Warning to liberals: clear thinking, moral clarity, and political incorrectness up ahead! If you consider any part of the following to be 'racist' or 'hateful' then you are in dire need, not of refutation, but of psychotherapy. Please seek it for your own good.
There is no question but that slavery is a great moral evil. But are American blacks owed reparations for the slavery that was officially ended by the ratification of the 13th Amendment of the U. S. Constitution over 145 years ago on 6 December 1865? I cannot see that any rational case for black reparations can be made. Indeed, it seems to me that a very strong rational case can be made against black reparations. The following argument seems to me decisive:
1. All of the perpetrators of the crimes associated with slavery in the U.S. are dead. 2. All of the victims of the crimes associated with slavery in the U.S. are dead. 3. Only those who are victims of a crime are entitled to reparations for the crime, and only those who are the perpetrators of a crime are obliged to pay reparations for it. Therefore 4. No one now living is entitled to receive reparations for the crimes associated with slavery in the U.S., and no one now living is obliged to pay reparations.
When I was writing my book on existence I was troubled by the question as to how one knows that there are contingent beings. For I took it as given that there are, just as I took it as given that things exist. But one philosopher's datum is another's theory, and I was hoping to begin my metaphysical ascent from indubitable starting points. So it bugged me: how do I know that this coffee cup is a contingent being? Given that it exists, how do I know that it exists contingently? I satisfied my scruples by telling myself that I was writing about the metaphysics of existence and that concerns with its epistemology could be reserved for a later effort. What exactly is the problem? Let's begin with a couple of definitions:
D1. X is contingent =df possibly (x exists) & possibly (x does not exist).
The possibility at issue is non-epistemic and broadly logical. And note that the definiens of (D1) is not to be confused with 'possibly (x exists & x does not exist)' which is necessarily false.
D2. X contingently exists =df x exists & possibly (x does not exist).
Note that to say that x exists contingently is not to say that x depends for its existence on something else; it is merely to say that x exists and that there is no broadly logical (metaphysical) necessity that x exist. Suppose exactly one thing exists, an iron sphere. Intuitively, the sphere is contingent despite there being nothing on which it depends for its existence. For though it exists, it might not have.
Note also that to say that x exists contingently is not to say that x is actual at some times and not actual at other times. (Even if everything that contingently exists exists at some times but not at all times, the contingency of what contingently exists does not consist in its existing at some but not all times.) If one said that contingency is existence at some but not all times, then one would have to say that x exists necessarily just in case x exists at all times. Something that exists at all times, however, could well be contingent in a clear sense of this term, namely, possibly nonexistent. For example, suppose the physical universe always existed and always will exist. It doesn't follow that it necessarily exists (is impossibly nonexistent). It would remain a contingent fact that it exists at all in the D2 sense. And then there that are items that are not in time at all: numbers, Fregean propositions, and other 'abstracta.' They exist necessarily without being temporally qualified. Their necessity is not their existence at all times.
For example, my coffee cup exists now -- how I know this is a separate epistemological question that I here ignore -- but is possibly such that it does not exist now, where 'now' picks out the same time. But how do I know that the cup is now possibly nonexistent? That's my problem.
This is a variant of the problem of modal knowledge. (See Notes on Van Inwagen on Modal Epistemology.) The cup is full, but it might not have been. It is full of coffee, but it might have been full of whisky. It is two inches from the ashtray, but it might have been three inches from it. It exists now but it might not have existed now. It has existed for 20 years; it might never have existed at all. And so on. I can see that the cup is full, and I can taste that it contains coffee and not whisky. But I cannot see or taste what doesn't exist (assuming that 'see' is being used as a verb of success), and the cup's being empty or the cup's containing whisky are non-obtaining states of affairs. Thus there seems to be nothing for my modal knowledge to 'grab onto.'
If I know that the cup exists contingently, then I know that it is possibly nonexistent. But how do I know the latter?
"You know it from your ability to conceive, without contradiction, of the cup's nonexistence." This is not a good answer. First of all, conceivability (without contradiction) does not entail possibility. Example here. Does the conceivability of p raise the probability of p's being possible? This is a strange notion. Discussion here.
