Koestler’s observations of Soviet totalitarianism

In honor of the remembrance of the ninetieth anniversary of the Holodomor, it is worth recalling Arthur Koestler's first-hand observations of the devastation of 1932-33 in Ukraine. In 1932 Koestler undertook a tour of the Soviet Union as a journalist, under the sponsorship of the Comintern. What he witnessed during these months of travel led …

Who is ordering torture and execution in Ukraine?

With the retreat of Russian forces from Kherson this month, new evidence of gruesome atrocities against civilians has become visible (link). A very important question arises: What organization and what commanders have directed this campaign of atrocity, murder, rape, mutilation, torture, and abduction? Is there good investigative reporting on where orders for these unspeakable atrocities and …

Reasoning for sociological theory

What is involved in providing a compelling and justified formulation of an abstract theoretical concept in sociological theory? When we engage in theorizing about human action and the social world, we would like our statements to be rationally grounded in some specifiable sense; we would like to be able to offer evidence and reasons for …

Twitter’s unacceptable hidden defect

image: github analysis of Twitter follower network (link) Twitter's paroxysms in the past two weeks have been unsettling. But suddenly, I am coming to believe that many of us have misunderstood what we were getting into when we got involved in Twitter in the first place. We had made assumptions about the advantages that Twitter …

Election day 2022

image: Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny Here we are in November 2022, and the House, Senate, governors, and state houses are all up for grabs. An appalling number of GOP candidates have continued to spread lies about voter fraud in 2020 and have refused to commit to accepting the results of today’s election. (Remember that Donald …

Fifteen years of Understanding Society

This week represents the fifteenth anniversary of publication of Understanding Society, with a total of 1,484 posts and 13.3 million page views to date. There have been 72 posts and 657K page views in the past twelve months. The blog has remained consistent with the original vision of a "lab notebook for open-source philosophy". And the topics …

Critical realism and ontological individualism

Most critical realists would probably think that their philosophy of social science is flatly opposed to ontological individualism. However, I think that this opposition is unwarranted. Let's begin by formulating a clear idea of ontological individualism. This is the view that social entities, powers, and conditions are all constituted by the actions, thoughts, and mental …

João Ohara’s new synthesis of the philosophy of history

What is the subject matter of the philosophy of history? This is an extremely difficult question to answer given the wide range of topics, methods, and philosophical perspectives that have been included under the umbrella since 1750. It is therefore a welcome development to read João Ohara's very interesting and illuminating discussion of this topic …

Constitution Day lecture 2022

Note: these are notes for a short talk I gave this month to students at my university on the topic of the importance of maintaining and defending our liberal constitutional democracy. Democracy at risk? Dan Little University of Michigan-Dearborn Student Government session on the US Constitution October 20, 2022 Thanks for this opportunity. It is …

A culturally conservative streak in Tony Judt

Tony Judt was a remarkable historian of the twentieth century and a sparkling public intellectual. In most dimensions he was a progressive force within the space of commentators on recent history and contemporary politics. However, in a number of instances he was a bit tone-deaf in his version of American progressive values. This tendency is …

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