Saturday, April 19, 2014

thomas piketty

here is one french economist a bit on the left of rawls:
Such statements, along with Mr. Piketty’s proposal for a progressive wealth tax and income tax rates up to 80 percent, have aroused strong interest among those eager to recapture the momentum of the Occupy movement. The Nation ran a nearly 10,000-word cover article placing his book within a rising tide of neo-Marxist thought, while National Review Online dismissed it as confirmation of the left’s “dearest ‘Das Kapital’ fantasies.”

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Final Exam

1- Hume argues for the impossibility of equality. Do you think his argument is successful? And do we need strict equality? (all or nothing predicament)

2- Contrast Hayek & Rawls ideas of economic distribution. Which one you prefer? Think of the best possible option or balance of options.

3- Do you agree with Isaiah Berlin on the danger of national sentiment?

4- After McIntyre's reading Is patriotism a virtue or a vice?

5- Compare T. S. Eliot and Michael Oakeshott ideas of conservatism?

6- What is the idea of community defended by Taylor and McIntyre? Does Communitarianism and Liberalism have an intersection point?

7- What to make of Michel Foucault's all-pervasive idea of power?

8- Regarding the idea of progress, do you side with Rousseau's pessimism? If not why?

9- Is the Marxist idea of communism still relevant? Could it be revised following the Chinese model?

10- Do you buy Max Weber's idea of disenchantment?

This is to be handed on the day of the Final. As we've done before. Stapled, please.  


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Onora O'Neill

"Lifeboat Earth" by Onora O'Neill is a tour de force, a detailed & nuanced argument for our responsibility on this out only lifeboat. I just wanted to share with you a bit about Baroness O'Neill. This is a heavy duty female philosopher. I'm glad we read her essay.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Exam #2 on Economic Justice (7 questions)

1- Compare Locke, Rousseau & Hegel's ideas of private property.
2- What is the true foundation of property according to Marx? Explain.
3- Do you agree with Freud that in "abolishing private property we deprive the human love of aggression of one of its instruments, but certainly not the strongest?" Explain either way.
4- Regarding market dynamics, contrast the views of Hayek & Friedman with that of Marx and Cohen.
5- What does Hayek mean by market systems as a "game?"
6- What does Marx mean by stating that money "appears as an inverting power"?
7- What's the lesson to be learned from the Rawls/Nozick dispute regarding economic distribution? Inform your answer with some of the ideas of equality & freedom analyzed in class.

Let's have this test ready for Tuesday, April 1. 
The test is to be handed exactly as the previous one.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

your turn #5

isaiah berlin

hi class, we've talked about lots of things these two weeks. here are some highlights:

1- benjamin constant's comparison between ancients and moderns. the point is that we've gained individuality at the expense of our political power & by political power constant means the "... excercising collectively but directly, several parts of the complete sovereignty (i.e, deliberating, forming alliances, voting laws, pronouncing judgments, etc). do you agree?

2- isaiah berlin's two concepts of liberty(let's take it as a model of subtle political argument in the sense we've defended the problematizing of ideas).

3- dworkin's idea of liberty (different obviously than that of berlin), i.e., liberty is only liberty to do whatever we wish so long as we do not infringe upon the rights of others.

4- h.l.a. hart's thesis of shift of moral standards. this seems kind of close to thomas kuhn's idea of scientific paradigm and michel foucault's idea of episteme. 

moving on to rights,

5- any coincidences between bentham & marx?

6- robert nozick's interesting reading "rights as side-constraints", a discussion which brought up the idea of kant's second formulation and a discussion about using people as means in the political context. needles to say, kant's political philosophy is influenced by his ethics (not viceversa).

