John Stuart Mill and Charlottesville

Civil American, Volume 2, Article 4 (October 20, 2017), https://goo.gl/zs3TDn.

| By Dale E. Miller |

Adobe logo, to serve as a link to the Adobe PDF version of the essay.

I consider myself a Millian—that is, a follower of the Victorian philosopher of morals, social life, and politics (and much else besides) John Stuart Mill (1806–73). Usually I’m a fairly confident Millian; some might even say smug. Mill’s work has, like the work of all important philosophers, been subjected to numerous serious objections. But I believe that many of these objections have already been adequately answered and that the prospects of our finding satisfactory answers to the rest are at least as good as the prospects of our finding satisfactory answers to the equally serious objections that have been pressed against the work of Aristotle, Kant, etc. Still, today my confidence is beginning to show some cracks. Recent events in the U.S. are casting serious doubts on one of the most celebrated and influential elements of Mill’s thought, his defense of the freedom of expression.

John Stuart Mill, black and white print.

Mill’s defense of the liberties of speech and the press appears in the second chapter of his 1859 essay On Liberty.[1] His case is grounded not on something like a “natural” right but rather on the social benefits of freedom of expression. This doesn’t mean that Mill believes that every use that people make of this freedom—every published article, every sign, every utterance—makes the world better off. But what he does believe is that there is great value in a vigorous marketplace of ideas, for which thoroughgoing freedom of expression is a prerequisite. According to Mill, the marketplace of ideas is a powerful engine not only for correcting intellectual errors and discovering truths of all sorts but also for motivating individuals who hold true ethical beliefs to base their lives on these beliefs. And the greater the extent to which people do this, Mill maintains (albeit without much argument), the happier that human life will be. This, for Mill, is the ultimate standard for moral rightness.[2]

The title page of J. S. Mill's 'On Liberty.'Mill’s case for freedom of expression unfolds in three stages; he asks first what society loses when it suppresses the expression of true ideas, next what it loses when it suppresses false ideas, and finally what it loses when it suppresses ideas that are both true and false in parts. I’m primarily interested in his answer to the second of these questions. It might seem surprising that Mill would believe that society loses anything of value when it censors ideas that genuinely are entirely false, as opposed to ideas that are thought to be entirely false but are in fact at least partly true. Yet he takes there to be several sources of loss in such cases.

One way in which society loses when it suppresses false ideas is that when these ideas cannot receive “any fair and thorough discussion … such of them as could not stand such a discussion, though they may be prevented from spreading, do not disappear.”[3] In other words, when false ideas cannot be brought into the light and openly confronted in fair and free debate, because defending them or perhaps even discussing them is proscribed, they fester. One of the benefits that Mill therefore claims for the liberties of speech and the press is that they enable us to (eventually) extinguish false doctrines, in the sense of bringing it about that they aren’t believed.

A second way in which society loses from restricting the expression of false ideas concerns how ethical beliefs are held. Suppose that society has made it impossible to challenge some widely accepted moral doctrine, so that contrary doctrines cannot be “fully, frequently, and fearlessly discussed.” In this case, Mill says, even if the widely accepted doctrine is completely correct it will be “held as a dead dogma, not a living truth.”[4] When we know that we’re likely at some point to be called upon to defend our creed against an opponent, he writes, we’re more likely both to ensure that we understand the considerations that favor that creed and to give the creed an important place in our thoughts and actions. On the other hand, “as soon as there is no enemy in the field,” we tend to lapse into giving our beliefs little more than lip service.[5] As evidence Mill points to the many “Sunday-morning” Christians in countries in which Christianity is the dominant faith. If such Christians are animated by anything in their religion through the rest of the week, he maintains, it is only by those parts of it that are distinctive to their particular sect and that they might need to defend against other sectarians. Thus another respect in which the liberties of speech and the press are beneficial is that they make it more likely that people who hold true moral doctrines will be “penetrated” by them, in the sense of holding them as more than dead dogmas.

Airforce commandos extinguishing an aircraft fire.

U.S. Department of Defense photos.

There is some tension between these two claims of Mill’s. After all, if false moral doctrines are extinguished, then no one will need to worry about debating their adherents. It therefore appears that freedom of expression can at most yield only one of these benefits with respect to any particular false moral doctrine, not both. The tension between these claims doesn’t rise to the level of contradiction, however. It can be true both that the long-run tendency of protecting the marketplace of ideas is to extinguish false views and that until a particular false ethical view is extinguished the fact that some people hold it will give those who hold the true view, or at least a truer one, a livelier appreciation of their own commitments. This is Mill’s stance; he observes that while it’s desirable for false moral doctrines to be extinguished, when this happens something of value is lost that society ought to try to replace to the extent possible. For instance, teachers may need to learn to defend certain false doctrines forcefully, to approximate for students the experience of debating someone who holds them.[6]

