Retour sur le nouveau réalisme

Pour son cinquième anniversaire, le magazine d’art Zone Occupée m’a demandé de contribuer à son numéro thématique intitulé « Prospectives ». Comme je ne sais trop ce que l’avenir nous réserve—je n’ai même pas été capable de prédire le gagnant de la dernière campagne électorale fédérale!—, j’ai plutôt choisi de présenter une mouvance philosophique, le « nouveau réalisme », qui s’impose de plus en plus et dont notre monde a bien besoin. Le Devoir a publié une version abrégée du texte dans sa rubrique « Des Idées en revues », ainsi qu’une réplique d’André Baril. J’ai reçu des courriels de collègues séduits ou irrités par le nouveau réalisme, et le texte a suscité de nombreuses discussions sur Facebook. In fine, le plus réjouissant est sans aucun doute le fait qu’un petit texte portant d’abord sur des questions d’ontologie et d’épistémologie ait provoqué autant de réactions.

Quelques précisions sur la version du texte publiée dans Le Devoir.… Continue reading

Sex education and the paradoxes of social conservatism

People often describe the current conservative movement in Canada, as well as several other countries, as involving an “improbable” coalition, assembling groups that seem to have rather little in common. The two most often pointed to are libertarians and Christian “social conservatives,” who not only take different positions on many specific questions – such as abortion, physician-assisted suicide, marijuana, gay marriage, etc. – but have fundamentally different views about the role of the state in society. Social conservatives generally want a more intrusive state, one that takes sides on controversial moral questions and enforces particular views. In other words, they reject what we in political theory call “liberal neutrality,” or the doctrine of limited government that says the state has no business trying to control behaviour in the private domain. Libertarians, on the other hand, want a state that is even less intrusive than the one we have – ideally, one that stays out of people’s lives almost entirely, intervening only when necessary to defend their rights.… Continue reading

Stephen Harper versus the intellectuals, part 2

The case of Tom Flanagan

Someone mentioned Tom Flanagan, so I thought I’d add a small footnote to the whole Flanagan “child pornography” story (documented in his book, Persona Non Grata, quick summary here), explaining a few things that may not be so obvious to non-academics. There are a lot of people, myself included, who have very little sympathy for Tom’s politics, or the contributions he has made to Canadian public life. And yet there were very, very few of us who did not feel some sympathy for him, after the mobbing he endured from the conservative movement in 2013 – spearheaded by Danielle Smith, the leader of the Wildrose Party at the time, as well as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office.

It’s important to understand that, in piling on Flanagan the way they did, they managed to do more than just traumatize him, they also alienated pretty much every conservative intellectual in the country.… Continue reading

Trudeau on Secession

So, my stint at L’actualité is over. It was terrific, but very time consuming. I promised myself that I would stay quiet this summer and focus on a book manuscript, but the urge to respond to Trudeau’s attack on Mulcair regarding the Supreme Court’s Reference on Quebec secession was too strong. I wrote an op-ed for the Ottawa Citizen. I should have added that there is another aspect of the Scottish referendum that I think should act as precedent: the agreement of both parties on the wording of the question. A question on secession should not be convoluted. The Brits and the Scots, at least with regard to the basic rules of the referendum, acted as grown ups. Our leaders should emulate them.


Ottawa CitizenContinue reading

Voting rights for non-resident citizens

Guest post by Blain Neufeld

So there will be a federal election in Canada on October 19th. I’m a Canadian citizen. But from 2007 to this year I was not able to vote in federal Canadian elections. The reason is that – despite living in Canada on a regular, albeit sporadic, basis (2-3 months every year, depending upon my teaching schedule) – my primary residence was abroad (Ireland until 2008, the United States from 2008 to 2014). Fortunately, my year in Toronto has ‘re-booted’ my residency here, so I will be able to vote in the forthcoming election.  But more than a million other Canadians who live abroad will not be able to do so.Since 1993, Canadians who live abroad for more than 5 years have been ineligible to vote.  Until 2007, however, merely visiting Canada was enough to ‘reset the clock’ with respect to one’s status (that is, after a visit, one would have to be away for another 5 years in order to lose the right to vote).  … Continue reading

Response to Tabarrok

Alex Tabarrok from Marginal Revolution recently posted a very generous notice of Enlightenment 2.0 as well as a long review at The New Rambler (under the heading “Does Capitalism Make Us Stupid?”) I’ve been an avid reader and fan of Marginal Revolution for over a decade now, so this was very exciting for me. The review also raises a number of interesting issues, which I thought I might take a moment to comment on.

