Friday, 27 November 2009

Michel Foucault, Care of the Self, and the Classicists

I was present at a talk recently from a classicist visiting Istanbul. I don’t want to give details of the talk or the name of the speaker. I have a critical point to make, but I don’t want to appear to be targetting someone who gave a good talk, was very friendly, and as far as I can tell is a classicist of a very high level. The talk tell with Roman Stoicism and very briefly referred to Foucault. I brought up Foucault (amongst other things) in my questions in the discussion after the talk, and the discussion continued.

The point that prompted one of my question was the claim that Foucault’s notion of the ‘care of the self’ is something he associates with two things

Narrow self-interest

The rise of Neo-Stoicism in the early Empire, that is the period of Roman history from 27 BCE when the honorific name Augustus, used by all the subsequent Emperors, was given to Gaius Julius Caesar, more generally known as Octavius (he was born Gaius Octavius Thurinus).


Foucault certainly does not think ‘care of the self’ is just a matter of self interest, though it is true that he thinks of ‘care of the self’ reducing to mere concern with privacy in the time of Octavius Augustus. As I have pointed out before Foucault does not define ‘care of the self’ as mere selfishness but as a threefold which include privacy. Privacy on its own is maybe close to just being self-interested in a very narrow way, but Foucault does not go so far as that in his explicit discussion.

As I’ve already pointed out, care of the self has the following three aspects







On the second point from the Classicist speaker

Foucault clearly situated the emergence of the ‘care of the self’ in Plato’s Socratic dialogues. Plato was alive 429-347 BCE, so he died 320 years, more than three centuries before the beginning of the Augustan era. So there is clearly something wrong with saying that Foucault thought ‘care of the self’ emerged in the early Empire, and that would still be the case if we went back to the Stoic leanings of Cicero who died as the Republic was dying, in 43 BCE.


In the discussion I had with the Classicist, he said that the Classicists had been big fans of Foucault, and then turned against him for being too schematic and inaccurate in his approach to history. It’s peculiar that they turned against him on those grounds, as they were the best situated people to notice those problems in the first place. In general, Foucault is open to those criticisms in relation to everything he wrote. That sort of criticism could miss the point. It’s a good thing to discuss the accuracy of Foucault’s historical details, but overall we have to judge him as someone who develops a series of general theses about different ways in which knowledge and power appear over history in which historical scholarship provides the starting point for necessarily reductive, but powerful and creative generalisations which are subtle and complex in their own terms.

Judging from what the Classicist said about Foucault, and which I have criticised above, the Classicists themselves are inclined to schematic claims about Foucault, lacking accuracy in the detail. What the Classicist said about the Classicist culture gave a reason for this, a tendency to legitimise themselves by adopting thinkers popular with literary theorists but only after the literary people have moved onto a new theorist. I hope the Classicists no longer feel the need to justify themselves in this way, particularly since as far as I can see the literary theory field has not had any major new developments for some years.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Foucault on the Self and Individualism

A few thoughts inspired by my current reading of The Use of Pleasure and The Care of the Self, volumes II and III of Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality. History of Sexuality is concerned with movements in the knowledge and ethics of the self, with a focus on the erotic.

Foucault defines three aspects of individualism: the value of individuality, private life, the relation of the self with itself. The movement of the argument is to suggest that privacy has been given too much emphasis, and the other two aspects not enough. This overemphasis on privacy is linked with the 19th Century bourgeoisie and with the Rome of Augustus. That is Ancient Rome under its first Emperor Augustus. Foucault puts the well known edicts of Augustus to control sexuality as being about pushing ‘deviant’ sexuality into the private sphere, and links this with the movement in Antique ethics towards the rationalism and asceticism of Stoicism.

What Foucault sees in pre-Augustus antiquity, and even in the careful reading of the Roman and Hellenstic Neo-Stoics (Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius), is a richness of understanding of the self and care for the self. It is care for the self, which establishes someone as a citizen with political rights, That provides a breach of private/public barrier in a link between self-government and the right to political self-government and the government of others. Evidently Foucault finds the self-government the most interesting aspect.

