Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Self-Interest Fundamentalism

A suggestive article by Joe Brewer that challenges some of the conventions of economic (and educational) orthodoxy: http://www.truthout.org/joe-brewer-the-death-self-interest-fundamentalism58915

Among his interesting points is the suggestion that certain dangerous and pervasive errors in our thinking about human decision-making were solidified in military mathematics labs during the cold war (I would say they have deeper roots). Also, when he comes to describing the way forward, he miraculously rediscovers some rather Hegelian insights. Enjoy.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Waldron on Hegel

It is refreshing to see a writer so clearly and straightforwardly attempt to understand Hegel. Waldron is a good example of my contention that, whereas we may from time to time require a difficult genius to push the boundaries of thought using convoluted prose and technical terminology, this necessity does not condone herds of third-rate imitators mouthing the terminology and presenting the obscurantism as the genius itself. Rather, what we need from interpreters of difficult, brilliant texts is the sort of clear, patient understanding and evaluation that scholars like Waldron provide.

That said, with an inherently difficult subject even the clearest of analyses can be hard to follow, as when Waldron argues that property for Hegel is necessary even if it is something eventually to be discarded: "... his thesis is that without property, no man can develop to the stage where he is capable of responding to the sort of demands to which the principle of property might properly be subordinated" (The Right to Private Property, p. 350). Convoluted as this sounds, it's clearer than Hegel, and probably not susceptible of further simplification.

But to what sort of demands might the principle of property properly be subordinated? It does seem to me that you have to have something before you are in a position to give a gift, and as Hegel might say, a gift is at the same time the outright negation of the property you have in the thing...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Hegel's Dialectical View of Slavery

Obviously, since for Hegel self-actualization through the development of our bodies and minds, especially through "self-consciousness's apprehension of itself as free," is the means by which we take possession of ourselves and come to possess our own identities, slavery would be radically unacceptable. He makes abundantly clear that the arguments in favor of slavery (and remember, he is writing in the early 19th century, when such arguments were matters of current debate in many parts of the world) are objectifying and inauthentic (not to say bogus).

He surprises our tidy liberal sensibilities, however, by also observing that the absolute rejection of slavery is equally one-sided, since it adheres to "the concept of man [sic] as mind, as something inherently free. The view is one-sided in regarding man [sic] as free by nature."

I take his point here to be that to think we have enabled humans to be free simply by abolishing slavery radically underestimates what is involved in enabling freedom, in becoming free. We aren't free simply because we are not enslaved; we are free only when we actualize our potential, and the process by which we become able to do this is a social learning curve that may well involve phases of subordination (here see the Master-slave dialectic in the Phenomenology of Mind). For example, I was a student of philosophy for a long time before I ever professed to teach it (and serious humility is still warranted).

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Green Economy?

Here is a clear, balanced, mainstream (Nobel Laureate) economist's take on what we need to do about climate change. I find some of Krugman's arguments compelling and refreshing. Some of his other recommendations seem contaminated with calculations of what seems politically feasible, which may be dangerous -- as Bill McKibben points out, physics does not negotiate.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Equality and Fairness

One interesting idea raised by the epistolary dialogue is William Ryan's "fair shares" concept of equality. Manuel aptly wonders whether it might be an oddly stipulative definition of equality, but it's a powerful idea either way. The suggestion is that we (and Bentham, among others) have confusedly limited ownership to those paradigm cases of individual rightful possession and control, neglecting the infrastructural nature of most of what makes our material lives good -- and to be useful, infrastructure must be shared. The more property is deployed and managed for our collective good, on this view, the less important its individual distribution will be to our well being.

We will see presently whether this somewhat obvious insight poses a challenge to Hegel's construction of property as the sine qua non of fully developed human identity.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Mauss Roared

The tipping point in Mauss, it seems to me, comes on page 46, where he says (italics omitted for technical reasons):

"If one gives things and returns them, it is because one is giving 'respects' [i.e.: paying respects?] -- we still say 'courtesies'. Yet it is also because by giving one is giving oneself, and if one gives oneself, it is because one 'owes' oneself -- one's person and one's goods -- to others."