Mill’s claims about the freedom of expression license certain predictions. Suppose that some false moral doctrine was introduced into a society a considerable time ago. Suppose further that in this society it has always been possible to discuss and debate this doctrine freely. Then Mill’s claim would seem to suggest, first, that over time we should expect this doctrine to have moved some significant distance in the direction of being extinguished, and, second, that if this doctrine does still persist to some degree then people whose views about the matter in question contain more of the truth will be more strongly motivated to think, feel, and act in conformity with those views. Mill’s claims thus serve as a comforting answer to the question of whether it is safe to extend the freedom of expression to wrongheaded or even evil extremists, as American First Amendment jurisprudence does: the “invisible hand” of the marketplace of ideas will move them toward eradication, and until it gets them there, they will actually contribute to the moral improvement of the majority.

But are these predictions borne out by recent political experience? Consider one particular false moral doctrine, namely white supremacy. While broader definitions are possible, I’m using ‘white supremacy’ to refer to the ideologies that we associate with groups such as the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, ideologies marked by features like Holocaust denialism, enthusiasm for William Pierce’s The Turner Diaries, and support for laws that explicitly deny basic rights to non-whites and/or Jews. (I won’t entertain the notion that this doctrine might not be false.)

White supremacy so understood has a long history in the U.S., and the First Amendment protects the freedom of white supremacists to promote their views in public. At first glance, it seems that if Mill is right then the doctrine of white supremacy should be well on its way to being extinguished here. Failing this, it appears that we should at least expect that Americans who reject that doctrine should not only have a solid grasp of their grounds for doing so but should also be more strongly committed to racial equality. In other words, white Americans who aren’t supremacists should be disinclined to treat phrases like “all men are created equal” as empty pieties—dead dogmas.

Were Mill alive today, it would be hard not to ask him “How’s that working out for you?” White supremacists in America today clearly believe that they have a fellow traveler in the White House (and if they are wrong then President Trump has hardly labored to disabuse them of the notion). With this “high cover” they are bolder and more brazen than they have been in decades, and it is apparent now that they are more numerous than most Americans expected. Any consoling fantasies that we might have had about how their positions were moving toward being extinguished have been punctured. Moreover, there is little evidence that white Americans who reject white supremacy as I have defined it—and I believe that this is still the great majority, even among Trump voters—have the lively appreciation of racial equality that Mill’s claims seem to suggest that they should. The ample body of evidence for the contrary conclusion includes a July 2017 poll showing that 65% of white respondents had an unfavorable view of the Black Lives Matter protests and protestors[7] and a recent meta-analysis conforming that discrimination in hiring against African-Americans exists (and isn’t becoming any less common).[8]

Dr. David Shih.

Dr. David Shih.

Given this, it’s no wonder that doubts are being raised about whether we can safely trust the marketplace of ideas where extremist views are concerned. In an editorial defending student protesters who “shout down” talks on college campuses by speakers with racist views, David Shih argues that “The ‘marketplace of ideas’ fails when we cannot make objective choices about racism.”[9] He maintains that racism is so pervasive in the world view of (at least) Americans that they frequently fail to recognize it as such, with the result that they cannot be relied upon to “reliably reject a shoddy product — here, the snake oil of racist expression.” And if they do not, this “might mean that racist hate speech is not a ‘necessary evil’ that jumpstarts racial justice within a liberal marketplace but is—for the foreseeable future—nothing more than state-sanctioned injury of people of color.”[10]

While Shih doesn’t mention Mill, his criticisms of the metaphor of the marketplace of ideas are directly applicable to Mill’s defense of free speech. I’m far from dismissing these criticisms; it’s precisely because of points like those that Shih raises that, as a Millian, I’m increasingly nervous. But it’s worth considering what can be said on Mill’s behalf.

One possible reply is that people are so prone to racist thinking, for whatever reasons, that the fact that white supremacy has not moved any closer to being extinguished is not surprising and does not undermine Mill’s claim that false moral doctrines tend to move in this direction where the freedom of expression prevails. Given that the bias is widespread and deep-seated—one might say insidious—and for that reason easily unnoticed and so not reckoned with, we should expect progress in this area to be at best slow and incremental, with occasional backsliding. To this one might add that while it has been legally permissible for white supremacists to openly express their views in the United States, it has for some time not been socially acceptable. Even in the absence of active interference with their communication, the social disapprobation that people publicly identified as white supremacists would suffer largely forced them to restrict the expression of their views to clandestine newsletters or, more recently, dark anonymous corners of the Internet. Perhaps it’s only now that more of them feel able to emerge from hiding that we can have the fair and free debate regarding their views that Mill takes to be capable of convincing people to recognize and reject false moral doctrines. A recent editorial in the Washington Post optimistically proposes that

There is no surer way to expose extremism’s malice and toxicity than to let it bask in the sunlight, where all Americans can examine it plainly. The more Mr. [Richard] Spencer spouts his gospel of hatred—he advocates “peaceful ethnic cleansing,” by which he means Jews and nonwhites should have no place in the United States and should be induced to leave—the more his countrymen will be repelled.[11]

Dr. Erik Bleich.