If conceivability neither entails nor probabilifies possibility, then my question returns in full force: how does one know, of any being, that it is a contingent being?
"Well, you know from experience that things like coffee cups come into existence and pass out of existence. If you know that, then you know that such things do not exist of metaphysical necessity. For what exists of metaphysical necessity exists at all times, if it exists in time at all, and your coffee cup, which exists in time, does not exist at all times. Now what does not exist of metaphysical necessity is metaphysically contingent. Therefore, you know that coffee cups and such are contingent existents."
This argument may do the trick. To test it, I will set it forth as rigorously as possible. To save keystrokes I omit universal quantifiers.
1. If x is a material thing, and x does not exist at all times, then x is not a necessary being (one whose nonexistence is broadly-logically impossible). 2. If x is not a necessary being, then x is either a contingent being or an impossible being. Therefore 3. If x is a material thing, and x does not exist at all times, then x is either a contingent being or an impossible being. 4. My coffee cup is a material thing and it does not exist at all times. Therefore 5. My cup is either a contingent being or an impossible being. 6. If x exists, then x is not impossible. 7. My cup exists. Therefore 8. My cup is a contingent being. 9. I know that (8) because I know each of the premises, and (8) follows from the premises.
The inferences are all valid, and the only premise that might be questioned is (1). To refute (1) one needs an example of a material being that does not exist at all times that is a necessary being. But I can't think of an example.
The argument just given seems to be a rigorous proof that there is at least one contingent (possibly nonexistent) existent. But does it show that this existent is possibly nonexistent at each time at which it exists? (The latter is the question I posed above.)
Would it make sense to say that my cup, though not a necessary being, is necessarily existent at each time at which it exists? If that makes sense, then my cup is contingent in that it might not have existed at all, but not contingent in the sense that at each time at which it exists it is possibly nonexistent. Are these two propositions consistent:
a. x is contingent in that it might not have existed at all
b. x is not contingent in the sense of being possibly nonexistent at each time at which it exists?
If (a) and (b) are consistent, then it appears that I have not proven that my cup is contingent in the sense of being possibly nonexistent at each time at which it exists. For then the above argument shows merely that the cup is contingent in that it might not have existed at all.
"There is no further left than Chomsky. Further left than Chomsky is Stalin." (Dennis Prager, just now, on his radio show.) And Chomsky gets paid to speak on college campuses, he doesn't get pie in the face, and doesn't need a body guard. But Ann Coulter and David Horowitz need body guards. (Prager made these obvious points as well.)
There is scumbaggery on the Right, but it is far, far worse on the Left. Anyone who disagrees with this I would consider so delusional as to be not worth talking to.
Libertarians sometimes speak as if government could and ought to be value-free. But value-free government is as impossible as value-free education.
Education cannot be value-free for the simple reason that all education, assuming it is not confused with indoctrination, presupposes that knowledge is a value and ignorance a disvalue. If knowledge is a value then so is the pursuit of truth. And if the pursuit of truth is a value, then the habits of mind and character the cultivation of which are conducive to the pursuit of truth are values as well. Among these are truthfulness and intellectual honesty. But truthfulness and intellectual honesty cannot be brought to bear in the quest for truth without diligence and self-control and respect for those who know better. We could continue with this reflection but we have gone far enough to see that the notion of value-free education is nonsense.
Equally nonsensical is the notion of value-free government. One would not be much of a libertarian if one did not hold liberty to be a value and (material) equality to be, if not a disvalue, then at least subordinate in the axiological hierarchy to liberty. So libertarians have at least one value, liberty. They advocate a government that allows its richest expression. Anarchists, conservatives, liberals, fascists -- they too have their characteristic values which they hope to promote when and if they gain power.
What I have said suffices to show that the notion of value-free government is nonsense. The question is not whether values but which values.
Purdue philosopher Jan Cover appears to maintain a Music = Dylan Identity Thesis. I wouldn't have gone that far even in the '60s. (Though I was a bit of a fanatic. I wrote for a high school 'underground' newspaper under the pen name 'Dylan's Disciple.') Cover's Dylan page is short but well worth a look.
