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NeidlemanPhoto2 (371x470)I teach political theory, along with other subjects I find interesting, such as  the politics of urban land use and urban design, constitutional law, contemporary legal issues, and the politics of the modern Middle East, among others.

My primary research is on the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  I am interested especially in Rousseau as a philosopher of truth, which is the subject of Rousseau’s Ethics of Truth, out this year from Routledge.

“Vitam impendere vero”

Rousseau borrowed this motto (which means “dedicate life to truth”) from Juvenal’s Satires and adopted it for himself in 1758.

What is truth?  Is it the sort of thing that is susceptible to human understanding, and, if so, how?  My research focuses on Rousseau’s approach to asking and answering these questions.

My Review of Karen Pagani’s “Man or Citizen: Anger, Forgiveness, and Authenticity in Rousseau”

man-or-citizenI had the privilege of reviewing Karen Pagani’s excellent history of modern attitudes toward sentiment and emotion.

A couple of excerpts from my review:

“Pagani’s achievement…is to develop…a conceptual apparatus through which readers can trace the origin and development of modern attitudes towards anger and forgiveness. Pagani outlines what might be called a political or moral economy of anger and forgiveness.”

“Prior to Rousseau, Pagani writes, conceptions of anger and forgiveness — in the work of, for example, Bacon, Hobbes, Descartes, Locke, Montesquieu, Butler, Diderot, D’Alembert, Holbach, Helvétius, Morelly, and Voltaire — followed a similar, essentially Christian pattern. Simply put, anger was seen as a danger to the social order and forgiveness as a moral obligation brought about by the urgency of the need to dissipate anger. Anger was a privilege of the aristocracy alone. Forgiveness, correspondingly, could be bestowed only by a superior upon an inferior. Rousseau rejected both assumptions — both the notion that anger constituted an inherent danger, and the notion that only those of a certain social status had title to anger.”

Latest on Mansionization

The argument continues on the pages of the Beverly Press.  Here is my latest post:

As a resident of Beverly Grove, I am gratified at this good news out of the Planning Commission. This decision is an important victory in the fight to protect Beverly Grove from overdevelopment.

I feel compelled to correct some of the mistakes in Charles Tarlow’s characterization of the ordinance. Those interested in finding out what the ordinance actually says can consult it here:  http://www.beverlygrove.org/uploads/6/0/9/3/6093311/beverly_grove_rfa_ordinance_for_cpc.pdf.

The primary error in Mr. Tarlow’s analysis is his assumption that garages will count against the allowable square footage. This is the case only if homeowners choose to build ATTACHED garages. So long as the garage is DETACHED, it will be exempt from restrictions on square footage (see 4.a. in the ordinance).

It’s true that attached garages will count against the maximum square footage restriction. And for good reason! The simplest way to prevent oversized homes and ensure that neighbors’ light and privacy are protected is to incentivize detached garages.

In short, those choosing to build detached garages will be able to build up to 3050 sq. ft. (on the typical 6100 sq. ft. lot). This is larger than even the bigger older homes in the neighborhood. The ordinance allows for upgrading, remodeling, and even upsizing. The only thing it prevents is overdevelopment that intrudes on the rights of neighbors and undermines the character of the neighborhood.

As for the assertion that the ordinance does not reflect the will of the community, I would just say that the only official survey on the matter confirmed that more than 60% of the neighborhood was in favor of this ordinance. Anything else is mere speculation.

Thanks and congratulations to Paul Koretz and Shawn Bayliss on this. Now we just have to hope that they finish the job soon and shepherd the RFA across the finish line before more of the neighborhood is bulldozed.

"The Enduring Challenge of Rousseau"

I had the privilege of participating in a tercentenary commemoration of Rousseau’s birth at Colorado College in December.  The program for the conference can be viewed here.

The paper I presented on Rousseau and truthseeking is forthcoming in History of European Ideas.  Here is the abstract:

The Sublime Science of Simple Souls: Rousseau’s Philosophy of Truth

Though it has rarely been the subject of academic criticism, there is a philosophy of truth that animates Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s broader philosophical system.  This philosophy of truth was unique for its time in the same way the whole of Rousseau’s thought was—in its emphasis on feeling over reason, the heart over the mind, the simple over the sophisticated, the useful over the demonstrable, the personal over the systematic.  Rousseau’s philosophy of truth might be more accurately called a ‘philosophy of truthseeking’ or an ‘ethics of truthseeking,’ because its focus is on the pursuit and acquisition of truth rather than on the nature of truth itself.  What is needed, Rousseau believed, is a guide back to the simple truths of human happiness, truths that were immediately apparent to us in our natural state but have become opaque in society.  This article describes Rousseau’s normative philosophy truthseeking, of what human beings must do if they hope to (re)discover the truths of human happiness.  This philosophy can be summarized as utility, autonomy, immediacy and simplicity in pursuit of what Rousseau called the ‘truths that pertain to the happiness of mankind.’

Why didn't the Oak Creek shooting dominate public discourse the way Aurora did?

Coordinated racism (of which Oak Creek shooter is at least in part a product) ought to concern us more than the truly random violence of Aurora. Yet the latter took over the public discourse for days, while the former has not. Robert Wright makes many of the important points, but I would add that James Holmes is probably especially interesting to the people who drive the public discourse, because he isn’t so far from being “one of us.” Same goes for the victims. Going to see a blockbuster is a pretty universal experience.

This made me think of Leigh Bienen’s “A Good Murder.” The perpetrator and the victims have to be properly cast in order for us to pay attention. When violence merely conforms to a pre-existing narrative, it doesn’t have much impact on public consciousness.