Dr. Erik Bleich.

A second reply is that suppressing the expression of white supremacy hasn’t proven to be efficacious as a way of preventing people from subscribing to it. Throughout much of Europe, hate speech laws significantly restrict the ability of white supremacists to disseminate their views. As Erik Bleich writes, “In most European countries, it is against the law to assert in public that a racial, ethnic or religious group is to be feared or hated, and in many countries illegal to say that the Holocaust never happened.”[12] Yet Europe’s problems with the racist “ultra-right” are arguably just as grave as those of the United States. For instance, despite Germany’s restrictions on white supremacists’ freedom of expression, including bans on the use of Nazi-era slogans and symbols, the country’s most recent annual report on its constitution documents increasing numbers of “violent offences motivated by right-wing extremism.”[13] A right-wing anti-immigration party, some of whose leaders have a penchant for Nazi-era language, just won nearly 13% of the vote in the German national election.[14] Large neo-Nazi demonstrations, with more arcane symbols, are occurring there as well.[15] Admittedly, the degree to which the freedom of expression is regulated is not the only relevant difference between the United States and Europe; that a far-right party could garner seats in the Bundestag with 13% of the vote points to pertinent differences in electoral systems. Thus care is needed in trying to draw any inferences about the effectiveness of these regulations from cross-cultural comparisons of the currency of white supremacist views. Still, it’s at least not obvious that they are any more successful than a reliance on the marketplace of ideas in preventing the contagion of white supremacy from spreading.

Finally, if this stage of history is one when we must take seriously the threat of white supremacists and fascists more generally, then this may be precisely the worst time for us to weaken the legal and social protections afforded to the freedom of expression. Once we decide that it’s acceptable for the proponents of unpopular views to be silenced, whether by law or the heckler’s veto, then the precedent this creates will make it easier for the opponents of equality to justify silencing progressives and liberals if they can. If we want such an event to trigger popular outrage in the future, to be seen as crossing uncrossable lines, then we may need to do all that we can now to entrench the inviolability of the liberties of speech and the press. (Shih dismisses this worry, asserting that the students he defends “may not, in fact, long for their First Amendment rights should the tables turn on them.” His reasoning seems to be that in the past progressive protesters have been most effective when they’ve gone beyond what the First Amendment protects anyway. But this complicates his larger argument; if expressive activity is most persuasive when it takes forms that exceed First Amendment protections, then denying these protections to racist speech might increase its influence.)

John Stuart Mill.I take these replies, especially the last two, to cut some ice. It’s because of them that, for now at least, I still count myself a Millian—albeit an increasingly anxious one—where the freedom of expression is concerned. But admittedly, none of these responses gainsay Shih’s worry that we can’t trust individuals to choose well when confronted with competing racist and anti-racist views, and there is no guarantee that enough of them will do so to prevent white supremacy from gaining an even firmer toehold in our country. If this is a damning indictment of our efforts to instill critical thinking skills in our citizenry, it may not be unjust.[16] Relying upon the marketplace of ideas is a gamble, and a large one. The stakes of the 1977 controversy over whether a ragtag group of neo-Nazis could march in Skokie, Illinois now seem trivial. When Jimmy Carter was president, what was the worst that could have happened? Today it feels like much more is at risk—maybe our liberal democratic order.

But if relying upon the marketplace of ideas is a gamble, so too is abandoning the First Amendment jurisprudence and social norms that regard even the speech and writings of white supremacists against interference. No safe option exists. While I’m increasingly nervous that Mill might be wrong, I’m no less nervous that he might be correct and yet go unheeded when it matters most, that we might panic in the face of a tiki-torch-bearing rabble and abandon one of our most potent weapons against them.[17]

 

Dr. Dale E. Miller.

Dale Miller is a Professor of Philosophy at Old Dominion University in Norfolk VA. Much of his work has focused on John Stuart Mill’s moral and social-political philosophy. His book J. S. Mill: Moral, Social and Political Thought was published by Polity in 2010. He has also co-edited A Companion to Mill (Wiley-Blackwell, 2017), The Cambridge Companion to Utilitarianism (Cambridge, 2014), John Stuart Mill and the Art of Life (Oxford, 2011), and Morality, Rules, and Consequences: A Critical Reader (Edinburgh, 2000). In the summer of 2016, Professor Miller became the editor-in-chief of Utilitas.

 

Notes

[1] Mill, On Liberty, Collected Works of John Stuart Mill v.18, ed. J. M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977), 228–59. PDFs of Mill’s Collected Works are available for free in Liberty Fund’s Online Library of Liberty: http://oll.libertyfund.org/people/john-stuart-mill.