7- as per hegel's idea of property (Eigentum) more food for thought, @ #51 from the elements of the philosophy of right, philosophie des rechts:
... since property is the embodiment of personality, (Zum Eigentum als dem Dasein der Persönlichkeit) my inward idea and will that something is to be mine is not enough to make it my property; to secure this end occupancy is requisite. The embodiment which my willing thereby attains involves its recognisability by others. The fact that a thing of which I can take possession is a res nullius is (nobody's property) a self-explanatory negative condition of occupancy, or rather it has a bearing on the anticipated relation to others.
so, for hegel, in a sense, Eingentum becomes a redundant embodiment of my will & freedom. in #46 hegel defines private property as "will becoming objective,"
Da mir im Eigentum mein Wille als persönlicher, somit als Wille des Einzelnen objektiv wird so erhält es den Charakter von Privateigentum...
Since my will, as the will of a person, and so as a single will, becomes objective to me in property, property acquires the character of private property.
go ahead!

Monday, February 24, 2014

phm 2300 midterm exam (take home)

this is a take home test to be handed in by next tuesday.
bring your test stapled, word-processed, times new roman, 12p.

PHI 2300
Midterm exam
Doe, John

1- Compare John Locke and Thomas Hobbes views of human nature. What's your opinion?
2- Do you agree with Robert Owen that man's character is formed for him? Explain.
3- Compare Gilligan & Jaggar's views. What's your opinion?
4- Is Feminism (as it pertains to a discourse about women's identity) relevant? Explain.
5-  Compare Locke's and Rousseau's idea of the social compact.
6-  Is anarchism as defended by Bakunin politically viable? Explain.
7- Is civil disobedience a civil possibility? Bring Rawls' criteria to justify your answer.
8- Contrast Rousseau's general will (volonté générale) and Kant's ideas of freedom and equality.
9- Aristotle, Madison & Tocqueville argue for dangers within democracy. Contrast their views. What's your opinion?

if you have any questions, post them here.


a clear example of democratic involvement

don't you think mill would have looked at this video and go: "this is exactly what i mean by democratic involvement!"

Friday, February 21, 2014

Your turn #4

We discussed too many things for me to remember them all. Here is what I remember (and you know who said what).

1- Mill's defense of a democratic citizen. Only when citizens have the opportunity for choice do they develop into true thinkers and moral agents. Why? Because of participation and inclusion. Here the discussion started. One could argue that there is a difference between authentic deliberation and mere voting. With the advent of the politicization and polarization of the media and lobbying groups, political issues of importance get pretty slanted --as we've seen time and again. For a democratic decision to be legitimate, one could argue, it must be preceded by authentic deliberation & not merely the aggregation of preferences that occurs in voting. Now, what counts for true deliberation? Deliberation amongs amongst decision-makers that is free from distortions & interest groups.

Is this possible? Of  course it is, but we must be vigilant.

2- Our epistemological approach to political issues. How do we know how people (groups) become politically motivated? It cannot just be "I think so," or "the people I know", or "so and so channel says." We need reliable methods (polls) and data. Where to find it? Well, here it pays to put aside political bias for a second. Example, Last elections Romney was led to believe (because of political bias) that he will win the elections, only to find out he was loosing by a wide margin. Lesson: self-deceit is the worse thing. Polls can be potentially inaccurate. Here are some intrinsic problems:

a) response bias (the answers given by respondents do not reflect their true beliefs),
b) non-response bias (the characteristics of those who agree to be interviewed may be markedly different from those who decline).
c) presentation of questions (wording of the questions, the order in which they are asked and the number and form of alternative answers offered can influence results of polls),
d) coverage bias (the use of samples that are not representative of the population as a consequence of the methodology used). 

Is this not enough to curb hasty inferences and rash generalizations?

3- Thursday the issue indiscriminate government power came up (NSA and its civil ramifications). Of course the opinions varied.

The issue here is how much do you protect individual freedoms. Remember that the government is an abstract hierarchy, with bureaucratic interests, some of which may be in the shadows. Should you not suspect a bit more from you government just to cover your bases from such a huge and all-pervasive power? This is the argument from the liberal & the libertarian side.

4- Trickle down economics. The basic idea is that capital accumulation and economic progress depend on saving and innovation and that these in turn depend on the freedom to make high profits and accumulate great wealth. The problem is that unrestricted this promise ends up (as the 2009 crisis showed) in the futile attempt of some men gaining at the expense of others by means of looting and plundering.