Within that affirmation of the self as political self, Foucault introduces an important distinction. That is the distinction between following external laws and style of activity. ‘Style of activity’ arises where the individual goes beyond natural order and positive law. It arises in the interpretation of dreams, where the actor in the dream goes beyond the ‘natural’ in sexual activity.

Style of activity is one way in which individuality and the relation of self with itself can be enhanced. The activity of self-creation and presentation is the most liberatory experience. The Antique culture struggles with this, even it most open moments. Ancient Athens tolerated open homosexuality, but gives it a low value because it is seen as an older man as penetrating a younger man of lower status. Homosexuality is low because it means connections with lowness, and the same is true for relations with woman. Virility, sexual capacity, is given value in Ancient culture where it is linked with citizenship. The citizen should govern, and impregnate, a woman who gives him a child. Since the woman has low status with no political rights, sexual relations with her must be disgraceful, undermining the social-moral status given to a man with a woman he governs.

Style of activity seems to be Foucault’s alternative to a degradation of the self in asceticism. The invention of the self as outside the ‘truth’ of nature or the prescription of laws, proves a way of valuing individuality and the relation of the self with itself. This in itself contains further distinctions. Truth is valued where it comes from the self and is not an external imposition. There is a truth of being someone different, of new inventions of selfhood, which expresses some resistance to metaphysical and legal ‘truths’. In this way, Foucault suggest forms of individualism, beyond mere privacy, for the contemporary world.

Spinoza and the Twilight of Stoic Rationalism

This post is prompted most immediately by teaching, though it also fits in with other things I am contemplating. Spinoza’s Ethics is a continuation of the kind of Stoic virtue theory I referred to in my last post. The Stoics turned the earlier virtue theory in a direction which gave maximum emphasis to the idea of the domination of desires by the will, which was already in Platonic and Aristotelian ethics. It was that understanding which dominated Early Modern ethics, and cultural assumptions about ethics well into the 18th Century, and certainly influenced Kant at the end of the century.

So the influence of Stocism continued well after Spinoza who died in 1677. Nevertheless there was a twilight in which Spinoza looks like the last stand of Neo-Stoic Rationalism. What is emerging, at that time or soon after, will not fit in the Neo-Stoic Rationalist paradigm. The discussion of the origin of moral ideas in the sensations that we find in Hobbes, Locke and Hume does not belong in the older ethics. If we turn away from theoretical philosophical ethics to the broader cultural context, we can think about the Maxims of La Rochefoucauld in the 17th century. They had a power to shock in the 18th century, as can be seen in the reactions of David Hume and Adam Smith, even if they were themselves investigating non-moral psychological sources of morality.

What La Rochefoucal emphasises in his aphorisms is the non-moral, and egocentric, motivations behinds apparently moral actions and phrases. He emphasises the passionate aspect of human nature, its desire for passionate love, and the difficulties of achieving the kind of communication desired by love. He does a lot to set up the concerns and style of French literature from Laclos to Proust. We can go back earlier than that to two literary works where he may have had and influence, and certainly connections with their authors, The Princess de Clèves by Madame de Lafayette and The Letters of Madame de Sévigné. Of course this is an extremely abrupt way of summing of literary history, but it is as good as such an abrupt summary can be, and this is not the place for more complexity.

My point here is the contrast and congruence, between Spiniza’s Rationalist Neo-Stoic ethics and the new emphasis on the labyrinth of the passions in literature and thought. The contrast is between La Rochefoucauld and Spinoza’s denigration of emotions in relation to reason. The congruence is the labyrinth Spiniza himself recognises in which the least bad emotions have to be used against the worst emotions in order to lead individuals towards reason. There is a far far greater sense in Sponoza than in his predecessors of the complexity and interaction of the emotions, and of irrational motives. This also reflects the complex interactions of nature, even on a mechanical model, in Early Modern science and the very noticeable rise of commercial society in the 17th Century Dutch Republic, already producing treatises that anticipate aspects of Smith’s economic treatise.

Laclos’ Dangerous Liaisons and Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations compared with Spinoza: Spinoza looks like the last Rationalist Neo-Stoic. An oversimplification, but not a terrible one.