With respect to capital punishment: When I was a lab-tech at Ball State University, one of the professors was telling me about a demonstration of static electricity he did at the state prison in Pendleton, IN. He was using a Van de Graaff generator to create long, spectacular sparks and light neon tubes off the fingers of volunteers. The key thing in what he told me was a con asked him, “Can you fix the chair?” meaning of course could he prevent the electric chair from killing a person.
If the death penalty is not a deterrent, then the question is meaningless.
Right. Of course the death penalty is a deterrent. The only interesting question is why liberals don't or won't admit it. Part of the explanation is that liberals won't admit that criminals are for the most part rational, not insane, and that there is such a thing as evil, and what it presupposes, freedom of the will. It is characteristic of liberals to speak of murders as senseless, as in the case of the mother of one of the Long Island pharmacy shooting victims.
But the murders made all the sense in the world. Dead men tell no tales. That piece of folk wisdom supplies an excellent reason to kill witnesses in the absence of any strong incentive not to do so. In one sense of 'rational,' a rational agent is one who chooses means conducive to the end in view. If the end in view is to score some swag and not get caught, then it is perfectly reasonable to kill all witnesses to the crime especially given the laxity of a criminal justice system in which the likelihood of severe punishment is low.
Liberals are promiscuous in their use of the 'disease model.' For example, they typically believe that alcoholism is a disease, a view refuted by Herbert Fingarette in Heavy Drinking: The Myth of Alcoholism as a Disease (University of California Press, 1988). They also misuse the word 'addiction' in connection with nictoine use, as if one could be addicted to smoking. Suppose you smoke a couple packs a day and I offer you a million dollars if you go one month without smoking. Will you be able to do it? Of course. End of discussion. For more on the noble weed, see Alcohol,Tobacco, and Firearms. It is the same on Planet Liberal with criminals: they must be 'sick,' or 'insane.' Nonsense. Most are eminently sane, just evil.
And because criminals are most of them sane and love life, the death penalty is a deterrent. That is just common sense and there is a strong, albeit defeasible, presumption in favor of common sense views, a presumption that places the burden of proof on those who would deny it. I will be told that we need empirical studies. Supposing I grant that, who will undertake them? Liberal sociologists and criminologists? Do you think there just might be a good reason to suspect their objectivity? In any case, here are references to studies which show that CP is a deterrent.
But whether CP is a deterrent is not the logically prior question, which is: what does justice demand? Deterrent or not, certain crimes demand the death penalty. Fiat justitia, ruat caelum.
(Written November 2002 for the sake of some local patzers who proved to be largely unteachable.)
"How shall I draw thee? Let me count the ways." (Anon.)
There are exactly seven ways to draw a chess game.
1. STALEMATE. "The game is drawn when the king of the player who has the move is not in check and the player cannot make any legal move." (USCF Official Rules of Chess, 1987, p. 12.)
2. AGREEMENT. If the players agree to a draw during the game, then it is a draw. (p. 12)
3. SUDDEN DEATH FLAG FALL. In a game played according to a ‘sudden death’ time control, if both flags are down before a win is claimed, then the game is a draw. (p. 103)
4. THREE-FOLD REPETITION OF POSITION (TFRP). "The game is drawn upon a claim by the player having the move, when the same position (a) is about to appear, or (b) has just appeared for the third time, the same player having the move each time. The position is considered the same if pieces of the same kind and color occupy the same squares and if the possible moves of all the pieces are the same, including the right to castle or to take a pawn en passant." (p. 13)
This is the rule that a great many players do not understand. By my count, there are five typical mistakes that players make with respect to this rule.
A lonely soldier cleans his gun and dreams of Galveston. Marty Robbins messes with the wicked Felina in El Paso and comes to an untimely end. Dean Martin is down and out in Houston. George Hamilton IV pines after Abilene. Johnny Cash spies a young cowboy all wrapped in white linen in The Streets of Laredo. Patsy Cline sings of old San Anton' in San Antonio Rose.
