Research What Are You Reading? (May 9-15)

What Are You Reading? (May 9-15)

This week it was learned that Donald Trump would become the GOP Presidential nominee, as the last of his opponents dropped out after learning the results of the Indiana primary.  Although philosophers are generally not heavily involved in the day-to-day of politics, numerous philosophers have shared their opinions of Donald Trump.  The common theme running through such commentaries is a concern about what his candidacy means for the country and the world.  In other words, the key philosophical issue involved in the Trump phenomenon is not Trump’s policies, but what Trump portends for the stability of our society.  As I share a number of these concerns, I thought this week I would pass along some of the many philosophical analyses I’ve read since The Donald first declared his candidacy.  Please share any others you’ve come across in the comments section.

What are you reading?


  1. It is easy to see what’s happening with our increasing absorption into social media–people live more and more in worlds created by common beliefs shared within their social circle: beliefs bounce around like tennis balls, reinforced with every electronic whack. Such self-enclosing systems increasingly approximate what it’s like to live solely according to a coherence theory of truth–what’s taken for knowledge no longer needs to correspond to anything in reality, since reality has become only what’s reflected back in your many friends’ eyes. As Heidegger foretold, “It seems as though man everywhere and always encounters only himself.”

    Perilous as it is for our beliefs to become untethered from the physical and biological base that actually supports our lives (our armchair debates over the reality of reality notwithstanding), this phenomenon becomes even more dangerous when messages that stimulate primitive group-protective emotions become locked into a positive-feedback loop. We should stop denying things like the existence of emergent phenomena or that groupings of individuals can be units of selection and start working to understand how these concepts apply within our own species–and learning how negative feedback can be applied before the “immensely powerful monsters” raise their heads again.

  2. Thanks for your comments, David and Ronnie. I enjoyed what both of you had to say. Another article came to mind today, after the post was published. It’s not about Trump per se, but very clearly references his type of politics. It’s called “Why Spinoza Still Matters.” I’ll paste the link below, but here’s my favorite passage:

    “At a time when Americans seem willing to bargain away their freedoms for security, when politicians talk of banning people of a certain faith from our shores, and when religious zealotry exercises greater influence on matters of law and public policy, Spinoza’s philosophy – especially his defence of democracy, liberty, secularity and toleration – has never been more timely. In his distress over the deteriorating political situation in the Dutch Republic, and despite the personal danger he faced, Spinoza did not hesitate to boldly defend the radical Enlightenment values that he, along with many of his compatriots, held dear. In Spinoza we can find inspiration for resistance to oppressive authority and a role model for intellectual opposition to those who, through the encouragement of irrational beliefs and the maintenance of ignorance, try to get citizens to act contrary to their own best interests.”

  3. I do regret not having studied Spinoza in graduate school, and I must admit that I am uncomfortable with his apparent dualistic separation between reason and emotion, his insistence on necessary “laws” in nature (inappropriate for conceptualizing biological complexity), and the rigid logic employed in the presentation of his ideas. My familiarity with him is primarily through his influence on Arne Naess and the philosophy of deep ecology, and in this era of escalating anthropogenic assault on the biosphere I consider his notion of God as Nature to be at least as timely as his rejection of authoritarianism and of any restriction on freedom of thought and expression.

    Spinoza’s courage in challenging the supposed divine origin of the Bible and the ceremonial trappings of organized religion that maintain believers in a relation of infantilized dependency upon an all-controlling father figure was remarkable in his day and is equally to be welcomed in our own; his distillation of the heart of religion down into an attitude of “love thy neighbor,” as Nadler depicts, is both an understanding achievable by the individual exercising his or her own intellect and the key to getting us out of the petty us-versus-them conflicts that cause so much pain in the world today. That he was excommunicated as a heretic should come as no surprise to students of our human group behavior; the “powerful monster” of which David Livingstone Smith speaks emerges precisely when individual humans yield up their own intellectual autonomy to the heteronomy of the authority-directed herd, and such monsters eagerly feed upon their own hold-outs, ostracizing, persecuting and sometimes obliterating them. Today’s whistleblowers, crucial as they are in bringing unpleasant truths to light, generally suffer a similar fate when less courageous colleagues stand by and say nothing. Recognizing and celebrating Spinoza’s contemporary relevance could be an important step toward defusing the power of such monsters.


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