Virtue, Economy and the Self: 5 Links

My thoughts for this post came about in the most immediate sense from Will Wilkinson: a post at his blog Will Wilkinson, entitled Now Let us Praise Results-Facilitating Virtue, dated 20th November 2009. Wilkinson is an economics and public policy commentator, with a background in philosophy. He is responding to an blog post where the George Mason economist Tyler Cowen praises one of his colleagues, Robin Hanson, who responds in his own blog by arguing for the importance of praising consequences of individual actions, rather than the individual concerned. Links to all of that in Wilkinson’s post. What Wilkinson gives in reaction to all that is a beautiful little essay on character, virtue, and advantages to the economy. As he explains, ‘virtue’ as an idea in ethical though refers to the character traits which the good individual forms and which benefit society. What Wilkinson emphasises is the collective economic benefits of individuals in the society with virtue.

Since for non-philosophers ‘virtue’ amy seem like something to do with abstract moralising, it is worth explaining that ‘virtue ethics’ refer mores to a cultivation of individual excellence which serves the ‘virtuous’ individuals and society as a whole. Virtue on this account is really more to do with strength and constancy of character, rather than giving priority to the demands of external moral obligations. The Antique tradition of virtue was taken up in Medieval Christian philosophy, most notably in the thought of Thomas Aquinas; and at that point it maybe acquires a sense of moral imposition, though that is something of a brutal generalisation. That antique sense of virtue has been increasingly discussed in philosophy since the 1950s, along with an increasing recognition that it was still very present in 18th and 19th Century philosophy.

For a very handy summary of Aristotle’s ethics by a leading commentator, Roger Crisp, go this podcast posted at the Faculty of Philosophy, Oxford University. For an equally admirable summary of some later developments in Antique ethics, around Seneca and Stoicism, click here for a link to a recent podcast of am interview of Rick Benitez conducted by Alan Saunders for his PhilosophyZone radio show.

The virtue ethics tradition, as mediated by the Antique Stoics, was a major influence on Adam Smith in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, as well as in his ethical treatise, The Theory of the Moral Sentiments. For a great discussion of this click here for a pdf of Deirdre McCloskey’s paper ‘Adam Smith, the Last of the Former Virtue Ethicists’. McCloskey is a professor of economics, history, English and communications at the University of Illinois, Chicago, which gives an idea of the way that she integrates different areas of the humanities and social sciences. McCloskey points out that Smith’s philosophy and economic thought are shaped by Stoicism and theories of the virtues, and not just the virtue of prudence. She also has a very good sketch of how economists, and the culture in general, lost sight of this kind of integration until philosophers revived Antique virtue theory.

One possible fault with McCloskey’s analysis is in the title, in its suggestion that Smith was the last of the virtue theorists. This has some justification if we think of how Smith’s thought is distinguished from what was then the emergent moral school of Utilitarianism which very definitely looks at ethics from the point of view of the consequences of actions, and not quality of character. However, there is at least one major candidate amongst late 19th Century philosophers for the label of virtue ethicist, Friedrich Nietzsche. We can see his philosophy as a return from theories of external moral excellence to a theories of individual excellence. That’s a rather large question I can’t deal with here, but an excellent brief summary of why Nietzsche might be considered a virtue theorist can be found in Lester Hunt’s paper ‘The Eternal Recurrence and Nietzsche’s Theory of Virtue’, click for the pdf.

I expect to return to these issues very soon in relation to Benedict de Spinoza and Michel Foucault.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Me on Joseph Schumpeter at LiberalVision

Joseph Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. LiberalVision November 19th 2009

I look at the following points in Schumpter’s book.

The possibility and maybe inevitability of socialism

Socialism depends on a mixture if economic stasis and concessions to market mechanisms to work.

Capitalism as better than its predecessors, or any possible socialist society, for delivering improving living standards for everyone including the poorest.

Capitalisms rests on the individual initiative of entrepreneurs, which is important in economic theory. It is also important for liberty, in a culture of individual rights and respect for law.

The tendency of capitalism to create its own opponents in a disaffected intelligentsia and to protect their rights, and even to elevate them to high cultural status.