So what to do? The discussion comes back to the distinction between liberty & equality. Philosophers take a look at arguments and balance. How do you balance these two? Well, need freedom to talk about individual rights (i.e., rights from non-interference), private property, civil liberties, business deals, etc. We need equality to address issues of justice: equal opportunity,  fair distribution of wealth (the Rawlsian "before" and "after" moments we discussed in class). There is reliable data to support that in the US we're going through a phase of unprecedented inequality.

If there is anything else you want to talk about go ahead. Later I'll post the take-home exam. Now, let's do this.

Nota bene: I commend you for the level of discussion in the class. I see that we have different points of view in the class but feel in a family discussing it. We don't stop saying what we feel we have to say but we're mindful of civil standards of discussion. Today this is a rarity.    

Friday, February 7, 2014

your turn #3 (anarchism and civil disobedience)

some of the themes discussed in class this week:

1- the anarchist response to the state, bakunin's idea of perfect logic (the metaphysicians' idea that "thought precedes life", which is a jab at Marx, but also to the idea of intellectualism). click here for an interesting discussion of the antagonism between marx and bakunin. 

2- paul wolff's rejection of "command" and defense of "autonomy:" wolff denies the state any possible legitimacy. how does wolff's anarchism justify people to live in society if at all?

3- socrates' apology to crito is an example of rhetoric which i've called "anti-didactic" in that it seems so by figure of:

a) compelling the accusers to accept that he's better of choosing death (because of the very idea of duty they ask of him).
b) that his choosing death proves his attachment to Athens stronger than theirs (since it goes through the ultimate test: self-immolation).
c) a) + b) make socrates' death a political event.

the lesson from socrates --the ex-sophist-- is that philosophy and rhetoric are NOT divorced.  

4- thoreau's civil disobedience is an important treatise in that it presents the idea that government is typically more harmful than helpful & that democracy --in itself-- is no the cure (since a majority could be wrong). for thoreau the judgment of an individual's conscience is not necessarily inferior to the decisions of a political body --or majority. this makes laws suspicious:
(...) it is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right... Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice.
thoreau's well-known essay influenced gandhi's idea of civil disobedience.

5- martin luther king's compelling letter from birmingham jail. 

a) the motto "wait" as a constant deferment of justice. for king it really means "never."
b) king's use of the oppression of blacks (a particular instance) as an example of the need of universal justice.
c) king's use of aquinas' "natural law" over "human law" and agustine's motto: "an unjust law is not a law at all."
d) his comparison of segregation as a form of instrumentalization of humanity (the Buber's I-Thou predicament).

6- john rawls three criteria (really two, since he accepts that the first two make are sufficient for the act of disobedience: a) blatant violations, b) failure of reiterated appeals to a political majority.

go ahead, make your point (let's avoid being casual, make a deliberate intelligent contribution to the discussion).

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

quick notes for today's class

1- a distinction between de facto and morally legitimate authority. as we know, Hobbes insists that any entity capable of performing the function of de facto authority is necessarily justified and deserves the obedience of the de facto subjects.

de facto authority, on anyone's account, is distinct from political power. the latter is concerned with the state's or any agent's ability to get others to act in ways that they desire even when the subject does not want to do what the agent wants him to do.

political power does not require any kind of pro attitude toward the agent on the part of the subject, nor does it require that the state is actually successful at securing public order. It operates completely in the realm of threats and offers.

2-  the idea of liberty present in Bentham's account is what is now generally referred to as negative liberty—freedom from external restraint or compulsion. "[l]iberty is the absence of restraint" and so, to the extent that one is not hindered by others, one has liberty and is free. Bentham denies that liberty is "natural" (in the sense of existing prior to social life and thereby imposing limits on the state) or that there is an a priori sphere of liberty in which the individual is sovereign.

3- we need to make a couple of points regarding Hegel's notion of contract. let's point first to a distinction between besonderer wille (any particular will) and Wilkür (arbitrary choice).

a contract (Vertrag) is the acquisition of something that is already no longer devoid of rights. it involves the will of another against me, i.e., the will withdraws from it on the assumption that it will pass over my ownership.

Hegel explores the idea of the state as if given by God:

" ist der Gang Gottes in der Welt, sein Grund ist die Gewalt der sich als Wille verwirklichenden Vernunft." (i.e., "the State is the power to materialize will as reason").

