Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category


Freedom fighter. The early thinking of Edmund Burke

Written on July 10, 2014 by Administrador de IE Blogs in Philosophy

burkeEDMUND BURKE, who died in 1797, is best known for his late writings on the French revolution. The 18th-century member of Parliament, who was a Whig, was one of the first to decry the revolt as the dangerous work of a swinish multitude. In a polemic that has echoes in the present day, he concludes: “The age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever.”

Thomas Paine’s “Rights of Man”, which was published in 1791, is a direct riposte to Burke; indeed, Paine’s tract is subtitled, “Being An Answer to Mr Burke’s Attack on the French Revolution”. In what was to become one of the definitive treatises of the Enlightenment, Paine argues that rebellion and civic disobedience are permissible if a government violates its citizens’ rights. His arguments influenced and inspired Trotsky, Gandhi, Fidel Castro and, of course, Nelson Mandela.

Burke is therefore remembered (a little unfairly) for a belief in order over freedom, in tradition over revolution. Jesse Norman, a Tory MP and recent biographer of Burke, calls him the father of conservatism. So a reappraisal of his early works is welcome. David Bromwich, a professor at Yale University, has written a history of Burke’s thought until American independence; a more liberal Burke emerges from this book.

Although wary of the tumult that “extreme liberty” could cause, early on Burke campaigned for liberty. He spoke out against the increasingly tyrannical rule of George III in favour of John Wilkes, a radical publisher and libertine. Wilkes was not an easy man to support. He repeatedly libelled the king, inflamed the passions of the London mob and was, at the same time, a notorious lecher. He was damned even by libertine Samuel Johnson and liberty-loving William Pitt.

But Burke coolly defended him on the principle that the king had abused his power. The government had issued arbitrary warrants for Wilkes’s publications, censored him, arrested him, forced him to flee the country, and denied him permission to take his seat in the House of Commons. Wilkes was sent to trial and jailed for libel. Burke was indignant at MPs who voted to bar Wilkes from Parliament. The first duty of MPs, he wrote, was “to refuse to support government until power was in the hands of persons who were acceptable to the people”.

Continue reading in The Economist


If You Want to Be a Good Leader, You Better Understand Philosophy

Written on June 2, 2014 by Santiago Iñiguez in Philosophy

naplesBy Santiago Iñiguez, Dean of IE Business School

I believe that management is philosophy in action and that every management theory has a philosophical background. I do also believe that every manager has a view of the world, consciously or inadvertently, explicit or emergent, that conforms to a certain sort of philosophy. Interestingly, even affirming the contrary is in itself a philosophical proposition.

The same is applicable to theories on leadership: they can be ascribed to some philosophical movement or trend. In this regard, modern theories of leadership owe a lot to Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher of the 19century, famous for his affirmation that “God is dead”, whose contributions have been both influential and controversial. Nietzsche distinguishes between two types of morality: the “master morality” and the “slave morality”. The first is applicable to the leaders of society, who create their own values for themselves. The “slave morality” is applicable to the herd and according to its standards the behaviour of masters is accounted as evil. But masters, sustains Nietzsche, stand “beyond good and evil“: they are subject to their own principles, different to the norms enacted for the herd that favour mediocrity and prevent the development of higher-level persons: the true leaders.

Curiously, a passage from one of Nietzsche’s books could have been extracted from the management literature on modern leadership of the 1980’s:

“To give style to one’s character- a great and rare art! He practises it who surveys all that his nature presents in strength and weakness and then moulds it to an artistic plan until everything appears as art and reason, and even the weakness delight the eye…It will be the strong, imperious natures which experience their subtlest joy in exercising such a control, in such a constraint and perfecting under their own law” (1)

Nietzsche’s theory reminds me of some characters of novels and movies from that same decade. The two most remembered icons are probably Gordon Gecko, the protagonist of “Wall Street”, preacher of the “greed is good” maxim –a part of theReaganite credo of the time-, and Sherman McCoy, the grieved executive of “The Bonfire of Vanities”, qualified in the novel as a “master of the universe“. Both characters feel, using the Nietzschean expression, “beyond good and evil” and not subject to the standards that affect the rest of mortals. A passage from one of Nietzsche’s works is appropriate again as a description of their attitudes in life:

“For believe me!- the secret of realising the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment of existence is to live dangerously! Build your cities on the slopes of the Vesuvius! Send your ships out into uncharted seas! Live in conflict with your equals and with yourselves! Be robbers and ravagers as long as you cannot be rulers or owners, you men of knowledge! The time will soon be past when you could be content to live concealed in the woods like timid deer!” (2)

However, both mentioned stories end similarly. Gecko and McCoy are caught and punished and they consequently loose their “supermen” status. We witness a moralistic finale, something that does not necessarily happen in real life.

