin’s theory of translation, I found a solution capable of satisfying two presumably irreconcilable constraints: 1) that of not yielding on the delocalized or transversal nature of philosophical work compared to different local modes of thought – and thus avoiding any potential identification with one of these modes; and 2) that of refusing any dominant position of philosophy toward said modes of thought. In short, Benjamin’s text allowed me to construe the connections between local modes of thought and philosophy by following the model offered by the connection between national languages and the regulatory idea of a delocalized and voluntarily impure language produced by the work of transposition and transfer undertaken by “translation”. To translate, it’s not enough to flit through the space of languages: you must master each of the languages involved by giving yourself over to their irreducible sovereignty. The conception of philosophy that results is that of an organon of composition between the different local modes of thought – an organon which, rather than speaking about these modes, must make possible free circulation between them. In this way, the philosopher’s task is to compose the “untranslatables” within a vaster linguistic space in which each language finds its place and time. The philosopher is the stalker of this space. In Lacanian terms, we might say that philosophical love alone is able to supplement the non-relationship between the different modes of thought – that is, to potentiate their connectedness while affirming their irreducible “untranslatability”. Philosophy alone is able to construct mediators – herein lies its truly angelic dimension – capable of probing the interzones that separate and connect the various modes of thought, in order to incessantly build what I refer to as a musaic language, following on from Benjamin.

“Translation: the philosopher’s task”, interview with Gabriel Catren.

Add a Comment
24. Nietzsche and Moral Nihilism

In popular culture, the philosopher Nietzsche is usually associated with moral nihilism. We might define nihilism as the absence of the highest values. Associated with moral nihilism is moral relativism. Moral relativism is the belief that all values, precisely because there are no higher values, are merely the expression of personal preference. Ironically, however, is it exactly this kind of moral viewpoint that Nietzsche is criticising. Rather than being a nihilist he is an anti-nihilist. Nihilism is a diagnosis of the decadence of Western culture, rather than a position that Nietzsche wants, and still less, wants us to aspire to (more...)

Add a Comment
25. In his own voice: H.L.A. Hart in conversation with David Sugarman

By David Sugarman

This recording of my lengthy interview with H.L.A. Hart (1907–1992) has been resurrected from my audio tapes and given new life. Dusted and digitalized, the result is something quite beautiful. Here is Hart in his own words recorded in 1988, reviewing his life, his work, and his significance. The interview presents Hart as three individuals: legal philosopher, interviewee, and critic. The recording adds another dimension to our understanding of Hart that must be incorporated into our collective memory.

Within the English-speaking world, Hart is frequently regarded as the twentieth century’s foremost legal philosopher. He revived the moribund discipline of jurisprudence, re-orientating it so that the qualities associated with analytical philosophy in the second half of the 20th century — rigorous standards of rational argument, clarity and lucidity, a preoccupation with subtle conceptual distinctions, and a sensitivity to language and its logic — were applied to the investigation of the most fundamental concepts of law and to major public issues, notably, the complex relation between law and morality. As a colleague, teacher, mentor and author, Hart exercised a profound influence, an influence that extended to the “real world” and “real issues”. From the late 1950’s onwards, he championed a new humaneness in punishment, speaking and writing for a right to abortion and against both the death penalty and the prosecution of people because of their sexual preferences. His exploration of the balance between the modern welfare state and individual liberty — in particular, the legitimate use of state power to impose standards of private morality — produced an eloquent and highly influential manifesto for modern political liberalism. As Tony Honoré, his close colleague at Oxford, put it, “He was the most widely read British legal philosopher of the twentieth century and his work will continue to be a focus of discussion.”

The present interview with Hart took place in his rooms at University College, Oxford, on 9 November 1988. The interview delineates the particulars of Hart’s life and work: his background, early education, and undergraduate studies; learning law, practising at the Bar, and journalism; working in military intelligence; the early years as a philosophy don and the principal philosophical influences that shaped his work; and the state of Oxford jurisprudence in the 1940s and 1950s. It then addresses Hart’s work and ideas between 1945 and the 1980’s: his appointment to the Chair of Jurisprudence at Oxford; the Hart-Fuller Debate and his year at Harvard; the writing of Causation in the Law and The Concept of Law ; the 1950’s, the Cold War, and the 1960’s; “The Hart-Devlin Debate”; and what Hart called, “the Thatcher world”. The interview also illuminates Hart’s work beyond legal and political philosophy — the seminars to Labour Party groups on closing loopholes in the tax law; and the duties he undertook for the Monopolies Commission (1967-73) and the Oxford University Committee on Staff-Student Relations (the “Hart Report”, 1968-69). The interview includes Hart’s assessement of Bentham, Nozick and Dworkin, a general discussion of the virtues and limitations of sociology, sociological jurisprudence and analytical jurisprudence, of legal education, and the relationship between university legal education and the legal profession. A succinct summary of Hart’s contribution to legal philosophy brings the interview to a close. The interview is published verbatim — save for one brief comment by Hart that he asked me not to reproduce. Whilst the ordering of the interview was broadly chronological, the too-and-fro of conversation meant that subjects were returned to or introduced out of sequence.