It's the sate that provides the reality of objectives realized in complete freedom.

Hegel considers the state as providing legal basis and also the conditions of possibility of the law.  He puts it this way:
Recht und Staat stehen dabei in einem doppelten Verhältnis: einerseits stellt das Recht die Grundlage des Staates dar, andererseits kann das Recht erst im Staat zu einer Realität werden und so ein Wandel von bloßer Moralität zur Sittlichkeit stattfinden.
the words matter here, the difference between Sittlichkeit (for Hegel, a sphere of rights, the state of "ethical life") & bloßer Moralitat (mere morality).

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Your turn #2

Professor Judith Butler

 Update: we talked about the different types of contracts that Roussean & Kant had in mind.

On the one hand Rousseau having (in Du Contract Social) an ambivalence regarding his état de société, the implicit tension between obéissance and devoir (do you obey for self-interest, or for the bien commun (common good)? Rousseau's definition of the weakness of force: "la force ne peut relever du droit" (something Hobbes would disagree with) and yet, the tension with his category "bien de tous." some other points:

1- multitude/peuple (one an amorphous mass, the other a vested entity. Yet when he defines the authority of the people he makes a circular observation: le seule autorité qui d'une multitude puisse faire un peuple c'est le peuple.
2- Rousseau idea of sovereignty as (a) indivisible (because it is sovereign & a collective entity) and (b) inaliénable (because it's directed by la volonté general.

Which brings us to the idea of how much here is necessary and how much is an affaire de convention once you build your own political edifice. What I'm saying is that after Rousseau, the political edificie cannot stand without some degree of legitimation. And what's that?  Here is where Kant comes in.

In his Metaphysic der Sitten Kant takes revises Rousseau's contractarianism. He disagrees with Rousseau's  intérêt propre as a social glue. More a propos of his philosophy Kant proposes the idea of gutter Wille (good will) as the only thing that can be maintained without restriction. The best expression of this becomes the so called categorical imperative (Kategorischen Imperativ) particularly in Kant's second formulation:
Handle so, daß du die Menschheit sowohl in deiner Person, als auch in der Person eines jeden anderen jederzeit zugleich als Zweck, niemals bloß als Mittel brauchest.
(do not treat people as a means (Mittle) to and end, but as ends (Zweck) themselves) which translates as respect (Achtung) it's interesting that Kant uses Achtung, which also means "attention," instead of merely Respekt.

So, what we need here is not self-interest (nor the "happiness" we obtain through it, and remember there's a difference between English utilitarian happiness and Aristotle's eudaimonia) but a reasonable agreement.

1- Kant agrees with Locke regarding freedom (Freiheit) as innate right (Freiheit remains a difficult category for Kant to prove, but this is a discussion for another time).
2- The contract is translated as state law (a state order staatlichen Ordnung, that guarantees sovereignty in the people (das Volk)... as with Locke, liberty and separation of powers. The deal for Kand is reasonableness (reasonable agreement).
3- For Kant there is practical reason (Wille) which acknowledges the reasonableness of moral considerations and makes us respect their authority, on the other we have the power of choice (Willkür) which can be arbitrary, enabling us to choose in practice or to violate that authority. So, there is a little separation from Wille to Willkür, but the consequences are far reaching.

1- Feminist Epistemology, please scroll down the Stanford article to situatedness. Read it first and then we can discuss it in class. There are two aspects to the following paragraph:
Many of these ways in which knowers' physical and psychological relations to the world affects what and how they know are familiar and extensively studied by cognitive psychology, naturalized epistemology, and philosophy of science. Feminist epistemology takes such studies a further step by considering how the social location of the knower affects what and how she knows. It can thus be seen as a branch of social epistemology. An individual's social locations consists of her ascribed social identities (gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, caste, kinship status, etc.) and social roles and relationships (occupation, political party membership, etc.). Partly in virtue of their different ascribed identities, individuals occupy different social roles that accord them different powers, duties, and role-given goals and interests. They are subject to different norms that prescribe different virtues, habits, emotions, and skills that are thought to be appropriate for these roles. They also acquire different subjective identities. Subjective identification with one's social groups can take several forms. One may simply know oneself to have certain ascribed identities. One may accept or endorse these identities, actively affirming the norms and roles associated with them. Or one may regard one's social identities as oppressive (if, say, one's identity is cast by society as evil, contemptible, or disgusting), yet see one's fate as tied with the groups with which one is identified, and commit oneself to collective action with other members of those groups to overcome that oppression.
2- There's Gilligan's argument: you cannot speak of a child ignoring the child's gender. 

