Virtue, Happiness, and the Greeks: Burdened Interpretations

tessman-burdenedI’m currently involved (along with some other members of the POT blog) in an online reading group on Lisa Tessman’s book Burdened Virtues, and while there’s a lot in the book that I admire, I want to grump here a bit about some of the things that Tessman says in ch. 3, which is where we currently are in the book. (The main focus of the book is on how to understand what Aristotelean-style virtue ethicists see, and what Tessman rather forlornly longs to see, as a harmonious and mutually reinforcing relationship between virtue and well-being, in the context of oppressive social structures that impose often devastating costs on those who attempt the sorts of resistance to oppression that virtue seems to require. That’s an interesting and important topic, but – be warned – I say virtually nothing about it in the present post.)

Despite the occasional perfunctory acknowledgment (e.g. at p. 62, n. 15) that views on which morality and flourishing can come apart were “quite thinkable within the ancient Greek context,” Tessman nevertheless persists in treating ancient and modern views as divided by some deep conceptual gap; hence she contrasts the “contemporary meaning of the word happiness” with the “ancient Greek understanding of … eudaimonia or flourishing” (p. 57), as though conceptions of eudaimonia centered on wealth or subjective pleasure or the amoral pursuit of power were alien to the ancient Greek context. But in fact the virtue-centered conception of eudaimonia common among philosophers in the broadly Socratic lineage (e.g. Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics) seems by no means to have been automatically congenial to Greeks generally; indeed in Plato’s dialogues Socrates’ interlocutors often react with puzzlement or disbelief or even mockery to his insistence that morality and self-interest cannot come apart.

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Stephen Bannon’s Day in Court

I have zero sympathy or respect for Stephen Bannon, and am gratified that he was found guilty the other day of contempt of Congress in the Capitol Riot inquiry. But if the mainstream media is ever going to dispel the notion that it’s biased against the Right, it’s going to have to do a better job than it has of getting the facts straight in legal cases like this. Consider this brief, passing claim from a New York Times article on the Bannon verdict:

Like many defendants, Mr. Bannon did not mount a defense case for the jury, deciding instead to rely on cross-examining the prosecution’s two witnesses: a lawyer for the committee and an F.B.I. agent who had worked on the case.

This passage conflates testifying in one’s defense in court with mounting a defense in court. It then infers that because Bannon didn’t testify in his own defense, he didn’t mount a defense. Continue reading

Davenport: “Boycott Anti-Choice States”

John Davenport has a nice piece in Ms. magazine, “Fight Abortion Bans by Boycotting Anti-Choice States” (July 21). I couldn’t agree more. It’s so good–for a change–to encounter an advocate of boycotts who isn’t me.

Nothing talks louder than money in the U.S. With over half of states on their way to banning abortion, the only choice is to fight with a boycott movement bigger than this nation has ever seen.

I’ve run John’s proposal by some pro-choice people on Facebook, many of whom seem to regard it as quixotic and pointless. I don’t agree. I’ll paste some of my responses to them in the comments here, just to give a flavor of the potential disagreements with John’s argument from people otherwise on his (our) side of the issue. Continue reading

Davenport on Guns: The “Endless Arms Race”

John Davenport has a piece on gun violence and gun regulation in Salon, “An endless arms race: How to fight the NRA’s absurd solution to mass shootings.”

As we celebrated Independence Day, there was no independence from the scourge of gun violence and the toll it is taking on the American psyche. The shooter who attacked a parade in Highland Park, Illinois, killing six people and wounding at least 38 others, used a “high-powered rifle,” according to authorities. Survivors report a rain of bullets at the height of the attack.

This attack is bound to renew calls for more “red flag” laws that would help identify and disarm emotionally or mentally unstable persons who are making threats of gun violence or praising mass murderers. But would the Highland Park shooter’s online record of participating in “death fetish” culture sites and making art featuring mass killing have been enough for a judge to order seizure of his guns?

Thoughts and Prayers

It’s late, and I need to go to bed, so I’ll keep this one short. I see a lot of people out there bloviating about the catastrophic moral horror of the Supreme Court’s decision in its recent “50 yard line prayer case”: Kennedy vs. Bremerton School District. Setting aside the absurdity of the very idea of American football, I don’t see the problem here. Can someone explain to me what the big deal is about this case, whether constitutionally or morally?

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In the Wake of Dobbs

For whatever reason, PoT has not, in the eight years of its existence, focused much on abortion or related issues. But we’ve run a few relevant posts, all written by yours truly. Most, I suppose, nibble at the edges of relatively peripheral issues; few are directly relevant to the recent overturning of Roe vs. Wade through Dobbs vs. Jackson. Still, for whatever it’s worth, I thought I’d dig a few out of the vaults. 

In 2015, in the wake of the mass shooting at an abortion clinic in Colorado Springs, I wrote a pair of posts on whether opponents of abortion were logically or morally obliged to engage in vigilante violence in order to oppose abortion. Jason Brennan had argued that they were; I argued that they weren’t. Continue reading