Tuesday, May 31, 2005

A Review of "Spinoza and Deep Ecology: Challenging Traditional Approaches to Environmentalism"

The work is by Eccy de Jonge, and the review by Karen Houle in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. Fxs

A Review of "The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy"

By Prof. Jon McGinnis of Missouri - St. Louis in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. Fxs

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Two Works on Byzantine Philosophy

The first is Byzantine Philosophy and Its Ancient Sources, edited by Katerina Ierodiakonou; the second is Byzantine Philosophy, by Basil Tatakis. Fxs

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Brown and (Bad) Originalism

By Prof. Jack Balkin (Law, Yale) who himself is an expert on the landmark decision, and the editor of What Brown v. Board of Education Should Have Said. Fxs

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Is George Will a Closet Skeptic?

I have always thought - without any proof, as far as I am aware of - George Will a closet skeptic; him never feeling comfortable talking about his personal belief while at the same time an intellectual mouthpiece for the side of political spectrum which readily invokes God at every opportunity. This recent column of his does strengthen my assumption somehow. Fxs

=start of excerpt=

The state of America's political discourse is such that the president has felt it necessary to declare that unbelievers can be good Americans. In last week's prime-time news conference, he said: "If you choose not to worship, you're equally as patriotic as somebody who does worship."

So Mark Twain, Oliver Wendell Holmes and a long, luminous list of other skeptics can be spared the posthumous ignominy of being stricken from the rolls of exemplary Americans. And almost 30 million living Americans welcomed that presidential benediction.


The president, whose political instincts, at least, are no longer so misunderestimated by his despisers, may have hoped his remarks about unbelievers would undo some of the damage done by the Terri Schiavo case. During that Florida controversy, he made a late-night flight from his Texas ranch to Washington to dramatize his signing of imprudent legislation that his party was primarily responsible for passing. He and his party seemed to have subcontracted governance to certain especially fervid religious supporters.


Some Christians should practice the magnanimity of the strong rather than cultivate the grievances of the weak. But many Christians are joining today's scramble for the status of victims. There is much lamentation about various "assaults" on "people of faith." Christians are indeed experiencing some petty insults and indignities concerning things such as restrictions on school Christmas observances. But their persecution complex is unbecoming because it is unrealistic.


Religion is today banished from the public square? John Kennedy finished his first report to the nation on the Soviet missiles in Cuba with these words: "Thank you and good night." It would be a rash president who today did not conclude a major address by saying, as President Ronald Reagan began the custom of doing, something very like "God bless America."

Unbelievers should not cavil about this acknowledgment of majority sensibilities. But Republicans should not seem to require, de facto, what the Constitution forbids, de jure: "No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust."

=end of excerpt=

A Review of Ian Davidson's "Voltaire in Exile"

Titled Voltaire's Garden by Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker. A rather delightful article on the wittiest of all philosophers. Fxs

Brown and Originalism

By the keen and moving Publius of Legal Fiction. Some of the readers' comments are also quite interesting. Also, check this amusing piece by the same author. Fxs

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Church and State

Liberty Magazine has a very interesting article titled Church-State Relations in America What's at Stake and What's Not by Prof. Carl H. Esbeck (Law, Missouri-Columbia). Below are some excerpts on points with high philosophical interest, though the article has much more stuff. Fxs

On the position where a conflict between the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause is assumed:

There are obvious flaws in the conflict-between-the clauses position. First, to regard the free exercise and free speech clauses as affording an individual right held by student A to practice her faith, and the establishment clause as a second and different individual right vested in student B to be free of unwanted exposure to A's religious exercise, makes no sense. It places constitutional rights on a collision course. Under such a treatment, attempts to reconcile the conflicting rights, or to subordinate one to the other, are tortuous and unpersuasive. This supposed tension between the clauses falls away, however, when the establishment clause is regarded not as an individual right, but as an aspect of the Constitution's overall structure of
limited government, one policing the boundary between civil government and organized religion. A school's like treatment of student clubs, secular and religious, is religion-neutral and thus does not transgress this boundary.

Second, the framers who drafted these clauses laid them next to each other in the First Amendment. It makes no sense to suppose they wrote back-to-back provisions that conflict. Modesty requires that school lawyers concede the absence of any hermeneutical logic to their position. Third, the Bill of Rights was adopted because the founding generation feared an overly powerful government. Thus the establishment clause, like all other provisions of the Bill of Rights, operates only to limit the actions of government. The clause cannot work to limit the actions of private parties, such as students desiring to attend a religious club.

On the definition of "religion" (emphases are in the original):

There is a move to thin out the meaning of "religion" in the First Amendment so that its definition sweeps far beyond any normative understanding of what counts as religion. ... so that it means little more than a deeply held conviction, religious or not. This is an argument for constitutionally protecting religious liberty without the necessity of subscribing to a religion. True, it is entirely proper that "religion" in the First Amendment is taken to include more than just theistic faiths. But the "religion" of the First Amendment entails rich communal traditions of ultimate belief and practice, not radically individualized belief.

It is wildly extravagant to insist that every person's religion is self-constructed. ...

On the other hand (emphases are in the original):

... others argue for ways of shrinking the meaning of "religion" in the First Amendment. This argument attacks the all-important definition of "religion" from a different direction. It is illustrated by judges who read the free exercise clause as protecting religious practice only if its exercise is "mandated" as opposed to merely "motivated" by faith. This does violence to the text, of course, which speaks only of "free exercise." Such judicial hostility is especially detrimental to a religion such as Christianity, which emphasizes not outer conduct or legalism but a heart attitude from which a convert willingly responds in love because he or she has first received grace.

Similarly, some judges have insisted that only "central" tenets of a faith are constitutionally protected. However, judges are ill-equipped to dissect the religion in question (a complex undertaking and one outside judicial experience) with an eye to discerning a sliding scale of doctrine, and then to protect only the top-drawer tenets of that religion. Most anyone would rather trust such theological undertakings to a minister or rabbi instead of relying on results produced by the steady diet of pragmatic instrumentalism that constitutes most on-the-job judicial training.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Three Pieces on Randy Barnett's "Restoring the Lost Constitution"

Do read these in order. Fxs

First: The Normality of Freedom, a review. Excerpt:

Subtitled The Presumption of Liberty, Barnett's book draws together arguments he has made in previous articles and books to offer a systematic defense of a libertarian interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. He begins with the fundamental question of what makes government legitimate and proceeds with the resolve to define the meaning of legal texts objectively, rather than on the basis of the subjective preferences of authors or contemporary political expediency. This is an ambitious project. Barnett in effect challenges a generation of legal theory from across the political spectrum, but does so without polemics, relying on the clarity of his arguments and the common-sense appeal of his positions to carry the day.

Second: Barnett on the Problem of Legitimacy, a commentary.

Third: On the Legitimacy of a Legal System, a reply.