The tendency of capitalism to create big businesses and share holders who are detached from day to day economic profits and losses, and tend to lose the entrepreneurial spirit.

Socialism cannot work as intended by its most idealistic supports, partly because of he inevitability of at least some inequality and some price mechanism; and partly because of the impossibility of forming a pure will of the people.

The problems of forming a pure will exist in democracy in general, as there are always different interests and factions within the People, and different ways of constructing that will. In general democracy becomes a way in which electors seek economic advantage and political groups try to get majority support through offering such advantages.

Schumpeter offers a paradoxical classic of liberalism, in showing the strength of anti-liberal tendencies in liberal capitalist society. It’s a classic of liberal thought in showing the decline of freedom and economic dynamism involved, so showing what needs to be resisted.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Joseph Schumpeter and Paul Feyerabend on Galileo

In Against Method (Verso, London, 1975, 1988, 1993), Paul Feyerabend argues that Galileo’s theories of astronomy an physics were not intellectually or empirically superior to the theories they were contesting. In this influential work on the philosophy of science, Feyerabend argues that Galileo’s theories won out because of social and political forces inclined to strengthening the secular sphere against the church; they supported Galileo regardless of scientific criteria in a struggle against the church. Feyerabend extends this into a general theory of the irrational bases to developments in science.

In 1942, the economist Jospeph Schumpeter (like Feyerabend an Austrian who made his life and career in the English speaking world) published Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. This suggested the inevitability of socialism, though probably of a limited kind, and explained why this would not be an advance for human civilisation. In discussing bourgeois civilisation, Schumpeter refers to the support of the early bourgeoisie (page 124), arguing that they found Galileo to be an individualist like themselves. While Schumpeter is arguing that bourgeois civilisation is the best civilisation, he does not claim that the bourgeoisie supported Galileo for reasons of scientific truth; they simply thought his personal style resembled their own superior ethical values of individual effort and rational risk taking.

I’ve quickly checked the scholarly literature through GoogleScholar. I found some articles linking Schumpeter to Thomas Kuhn, as well as Feyerabend, but not with reference to that sociological explanation of the success of Galileo’s theories. What I found compares Schumpeter’s notion of creative destruction in a capitalist economy, with Kuhn’s idea of paradogm shifts and scientific revolution, along with Feyerabend’s epistemological anarchy. So what has been considered is a parallel between change in science and change in the economy.

As far as I can see this clear connection around the sociology of early modern science has been overlooked. Is the connection just coincidence, or did Feyerabend read Schumpeter?

Friday, 13 November 2009

Peter Heather on the End of the Roman Empire

I’m no expert on Ancient history, and I never read much about the end of the Roman Empire in the west. Nevertheless, Peter Heather’s book The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History (PanMacmillan, Basingstoke, 2005) does look like a reasonable summary of where the historical understanding of that period is. It’s very readable and has plenty if supporting sources and interesting arguments. I recommend it, though clearly not as an expert.

Anyway, he’s clearly an academic expert in the field who got the chance to write a relatively commercial book. with a slightly populist cover. So even if this is not the best perspective, it certainly represents a highly scholarly perspective. There seem to be a few relatively popular recent books by academic experts around, so I hope to read a bit more and post on those perspectives in time. There is the interesting question of why these books are appearing. Does it reflect some general sense that the ‘West’ is declining in relation to the rising countries of Asia? Or is there another reason? I can’t really think this through right now, but maybe I’ll come back to this.

What is Heather’s perspective?

The Roman Empire was not in long term decline after the last of the ‘Golden Emperors’, Marcus Aurelius (d. 180). It remained in very robust shape, as reformed by Diocletian (reigned 283-305), with regard to borders, political cohesion and military strength until the very last years of the Fourth Century.

The Empire did change, particularly under Diocletian who introduced a tetrarchy to control the Empire more effectively (the tetrarchy was two senior emperors and two junior emperors, one of each in the west and the east). This responded to a very real need to diffuse power from Rome, but in a limited way. There were often conflicts between western and eastern emperors, but these did not threaten the administrative structure of the economic substance of the empire.

