Tag Archives: Philosophy

O’Rourke (ed.), “What Happened in and to Moral Philosophy in the Twentieth Century? Philosophical Essays in Honor of Alasdair MacIntyre”

Here is another excellent looking new festschrift circulating in an orbit MacIntyreproximate to the law and religion galaxy, What Happened in and to Moral Philosophy in the Twentieth Century? Philosophical Essays in Honor of Alasdair MacIntyre (Notre Dame Press 2013), edited by Fran O’Rourke.  I have long thought that it would be useful and interesting to include selections of Alasdair MacIntyre’s writing in a course in legal ethics; both his criticisms of contemporary moral discourse and his descriptions of what a “practice”–like a legal practice, for example–consists in would be excellent issues to think about in Professional Responsibility.  Happily, I’ll be teaching the course in spring 2014–students, prepare for MacIntyre.  The publisher’s description follows.

What Happened in and to Moral Philosophy in the Twentieth Century? is a volume of essays originally presented at University College Dublin in 2009 to celebrate the eightieth birthday of Alasdair MacIntyre—a protagonist at the center of that very question. What marks this collection is the unusual range of approaches and perspectives, representing divergent and even contradictory positions. Such variety reflects MacIntyre’s own intellectual trajectory, which led him to engage successively with various schools of thought: analytic, Marxist, Christian, atheist, Aristotelian, Augustinian, and Thomist. This collection presents a unique profile of twentieth-century moral philosophy and is itself an original contribution to ongoing debate.

The volume begins with Alasdair MacIntyre’s fascinating philosophical self-portrait, “On Having Survived the Academic Moral Philosophy of the Twentieth Century,” which charts his own intellectual development. The first group of essays considers MacIntyre’s revolutionary contribution to twentieth-century moral philosophy: its value in understanding and guiding human action, its latent philosophical anthropology, its impetus in the renewal of the Aristotelian tradition, and its application to contemporary interests. The next group of essays considers the complementary and competing traditions of emotivism, Marxism, Thomism, and phenomenology. A third set of essays presents thematic analyses of such topics as evolutionary ethics, accomplishment and just desert, relativism, evil, and the inescapability of ethics. MacIntyre responds with a final essay, “What Next?” which addresses questions raised by contributors to the volume.

Ward & Ward (ed.), “Natural Right and Political Philosophy: Essays in Honor of Catherine Zuckert and Michael Zuckert”

One of the best, most helpful, and most lucid treatments that I have read of theNatural Right and Political Philosophy difficult thinker Leo Strauss was written some years back by the political theorists Catherine and Michael Zuckert.  I am therefore excited to take a look at this new collection of essays honoring the work of the Zuckerts, Natural Right and Political Philosophy: Essays in Honor of Catherine Zuckert and Michael Zuckert (Notre Dame Press 2013), edited by Ann Ward and Lee Ward.  The publisher’s description follows.

Inspired by the work of prominent University of Notre Dame political philosophers Catherine Zuckert and Michael Zuckert, this volume of essays explores the concept of natural right in the history of political philosophy. The central organizing principle of the collection is the examination of the idea of natural justice, identified in the classical period with natural right and in modernity with the concept of individual natural rights.

Contributors examine the concept of natural right and rights in all the manifold and interdisciplinary dimensions associated with the Zuckerts’ oeuvre. Part I explores the theme of natural right in the ancient and medieval political philosophy of Plato, Xenophon, Aristotle, and St. Augustine. Part II examines the early modern break from the classical tradition in the work of Montaigne, Spinoza, Montesquieu, Locke, and Hegel as well as the legacy of the modern natural rights tradition as explored by Leo Strauss and Pope John Paul II. Part III treats the theme of natural rights from the Puritans through the Founding period in such figures as Thomas Jefferson and Gouverneur Morris and up to the Progressive era with Booker T. Washington and Theodore Roosevelt. Part IV addresses questions of natural justice in literature, including works of Euripides, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Edith Wharton, and Tom Stoppard.

Panel: Law and Freedom Put to the Test of Experience (Jan 20)

The Crossroads Cultural Center in New York will host a panel discussion, “Law and Freedom Put to the Test of Experience,” in New York on January 20:

What is the relationship between law, rights, and freedom? When is freedom realized by law? When is it, instead, suffocated or suppressed? The speakers will address these questions in light of the irreducible need for justice and freedom as they emerge in human experience. Does human experience reveal an objective yet inherently personal criteria that enables the individual (regardless of any social, cultural or religious background) to judge both the fairness of a rule and its ability to realize greater freedom? The discussion will relate to a recently published book titled “Elementary Experience and Law” in which four legal scholars apply an innovative take on the concept of “elementary experience” – which is at the basis of Msgr. Luigi Giussani’s fundamental work “The Religious Sense” – to the legal system and the issue of justice.

Details are here.

Classic Revisited: Hamburger, John Stuart Mill on Liberty and Control

The historian of political ideas, Joseph Hamburger, who spent nearly all of his long and distinguished professional career in the Yale Department of Political Science, was an expert in 18th, but particularly 19th, century British intellectual history.  My little essays on Sir James Fitzjames Stephen as well as some book-related research on Edmund Burke have brought with them the great good luck of an introduction to the writing of this immensely thoughtful and erudite scholar.  Fairly recently, I picked up Professor Hamburger’s book on John Stuart Mill: John Stuart Mill on Liberty and Control (1999).