[2] For an explanation of how and why this is true, and a wide-ranging account of Mill’s “value theory,” see my John Stuart Mill: Moral, Social and Political Thought (Cambridge: Polity 2010).

[3] Mill, On Liberty, 242.

[4] Mill, On Liberty, 243.

[5] Mill, On Liberty, 250.

[6] Mill, On Liberty, 250–1.

[7] “July 2017 Poll: Crosstabs Memo,” HarvardHarrisPoll.com, available at http://harvardharrispoll.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Crosstabs-HCAPS_July-Wave_Topline-Memo_Registered-Voters_Custom-Banners….pdf.

[8] Lincoln Quinlan, Devah Pager, Ole Hexel, and Arnfinn H. Midtbøen, “Meta-Analysis of Field Experiments Shows No Change in Racial Discrimination in Hiring Over Time,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, published early online at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2017/09/11/1706255114.full.

[9] Shih, “Hate Speech and the Misnomer of ‘The Marketplace of Ideas,’” Code Switch: National Public Radio (3 May 2017), available at http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/05/03/483264173/hate-speech-and-the-misnomer-of-the-marketplace-of-ideas.

[10] Shih’s suggestion that racist speech injures people of color raises important issues that I can’t consider here, but if it is true that racist speech damages the interests of its targets then even Mill might concede that this speech should be restricted, the virtues of the marketplace of ideas notwithstanding.

[11] Editorial Board, “Let the White Nationalists March—and Their Ideas Die,” The Washington Post (12 October 2017), available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/let-white-nationalists-march–and-their-ideas-die/2017/10/12/6dbbded0-adef-11e7-9e58-e6288544af98_story.html?undefined&utm_term=.ca4369164292&wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.

[12] Bleich, “Freedom of Expression versus Ethnic Hate Speech: Explaining Differences Between High Court Regulations in the USA and Europe,” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 40 (2014), 297.

[13] Federal Ministry of the Interior, “Brief summary: 2016 Report on the Protection of the Constitution” (4 July 2017), available at https://www.verfassungsschutz.de/en/public-relations/publications/annual-reports.

[14] See Anthony Faiola and Stephanie Kirchner, “In Germany, the Language of Nazism is no Longer Buried in the Past,” Washington Post 9 December 2016), available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/in-germany-the-language-of-nazism-is-no-longer-buried-in-the-past/2016/12/09/d70bce74-bc85-11e6-ae79-bec72d34f8c9_story.html.

[15] Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, “What Happens When You Ban Nazi Symbols at a Nazi March?,” Foreign Policy (21 August 2017), available at http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/08/21/what-happens-when-you-ban-nazi-symbols-at-a-nazi-march/.

[16] A related cause for concern, which I can’t consider here, is whether the marketplace of ideas is vulnerable to a flood of shoddy counterfeit “goods” from abroad—say, from Russia. This too may largely depend on how well we’ve trained citizens to think critically.

[17] I would like to thank Andrew J. Cohen for a number of helpful comments.

049: Ep45 – Experimentation in Art and Law

Philosophy Bakes Bread radio show and podcast

Dr. Brian Butler.In this forty-fifth episode of the Philosophy Bakes Bread radio show and podcast, we interview Dr. Brian Butler of the University of North Carolina Asheville. We talk with Brian about two applications of the idea known as “democratic experimentalism” that have been at the heart of his work. One application concerns Constitutional law. The other involves the history of Black Mountain College, an experiment in democratic experimentalism applied to higher education, where art was central to education in the college.

Sue Spayth (left) and unknown student in front of the Lee Hall, Blue Ridge Campus, 1938.

© Western Regional Archives, States Archives of North Carolina. This and other photos available at Metalocus.

Dr. Butler is the Thomas Howerton Distinguished Professor of Humanities and Professor of Philosophy at the UNC Asheville. He recently published his book, The Democratic Constitution: Experimentalism and Interpretation, with the University of Chicago Press. He was also the Project Director in 2010 for a large grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities’s “We the People” Grant program, which focused on “Black Mountain College: An Artistic and Educational Legacy.” Black Mountain College was founded in 1933 in North Carolina as was an experimental college with a central role for art in liberal arts education. John Dewey’s philosophy of education was a fundamental inspiration for the college.

Listen for our “You Tell Me!” questions and for some jokes in one of our concluding segments, called “Philosophunnies.” Reach out to us on Facebook @PhilosophyBakesBread and on Twitter @PhilosophyBB; email us at philosophybakesbread@gmail.com; or call and record a voicemail that we play on the show, at 859.257.1849. Philosophy Bakes Bread is a production of the Society of Philosophers in America (SOPHIA). Check us out online at PhilosophyBakesBread.com and check out SOPHIA at PhilosophersInAmerica.com.