Power was diffused, to some degree to secondary centres: Milan, Ravenna and Trier in the west; Salonika in the east. This slowed down some forms of communication between the emperor and administrators, but not so as to cause serious problems.

The Empire continued to ‘Romanise’ until very late. That is, more and more members of local elites emerged who were educated in Latin language and literature to the same level as the most educated Romans. ‘Barbarians’ entering the Empire were Romanised, partly through military service.

Parts of Germany which were not in the Empire were very Romanised and were effectively satellite states. There was no proto-German nation, but shifting tribes with shifting coalitions and geographical locations. The Germanic areas were mostly very poor until late in the Empire.

The Germans who extended into what is now Romania became more economically sophisticated in the late Fourth century, which allowed them to pose more of a military threat.

The movement of Huns into Roman territory and other parts of Europe, created new movements of people and new incursions into Roman territory with very destabilising effects on the Empire.

Defeat by Parthians in Persia put some strain on the Empire at a very bad moment, because the unprecedented movement of tribes began soon afterwards.

There was some decline of tax revenue, and of spending from the centre in the late Fourth Century. This made local elites more autonomous but did not have a major effect on the Empire, Local elites stayed loyal until barbarian incursions tested loyalty to the Empire too much.

The weakening to the Empire set in during the last decade of the Fourth century, producing an accelerating disintegration with some variations until the overthrow of the last Emperor in the west in 476. So there was less than 100 years of the kind of decline often attributed to the Empire after 180, which create 300 years of decline.

Diocletian’s changes killed of the Republican residues still lingering earlier in the Empire, and the later emperors were God-Kings never challenged in the Senate, or any other political arena. This did not harm the cohesion of the Empire. Local elites and the bureaucracy had good reasons to be loyal to the Emperor who financed them, gave them jobs and enforced the strong property rights of Roman law.

The Roman Empire continued in the Byzantine Empire of the east, but only until the Seventh century Muslim conquests deprived Constantinople of large amounts of land, and most of its revenues, The Byzantines continued to identify themselves as Romans, but after this point, their state had become a Hellenic fragment of the Empire, rather than a continuation.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Foucault on Truth and Ethics; Nussbaum’s Error

Recently I read Michel Foucault’s Fearless Speech (edited by Jospheph Pearson, Semiotext(e), Los Angeles CA, 2001), based on lectures he gave in California about parrhesia in Ancient Greek philosophy, literature and politics. Parrhesia is translated in my abridged Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1891) as ‘free speaking’. It does not appear in Georg Autenrieth’s Homeric Dictionary (translated by Robert Keep, Duckworth, London, 1984), which is only to be expected, because as Foucault points out it’s a word that comes into use in Golden Age Athens. It does appear in Alexander Souter’s Pocket Lexicon to the Greek New Testament (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1916) as ‘boldness, freedom, liberty, shown especially in speech’. All of this, and more is incorporated into Foucault’s discussion of the negative and positive uses of the term in Euripides’ tragedies, commentary on Athenian democracy, Cynic philosophy, and so on. In a rather indirect way Foucault himself develops a position on ethics, communication and liberty. More of that on another occasion I hope.

Recently I was also listening to a podcast of Martha Nussbaum being interviewed on Australian radio about Stoics, Epicureans and Sceptics, on the reissue of her recent classic The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics (original edition: Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 1994) with a new introduction. Click here to go directly to the podcast. Click here to go to the relevant link at the podcast aggregator site earideas.

A great summary of her work in that area, and it is a great body of work. Nussbaum has some grudging respect for Foucault, in contrast to her attacks on anyone else who might be regarded as influenced by, or adjacent to, Foucault’s approach. Her somewhat prejudiced mindset gets the better of her in the podcast, when she shows some regard for Foucault’s work on antique ethics. Nussbaum claims that Foucault ignores truth in his discussion of self-formation through ethics in the ancient world.

The lectures in Fearless Speech focus in the importance of truth, the right fort he lower classes to speak truth in a vulgar manner in Athenian democracy, the value and danger Euripides sees in unrestrained truth telling. There are ways in which Foucault would say that these truths are subjective not absolute, but that is not the same as devaluing truth.

