Witless Protection Program

The Witless Protection Program is a Seattle philosophical ethics reading group, comprising a core group that shares laughter, coffee, pastries, and serious, if hilarious, discussion. Since 2000, Witless has met Saturday mornings, 9:00 - noon, at Third Place Commons in Lake Forest Park, Washington (a suburb of Seattle). If you would like to visit for a session, please call Brad Lancaster at 206-367-3122 or email brad@lancasterlawoffice.com.

Witless shares John Locke's view of reading, as cited in Locke's 1692 essay, Some Thoughts Concerning Education:

“’The study . . . of the original text can never be sufficiently recommended.’ ‘Tis the shortest, surest, and most agreeable way to all sorts of learning. Draw from the spring-head, and take not things at second hand. Let the writing of the great masters be never laid aside, dwell upon them, settle them in your mind, and cite them upon occasion; make it your business thoroughly to understand them in their full extent and all their circumstances; acquaint yourself fully with the principles of original authors; bring them to a consistency, and then do you yourself make your deductions.”

Witless has read the texts in the following list in the course of its long conversation. Hyperlinked titles take you to Brad's epitomes of some texts. You are welcome to read those epitomes. Please cite to Brad Lancaster and this website if quoting any of Brad's epitomes, which, while tracking the thought of the author epitomized, are themselves independent, copyrighted works authored by Brad Lancaster. All intellectual property rights are reserved.

If you are just beginning to explore your interest in philosophical ethics, you may want to read Brad's epitomes of McIntyre, A Short History of Ethics and Dewey, Theory of the Moral Life, and then read those volumes themselves. If you would prefer a more accessible introduction to ethical thought, you might want to read Brad's Trubble Talk, a tough letter to a troubled teenager enduring some bumps in the road as she entered adulthood.

Bhagavad Gita
Lao-Tzu, Tao Te Ching
Confucius, Analects
Plato, Apologia
Plato, Euthyphro

Plato, Crito
Plato, Phaedo
Plato, Phaedrus
Plato, Republic (selections)
Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics
Aristotle, Politics
Seneca, Epistles 1-65
Gospel of Mark
Paul, Epistle to the Romans
Cicero, On Duty
Cicero, On Friendship
Cicero, On Old Age
Cicero, De Republica, “Scipio’s Dream”
Plutarch, Lives (Demosthenes and Cicero)
Plutarch, Lives (Alexander and Caesar)
Plutarch, Moralia (selections)
Aurelius, To Himself (Meditations)
Epictetus, Enchiridion
Epictetus, Discourses
Muhammad, Qu'ran
Luther, Three Treatises
Locke, Thoughts Concerning Education
Locke, Letter Concerning Toleration
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
John Stuart Mill, On the Subjection of Women
Rousseau, Reveries of the Solitary Walker
Kant (selections)
Kant, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals
Kant, Critique of Practical Reason

Kant, Enlightenment
Kant, Eternal Peace
Hegel, Philosophy of Right
Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
Sartre, No Exit

Sartre, Nausea
Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct
Dewey, Theory of the Moral Life
Schweitzer, Out of My Life and Thought

Schweitzer, Philosophy of Civilization
Buber, I and Thou
Descartes, Discourse on Method
Freud, Future of an Illusion
Kierkegaard, Sickness Unto Death
Thoreau, On Civil Disobedience
Emerson (selections)

Emerson, Self-Reliance
Emerson, Nature
Emerson, The Transcendentalist
Emerson, The Over-Soul
Emerson, The Conduct of Life
Emerson, On Friendship
James, Will to Believe
James, Is Life Worth Living?
James, The Sentiment of Rationality
James, Reflex Action and Theism

James, The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life
James, The Dilemma of Determinism
James, The Moral Equivalent of War
James, On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings
James, The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life