3- The argument that few people have actually consented to their governments so no government is actually legitimate is responded to with Locke's tacit consent. What it means is a symmetry of benefits & duties. In addition, political authority is dependent on political legitimacy. Remember Rousseau: 
À supposer que la force soit un droit, aucun ordre politique ne serait possible puisque la force ne tire sa légitimité que d’elle-même (force doesn't ground itself since it cannot legitimate itself, so the political order needs to justify).
4- In passing, I briefly mentioned hegemony and Carl Schmitt (we'll talk about him soon). In Marxist terms:  Die herrschenden Gedanken sind immer die Gedanken der Herrschenden (i.e., ruling ideas are the rulers' ideas).

5- This is my beginner's list of feminists philosophers:

*Judith Butler (professor of critical theory @ the University of California). I recommend Gender Trouble (2011).
*Avital Ronel, professor of Germanic Language and Literature at NYU. Her book Stupidity (2002) is a winner.
*Syla Benhabib (professor at Yale and specialist in Hannah Arendt), check out her Politics in Dark Times (2010).
*Julia Kristeva (professor at the University of Paris). Read her New Maladies of the Soul (1995).
*Hélèn Cixous (professor at-large of Cornell University). Stigmata is a good book to understand Cixous' philosophy.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Friday, January 17, 2014

your turn #1: human nature, war, peace, fear, being a woman

let's play by ear with this first post since we got a slow start because of textbook issues.

we've talked about many things. i'll try to group them the best i can.

the importance of human nature in a discussion about political philosophy (p. 7-9) of our text for a briefing.

generally this idea of "nature" refers to essential properties, i.e., independent of cultural context,
i.e., this is the way we're "wired" by nature.

problem is that when we try to investigate what is a political subject, we often gloss over other relevant identitary notes, such as woman? black? lesbian? immigrant?

a bit from this week along with some of the ancillary ideas explored in class:

Hegemony, as explored by Ernesto Laclau.
addressing the media as a form of embeddedness: 
Marshall McLuhan's The Medium is the Massage,
Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle,

Update: 2 forms of false consciousness (as explored by Owen's essay):

1- Marx's falsch Bewusstsein (which takes Marx to say: "Der Mensch macht die Religion, die Religion macht nicht den Menschen").
2- Sartre's mauvaise foi

there are pending readings of Mary Wollstonecraft, Carol Gilligan, Rousseau, etc.

aside for metaphysics, there is a side of the discussion that intersect with sciences such as natural science, evolutionary biology, anthropology, psychology, etc. keep this in mind.

so, what's your take? don't be shy. this is a first try, we'll get better at this.

note: to leave a comment click on the "no comment" link and you get a comment box. i think it's better to paste (and spell-check) your comment from a word document file (in case you want to have time to think about it). when you are done click "publish" & hopefully the comment will appear on our blog. please, sign your name at the bottom of your comment, this is for-point assignment and i need your real names. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

From our first class

The Hannah I love

Let's try to get the textbook for this Thursday.

Some of what we discussed: 

1- G. Leibniz's Die beste aller möglichen Welten (best of all possible worlds). This "best" here is mathematical and metaphysical.

2- Hannah Arendt, the question of the meaning of thinking about politics is not reducible to, though perhaps it encompasses, the question, “What is politics?” Nor is the question reducible to, though perhaps it encompasses, “What is thinking about politics?” or, perhaps, “What is political theory?” For Arendt, thinking is essentially negative. That's why I spoke of the art of possibilities. 