 

(1hr 8 mins)

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Notes

  1. Entry on H. L. A. Hart at Oxford Legal Philosophers.
  2. Ronald Dworkin’s obituary in The New York Times.
  3. Brian Butler, The Democratic Constitution: Experimentalism and Interpretation (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2017).
  4. A brief introduction to the history of Black Mountain College.
  5. Martin Duberman, Black Mountain: An Exploration in Community (Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 2009).
  6. Mary Caroline (M. C.) Richards, a former faculty member at Black Mountain College.
  7. The Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center.
  8. State Archives of North Carolina.
  9. Visit Black Mountain College.

 

You Tell Me!

For our future “You Tell Me!” segments, Dr. Butler posed the following questions in this episode:

“How does democracy relate to evidence? What type of evidence should be allowed in a democracy and what kind of evidence should be excluded?”

Let us know what you think! Via TwitterFacebookEmail, or by commenting here below.

Logo of the APA Eastern Division.From the Meeting Program for the 2018 Eastern Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association, which runs from January 3rd through the 6th of 2018:

The Society of Philosophers in America, SOPHIA
(G6E in the group meeting portion of the program)

Topic:

Establishing Conditions for Community Building and Philosophical Dialogue

Dr. Daniel Brunson.Chair:

Daniel Brunson (Morgan State University)

Speakers:

Dr. Jackie Kegley.Jacquelyn Ann Kegley (California State University, Bakersfield)
“Establishing Conditions for Community Building and Philosophical Dialogue”

James William LincolnJames William Lincoln (University of Kentucky)
“Fellowship: An Epistemological Analysis”

Dr. Eric Thomas Weber.Eric Thomas Weber (University of Kentucky)
“Cosmopolitanism Online: Philosophical Community-Building in the Internet Age”

 

Date: January 4, 2018
Time: 12:00-02:00 p.m.
Event: SOPHIA Panel at the 2018 Eastern APA Meeting
Topic: Establishing Conditions for Community Building and Philosophical Dialogue
Sponsor: The American Philosophical Association
302.831.1112
Venue: Savannah Convention Center
912.447.4032
Location: 1 International Dr.
Savannah, GA 31402
United States
Public: Public
Registration: Click here to register.

If you'll be there, come join us and learn more about SOPHIA!

048: Ep44 – On Philosophy, Leadership, & SOPHIA

Philosophy Bakes Bread radio show and podcast

Cover of Democracy and Leadership, which features a painting of a crowd at a political event. In this forty-fourth episode of the Philosophy Bakes Bread radio show and podcast, Dr. Anthony Cashio decides that “turn-about is fair play.” He had been the guest in the very first episode of the show, and in this episode, he turns the tables and grills co-host Dr. Eric Thomas Weber as the guest for the day. The show focuses on Weber’s 2013 book, Democracy and Leadership, and then relates Weber’s theory of democratic leadership to his work as Executive Director of the Society of Philosophers in America, a.k.a. SOPHIA.

Dr. Eric Thomas Weber.

Dr. Weber is the author of four books, including most recently Democracy and Leadership(2013) and Uniting Mississippi (2015). In 2015 he was awarded the Mississippi Humanities Council’s Humanities Scholar Award in their Public Humanities Awards program. At the University of Mississippi, he was associate professor of public policy leadership from 2007 to 2016. In 2016, he moved to the University of Kentucky, where he is visiting associate professor in the philosophy department. In 2017, SOPHIA was awarded the major prize from the APA and the Philosophy Documentation Center for excellence and innovation in philosophy programs.

Listen for our “You Tell Me!” questions and for some jokes in one of our concluding segments, called “Philosophunnies.” Reach out to us on Facebook @PhilosophyBakesBread and on Twitter @PhilosophyBB; email us at philosophybakesbread@gmail.com; or call and record a voicemail that we play on the show, at 859.257.1849. Philosophy Bakes Bread is a production of the Society of Philosophers in America (SOPHIA). Check us out online at PhilosophyBakesBread.com and check out SOPHIA at PhilosophersInAmerica.com.


(1hr 8 mins)

Click here for a list of all the episodes of Philosophy Bakes Bread.

 

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Notes

  1. Weber, Eric Thomas, Democracy and Leadership (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013).
  2. The Society of Philosophers in America (SOPHIA), and how to join.
  3. The American Philosophical Association and the Philosophy Documentation Center prize for Excellence and Innovation in Philosophy Programs.

 

You Tell Me!

For our future “You Tell Me!” segments, Dr. Weber posed a question in this episode:

“Do you have spaces and communities in which you can hold deep, philosophical conversations? If you don’t, do you want in?”

Let us know what you think! Via TwitterFacebookEmail, or by commenting here below.

