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.