Here, Hannah's interview for Günter Gauss' Zur Person for the German TV. Gauss begins by framing the interview with the woman/philospher distinction. Hannah retorts that she's not a philosopher but a political theorist. "I don't believe I have been accepted in the circle of philosophers," a stab at the male political establishment. 

In case you're interested in Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem.
And this is a trailer for  Hannah Arendt the film.

3- Problematizing politics? I said: "make it more complicated so that it gets more simple."

*For Heidegger in general, assertions are apophantic, i.e., they cover more than they show. In general we find things in a state of Vorhandenheit as easy-to-hand.
* Problematizing is also an attitude of awareness.
*Problematizing keeps us mentally nimble.

For the sake of the class let's pretend that everything is political (it's not of course, but we play on the safe side).

Kids: Remember we want to explore this same-sex marriage paradigm switch for Thursday.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Phm 2300 Syllabus (in progress)

Alfredo Triff Ph.D.
(305) 237-7554
Room 3604-28
Text: Political Thought, edited by Michael Rosen and Jonathan Wolf.


To become familiar with contemporary political-philosophical trends & stimulate the problematization of political issues.


Depending of 6 or 12 week course we have 3 or 4 tests (each 15 points). Comments to blog posts (20 points). Class attendance, participation and effort 10 points. The breakdown is a qualitative approximation. My exams are multiple choice.

Attendance is mandatory. 3 non-excused absences are permitted. each absence thereafter will lower the participation grade by a 1/3 of a grade. missing exams must be justified by a doctor’s note or the equivalent. under no circumstances a student will take two exams in my office!

Reading the assignments is crucial. Not reading the assignment and coming to class to absorb what someone else read is a form free-ride that will not work in this class.


Political Philosophy refers to the philosophical problematization of politics. Think of an umbrella for concepts such as liberty, the people, property, rights, law, justice, equality, economic distribution, etc. Since by fiat we come to a world of pre existing political situations, philosophy wants to understand and propose what makes a government legitimate. As you can see, this is a complicated analysis, given the many different --competing-- political trends and projects.

If we judge the existing literature, philosophers often take a two-fold approach: 1- descriptive (how things are, and generally they are not that good) and then 2- prescriptive (how things should be from here on). We end up with a solution to the problem. Now it gets complicated, because the problem doesn't really get solved. So another philosopher comes along with a new theory and a solution. What happens? Since we are dealing with time here, it is almost as if the solutions to the old problem paradoxically becomes the problem of the present. For example, think of the spread of Nationalism in Europe as a social form of evolution from the feudal organization of the Middle Ages. By mid 20th Century some radical forms of nationalism became chauvinistic, and we ended up with Fascism, Nazism and Stalinism. But we have no choice.

We simply can't give up trying to get it better. This is an important question: If it cannot be solved, can it (at least) get better? In the West, Political Philosophy may have started with Plato's Republic. That is 26 centuries ago. By now, we have a big library of political solutions!

Schedule of Readings

Human Nature

The Justification of the State


Democracy and Its Difficulties

Liberty and Rights


Economic Justice

Justice Between Groups


Alternatives to Liberalism (Conservatism, Libertarianism, Communitarianism, Socialism, Post-Modernism, Feminism)

Progress and Civilization


Important Note: If you feel that you will be unable to complete the requirements for passing this class, you have the option to withdraw from the class by the college's "drop date" of_____. However, there are consequences of which you need to be aware if you drop a class or stop attending and you should always speak to your instructor or an advisor first. For example, you must earn at least two-thirds, or 67% of the total credits for which you have registered -failure to comply with this requirement will adversely impact your financial aid status with MDC.

Also, once the course has been paid for, you will generally not receive a refund for the course after the 100% drop date. A "W" will appear on your transcript or degree audit, and it counts as a "course attempt" which may have an impact on your academic status and/or record at the College. If after considering the possible consequences, you still wish to drop the class, keep in mind that it is your responsibility to do so and failure to withdraw will result in your earning a final grade that is based on your overall class performance. If extenuating circumstances (e.g., illness, accident, change in employment situation, etc.) prevent you from continuing to attend class after the drop date, speak to your instructor first and if needed, to the Chairperson to assess your options.