047: Ep43 – The Stories of Our Day 1, Game of Thrones

Philosophy Bakes Bread radio show and podcast

Photo of Dr. Shane Courtland.This forty-third episode of the Philosophy Bakes Bread radio show and podcast is a special new show format, more of a round-table discussion than usual, and with a new theme: The Stories of Our Day. In this first “Stories of Our Day” episode, we’re talking about The Game of Thrones! For this discussion, we knew that we wanted to bring Dr. Shane Courtland back on the show, given his specialty in Thomas Hobbes’s somewhat bleak philosophy, which has a lot to tell us about the harshness and quasi-realism (if you focus on human beings rather than the dragons) of Game of Thrones.

The Thinker, sitting on the iron throne, thinking about how philosophy bakes bread in the Game of Thrones.

Dr. Courtland was our guest once before, in Episode 8 of the show, on “Selfish Ethics?” Dr. Courtland is director of the Center for Free Entreprise at Western Virginia University. His recent book is titled Hobbesian Applied Ethics and Public Policy, and was released with Routledge Press in 2017.

Listen for our “You Tell Me!” questions and for some jokes in one of our concluding segments, called “Philosophunnies.” Reach out to us on Facebook @PhilosophyBakesBread and on Twitter @PhilosophyBB; email us at philosophybakesbread@gmail.com; or call and record a voicemail that we play on the show, at 859.257.1849. Philosophy Bakes Bread is a production of the Society of Philosophers in America (SOPHIA). Check us out online at PhilosophyBakesBread.com and check out SOPHIA at PhilosophersInAmerica.com.

 

(1hr 9 mins)

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Notes

  1. They Live [movie] (1988).
  2. Zizek in “The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema” [movie] (2006).
  3. The NeverEnding Story [movie] (1984).
  4. The Dukes of Hazzard [television show] (1979-1985).
  5. Star Trek: The Next Generation [television show] (1987-1994).
  6. Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince (New York: Dover Publications, 1992).
  7. In his You Tell Me! question, Shane mentions Syrio Forel, about whom there’s a wiki page here.

 

You Tell Me!

For our future “You Tell Me!” segments, we posed a few questions in this episode’s round-table format:

“Is death a major theme in Game of Thrones, and if so, why?”

“Do you think that talking philosophically about Game of Thrones and the Stories of Our Day is frivolous or meaningful? Should we keep making episodes with this new theme?”

“What are the Stories of Your Day, the stories from your youth that were really formative of who you are?”

Let us know what you think! Via TwitterFacebookEmail, or by commenting here below.

 

046: Ep42 – BC9 – Overcoming Redneck State Stigma

Philosophy Bakes Bread radio show and podcast

Dr. Larry A. HickmanThis forty-second episode of the Philosophy Bakes Bread radio show and podcast is a second “breadcrumb” episode with Dr. Larry A. Hickman, who was our featured guest in Episode 40. In that episode, Larry spoke about democracy and education in the United States today. While he was with us, we asked him to comment on a question that we received from a listener earlier this year. Larry, Anthony, and Eric each live or have lived in states that are sometimes prejudged and stigmatized for characteristics you might call “redneck,” being significantly rural and agricultural. Jason Fultz had called a few weeks before and asked us to comment on what one can do to overcome stigma for your state. So, we played his question and asked Larry what he thought. Then, we all thought about it and a few answers emerged that may prove helpful for “Overcoming Redneck State Stigma.”

Photo of a man posing in front of a pine-wood wall, wearing a furry hat, and making a silly face.

Photo courtesy of Gratisography (Source: www.gratisography.com), CCO license.

Cover of Eric Thomas Weber's book, Uniting Mississippi.We especially want to thank Jason for calling in and leaving us a great voicemail and question. Of course, we’re grateful to Larry also, who is the former Director of the Center for Dewey Studies at Southern Illinois University and who is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy there. It is worth noting also in particular that Larry brought up progress that the state of Mississippi has made especially given the leadership and example that the University of Mississippi, affectionately called Ole Miss, has offered for the state. He also kindly mentioned Eric’s book on leadership and higher education in Mississippi, Uniting Mississippi: Democracy and Leadership in the South.

As always, you can reach out to us on Facebook @PhilosophyBakesBread and on Twitter @PhilosophyBB; email us at philosophybakesbread@gmail.com; or call and record a voicemail that we play on the show, at 859.257.1849. Philosophy Bakes Bread is a production of the Society of Philosophers in America (SOPHIA). Check us out online at PhilosophyBakesBread.com and check out SOPHIA at PhilosophersInAmerica.com.


(10 mins)

 

Click here for a list of all the episodes of Philosophy Bakes Bread.

 

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Photo of a news article in which the headline about a literacy program in Mississippi misspells the state's name as "Missippi."Notes

  1. Episode 40 of Philosophy Bakes Bread, with Dr. Larry A. Hickman. Go listen to it too!
  2. Press Gigem and Bob Taylor, The Best 606 Aggie Jokes (Gigem Press, 1976).
  3. A Wikipedia entry on the adage, “Thank God for Mississippi.”
  4. Larry mentions: Eric Thomas Weber, Uniting Mississippi: Democracy and Leadership in the South (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2015).