Christina Hoff Sommers usefully distinguishes between equity feminism and gender feminism. I am all for the former, but I find the the latter preposterous. In his chapter on gender in The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, Penguin 2002, Steven Pinker explains the distinction:
Equity feminism is a moral doctrine about equal treatment that makes no commitments regarding open empirical issues in psychology or biology. Gender feminism is an empirical doctrine committed to three claims about human nature. The first is that the differences between men and women have nothing to do with biology but are socially constructed in their entirety. The second is that humans possess a single social motive -- power -- and that social life can be understood only in terms of how it is exercised. The third is that human interactions arise not from the motives of people dealing with each other as individuals but from the motives of groups dealing with other groups -- in this case, the male gender dominating the female gender. (p. 341, bolding added)
Do these risible claims need refutation, or are they beneath refutation? I say the latter, but if you think they are worth refuting, Pinker does the job in detail.
Nonsense, if believed by policy makers, has dire consequences some of which are in evidence in The End of Gender? (HT: Spencer Case) Loons, agitating for their 'reforms,' exercise the tyranny of the minority.
One should always insist on the touch-move rule with every opponent in every (non-blitz) chess game whether serious or casual, rated or unrated. You will save yourself a lot of unnecessary vexation if you do. Now you might think you knew all there was to know about the touch-move rule; but if you are like me, you would have been wrong.
The rule no doubt applies to pieces on the board, but what about those off the board?
Suppose you have just promoted a pawn to the eighth rank. Some people wrongly refer to this as 'queening' a pawn thereby confusing the species with the genus. Promotion to queen is only one way to promote: there is also underpromotion to either a rook, bishop, or knight. There is no promotion to king since the 'dignity' of his majesty assures his uniqueness, and the 'ambition' of the pawn prevents his remaining in the lower orders.
Suppose you are in a position in which promotion to a knight will enforce immediate mate. But the time pressure is befuddling you and you reflexively grab a queen by the side of the board and replace the pawn with it. You do not, however, punch your clock. So technically, the move has not been completed.
Here is the question: Having touched the queen, and moved it onto the board, while leaving your clock running, may you change your mind and substitute a knight? Grandmaster Larry Evans, asked a similar question by Jude Acers, he of the red beret and the N.O. French Quarter, answers, "White must play 1 e8 = Q, since he touched the queen first, even if it was off the board." (Chess Life, November 2005, p. 45)
So here is a case in which touch-move applies to a piece that is OFF the board. Or at least that is the judgment of GM Evans.
The position described by Acers was one in which promotion to queen would have led to a draw, while promotion to a rook would have won.
My last post ended with a reference to "Tookie" Williams. Here is a post from the old Powerblogs site dated 29 November 2005:
I just viewed the Stanley "Tookie" Williams segment on Hannity and Colmes. Williams, co-founder of the L.A. Crips gang, and convicted of four brutal murders, faces execution on December 13th in California. Here is a description of one of his crimes.
What struck me was the low level of the debate. Actor Mike Farrell, as part of his defense of Williams, and in opposition to the death penalty in general, remarked that "we shouldn't lower ourselves to the level of the perpetrators of violent crime." The implied argument, endlessly repeated by death penalty opponents, is something like this: Since killing people is wrong, the state's killing of people is also wrong; so when the state executes people, it lowers itself to the level of the perpetrators of violent crime.
Now this argument is quite worthless. If it were any good, then, since incarcerating people is also wrong, the state's incarceration of people is wrong. And so on for any penalty the state inflicts as punishment for crime.
The trouble with the argument is that it proves too much. If the argument were sound, it would show that every type of punishment is impermissible, since every type of punishment involves doing to a person what otherwise would be deemed morally wrong. For example, if I, an ordinary citizen, demand money from you under threat of dire consequences if you fail to pay, then I am committing extortion; but there are situations in which the state can do this legitimately as when a state agency such as the Internal Revenue Service assesses a fine for late payment of taxes. (Of course, I am assuming the moral legitimacy of the state, something anarchists deny; but the people who give the sort of argument I am criticizing are typically liberals who believe in a much larger state than I do.)
So the 'argument' Farrell gave is quite worthless. But Hannity let him escape, apparently not discerning the fallacy involved. Farrell and Hannity reminded me of a couple of chess patzers. One guy blunders, and the other fails to exploit it.