In the past two decades, business schools have witnessed the flourishing of postmodern theories of leadership that demonize Gecko and McCoy’s attitudes and propose new, renovated archetypes of business leaders. This has happened at the time of the renaissance of business ethics, concomitant with some widely publicized business scandals.

Indeed, today it is unconceivable to understand business leadership without referring to corporate responsibility, deontology or sustainability, at least conceptually. In future posts I will cover different contemporary proposals of these forms of committed leadership.


(Photo above: The Bay of Naples with the Vesuvius in the background, taken from the Island of Capri, 2014)

(1) Nietzsche, F. “Die Frohliche Wissenschaft”, quoted in Hollingdale, R.J.: “Nietzsche: The Man and His Philosophy” (Cambridge University Press; Cambridge, UK, 1999); p. 143.

(2) Ibid., p. 144.


Atheists: The Origin of the Species

Written on April 30, 2014 by Administrador de IE Blogs in Philosophy

Atheist-FINAL--normal-size_140Like new Labour, so-called New Atheism did not just replace the old variety but, for a while at least, almost totally occluded it. Atheism is now sometimes discussed as though it began with the publication of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion in 2006.

To put these recent debates – or more often than not, flaming rows – in some sort of perspective, a thorough history of atheism is long overdue. The godless may not at first be pleased to discover that the person who has stepped up to the plate to write it comes from the ranks of the opposition. But Nick Spencer, research director of the Christian thinktank Theos, is the kind of intelligent, thoughtful, sympathetic critic that atheists need, if only to remind them that belief in God does not necessarily require a loss of all reason.

Spencer’s story is designed to illuminate our present, so he understandably restricts himself to western Europe from the late middle ages onwards. It is a compendious though not definitive account, which shows why atheism is not simply the natural result of the rise of scientific knowledge, and religion a simplistic vestige of more ignorant times. Spencer rightly points out that, far from being enemies of religion, science and rationality were  often most enthusiastically championed by men and women of faith. Locke and Newton were, for instance, both profoundly motivated by their Christianity.

In the long run, however, the church is being slowly undermined by the critical powers of inquiry it helped unleash. As Spencer himself argues, a “fateful shift” occurred in the 17th century when rationalists such as Descartes and the Cambridge Platonist Henry More sought to justify Christianity with reason. The idea was that atheism would be “defeated on the battleground of its own choosing”, but once the fight moved there, religion found itself permanently on the defensive, on a long-term retreat despite the odd counterattack.

Much of the narrative is strictly historical, but there is also a polemical edge. Spencer wants his history to support three contentions, two of which should not be contentious at all. That we should talk about “atheisms rather than atheism” is self-evident. While the likes of Saint-Simon and Comte had a naive faith in the power of science and reason to create an orderly, happy utopia, later existentialist thinkers such as Nietzsche saw that “much must collapse because it was built on this faith” and looked forward only to a “long dense succession of demolition, destruction, downfall, upheaval”.

Nor is there much to disagree with in the claim that atheism was from the start “a constructive and creative phenomenon”, not just concerned to tear down the old order but to erect something more enlightened and rational in its place. Even the various atheistic libertines who thought all morality was an illusion believed that a world without constraint would be superior to the religious status quo.

Continue reading in The Guardian



Written on January 23, 2014 by Rolf Strom-Olsen in IE Humanities Center, Philosophy

socrates-statueBy Rolf Strom-Olsen, Academic Director of Humanities Studies at IE Humanities Center

My MOOC (Critical Perspectives on Management) finally starts next week after seven long months of work, much of it hard (big shout out to my director Phil!). In the brief introductory video that we put together to walk through the class syllabus, I make the point that, as a Humanities course masquerading as a strategy class, the methodological inspiration derives from those two fundamental tenets of the Socratic imperative: that true wisdom consists in knowing you do not know and that the unexamined life is not worth living.

