Friday, May 29, 2009


You can read this article as an inroduction to Isaiah Berlin, one of he great liberals of the twentieth century(which he called the worst in human history) The article directs you to Berlin's seminal essay "Two Concepts of Liberty" The two concepts of liberty that the title refers to are 1 Negative Liberty:The common sense idea of liberty as doing whatever you like or 2 Positive liberty, that is, liberty as a state that you achieve through transformation to a higher state of existence. According to a benign interpretation of these, negative liberty emphasizes freedom of choice as in "a woman's right to choose." Positive liberty implies a new, higher state of achievment, such as when I am trained to be a pianist.
As is evident the proponent of positive liberty supports authoritarianism and paternalism. We are brought to freedom by piano instructors or tennis coaches. In the twentieth century totalitarian governments claimed they were bringing freedom to the masses This was the usage of "freedom" that Berlin questioned
The article gives us some indication of how complicated this issue is. Anatole France famously claimed that in a capitalist society the poor and the rich have the freedom to sleep under a bridge. Fraser, the author of this piece, makes the shrewd point that after communism fell the societies that escaped the delusion of positive freedom have become disillusioned with negative freedom as the sole achievment of a good society
I never met Sir Isaiah but I was once in a small restaurant with so few tables that one could hear all the conversations taking place. On this occasion one could only hear Sir Isaiah.
Does his essay still carry the same authority

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


Eagleton is a Christian and Marxist. Does his argument (as summarized by Stanley Fish) do justice to the claims of secularists? Does it do justice to the claim of secular skeptics such as Freud(I know some people call psychoanalysis a religion) who don't profess the militant secularism described by Fish/Eagleton, but the more modest secularism which says simply that reason can't provide answers for everything but what reason cannot answer can't be answered elsewhere ?

Sunday, February 22, 2009


This review is from Dissent a journal that represents democratic socialism and therefore regards itself as an heir to the Enlightenment. The reviewer is Richard Wolin who has written on Heidegger, Hannah Arendt and others. One of the books he reviews has a segment on Kant's essay on Enlightenment where he reminds us that Kant wrote during a period when humans were "subjects" not "citizens

Friday, February 20, 2009

Religion and Bill Maher

I saw this film. It was very funny. It is more problematic than this article admits. Basically it is freak show starring a number of amusing cranks.There are serious people,as Maher points out,but they don't seem very dangerous. The film ends with horrific scenes of destruction that religion will bring about, as though all of the people that have been interviewed are subspecies of Bin Laden. But we don't experience them as such


One of the self definitions of the 1950's is that it was an age that had grow up, gotten past the destructive ideologies of fascism and bolshevism. The defining essay of that period was Daniel Bell's "The End of ideology" Since the sixties, however "ideologies"keep popping back. In the sixties it was Marxism and now according to this article a new batch

Saturday, January 10, 2009

scepticism about science

Here is a chilling article by a philosopher I have mentioned in the past. (Was it to this class?) Peter Singer,who holds the chair in bioethics in Princeton,is probably the most controversial philosopher in the world. He has defended euthanasia and abortion but is best known for his campaign on behalf of animal rights. There were near riots when he was awarded the chair in Princeton.People were holding placards calling him a Nazi. One of my conservative colleagues called him the "enemy of humanity,the champion of the chicken"
This article is about Mbecki,former President of SouthAfrica, who took the usual post colonialist critique of the "hegemony of western rationalism" to tragic extremes. Is this a logical consequence of the anti scientific discourse that is so common nowadays? Is President(soon to be expresident) Bush's policy limitng stem cell research a milder version of the same outlook as Mbecki's

Monday, December 29, 2008


Greetings: I've missed all of you! The weeks of seclusion are over and finally I am plunging back ino the world. Was I crushed with boredom? You decide. I woke up every morning and performed the following ceremony: I washed ,I dressed-first one sock, then the other, then my walk,then breakfast-then a rest. When I was finished I was as elated with a sense of achievment as Rembrandt when he finished a painting Then I sat down to decide, which DVD to watch, which podcast to download, which book to read,Then lunch etc.__what a miserable life! Now I am back! Not a moment too soon! Since I've been away the Canadian government almost fell,and the world economy almost collpased. I feel needed.
Marshall Goldstein loved the class!
Tomorrow I will post a revised class curriculum. In recent weeks the west has suffered a heavy blow to its prestige. After years of sermonizing to the rest of the world about how to manage its affairs we are going down the tube, a mere twenty years after the Marxists went down the tube.
Once again west civ has to be reassessed. One of the shocks of recent days is the comeback of the state.Remember that only a few weeks ago tne smart money was betting on "the disappearance of the state" except as a handmaiden of the globalized economy. To day globalization means global panic. The State has been enlisted to save the global economy. A profound change.
We'll discuss this via a video that I will show on Wednesday. On Monday I will open our discussion on "modernity as the Age of Reason" I recommend that we turn to the new technologies that I've been experimenting with(i"ll never catch up to my twelve year old nephew) In this case a wonderful podcast at CBC.ca/ideas/podcasts . called How to think about Science. There you will find a list of interviews conducted with world famous figures conducted by my esteemed friend David Cayley. The most important one for us is the program featuring Christophe Norris and Maragaret Midgley. but the programs with Steve Shapin and another Bruno Bauer are also significant.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

John S, Mill bio

Here is an article