Russell, A Free Man’s Worship
Russell, Outline of Intellectual Rubbish
Russell, The Place of Sex Among Human Values
Russell, What I Believe
Russell, Methods of Settling Disputes in the Nuclear Age
Russell, In Praise of Idleness
Blackburn, Being Good
Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem
Carroll, Annotated Alice in Wonderland
Adler, How to Read a Book
Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity
Sartre, Existentialism and Human Emotions
Suber, Speluncean Explorers (extrapolation from Fuller’s original)

Didion, After Life
Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front
Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations
Dalai Lama, How to Practice
Wolff, In Defense of Anarchism

From April 2011, Witless has turned its focus from the question “What should I do?” to the question “What should we do?” That is, our focus is shifting from philosophical ethics considered from a community member’s perspective (morality) to the perspective of the community as a whole (political philosophy). We have begun with questions surrounding violence and non-violence, and will proceed to questions of political structure and theory.

Wells, Pandora’s Seed
           (Mankind’s fateful decision to domesticate)
Thucydides, Melian Debate from Peloponnesian War
           (Athens crushes Melos)
           (first five books of Jewish canon)
Marx, Manifesto of the Communist Party
           (Early communist rhetoric)
Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals
           (Mature statement of Nietzsche’s political nihilism)
Gentile, Origins and Doctrine of Fascism
           (Foundation essay of Italian fascism)
Hitler, Mein Kampf
           (Nazi political theory and rhetoric)
Mussolini, The Doctrine of Fascism
           (Italian fascist totalitarianism)

Mao, Little Red Book (Quotations of Chairman Mao)
           (Chinese communist aphorisms)
Weber, Politics as a Vocation
           (Political sociology essay on administration of violence)
Gandhi, Satyagraha

           (Non-violent non-cooperation as spiritual and political strategy)
Qutb, Milestones
           (Islamic fundamentalist political theory)
Arendt, On Violence
           (Philosophy of violence after nuclear capability)
Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God Is Within You
           (Quasi-Christian pacifist anarchy)
Block, Community
           (Community building and values)

Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature
           (Evidence that global violence is waning)
Wade, Before the Dawn
           (Evidence concerning humanity before history)
Gospel of Matthew

           (Violence and non-violence from Jesus)
Carter, The Violence of Peace

           (Assessment of Obama's use of deadly force under just war theory)
Aristophanes, Lysistrata
           (Athens' women coerce their men to peace)
Kurlansky, Nonviolence: History of a Dangerous Idea
           (Overview of history and impact of nonviolent activism)
Scott, Ask That Mountain
          (Maori non-violent resistance to British rule at Parihaka, New Zealand)
Hessel, Time for Outrage

           (Non-violent revolution fueled by moral outrage)
Weyler, The Jesus Sayings

           (Jesus' authentic message restated)
Lancaster, Gethsemane Soliloquy 
(Epitome of Jesus' Reliable Sayings)
           (Non-violent anarchist theocracy)
King, Autobiography

           (Non-violent political activism)
Mill, On Liberty

         (Libertarian polity with amendments)

The titles that follow are texts likely to enter Witless's reading and conversation over the next few years. We do not promise to read all of these texts or only these texts.

