Did Rousseau Predict the Likes of Donald Trump

Did Rousseau Predict the Likes of Donald Trump


The Enlightenment philosopher’s attack on cosmopolitan élites now seems prophetic.

“I love the poorly educated,” Donald Trump said during a victory speech in February, and he has repeatedly taken aim at America’s élites and their “false song of globalism.” Voters in Britain, heeding Brexit campaigners’ calls to “take back control” of a country ostensibly threatened by uncontrolled immigration, “unelected élites,” and “experts,” have reversed fifty years of European integration. Other countries across Western Europe, as well as Israel, Russia, Poland, and Hungary, seethe with demagogic assertions of ethnic, religious, and national identity. In India, Hindu supremacists have adopted the conservative epithet “libtard” to channel righteous fury against liberal and secular élites*. The great eighteenth-century venture of a universal civilization harmonized by rational self-interest, commerce, luxury, arts, and science—the Enlightenment forged by Voltaire, Montesquieu, Adam Smith, and others—seems to have reached a turbulent anticlimax in a worldwide revolt against cosmopolitan modernity

Read more about Rousseau predicting the likes of Trump here


Hegel on Bastille Day

Hegel on Bastille Day


Hegel was no reactionary, and he had a special sympathy for the French Revolution

In July 1820, G. W. F. Hegel and his students arrived in Dresden to see some of the city’s art. The year was not an auspicious one for liberal or revolutionary circles.

Napoleon’s armies disbanded, Europe’s reactionary powers restored the old order through the Holy Alliance. With police spies snooping around, positive sentiments for the French Revolution and the ghosts of progress were seldom exhibited. Such sentiments were forced underground by reaction, and to even speak favorably about the revolution in public or in official circles would be near-lunacy. That’s why in the case of Hegel — someone described as a Prussian-state philosopher — the scene Terry Pinkard describes is remarkable.

Read more here

Wittgenstein’s Handles

Wittgenstein’s HandlesWhen Wittgenstein returned to philosophy, the idea that drove him beyond all others was that the nature of language had been misunderstood by philosophers. They were better conceived of as a part of the activity of life. As such, they were more like tools. It is the utility of handles that Wittgenstein insists on here: “The functions of words are as diverse as the functions of these objects.” The pump don’t work ’cause the vandals took the handles.

Kwame Anthony Appiah on Removing Honor from Honor Killings


Kwame Anthony Appiah the philosopher, proposes a real solution for honor killings in this video. To help us understand, he describes the idea with respect to the history of crimes that have been committed to preserve its value. Foot binding in China and death by duels in England are just two examples, for what was once a universal practice.  Honor is a system of codes, that warrants action in numerous ways such as through a legal system or a religious one.  The end result of such an action is what Appiah describes as the most valuable moral currency–respect.  Often than not, people lose respect over a crime that was committed to preserve their honor, and Appiah suggests that it is high time we engage in a constructive dialogue to prevent such heinous acts from being carried out.

Was Adam Smith a Romanticist?

Was Adam Smith a Romanticist?


The short answer is NO. Adam Smith may not have been a proponent of the novel with regards to its usefulness. The genre of most of the works of fiction during his lifetime were romantic. He does however revise this opinion later in life. These early novels do give us a better historical perspective of the relevance of Adam Smith’s notions of morality and its nuances with respect to class. Many novelists of the later eighteenth and nineteenth century, who wrote much after the publication of such seminal works  such as ‘The Wealth of Nations,’   and ‘The Theory of Moral Sentiments’ were no doubt influenced by his philosophy. 


I recently argued here at The Atlantic that Jane Austen was a reader of the works of the economist and political philosopher Adam Smith, and that Smith’s ideas about wealth and virtue in particular influenced the plot of Sense and Sensibility.

Is the reverse true? Did Smith read Austen? Alas—for the history of economics—no. He was long dead by 1811, when Austen’s work first saw the light of day.

But there’s a related, tantalizing possibility: that Smith’s ideas about the compatibility of wealth and virtue were influenced by Austen’s predecessors in the novel—that the fiction of his times shaped his view of subjects like the interaction between the classes, sexual morals, and the economics of inheritance. To fully grasp the moral universe ofThe Wealth of Nations, you might want to crack open an 18th-century novel.

To read more about what sort of romantic novels Adam Smith read and his thoughts about them click here

Buddhism, Is it a Religion?

Budhism is It A Religion

Gary Gutting, a professor of philosophy at Notre Dame University writes about Buddhism in his fifth installment on religion for The Stone, a philosophy blog of The New York Times. This is a great read for anyone who is curious about this religion and is interested in a nuanced yet rigorous explanation that is scholarly and refreshingly approachable.

Gutting begins by responding to the philosopher A.G Grayling who declared that Buddhism is not a religion, because it does not recognize a supreme being or power, a system of belief that is central to all Abrahamic religions. Gutting argues that there are many theistic religions in the world and likewise many traditions and cultures of belief that have existed for ages. It would be an intellectual fallacy to categorize the philosophy or history of the world’s religions, particularly the theistic ones with the same criterion that is used to study Abrahamic religions.