The interview was one of a series that I have undertaken since 1986 with leading British legal scholars as part of an on-going research project mapping the history of modern English legal education and scholarship. Nicola Lacey’s illuminating biography of Hart used this interview as one of its main sources, and an edited version of the interview, excluding the material on legal education at Oxford, was published in 2005. Since its publication, the interview has been frequently cited. It was one of the main sources used by Brian Simpson in his Reflections on ‘The Concept of Law’. Simpson told me that he listened to the audio tape of the interview again and again as he was writing the book, and that hearing Hart’s voice inspired him in his struggle to complete it during his final battle with cancer.

At the time of the interview, Hart was 81 and physically frail. But he was one of the cleverest people I have ever met. His mind was sharp, and he tended to respond quickly and very clearly. Once the interview was under way, we both started to relax and enjoyed what became a friendly but challenging exchange. The interview reveals an unpretentious, reserved man, concise, diffident, and with a wry sense of humour. He talks of the enormous intellectual stimulus afforded by his visit to the United States in 1967-7 at the invitation of Harvard University, the pleasure he derived from his membership of the Monopolies Commission, and his outrage at the policies of the Conservative Government of Margaret Thatcher. The intellectual, moral, and political underpinnings of his work are apparent. Likewise, his limited intellectual interest in law and legal education, his elevation of the value of a philosophical approach to legal material, and his suspicion of sociology and the sociology of law are evident, as is his preoccupation with challenges to his work, in particular, by his successor in the Oxford chair, Ronald Dworkin. Also apparent is a poignant tension between intellectual confidence and self-doubt about his legacy.

At the end of the interview, and with the tape recorder switched off, Hart continued to talk about a variety of topics. He encouraged me to learn Italian, so that I could read the work of the Italian legal and political philosopher, Norberto Bobbio (1909-2004). Hart said that he knew, and corresponded with, Bobbio; and that Bobbio was the contemporary legal and political philosopher he most admired and related to. There was also more talk that evinced Hart’s sensitivity to criticism; and his preoccupation with writing an “Answer to Dworkin”, as Hart called it. Hart concluded by saying that I was free to publish the interview, and that he had no wish to review or revise it.

H.L.A. Hart on Childhood and Early Career
[See post to listen to audio]

H.L.A. Hart on Major Philosophical Influences
[See post to listen to audio]

H.L.A. Hart on his Early Philosophical Work
[See post to listen to audio]

H.L.A. Hart on his Harvard visit and Fuller Exchange
[See post to listen to audio]

H.L.A. Hart on the Major Works
[See post to listen to audio]

H.L.A. Hart on Dworkin and the Nature of Legal Philosophy
[See post to listen to audio]

H.L.A. Hart on Public Work
[See post to listen to audio]

H.L.A. Hart on Analytic Philosophy and Legal Scholarship
[See post to listen to audio]

H.L.A. Hart on his Political Views, Legal Education, and Legacy
[See post to listen to audio]

I feel sure that the importance of the interview rests primarily in the fact that you hear Hart’s voice, both his vivid cadences and also aspects of his character that other work on Hart tends not to evoke. Part of Hart was confused and diffident. Part of him was confident, acerbic and somewhat intolerant of anything beyond his own approach. Yet he was always open to argument and persuasion. These contradictions are the essence of his complexity.

It is in listening to Hart’s voice that we can get closer to Hart. There has been much critical analysis of his ideas — most recently in the context of commemorating the 50th anniversary of his landmark work, The Concept of Law. The images of Hart derived from his scholarship, diaries and other sources, including photographs, and from his personal relations, as a teacher, mentor, colleague, husband and friend, have generated multiple discourses in which commentators have appraised Hart the jurist and Hart the person. In the interview we hear Hart in conversation. As he and I speak about Hart’s ideas and the evolution of his life, there are interruptions, hesitations, and awkward silences which, like a work of scholarship or a diary entry, can be interpreted in many ways. One can imagine the conversation, the glances back and forth between the legal philosopher and his interviewer. Nervousness and unease are apparent; but so are authority and certainty.

The wider availability of this recording will generate new opportunities to understand and assess Hart’s personality and scholarly reputation. The poet, Sylvia Plath, wrote in her journal, “Recreate life lived: that is renewed life.” In bringing Herbert Hart’s voice to us now, this interview will do just that.

Professor David Sugarman, FRHistS, is the Director of the Centre for Law and Society at Lancaster University Law School. HLA Hart was Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford University and the Principal of Brasenose College, Oxford. He authored The Concept of Law, one of the seminal works of English-language jurisprudence. He passed away in 1992.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only law and politics articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
View more about this book on the

The post In his own voice: H.L.A. Hart in conversation with David Sugarman appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on In his own voice: H.L.A. Hart in conversation with David Sugarman as of 12/4/2012 9:35:00 AM
Add a Comment

View Next 25 Posts