Let us know what you think via TwitterFacebookEmail, or by commenting here below!

045: Ep41 – BC8 – The Meaning of Life? Answered.

Philosophy Bakes Bread radio show and podcast

Dr. Larry A. HickmanThis forty-first episode of the Philosophy Bakes Bread radio show and podcast is a special “breadcrumb” episode with Dr. Larry A. Hickman, who was our featured guest in Episode 40. In that episode, Larry raised a question for listeners for which he said he has an answer: “What’s the meaning of life?”

A guru on a mountaintop, whose answer is 'Google it.'

It’s the age-old question, the stereotypical philosophical question, yet Larry believes that there can be serious, meaningful answers to it. And, he said that he has one! We want to know our listeners thoughts, of course. At the same time, we couldn’t resist and had to hear Larry’s answer to the question of the meaning of life. Enjoy this short breadcrumb episode that takes a stab at one of the great questions for all of our lives.

As always, you can reach out to us on Facebook @PhilosophyBakesBread and on Twitter @PhilosophyBB; email us at philosophybakesbread@gmail.com; or call and record a voicemail that we play on the show, at 859.257.1849. Philosophy Bakes Bread is a production of the Society of Philosophers in America (SOPHIA). Check us out online at PhilosophyBakesBread.com and check out SOPHIA at PhilosophersInAmerica.com.

 

(7 mins)

 

Click here for a list of all the episodes of Philosophy Bakes Bread.

 

iTunes logo.Google PlayRSS logo feed icon and link.

Subscribe to the podcast! 

We’re on iTunes and Google Play, and we’ve got a regular RSS feed too!

 

Notes

  1. Episode 40 of Philosophy Bakes Bread, with Dr. Larry A. Hickman. Go listen to it too!
  2. A little, simple biographical information about John Dewey.
  3. A series of cartoons that illustrate the fact that “the meaning of life” is a pretty funny, cliché question, in many people’s eyes. Dr. Hickman pushes back on that outlook, in this fun, thoughtful breadcrumb.

Let us know what you think via TwitterFacebookEmail, or by commenting here below!

 

Food Symposium Success at Pacific Lutheran University

Dr. Sergia Hay.In the last two years, SOPHIA underwent big changes, having drafted a new mission statement and strategic plan. That development called for a new Web site, which we now have. In the process, a number of SOPHIA events took place and have yet to be included on our new site. One such great event took place in February 2016 at Pacific Lutheran University, where SOPHIA member and officer Dr. Sergia Hay helped organize a great symposium on Food.

Pacific Lutheran University has held a Food Symposium more than once, furthermore, and SOPHIA was able and happy to cosponsor the event. Videos are available of some of the more traditional panels and addresses. Events that SOPHIA sponsors can certainly incorporate some traditional formats in that way, but we want to ensure also that there is room for conversation, for dialogue, not merely paper presentations and (largely) one-way communication.

The Food Symposium at Pacific Lutheran was special because of the variety of elements of their events. In addition to some traditional panels, they also had an outing to learn about Mother Earth Farm and Hidden Valley Compost, for example, which addressed food’s connection to sustainability concerns.

Image of Food Symposium participants visiting Mother Earth Farms in Washington state.

Pacific Lutheran University also put together a lovely gallery of photos from the event here. And, while the event has passed, check out the great poster that they made for it!

Flyer for the 2016 Food Symposium at Pacific Lutheran University.

This is the flyer that the Philosophy department made for the Food Symposium. Clicking on this link will open up the Adobe PDF version of the poster.

Finally, here’s a write up about the prior Food Symposium, from 2014, which came out in the Lute Times. The event at PLU is exciting for SOPHIA because 1) it clearly was on a topic of interest to the public, 2) it demonstrated the importance of philosophy for matters of public concern, 3) it involved conversation and not only paper delivery and critique, and 4) it moved beyond the classroom, even including outings to venture to farms and meet with people actually engaged in sustainability-related work connected with farming and food.

So, while our intention was to publicize this event before and soon after it, a number of obstacles got in the way. Nonetheless, it’s time now that we recognize the work that Dr. Hay and her colleagues put together with SOPHIA support and congratulate them on the great success of their events. Examples of successful ventures can help others have ideas and models to follow. Congratulations!

044: Ep40 – Democracy and Education Today

Philosophy Bakes Bread radio show and podcast

This fortieth episode of the Philosophy Bakes Bread radio show and podcast features an interview with Dr. Larry A. Hickman, former Director of the Center for Dewey Studies at Southern Illinois University, talking with co-hosts Eric Weber and Anthony Cashio about John Dewey’s rich ideas about democracy and education, as well as what we can say about the state of each today.