Glover, Humanity: A Moral History of the 20th Century
           (Ethics of recent wars )
Ridley, The Rational Optimist
           (Things are much better than most people think)
Fagan, Cro Magnon
           (Late Pleistocene environment and spread of modern humans)
Berger, Sacred Canopy
           (Social science critique of religion and government)
Maxims of Chanakya
           (Ancient Indian statescraft)
The Law Code of Manu
           (Ancient Indian cosmology and law code)
Code of Hammurabi
           (Babylonian legal code)
Plato, Republic
           (Greek treatise on justice in persons and government)
Aristotle, Politics
           (Theoretical and empirical forms of governments of Greece)
Sophocles, Antigone
           (Greek play about state control, natural law, and civil disobedience)
Cicero, On Laws
           (Roman legal theory)
Augustine, City of God
           (Roman-Christian utopian polity)
Dante, Monarchy
           (Medieval kingship theory)
Machiavelli, The Prince
           (Medieval Italian political realism)
Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimah
           (Islamic medieval political and theory of history)
Maimonides, Ethical Writings
           (Medieval Jewish ethical midrashim)
More, Utopia
           (Medieval utopian reverie)
Hobbes, Leviathan
           (British kingship theory and pessimism about human nature)
Grotius, Law of War and Peace
           (Dutch international law theory)
Locke, Second Treatise on Government
           (Formative for the American Revolution theorists)
Hume, Treatise on Human Nature
           (Skeptic’s view of man and government)
Paine, Common Sense
           (American revolutionary tracts)
Owen, A New View of Society
           (Early socialist theory)
Godwin, Political Justice
           (Incremental anarchist communalism)
Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality
           (French social classist critique)
Rousseau, Social Contract
           (French social contract theory)
Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France
           (French Revolutionary excesses from a British viewpoint)
Montesquieu, Spirit of the Laws
           (French Enlightenment political theory)
Mandeville, Fable of the Bees
           (Political satire of 18th century Britain)
Wollstonecraft, Vindication of the Rights of Woman
           (Early British proto-feminism)
Bentham, The Principles of Morals and Legislation
           (Classic statement of British utilitarianism)
Mill, On Liberty
           (Utilitarian defense of individual rights)
Mill, On the Subjection of Women
           (British proto-feminist theory)
Considerant, Principles of Socialism
           (French pacifist socialism)
Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents
           (Psychological analysis of government and cultures)
Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread
           (Russian anarchist communist economics)
Kropotkin, Mutual Aid
           (Anarchist cooperation theory)
Carpenter, Non-Governmental Society
           (Anarchist society without the State)
Proudhon, What is Property?
           (Anarchist economics, predecessor of Marxist communism)
Morris, News from Nowhere
           (Anarchist utopia)
Bakunin, God and the State
           (Violent anarchism)
Stirner, The Ego and Its Own
           (Violent anarchism)
Goldman, Anarchism
           (Feminist anarchism acquiescing in violence)
Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism
           (Anarchist individualism)
Lenin, State and Revolution
           (Russian communist on violence in Marxism)
Rawls, A Theory of Justice
           (American liberal political theorist)
Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia
           (American libertarian answer to Rawls)
Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty
           (Defense of classical economic liberalism)
Walzer, Spheres of Justice
           (Justice differs in life's various parts)
Plato, Gorgias
           (Dialogue on pursuit of goodness and justice)
Tolstoy, A Confession
           (Russian novelist's conversion and faith commitment)
Benjamin, Critique of Violence
           (Law suffers taint of coercion, unlike nonviolence)
Fanon, On Violence
           (Algerian Marxist advocates violence in anti-colonial movements)
Conze, Buddhist Scriptures
           (Buddhist scholar's selection of the core Buddhist scriptures)
Dhammapada (The Sayings of Buddha)
           (A Pali rendition of Buddha's teachings)
           (Chinese anti-Confucian universalist polity - 5th century B.C.)
Han Fei Tzu
           (Chinese legalist anti-ethical advice to kings - 3rd century B.C.)
Rig Veda
           (Selection of ancient Vedic hymns in the Hindu tradition)

Witless, in reading political philosophy, is alternating utopian/dystopian novels with works of classical political philosophy. The novels we are reading (not necessarily in this order) are:

Zamyatin, We
Rand, Anthem
Orwell, Animal Farm
Leguin, The Dispossessed
Wells, Men Like Gods
Gilman, Herland
Bellamy, Looking Backward
Johnson, Rasselas
Sand, Indiana
Atwood, Handmaid’s Tale
Morris, News from Nowhere
Skinner, Walden Two
Thoreau, Walden
Bacon, New Atlantis
Huxley, Island
Vonnegut, Player Piano
Callenbach, Ecotopia
Butler, Erewon
Piercy, Woman at the Edge of Time
Clark, Childhood’s End
Lowry, The Giver
London, The Iron Heel