Central to the philosophy of Buddhism is what Gutting calls the three Buddhist refuge objects namely The Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. They are otherwise known as the three jewels and they are ideas that offer a Buddhist refuge or respite from human existence which is fundamentally unsatisfactory.

Gutting lays out in sufficient detail the important metaphysical, psychological,historical and cultural doctrines of Buddhism, including the true meaning of rebirth(often confused with reincarnation) and how the idea of the self and its importance is a hinderance. We also learn about how an Indian philosopher named Dharmakirti may have influenced Kant.

Click here to read this great conversation between Gary Gutting and Jay Garfield in The New York Times

WHY? – The fictions of life and death

Last year, I went to the memorial service of a man I had never met. He was the younger brother of a friend of mine, and had died suddenly, in the middle of things, leaving behind a wife and two young daughters. The program bore a photograph of the man, above his compressed dates (1968-2012). He looked ridiculously young, blazing with life—squinting a bit in bright sunlight, smiling slightly, as if he were just beginning to get the point of someone’s joke. In some terrible way, his death was the notable, the heroic fact of his short life; all the rest was the usual joyous ordinariness, given form by various speakers. Here he was, jumping off a boat into the Maine waters; here he was, as a child, larkily peeing from a cabin window with two young cousins; here he was, living in Italy and learning Italian by flirting; here he was, telling a great joke; here he was, an ebullient friend, laughing and filling the room with his presence. As is generally the case at such final celebrations, speakers struggled to expand and hold the beautifully banal instances of a life, to fill the space between 1968 and 2012, so that we might leave the church thinking not of the first and last dates but of the dateless minutes in between

Games of Truth

I’ve bolded the parts that jumped out at me in that passage, the ones that reminded me of social-media practice. The archive social media compiles of us could be seen as an “oeuvre to be fashioned in all its possible perfection”; it allows us to live with that ideal much more concretely in mind. Social media give us an opportunity to “confront courageously” the principles of truth-telling — how much to share, with whom, and with how much concern for our and others’ privacy — that are activated by the various platforms.

For Foucault, that aim of living a “beautiful existence” has not been understood as something that can be achieved through a passive documentation of what we’ve done — escaping reflexivity does not make life more beautiful or pure as those who make a fetish of spontaneity insist. Instead, he argues that the “beautiful existence” came to hinge on playing “games of truth” that reveal the self to itself, as courageous.

The “true life” is no longer given automatically to ordinary people as a reward for their ordinariness. We too must prove our lives are true, are real, are legitimate, to the audiences we marshal on social media. That is, we must demonstrate the productive value of our uniquely wrought subjectivity to garner social recognition; we have to build the community (that once was geographical) as an online audience and hold it together by performing for it perpetually. The truth test becomes a way to ascertain one’s own reality, to register a “true” or “real” self that exists apart from the flux of contingencies that seem to shape us in real time. A self is not a sum of content; a self is a practice.

You Can’t Learn About Morality from Brain Scans – The problem with moral psychology

Joshua Greene, who teaches psychology at Harvard, is a leading contributor to the recently salient field of empirical moral psychology. This very readable bookpresents his comprehensive view of the subject, and what we should make of it. The grounds for the empirical hypotheses that he offers about human morality are of three types: psychological experiments, observations of brain activity, and evolutionary theory. The third, in application to the psychological properties of human beings, is necessarily speculative, but the first and second are backed up by contemporary data, including many experiments that Greene and his associates have
carried out themselves.

But Greene does not limit himself to factual claims. He also asks how our moral beliefs and attitudes should be affected by these psychological findings. Greene began his training and research as a doctoral student in philosophy, so he is familiar from the inside with the enterprise of ethical theory conceived not as a part of empirical psychology but as a direct first-order investigation of moral questions, and a quest for systematic answers to them. His book is intended as a radical challenge to the assumptions of that philosophical enterprise. It benefits from his familiarity with the field, even if his grasp of the views that he discusses is not always accurate

Dignity’s Due

Why are philosophers invoking the notion of human dignity to revitalize theories of political ethics?

A king’s head is solemnly oiled at his coronation, even as a head of salad,” Ishmael jokes in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, in the course of cataloging every last use of whale blubber. “Much might be ruminated here, concerning the essential dignity of this regal process.” The word “dignity” appears roughly twenty times in Melville’s novel and usually refers to the high standing of various offices and activities—including, inevitably, whaling. But often, “dignity” pertains to monarchs, though the humorous treatment that somehow elevates kings doesn’t work its magic on everyone. For Ishmael, the notion that democracy offers all people the dignified prerogatives of kings seems mistaken, if not ridiculous. “In truth, a mature man who uses hair-oil,” he observes, “can’t amount to much in his totality.”

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