But that's not all. Alan Colmes jumped in with the canard that people who are pro-life should also be opposed to the death penalty, as if there is some logical inconsistency in being pro-life (on the abortion issue) and in favor of capital punishment for some crimes. I refute this silly 'argument' here.
Even more surprising, however, is that Sean Hannity then committed the same mistake in reverse, in effect charging Farrell with being inconsistent for being pro-choice (which he grudgingly admitted to being after some initial prevarication) and anti-capital punishment.
What people need to understand is that the two issues are logically independent. There is nothing inconsistent in Farrell's position. He could argue that the fetus simply lacks the right to life while "Tookie" and his ilk possess the right to life regardless of what they have done. Nor is there anything inconsistent in Hannity's position. He could argue that the fetus has the right to life while a miscreant like "Tookie" has forfeited his right to life by his commission of heinous crimes.
So the logical level is low out there in the Land of Talk and I repeat my call for logico-philosophical umpires for the shout shows. But I suspect I am fated to remain a vox clamantis in deserto.
On this issue, we are on the same page--I think we should celebrate our agreements! In fact, I probably support a broader use of CP than you do. I think CP a condign punishment for things like aggravated sexual assault on a minor, aggravated assault with torture, etc.
I know people who are Amnesty International members. When they start on this stuff about wrongful executions, I stop them and demand a list of the people whom they think wrongfully executed in the U.S. in the last 20 years. Some facts please! They come up with NO credible cases. They talk about a somewhat mentally impaired killer executed in Texas and another in Florida, but these people admitted their killings and juries considered their impairment at trial. It is clear that in the cases they point to what they disagree with is law which allows CP rather than a flawed trial process. The verdicts were good verdicts. I personally see absolutely no reason to consider lower than normal IQ an excuse or mitigation for egregious crimes.
Some people are just opposed to CP whatever the facts and arguments. Fortunately they are minority in most US states. The argument that CP in the US is killing the wrongfully convicted is getting very hard to sustain. 30 years ago when I took my first course in criminalistics, it was a much more persuasive argument, but the advances in the last 30 years have been huge. The scientific evidence that can be extracted from a crime scene is amazing. O. J. Simpson was very lucky!
The average U.S. Death Row innate gets 14 years to appeal his sentence. Project Innocence helps prisoners with any sort of reasonable appeal, and appellate courts even in TX, VA and FL are very generous in considering credible appeals. The standard in these courts is really "above and beyond a resonable doubt" if there is any grounds for doubt. No human institution can be perfect. Nothing can guarantee that a wrongfully convicted person won't be executed, but I think this result is VERY unlikely in the US these days. When someone tells me no one deserves to be executed, I feel obliged to treat them to a graphic murder-by-murder tour of the careers of Bundy, Gacy, and Mike Ross. People need to know exactly what these murderers did to women and boys. This inevitably ends the debate--they have no stomach for the facts.
Clarity will be served if we distinguish two claims that the CP-opponent could be making:
1. Even if there were no actual or possible cases of a wrongfully convicted person being executed, CP would still be an unjust penalty and should be banned.
2. Because there is the possibility of wrongful convictions, CP should be banned.
Like you, I cannot fathom how any rational and morally percipient person could embrace (1). But I find (2) less objectionable, though I reject it as well. I think the conservative must simply accept the possibility of wrongful executions and then argue that this possibility does not by a long shot outweigh the gross injustice of allowing the most vicious murderers to live on in comfort at tax payer expense for years.
But I now want to point out that you seem to be contradicting something implied by what you were maintaining earlier. Earlier, you denied that there is a difference between being found guilty and being guilty, even when all the procedural rules in a trial have been scrupulously followed. That implies, however, that there cannot be a wrongful conviction. But above you speak as if there can be wrongful convictions for capital crimes, adding that this is very unlikely.
If you maintain against the CP-opponents that wrongful convictions are nowadays extremely rare, then by maintaining that you concede that wrongful convictions are possible (and not just in an anemic logical sense) and that therefore the property of being found guilty in a properly conducted trial of such-and-such charge is not identical to the property of being guilty of said charge.