But while these two sentiments of the Socratic imperative are certainly the best known and serve as the fons et origo of humanist enquiry, there is a third, equally critical, part of the Socratic imperative that I had to leave out (since the video was testing weary viewers’ patience already).

It’s this bit, from the Apology.

Don’t condemn me, Socrates tells his Athenian jurors, for if you do

you will not easily find a successor to me, who, if I may use such a ludicrous figure of speech, am a sort of gadfly, given to the state by God; and the state is a great and noble stead who is tardy in his motions owing to his very size, and requires to be stirred into life. I am that gadfly which God has attached to the state, and all day long and in all places am always fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching you.

This idea is at the heart of what has been called the Socratic citizen. It is not enough to examine yourself and the world around you, to be willing constantly to challenge and test your beliefs. You have to be willing to make this critical agitation public: arousing, persuading, reproaching as Socrates puts it. We need, in short, more gadflies.

As such, I think Socrates, foremost a teacher, would have heartily endorsed the idea of the MOOC. While there has been considerable hand-wringing about MOOCs in the Academy (evidenced, for instance, by the unfettered Schadenfreude at the failed effort by San Jose State to use MOOCs as actual college courses), much of it is I think driven by an anxiety that the MOOC is commoditising education and, as such, this represents the first step toward making the professor redundant to her own classroom.

Based on my (admittedly limited) experience, that is a highly misplaced concern – it essentially misreads the social function that the MOOC plays. The MOOC is not offering university education – it is offering university-level knowledge. That is a completely different thing. And, as such, it is hard to see how it not salutary in a social, Socratic context.

Ivory tower critics of the MOOC like to make much of the fact that the typical MOOC dropout rate is an eye-popping 95%, that the evaluation is (by necessity) anaemic, and that in comparison with a standard college course, it cannot serve as an effective teaching platform. All true. All irrelevant. If 100,000 students “sign up” for a course that is free, toward which they have essentially no commitment, it is absurd to consider this “enrolment”. At best, it is a vague expression of interest. That 5% of those people who register actually do finish is, to me, remarkable and encouraging.

For here’s the point. the MOOC offers an exceptional opportunity to spread knowledge, even if it does so in a way that fails – as fail it must – the rigorous standards of a prestigious higher level degree-granting institutions. That standard misses the point. As Rochefoucauld his maxim drew: C’est une grande folie de vouloir être sage tout seul. Opening up such avenues for knowledge acquisition is a critical part of the Socratic gesture. And if it helps – even marginally – people arm themselves with knowledge, ideas and concerns that otherwise they would be unlikely to acquire, then surely it is a beneficial thing. Who would look at the serious challenges we face and think we don’t need more gadflies! Socrates, surely, would approve.


The modern Prince

Written on July 11, 2013 by Administrador de IE Blogs in Philosophy

bobbit1Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) has always had an ambiguous place in the western canon. The political philosopher Leo Strauss memorably described him as a “teacher of evil”, an assessment in harmony with the popular view that has made his name a shorthand for unscrupulous calculation. And yet Machiavelli has also been seen by scholars in the tradition of JGA Pocock as a crucial theoretician of classical republicanism – one who, particularly in his Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy, greatly influenced the “mixed regime” of separated powers that underlies the American constitution.

In The Garments of Court and Palace, Philip Bobbitt places himself squarely in the latter camp. Bobbit, a constitutional lawyer, former US government official and author of the well-received The Shield of Achilles (2002), about the rise of the modern state and international law, has written a short, lucid book designed to introduce general readers to the Florentine thinker’s work. It serves its purposes well, giving valuable historical context and countering some common negative assumptions. However, his Machiavelli has been made so palatable to modern constitutionalism as to be largely unrecognisable, shorn of those hard edges that make this philosopher truly interesting.

The bad reputation that Bobbitt seeks to improve began with the Huguenot essayist Innocent Gentillet, whose critical digest of alleged Machiavelli maxims did much to shape perceptions. Bobbitt, by contrast, celebrates Machiavelli as the originator of some distinctly modern ideas. He was the first, for example, to recognise and welcome the emergence of the modern state, one that was based on enduring impersonal institutions rather than personal feudal relationships, and a citizen militia rather than hired mercenaries.

 Continue reading in FT

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