In an approach reminiscent of Mill in On Liberty, Foucault emphasises the value of struggle for truth, the great agon. No one condemns Mill as a dangerous sceptic, subjectivist etc, for emphasising the value of a permanent conflict over truth in which no one ever has a complete victory, so maybe there’s no need to condemn Foucault on the basis of such accusations.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Me on Tocqueville at LiberalVision

‘Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America’, LiberalVision 5th November 2009.

I look at Tocqueville, as a liberal thinker, with regard to the following points

Danger of the tyranny of the majority

Influence on Mill, particularly with regard to the above

Political centalisation, administrative decentralisation

Desirability of the passion for equality of rights, and the dangers of universal conformity

The democratic state as standing above local ‘tyranny of the majority’ but also a possible source of despotism

The dangers of the loss of aristocratic spirit of individual honour and excellence in the democratic world

The role of courts and law in providing a democratic equivalent to the aristocratic spirit of conservation of valuable institutions and awareness of long term and broad interests of a society

Advantages of private property and self-interest where it includes generosity; the dangers of a narrow individualism

Exploration of a new world of republicanism and democracy in the mid-Nineteenth century.

Economic freedom, participation in politics, participation in civil associations (voluntary bodies) as mutually reinforcing aspects of liberty.

For social assistance to the poorest, against economic equality and state intervention in the distribution of property.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Aristotle Against Orientalism: Carthaginian Perspective

Aristotle is turning up as a major party to a supposed ‘Orientalist’ tradition in political theory. ‘Orientalism’ in general refers to the perspective in which western culture has considered other cultures to be both opposite and inferior to itself. This approach has had some productive results but also its own blind spots.

One suggestion in that approach is that western accounts of democracy, republicanism and any political way of thinking rooted in ideas of freedom, have been exclusively rooted in Greek origins. Aristotle’s political ideas keep turning up as something rooted in a Greek centred view, in which non-Greeks have despotism and Greeks have freedom. In this context it is sometimes pointed out that earlier people in the Near East had On the barbarians to the north of the Greek world, Aristotle recognised some freedom in electing kings, though not much freedom under that king.

Most significantly, in The Politics, Aristotle does refer positively to a semitic people related to the semitic peoples of ancient Sumeria and Babylon, and sharing a common ancestry with modern Arabs and Jews, that is the Phoenicians. The Phoenicians who spread commerce and the first alphabet around the Mediterranean. Aristotle refers approvingly to the Carthaginian constitution as like that of Crete and Sparta. These were not Aristotle’s most favoured constitutions, but the main point here is that he recognised that Carthage belonged to the group of good constitutions, which are not dominated by tyranny, oligarchy or democracy (in the sense of rule through popular assemblies).

He describes Carthage as a ‘polity’, his most favoured state form, also referred to in English as a republic, a mixed constitution, or a political state. That is the kind of state where democracy, aristocracy (rule of the virtuous) and oligarchy (rule of the rich) are mixed, a situation which offers the best possible protection against forms of government which deny freedom: tyranny (lawless rule of one person), oligarchy (lawless rule of a rich minority), democracy (lawless rule of the majority). The polity leans towards democracy, but possible acts against freedom and reason are mitigated by rule of the rich minority and rule of the virtuous minority (educated aristocrats).

He refers to Carthage as a polity which leans towards democracy in the power of a popular assembly, and leans towards oligarchy in that the ruling council contains wealthy people and people with multiple positions. A couple of passages at the bottom of this post, confirm that.

There is a tendency around to think that the ‘west’ is anticipated in ancient times by Rome and by the Greek city states. Rome had an epic struggle against Carthage, most famously when Carthaginian armies where led by Hannibal. After defeat of Carthage, which was an obsession for some Roman leaders, the city was destroyed, though later rebuilt. This leads to the background assumption that the Greeks regarded Persia as the enemy and called it despotic, therefore the same view of Carthage must have been held by Greeks and Romans, so that we have an element in ‘western’ history of denial of the ‘Oriental other’. We could add to that the appearance of Phoenicians as ‘Philistines’, an enemy people of the Israelites, in the Old Testament.

