CFP: 11th Annual Felician Ethics Conference (last call, note revised due date)

The Felician Institute for Ethics and Public Affairs invites papers for its Eleventh Annual Conference, to be held Saturday, October 14, 2017 at Felician University’s Rutherford campus, 227 Montross Ave., Rutherford, New Jersey 07070.

Submissions can be on any topic in moral or political philosophy broadly construed, not exceeding 25 minutes’ reading time (approximately 3000 words). Please send submissions in format suitable for blind review to <felicianethicsconference at gmail dot com> by August 25  September 1. Acceptances will be announced by September 11.

The plenary speaker will be Michele Moody-Adams, Joseph Straus Professor of Political Philosophy and Legal Theory at Columbia University: Continue reading

Covering Jerusalem: A response to Jacques Delacroix

I’d been thinking of writing some free-standing posts on the aftermath of the shooting two weeks ago at Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem (July 14), but haven’t gotten the chance. Meanwhile, here’s a long response I wrote at Notes on Liberty to Jacques Delacroix’s post, “A short note on the riots in Jerusalem.” Scroll down for my comments.

As some of you may know, I spent most of the month of July in Jerusalem and vicinity, and spent a fair bit of time observing the events in question. It’s notable that for Americans, “what happened” can be reduced to a shooting on July 14, an Israeli decision to put metal detectors at the entrance to Al Aqsa Mosque, and rioting by Palestinians. Suffice it to say that in this as in so many matters, there is a large gap between what Americans end up hearing about Israel and Palestine and what actually happens there. But that’s a longer story than I can tell at the moment.

Postscript, August 8, 2017: The discussion continues here.

normative judgment internalism & motivational functionalism (redux)

David and I seem to agree that, for at least certain sorts of normative beliefs or judgments, a kind of moderate internalism is true.  For example, Bri’s judgment that she ought to tie her shoe (her belief that this is what she has most reason to do presently or what she has compelling reason to do presently) tends, as a non-accidental matter, to produce in her the intention to tie her shoe. Continue reading

Suspicion: A Dialogue

 
Antonio: Behold, this is an interesting work of philosophy entitled Foundationalism and the Foundations of Ethics, by one Irfan A. Khawaja. I have been reading this work carefully; it issues a formidable challenge to certain dominant assumptions in contemporary analytic philosophy and offers an intriguing meta-ethical view of its own; I have numerous objections to its positive view, and I believe that its critique of several of the prominent alternatives is unsuccessful at points, but I also think that its criticisms can be strengthened and at least certain elements of its positive view more fully defended. I would like to discuss this work with you fine gentlemen.

Bartolo: Ahh, yes, I have studied this work of which you speak. ‘Tis merely an effort to legitimate an especially noxious breed of selfishness and individualism. Its teems with a neurotic desire for certainty, with a fear of contingency and a childish longing for an external validation for our beliefs and particularly our values, and with adolescent fantasies of independence. It aims to join the comforting belief in moral absolutes eternally grounded in and guaranteed by nature with the narcissistic flatteries of self-indulgence and the belief that one controls one’s own destiny. Most of all it panders to the delusion that morality and self-interest conveniently coincide, that the most moral thing of all is, after all, to pursue one’s ‘true’ self-interest, and that this will work out marvelously for everyone. It is a horrible work, but not without interest; few manage, after all, to combine these ideological fictions in quite the way Khawaja has done.

Antonio: Uh-huh. Have you actually read it?

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“We’re Not In Wonderland Anymore, Alice” (Charles Manson)

I’ve contributed to The Health Care Blog a couple of times and follow its posts to stay on top of issues relevant to health care. Dr. Al-Agba wrote this article recently in relation to the recent shooting at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital in the Bronx (see link here). I think Manson was wrong; I think we are, indeed, still in Wonderland as it pertains to mass killings.

Dr. Al-Agba makes the very good (and one might argue rather obvious) point that organizations we work for have an obligation to take threats to our personal safety seriously. Today, if an individual threatens suicide, most people know that such threats should be investigated. Lives have been saved as a result.

Still not so with homicidal threats despite the carnage (and I’ve been maintaining this to anyone who will listen since I studied school shooters in the late 1990s while a student at John Jay College of Criminal Justice; it has been discouraging to know that not many have listened). This is the most pertinent line from Dr. Al-Agba’s article: “After his resignation, Dr. Bello warned former colleagues he would return someday to kill them.” Bronx-Lebanon did what in response to this threat? It’s not clear but so far I have found no evidence to suggest they took any action (i.e., reporting it to police? Seems like that would have been a good place to start).

Dr. David Lazala, who worked with Dr. Bello, described him as “very aggressive, talking loudly, threatening people,” and said that he had been threatened by Dr. Bello via email after Dr. Bello had been terminated. I could not find out if Dr. Lazala told Bronx Lebanon about these threats. But even if he had, consider what Bronx Lebanon would have done after you read about my experiences working as a clinician in New York City since 2003. Continue reading

