Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Constructivism

Gaslighting Philosophers

Perhaps you remember last year when American football player Manti Te’o was catfished. An acquaintance of Te’o pretended to be a girl named Lennay Kekua, and Te’o became convinced that he was in an online long-distance relationship with this individual. When Kekua “died of cancer”, Te’o was devastated, and his devastation grew larger still when he discovered that the entire relationship was a lie, that Kekua was not a real person at all. Catfishing happens when the perpetrator manipulates over the course of an extended period of time a victim’s sense of reality to make the victim believe he is in a relationship with a non-existent person. It is a form of gaslighting, a devious strategy by which perpetrators systematically undermine victims’ notions of reality by systematically manipulating them into mistrusting their own senses and experience. My claim today is that there are philosophers who are engaged in gaslighting on a grand scale–those who believe that truth is a social construct.


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Rethinking Realism

In international relations, realism commonly comes under attack. Realism is the belief that states are rational and that they pursue their interests and their interests exclusively through rational means. Realism is a descriptive theory–it makes claims about how the world is. Many people criticise realism on the grounds that this is very much not the whole story. It is often unclear what a state’s interests are in the first place, and there are many cases in which states act in ways that seem to run contrary to their interests. States sometimes make irrational mistakes. We know that states are not exclusively rational because we care who determines our foreign policy. If all leaders were rationally and pursued the same set of interests rationally, all leaders would be equivalent to one another in policy. Insofar as there are policy differences among different leaders, there is either disagreement about interests, more rational and less rational policies in pursuit of interests, or some combination of both of these things. This often makes realism seem reductionist. It ignores the way we construct our interests, taking them as given. It also ignores the mistakes that people make, the capacity for leaders to be incompetent. However, I do not think realism can be dismissed on these grounds. Instead, it requires re-framing.

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A Critique of Subjectivism

Today I wish to take on subjectivism, the belief that truth is necessarily agent-relative or determined by one’s perspective or point of view, or that it is socially constructed and does not refer to any metaphysical external reality. In short, I will defend metaphysical (i.e. not Randian) objectivism, the belief that truth exists independently of one’s interpretation, perspective, society, et al, and that this truth can be discovered through science and logic.

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Can We Be Moral Without the State?

I noticed an interesting consequence of the moral theory I outlined yesterday–if it’s true, it is not possible to be moral beyond a limited scope in the absence of a state. Let me explain what I mean. Read the rest of this entry »

“Silences and Exclusions”: How we Waste our Time with Little Things

If there’s one thing that international relations theorists love to do, it’s criticise each other’s theories. Unfortunately, in the course of that noble goal, the distinction between “important” and “unimportant” criticisms is often lost, and sometimes even deliberately disregarded. It is forgotten that our theories are models, that they cannot possibly be all-inclusive without their logical lessons being lost in the chaos, without losing their subject specificity. Consider this example–many theorists have made a name for themselves criticising a dominant theory in international relations, the neorealism of Kenneth Waltz.  Today I’d like to discuss Waltz’ theory and some of its criticisms, and question how helpful or effective those criticisms really are.

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