Aristotle did not deny the Phoenician-Carthaginian ‘other’ in a move of Orientalist violence. he assumed that the Carthaginians had a polity, like the Greek polities, and that it deserved to be placed alongside them. ‘Orientalist’ approaches have emphasised what needed to be emphasised about the ‘non-western’ cultures, but has also under-emphasised the ways in which the classical writers may not have been pure examples of `Orientalism’.

Quotations from Aristotle’s Politics (translated by H. Rackham, Loen/Harvard University Press).

1272b Book II VIII

Carthage also appears to have a good constitution, with many outstanding features as compared with those of other nations, but most nearly resembling the Spartan in some points. For these three constitutions are in a way near to one another and are widely different from the others–the Cretan, the Spartan and thirdly, that of Carthage. Many regulations of Carthage are good; and a proof that its constitution is well regulated is that the populace willingly remain faithful to the constitutional system, and that neither civil strife has risen in any degree worth mentioning, nor yet a tyrant. Cathage is


Now most of the points in which the Carthaginian system that would be criticised on the ground of their defects happen to be common to all the constitutions of which we have spoken; but the features open to criticism as judged by the principles of an aristocracy or republic are some of them departures in the direction of democracy and others in the direction of oligarchy.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Some Good Links: Persons, Ethics, Politics, Economy

1. Persons (and ethical agency)

‘The I in Me’.. Thomas Nagel reviews Galen Strawson’s book Selves: An Essay in Revisionary Metaphysics. London Review of Books. 5th November 2009.

Nage; a distinguished figure in metaphysics and ethics discusses Strawson’s view that there is no deep ‘I’ or ‘self’ that endures over time. Nagel does not add much of his own views, but an excellent account of Strawson. One thing Nagel does not mention is that the title of the book is a riposte to Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics (1959), well known book by his father Peter Strawson. P.F. Strawson though metaphysics should be descriptive, that is should be close to our common sense and everyday language, and was a strong defender of the view that the ‘self’ or ‘person’ is a basic substance of metaphysics. G. Strawson is a critic of common sense and everyday language, claiming that these are responsible for misleading notions like the substantive ‘I’, leading him towards what his father called ‘revisionary metaphysics’, that is a metaphysics which looks for structures concealed by common sense and everyday language. There are questions of moral responsibility that arise in discussion of personal identity, that Nagel only refers to briefly. G. Strawson’s view poses a challenge to ideas of moral responsibility, by questioning the existence of a person who can be held responsible. The next link refers to the issue of personhood and ethics from another direction.

Ethics (personhood and virtues)

‘Integrity and Fragmentation’ by John Cottingham. Clicking on the link starts automatic download of .doc file from Cottingham’s website. The paper will be published as an article in the Journal of Applied Philosophy in 2010.

Hat tip philpapers

Cottingham looks at the role of integrity in ethics, drawing on the virtue theory tradition, which is concerned with the kind of character and habits conducive to human flourishing and ethical actions. Drawing on ‘Athens and Jerusalem’ (Greek philosophy and Judaeo-Christian religious texts), Cottinghman finds an implicit role for ‘integrity’, partly captured by Aristotle as ‘the unity of the virtues’. From these sources, and their coming together in Aquinas, we understand that the unity of live over time, and the unity of our character traits, is necessary to the good life, if not all that is necessary. Cottingham brings the more recent ethical philosophy of Bernard Williams and Harry Frankfurt into the discussion, particularly with reference to the inadequacy of integrity on its own, to fill us with a sense of obligation. As Cottingham points out, this is a central insight of Nietzsche’s. G. Strawson takes Nietzsche as the source of arguments against the idea of a deep self over time, so we see here how metaphysics and ethics connect.

Politics (ethics and economy in republican political theory)

‘Freedom in the Market’ by Philip Pettit, a freely available pdf of a 2006 article in Politics, Philosophyy & Economics.

