Chains, laws, stars, pushpin & poetry

Our Little History moves swiftly, we’re up to Rousseau, Kant, and Bentham. And we have one more politically-themed Philosophy Bites interview, with Wendy Brown on Tolerance.

“Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” That’s a memorable phrase.

So is  “Two things fill me with awe: the starry heavens above and the moral law within.”

And slightly less florid, but every bit as consequential: “Prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry.”

So, class: who said what? (Hint: not Wendy Brown)

Would that be a fair question for the next exam?

I have a pretty good mnemonic hook for Kant, if you pronounce him as the Brits do: he was a real pissant.

And maybe everyone knows it’s W(e)ndy (and tolerates her). But we still need some good tips & triggers for Bentham and Rousseau, everybody. Let’s see what we can come up with.

No, three minutes just won’t do for this guy.

He wasn’t an unstable “pissant” of course, he was the epitome of stability. Rose every day at 5 (good man!), walked every day at 4:30 (but why so late, and straight, Manny?-“up and down his street eight times”), and insisted on living the dutiful life of unwavering, dispassionate, exceptionless rectitude. “What if everyone did that?” And what if everyone renounced violence in favor of perpetual peace? [pdf]

A student yesterday posted that she doesn’t understand how Bentham’s Hedonic or Felicific Calculus works. Short answer: it doesn’t. Do you really have time to calculate, when the trolley‘s bearing down? [Philosophy Experiments]

Maybe if you’ve given it some advance thought, though, you’ll have already done the important calculations and will know what to do. That’s the real point of a philosophy experiment. The armchair has its place.

In defense of utilitarians like Bentham, and contrary to real pissants everywhere: consequences in ethics matter. We should always do our best to maximize net happiness, in the broad and virtuous (“eudaimonic”) sense of the term. But we should also respect individual rights, which Bentham was wrong to call “nonsense on stilts.”

Robert Nozick’s Experience Machine may in fact help clarify and deepen utilitarianism. We’ll talk about it more when we get to J.S. Mill next week.

I still haven’t read Rousseau’s Dog yet, but any philosopher who has one can’t be all bad. Schopenhauer included. (He’s up next week too.)

In EEA today, we’re looking into Speth’s proposals for transforming the corporation and moving beyond capitalism as we know it. Good luck to us all.

Appropriately, on the day of the first presidential debate between the incumbent and the challenger who contends that “corporations are people, my friend,” Speth’s Chapter Eight addresses the oddity of “how corporations became people” with 1st amendment rights and individual protections. It’s time for that to change, and also “time to get corporations out of politics.” It may thus perhaps not be the best time to seat a Company Man at the head of the table in the people’s boardroom.

Speth says again in Chapter Nine that he holds no brief for ideological alternatives to free market capitalism. OK, his non-ideological proposals work  for me, and the cloudy forecast of his third “Proposition” bears an inescapably hopeful lining:

In the more affluent societies, modern capitalism is no longer enhancing human well-being… and is instead producing a stressed and ultimately unsatisfactory social reality; people are increasingly dissatisfied and looking for something more meaningful; this dissatisfaction will grow and force change.

Hope and change. Sound familiar? But maybe we’re about to mean it.


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