Dr. Larry A. Hickman.

Dr. Hickman is a prolific scholar, who has written on countless social issues from gay rights to school funding. He and his colleague Dr. Tom Alexander co-edited a two-volume set of some of the greatest resources available for studying Dewey’s philosophy, The Essential Dewey, Volumes 1 and 2. Larry also directed the Center for Dewey Studies for many years, obtaining grant after grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and creating an incredible set of digital resources collecting and digitizing Dewey’s works and the works of his contemporaries. In this episode, Larry presents some sobering concerns about the state of education in the United States today, as well as what that and other problems mean for democracy here.

Listen for our “You Tell Me!” questions and for some jokes in one of our concluding segments, called “Philosophunnies.” Reach out to us on Facebook @PhilosophyBakesBread and on Twitter @PhilosophyBB; email us at philosophybakesbread@gmail.com; or call and record a voicemail that we play on the show, at 859.257.1849. Philosophy Bakes Bread is a production of the Society of Philosophers in America (SOPHIA). Check us out online at PhilosophyBakesBread.com and check out SOPHIA at PhilosophersInAmerica.com.

 


(61 mins)

Click here for a list of all the episodes of Philosophy Bakes Bread.

 

iTunes logo.Google PlayRSS logo feed icon and link.

Subscribe to the podcast! 

We’re on iTunes and Google Play, and we’ve got a regular RSS feed too!

 

 

Notes

  1. John Dewey’s New York Times obituary.
  2. John Dewey, Democracy and Education (New York: The Free Press, 1916/1997).
  3. G. W. F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977).
  4. Zachary Crockett, “The Case for More Traffic Roundabouts,” Priceonomics (September 18, 2015).
  5. Laurie Roberts, “Roberts: Am I Shocked by Senate President’s (continued) Self Dealing? Yep. And Nope.The (AZ) RepublicThe USA Today, March 6, 2017.
  6. Charles Murray, The Bell Curve (New York: The Free Press, 1996), the book that Larry argues we should have stopped paying attention to 20 years ago.
  7. SOPHIA won the American Philosophical Association / Philosophy Documentation Center Prize for Excellence and Innovation in Philosophy Programs!

 

You Tell Me!

For our future “You Tell Me!” segments, Larry proposed the following question in this episode, for which we invite your feedback:

“I’ve got an answer to this question [in a breadcrumb coming soon], but I want to know yours:

‘What is the meaning of life?’”

Let us know what you think matters!  TwitterFacebookEmail, or by commenting here below.

Clutter

Civil American, Volume 2, Article 3 (September 16, 2017), https://goo.gl/38wd1m.

| By John Lachs |

Adobe logo, to serve as a link to the Adobe PDF version of the essay.

When our ancestors lived in caves, every tool was a prized possession. Furs for comfort and drawings to decorate the cave were difficult to come by. They were passed down from generation to generation.

Storage units.

Photo courtesy of Paul Brennan, CC0.

Later, when human productivity made the goods of the world readily available, our grandparents became collectors. Growing control over nature enabled them to stockpile everything imaginable, converting their homes into storage units.

Some claim this was in response to the tough times of the Great Depression. Others attribute it to smart shopping:  buying on sale is a great saving, even if you never use the item.

Photo of clutter.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com, CCO.
Photo of a water tower made to look like a "catsup" bottle.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Keith, CC0.

The important idea is that the twenty-eighth sweater and the 5-pound Ketchup bottle are there, ready to be used…if, that is, they can be found. “You never know when it’ll come in handy” is a great justification if what you look for is not lost in the clutter.

We feel it impossible to discard perfectly usable clothing even if we have no intention of ever using it. Surely, there is nothing wrong with keeping food that is only a few months past the expiration date. And though we have no interest in the second treadmill a friend wants to give away, we’ll manage to find a place for it.

Packed closet.

Courtesy of Flickr, CCO, some rights reserved.

There is always room for the next coffee table and, after a good sale, the clothes in the closets just have to be compressed a little more.  Eventually, the stuff we collect invades all rooms and peaks out from under the beds.

The moment of truth comes when we have to move. The death of a loved one or a divorce reveals the momentousness of the collection.  Every item has memories attached, everything cries to be preserved. Discarding anything feels like losing a friend.

Photo of a Goodwill location.

Photo courtesy of Dwight Burdette, CCO.

Is there a solution? Only one as radical as surgery is for cancer. Take ten items you cannot live without. Leave everything in place and get a couple of friends to bring their friends to carry away whatever they want. What is left can go to charity.

What we value says a lot about who we are. Look over the ten objects you kept. What do they say about you?

 

Dr. John LachsDr. John Lachs is Centennial Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University and is Chairman of the Board of Trustees of The Society of Philosophers in America (SOPHIA).

 

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