Hat tip philpapers

Pettit’s best know book Republicanism produces a theory of freedom in which the ethical value of individual freedom is not just freedom from constraint , but freedom from ‘domination’, where domination means being bound by laws or commands to which we have not consented, directly, or indirectly through representative political procedures. That leads into ‘republicanism’, the tradition in political thought, which refers to freedom, and human flourishing, as including political rights and participation, at their centre. Pettit approached this tradition in Republicanism in a perspective which seems indifferent to the freedom of individuals in the market, and very concerned with rectifying apparent threats to freedom in capitalist society. I sometimes get the impression in that book that the republican critique of a minimal liberal commitment only to freedom from direct coercion, is embedded in a negative attitude to the liberal market economy. However, in this paper Pettit does pay tribute to the importance to freedom in the market place, he notes the importance of property rights and free exchange in the economy as ways of escaping the coercive subordination to a master that is the fate of many in a economy lacking in markets. Markets create choice including a choice of employer/master. Pettit distances himself from ‘libertarian’ notions that all regulatory constraints on exchange and property are wrong, but he puts himself in the same territory as moderate libertarians (in recent political theory Jerry Gaus, going back a bit further early Hayek,and going back even further most of the Classical Liberals) by referring to trade offs between property rights and the more collective public kinds of goods. That is we have to choose which combination maximises liberty.

Politics (Political and Economic Liberalism)

‘From Liberalism to Social Democracy’. Geoffrey Kurtz reviews Liberal Beginnings: Making a Republic for the Moderns by Andreas Kalyvas and Ira Katznelson. Dissent. 26th August 2009. A bit late with this link, but the story is still on Dissent’s homepage. so I can just about include it.

`Kurtz, following Kalyvas and Katznelson, refers to the way that Classical Liberalism of the late Eighteenth and very early Nineteenth century, was constituted through a move from Antique Republicanism to a consciousness of a more modern individualistic kind of liberty. Thomas Paine, James Madison, Adam Ferguson, Adam Smith, Madame de Staël and Benjamin Constant are considered, That is an advocate of the American and French Revolutions, one of the main figures in the early American Republic as a President and political writer, a Scottish Enlightenment historian and political thinker, a Scottish Enlightenment professor of moral philosophy who wrote a great work of economics, two French writers of literature and political thought. These were all people concerned with the kind of freedom pertaining to the ancient republics, based in civic duty and participation, the death of those republics, and the kinds of liberty possible in a modern individualistic commercial society. Completely the right context for discussing the origins of liberalism. The argument goes onto the suggest the inevitable evolution of classical liberalism into social democracy, which to my mind is not as necessary an evolution as claimed, but it is certainly an outcome of that republican-liberal moment, rooted as it was in appreciation of the liberty of commercial society.

Economics (a return to Political Economy)

Econ Journal Watch

It’s free to download, economists of reputation write in it, and it contains no equations. It can certainly be read by anyone with a basis understanding of political and social issues. Any reader of Adam Smith would have gone beyond it in dealing with economic complexity. The basis of the journal is that contributors criticise articles in established economics journals, and the author(s) of the piece under criticism are offered the chance to reply and have the final word, which they often take up, if not always. I haven’t had to go through it systematically yet, but so far I’ve read some very interesting debates about interpretingAdam Smith and the success of Swedish welfarism. Something else that caught my eye, but have’t read yet is a debate with Bill Easterly, one of the world’s leading development economists. and a major contributor to debates about ending Third World poverty.

The journal has a methodological bias and a political bias. The methodological bias is towards non-mathematical economics, the belief that economics is a broad discussion of individual and social rationality and action, in which maths may be useful but which is distinct from mathematics. The political bias is towards free market classical liberal and libertarian thinking. The methodological and political orientation come together as ‘Austrian Economics’, most famously represented by F.A. Hayek, who was preceded by Carl Menger, Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk and Ludwig von Mises (the latter is the most important figure for many ‘Austrians’). The beauty of the journal is that in some ways it gives the advantage to those who are most against the journal’s approach, so in some ways it’s the Keysians and non-free marketeers who should read the journal to see sympathetic views, rather than ‘Austrian’ liberals and libertarians.

The editor, and founder, Daniel Klein, is someone who is very interested in, and aware of, bias in economics and takes very seriously the idea of exposing bias in the most serious and consistent way, of admitting to his own biases, and finding ways of formulating discussion between those with differing biases.

This journal deserves to be read by a broad audience. Please have a look.