I’ll start somewhat in reverse order, because Tabarrok’s most significant criticisms arise towards the end of his review. There he makes the observation that the final section of my book is the weakest – that’s the part where I try to propose some “solutions” to all of the gigantic problems that I’ve spent the previous 300 pages diagnosing. Many people have pointed out that these chapters – specifically, the last two – seem to lack conviction, and that the positive proposals I make are all small beer, manifestly not up to the task of solving the enormous problems that I previously identified.… Continue reading

Kymlicka on interculturalism vs. multiculturalism

We’ve had some discussions on this blog about whether there are any real differences between so-called “interculturalism” policies and “multiculturalism,” correctly understood. Now Will Kymlicka weighs in with a very good paper on the topic:

Defending Diversity in an Era of Populism: Multiculturalism and Interculturalism Compared

One of the things that I’ve always admired about Will’s work is that, not only does he have an unparalleled mastery of both normative theory and empirical detail, but he also has very good political and rhetorical instincts. He is not interested in doing “ideal theory” in this area, but is concerned to develop normative theories that can directly guide the practice of nation-states, right here and now.

I was reminded of the importance of this the other day, in the department, chatting with a few colleagues about current debates in just war theory. One of them, who has made rather substantial contributions to this literature, said “well of course, the problem is that the mainstream position in the philosophical literature is so far removed from the actual practice of any nation-state ever, that nothing anyone says has any relevance to the real world.” At which point I said, “yeah, the environmental ethics literature is exactly the same,” and another colleague chimed in and said, “yeah, the global justice literature is exactly the same… actually come to think of it, the whole egalitarianism literature is the same.” Thinking about it, I realized that this list could be extended quite considerably — of areas where philosophers have simply written themselves out of any and all policy discussions, by abstracting away so many features of the real world that there is nothing left to prevent the adoption of extremist views.… Continue reading

The (messy) ethics of freedom of speech

A few days ago, I took part in a very interesting panel discussion on the issue of free speech. The panel was prompted by the tragic events that took place in Paris a couple of weeks ago. One of the most interesting aspects of the panel was that despite our disagreements, none of the participants actually thought that the brutal murders at Charlie Hebdo actually raise any particularly interesting issues to do with freedom of speech as it is usually understood. As far as I am able to tell, hardly anyone thinks that the cartoons that the satiric magazine has published over the years warrant censorship. Even commentators who believe that there are cases in which the state appropriately steps in to limit freedom of speech – cases in which speech promotes hatred toward an entire group, for example — acknowledged that Charlie Hebdo steered clear of the line separating ridicule directed at religion, religious symbols and religious beliefs on the one hand, and contempt or hatred directed at a group of people, on the other.… Continue reading

Hobbes’s difficult idea

One of my favorite Paul Krugman papers is called “Ricardo’s difficult idea” — on why people have such a hard time understanding the concept of “comparative advantage.” Although the situation is not quite as bad, I’ve been struck recently by how much difficulty many people have trying to understand the concept of a “collective action problem.” Although that idea has a bit more history to it, I don’t think it’s too much of a distortion of the record to call this “Hobbes’s difficult idea.”

I was prompted to think about this a couple days back, when James wrote in the comments:

I think everyone can understand free rider problems, but almost no one bothers to think of the world in that way.

Sad but true. One of the things I’m constantly amazed by in discussions over climate change is how elusive the basic concept of a collective action problem remains, and how unintuitive it is for many people (whether to grasp, or just to apply, as James suggests).… Continue reading

Thinking about Secession in Catalonia

I’m in Barcelona for a couple of weeks, teaching an accelerated seminar in the European MA program at Pompeu Fabra University. Yeah, I know, tough life.

Shortly before my arrival, requests for interviews with major Spanish newspapers started filling my inbox. Well, “filling” may be a bit too strong a word. I actually received three such requests, but they were from major outlets such as El Pais, a major national paper, and Aran, a newish paper started by Catalan separatists. They all wanted me to comment on recent events in Catalonia. (A referendum of sorts was held here on November 9th. The Spanish constitutional court deemed it illegal, and so it ended up being a bit of a non-event, with slightly under 40% of eligible voters turning up to vote in what had been downgraded to a “participatory consultation”. The “yes” option received a resounding majority of votes from those who showed up.… Continue reading