The thesis of the book is that the strong and unqualified libertarian understanding of Mill — the view that Mill was an unadulterated champion of freedom for its own sake — is very much mistaken.  Relying on the major works (the Logic, On Liberty, Utilitarianism, The Subjection of Women, etc.) as well as on many less well-known writings and letters, Hamburger argues that what interested Mill was liberty and control, and fairly substantial and intrusive types of state and social control at that:

[A]n explanation of Mill’s overarching argument in On Liberty must explain the coexistence of these two apparently opposite positions.  This is made necessary because the provisions for controls were not small exceptions to a general presumption that in most circumstances an expansive liberty ought to prevail . . . . [T]he range of cases in which [Mill] would punish, his approval of punishments for mere dispositions toward conduct that would injure others, and above all, his explanation of his purposes to [his friend] George Grote indicate that his rationale for liberty in combination with control  requires a different explanation.  It is also necessary to explain how, for Mill, the provisions for both control and liberty were not contradictory, but in fact were compatible means of implementing a coherent plan of moral reform.  (18-19)

Professor Hamburger proceeds in the following chapter to discuss the movement of Mill away from an interest in institutional reform (something which always greatly interested Bentham) toward a more ambitious plan for cultural and moral reform (in tandem with and inspired by his wife, Harriet).  He then spends several very interesting chapters discussing Mill’s aim to vanquish Christianity as the de facto social morality and replace it with a “religion of humanity” — the new moral system which would strike the balance between liberty and control properly:

The real task of religion was to direct emotions and desires away from low objects and to be “paramount over all selfish objects of desire.”  Moreover, it ought to make us disinterested: “It carries the thoughts and feelings out of self, and fixes them on an unselfish object, loved and pursued as an end for its own sake.”  Christianity, however, in Mill’s view, did anything but this:

The religions which deal in promises and threats regarding a future life, do exactly the contrary: they fasten down the thoughts to the person’s own posthumous interests; they tempt him to regard the performance of his duties to others mainly as  a means to his personal salvation; and are one of the most serious obstacles to the great purpose of moral culture, the strengthening of the unselfish and the weakening of the selfish element in our nature.  (43, quoting “Utility of Religion”)

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“Our knowledge is a torch of smoky pine”: A New Book on George Santayana

I am a casual and qualified fan of the thought of the urbane, naturalist philosopher and public intellectual George Santayana, whose work on aesthetics is pretty neat.  Here is his poem, “Faith”:

O WORLD, thou choosest not the better part!
It is not wisdom to be only wise,
And on the inward vision close the eyes,
But it is wisdom to believe the heart.
Columbus found a world, and had no chart,
Save one that faith deciphered in the skies;
To trust the soul’d invincible surmise
Was all his science and his only art.
Our knowledge is a torch of smoky pine
That lights the pathway but one step ahead
Across a void of mystery and dread.
Bid, then, the tender light of faith to shine
By which alone the mortal heart is lead
Unto the thinking of the thoughts divine.

I am not so familiar, though, with the connection of his work to distinctively Catholic ideas, so I am very interested in Edward Lovely’s (William Paterson University/Farleigh Dickinson University) recently published book: George Santayana’s Philosophy of Religion: His Roman Catholic Influences and Phenomenology (Lexington Books 2012).  I am having trouble locating the publisher’s description, but believe this may be it:

George Santayana (1862-1952) of Spanish descent, and generally claimed to be in the canon of American philosophers, was substantially influenced by his Roman Catholic origins in his philosophical disposition toward the value of tradition, religious symbols and dogma. His philosophical project sustained a respectful attitude toward the spiritual value of orthodox religion while the thrust of his philosophy was naturalistic and materialistic throughout. There is a perception by some scholars that Santayana’s philosophy evolved from a humanistic perspective to a more spiritual one in his later years. It is the position of this thesis that his philosophy, at the “core” depicting a harmonious striving toward individual happiness, remained essentially consistent from his earliest publication of Interpretations of Poetry and Religion and The Life of Reason through his later works of Scepticism and Animal Faith, Realms of Being, Dominations and Powers and The Idea of Christ in the Gospels.
Santayana’s philosophical approach is both phenomenological and social constructionist in its methodology, significantly preempting the methodology of social constructionist theology and a post-modern interpretation of religion. His idiosyncratic phenomenological approach is compared with a “benchmark” methodology of Edmund Husserl, the generally accepted founder of the phenomenological method. There are also important similarities between Santayana’s phenomenological approach and those of Charles Sanders Peirce and Alfred North Whitehead. The basis for the comparison of the phenomenological methodology of Santayana and Husserl is their mutually similar fundamental theory of intuited essence. Santayana’s contribution to religious studies is not only philosophical but also theological where he has utilized Christian theological language in transposing and interpolating his philosophy of religion to the Christian drama of the salvational Christ. Santayana’s essay “Ultimate Religion” reflects his perspective of a disillusioned but still spiritual vision incorporating the piety, discipline, and spirituality; of a life of reason. Within the framework of this “model” Santayana’s philosophy of religion is developed and explored. Finally, the relevance of Santayana’s philosophy of religion to contemporary religious studies and selected religious issues is addressed with a delineation and discussion of some important aspects of his philosophical vision.