Obama’s Philosophical Muse: John Rawls
U.S. presidents aren’t often asked to explain their governing visions in terms of political philosophy. References to the Founding Fathers (Hamilton, Madison, Jefferson, Washington et al.) are ubiquitous and safe, and Obama likens his challenges to those of President Lincoln. But we don’t hear much in the way of serious engagement with the history of ideas from our chief executives.
Maybe it’s better that way. When the candidates for the Republican nomination were asked during a debate in 1999 “What political philosopher or thinker do you most identify with and why?” George W. Bush set the tone with his response: “Christ, because he changed my heart.” The rest of the field took this non-answer as a cue to flaunt their own religious credentials rather than articulate a set of political principles rooted in a particular thinker’s corpus. Though Steve Forbes cited 17th-century theorist John Locke as his patron saint, names like Rousseau, Paine, Montesquieu and Tocqueville were never uttered. It was all about Jesus.
If you Google the terms “Obama + Marxist,” you’ll come up with about 6.5 million hits. But Obama is no Marxist, and no socialist, as some sane commentators take pains to explain. He has never copped to the term, but, as I argued at the Economist this week, Obama is pretty clearly a Rawlsian. For John Rawls, a Harvard philosopher who died in 2002, inequalities of wealth and income become morally problematic when they systematically disadvantage or disenfranchise the least-well-off members of society.
Some Economist readers are raking me over the coals. This cantankerous comment is presently the “most recommended” by other readers:
‘Looking at the speech a week later, I am even more convinced Mr Obama hit it out of the park... Another virtue of this approach is to provide an overarching vision for the republic. The narrative Mr Obama articulates to frame the debates seems to flow directly from the pages of John Rawls’s "A Theory of Justice". In that 1971 masterwork and in "Justice as Fairness" (2001), Rawls developed a political philosophy of liberalism that puts a premium on the value of equality.’
Jesus Christ! Can we put an end to this ridiculous notion that America is a nation of overgrown babies who need the Great White Father in Washington to set us on his knee and tell us a bedtime story?
What exactly did Obama knock out of the park? And what park exactly? Maybe I'm only speaking for myself, but I don't need an "overarching vision for the republic." I need the roads to not have potholes in them. I need to know whether or not I'll see any of this FICA money again. I have plenty of purpose in my life - my family, my friends, my hobbies and career - and to the extent that I may need more, I ain't looking to the federal government to provide.
First, pass a budget for the first time in 4 years and then these clowns can try to impress me with their grand national visions.
Beyond the amusing reference to our first black president as the “Great White Father,” this response startles me for its equation of “an overarching vision for the republic” with a purported penchant for infantilizing the American people and telling them bedtime stories. I wonder how effective a State of the Union address would be if it focused questions as small as filling potholes in Peoria. As for ensuring the future solvency of Social Security and passing budgets: yes! These are examples of real government priorities that a Rawlsian lens helps bring into tighter focus. Given the rapidly expanding gap between rich and poor in the United States, Rawls’s guidelines for how to imagine an economically productive society that treats its people as free, equal citizens worthy of respect and decency are just what we need right now. I can’t think of a better muse for an American president.
To create wiser adults, add empathy to the school curriculum.
- Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
- Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
- Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?
Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways.
Just before I turned 60, I discovered that sharing my story by drawing could be an effective way to both alleviate my symptoms and combat that stigma.
I've lived much of my life with anxiety and depression, including the negative feelings – shame and self-doubt – that seduced me into believing the stigma around mental illness: that people knew I wasn't good enough; that they would avoid me because I was different or unstable; and that I had to find a way to make them like me.
A joint study by two England universities explores the link between sex and cognitive function with some surprising differences in male and female outcomes in old age.
- A joint study by the universities of Coventry and Oxford in England has linked sexual activity with higher cognitive abilities in older age.
- The results of this study suggest there are significant associations between sexual activity and number sequencing/word recall in men. In women, however, there was a significant association between sexual activity in word recall alone - number sequencing was not impacted.
- The differences in testosterone (the male sex hormone) and oxytocin (a predominantly female hormone) may factor into why the male cognitive level changes much more during sexual activity in older age.
Mathematicians studied 100 billion tweets to help computer algorithms better understand our colloquial digital communication.