Humanity and Pliny the Younger

One of the many disappointing features of contemporary classical scholarship is its guarded detachment from the modes of engagement that lead people to love Greek and Latin literature in the first place. The ancient Mediterranean world holds many and diverse attractions, but ordinary readers of great classical authors such as Homer, Sophocles, Thucydides, Vergil, Horace, or Tacitus tend to enjoy their works because they appeal to the heart and the mind in distinctively rewarding ways, presenting us with visions of human life and action that are worth taking seriously even when they venture so far into the land of myth that there can be no question of whether to believe them. They’re also just extremely entertaining, even if only to somewhat refined and dorky tastes. Scholarship, however, frequently approaches these works not as products of thought and expression intended to engage our emotions and our intellects on matters of serious human concern, nor even as high-brow entertainment meant to amuse us, but as exercises in the ideological manipulation of appearances, moves in a discursive game whereby power relations are negotiated, typically in the service of the status quo and those whose interests it promotes — or so it often goes when literature is not seen instead as an ultimately frivolous indulgence in rhetorical artistry wherein authors compete for the number and complexity of erudite allusions they can cram into their works and scholars compete for the number and complexity of erudite allusions they can convince other scholars to talk about. Very little scholarly work on Greek or Latin literature these days approaches these texts as sources of potential insight into human life, as offering some perspective that might well be, if not exactly true, at least good to think with. In fact, many scholars scoff at this kind of approach and seem somewhat embarrassed when someone in the room seriously articulates it. They describe it condescendingly as ‘humanism,’ where being a ‘humanist’ correlates with being a naive simpleton who probably wears tweed jackets with elbow patches, smokes a pipe, and would definitely be more at home in 1917 than in 2017.

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Lies and Omissions of the “Opioid War”

I’ll be writing a series of little posts here about various articles in the media regarding the war on opioids, as I find that the news media often doesn’t tell the full story, and seems to be following (or promoting) a morality play or political narrative, rather than actually presenting the problem as it is.

This article from The Economist I found curious mainly because writers such as this almost always maintain — without any real attempt at argument– – that prescription opioids don’t “work” for chronic pain. As a someone who suffers from chronic pain, I can assure you that nothing could be further from the truth.

Prior to having spinal fusion in 2013, I was on a long-acting prescription opioid. Because I still had some pain, I thought the medicine wasn’t working, so I went off of it, only to become essentially nonfunctional for six weeks. I was in so much pain that I lost my wallet, my keys, my Kindle, my smart phone, and even my car all within a span of six weeks.

It was then that I discovered that my spine was essentially crumbling, that I had no disk left at L5, and that L4 wasn’t looking too much better. I needed major surgery on my lumbar (lower) spine.

If we restrict access to pain medications, the result will be more people in pain, more nonfunctional, and more on disability. Back pain is the most common cause of disability in the entire world. Restrict access to pain medications in the way that so many advocates demand, and we’ll essentially be denying needed relief to millions of people in serious pain. That relief allowed me to work. Was opioid use ideal in my case? No, it wasn’t, but it kept me working, and it’s hard to discount the importance of a paycheck.

It’s already challenging enough to get these medications, even with a prescription. In fact, I’d have to see my doctor monthly to get the relevant prescriptions in New York State, where I live. The fact that these visits are both costly and medically unnecessary seems irrelevant to politicians content to sacrifice people like me to their newfound compassion for addicts.

We can do little for addicts who refuse assistance. Some of them will die. But by indiscriminately trying to control the availability of these medications both to addicts and to those who genuinely need them, we would deprive millions of people access to the medications they need to avoid having to live a life completely in thrall to physical pain. In weighing the costs and benefits of any policy concerning pain medications, it might help to imagine what it’s like to live a lifetime in serious pain–with painkillers, and without.

Sadiq al Azm on Edward Said: Correspondence

Apropos of our recent discussion on Edward Said’s Orientalism: having held onto this letter some eleven years–and given the deaths of both principals–I thought I’d post it for whatever historical interest it may or may not have.  Sadiq al Azm passed away this past December (December 11, 2016). Edward Said died on September 25, 2003.  The letter, from Al Azm to me about Said, more or less speaks for itself. Continue reading

Hell Makes the News

A few days ago I posted some contrasting literary conceptions of hell. Today hell makes the news. Evidently Bernie Sanders (yes, the Bernie Sanders) thinks that the traditional Christian belief that salvation requires faith in Jesus disqualifies a person from holding public office. Such, at any rate, seems to be the reasoning behind his inferring that Russell Vought, Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Budget and Management, “is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about” from Vought’s refusal to deny that Muslims — or any other non-Christians, and probably, by Vought’s lights, many people who think of themselves as Christians — will be going to hell if they do not come to faith in Christ. There’s some dispute about the legality of Sanders’ questioning, but it seems likely that Sanders can vote however he wants for whatever reason he wants and that simply questioning Vought about his religious beliefs does not amount to a religious test for office. Legality aside, though, Sanders’ reasoning and behavior here seem monumentally stupid; refusing to vote for someone for holding this traditional view seems wrong in principle, and it seems especially moronic strategically.

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Hell

Jean-Paul Sartre:

GARCIN: Will night never come?

INEZ: Never.

GARCIN: You will always see me?

INEZ: Always.

GARCIN: This bronze. Yes, now’s the moment; I’m looking at this thing on the mantelpiece, and I understand that I’m in hell. I tell you, everything’s been thought out beforehand. They knew I’d stand at the fireplace stroking this thing of bronze, with all those eyes intent on me. Devouring me. What? Only two of you? I thought there were more; many more. So this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the “burning marl.” Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. Hell is — other people!

(No Exit (Huis Clos), 1944)

T.S. Eliot:

There was a door
And I could not open it. I could not touch the handle.
Why could I not walk out of my prison?

What is hell? Hell is oneself,
Hell is alone, the other figures in it
Merely projections. There is nothing to escape from
And nothing to Escape to. One is always alone.

(The Cocktail Party, 1949)