As for the broadened use of CP mentioned in your opening paragraph, consider arson. A man deliberately and maliciously sets a forest ablaze. In the course of combating it, several firefighters lose their lives. In addition, countless animals are either killed or deprived of habitat. And there is property damage in the millions. Doesn't CP at some point become a condign punishment? I say yes. What rational objection could one have to that?
It is indeed a strange world. We in the West coddle the most vicious criminals. In the Islamic lands hands are cut off for theft. Both sides have lost their collective minds, though they are far, far worse. They stone to death the woman caught in adultery and we wring our hands over the execution of a scumbag like 'Tookie' Williams.
When the climbing gets steep, we take shorter steps. A good rule for writing as well. Demanding subject-matter is best served in short sentences. On the flat, one's stride lengthens. And so should one's sentences as precision gives way to platitude.
I wondered whether I could rebuild the three arguments against capital punishment that you claimed to have demolished in your post:
In 1), you say:
If the wrong person has been executed, that person cannot be restored to life. Quite true. It is equally true, however, that if a person has been wrongly imprisoned for ten years, then those years cannot be restored to him. So the cases are exactly parallel.
I want to examine the nature of this idea that in both cases above the punishment cannot be reversed or restored in some sense. Some punishments can be reversed or restored in a reasonable sense: if the state wrongly fines me for a parking infringement, that fine can be refunded to me (plus interest/compensation as appropriate) in the event that I prove there was no parking infringement. The cases above are not like that: in the case of imprisonment, the punishment cannot be reversed because there is no sense in which someone can have ten years of their life restored; in the case of execution, the punishment cannot be reversed because there is no way in which the executed can be restored to life. But here's the crucial difference between these two cases and why you are wrong to say that the cases are 'exactly parallel'. In the case of imprisonment, reversal/restoration is impossible because of the nature of the punishment. In the case of execution, reversal/restoration is impossible in principle (because there is no longer any person and therefore no way in which their punishment can be reversed). Us liberals take issue with this a priori rejection of punishment reversal.
I don't think you are making your point as clearly as you might. What you want to say is that, in the case of the unjust imprisonment, some compensation is possible whereas in the case of an unjust execution, no compensation is possible. That is a good point, and I accept it. The parallel is that in both cases something is taken away from the unjustly punished individual, something that cannot be restored: ten years of freedom in the one case, life itself in the other. So there is an exact parallel with respect to what was taken from the individual by the punishment. For in both cases what was taken away cannot be restored.So if you say that the capital penalty is irreversible, and that that is your reason for opposing capital punishment, then I will say that, by parity of reasoning, imprisonment should also be opposed since it too is irreversible. And then you have 'proven too much.'
To be found guilty is not to be guilty. So a reasonable justice system must have built into it mechanisms by which miscarriages of justice (which might be established in the light of new evidence, for example) can be compensated. Capital punishment removes such mechanisms which is partly why I reject it.
An interesting argument. Perhaps it could put as follows:
a. Every just punishment allows for the possibility of rectification in the case of a false conviction. b. No instance of capital punishment allows for the possibility of rectification in the case of a false conviction. Ergo c. No instance of capital punishment is just.
The argument is valid, and we both accept (b). But this is equally valid:
b. No instance of capital punishment allows for the possibility of rectification in the case of a false conviction. ~c. Some instances of capital punishment are just . Ergo ~a. Some just punishments do not allow for the possibility of rectification in the case of a false conviction.
I support (~c) by invoking the principle that the punishment must fit the crime and that therefore some crimes deserve capital punishment. If this doesn't convince you then I say that that the two arguments just given neutralize each other, in which case we have a stand-off.
Argument 2) I think probably boils down to an impasse. There are clearly punishments which, though they involve the state acting in a way that in other circumstances would be impermissible, society feels are acceptable: imprisonment (which under other circumstances would be kidnap), fines (which under other circumstances would be extortion). But there are other possible punishments which, though (because?) they would involve the state acting in a way that in other circumstances would be impermissible, society feels are unacceptable: the rapist is not raped, the arsonist does not have his house burnt down, the drunk-driver who kills a child does not have his own child killed by state-sanctioned drunk driver. You say capital punishment fits with the first class of punishments. I say the second.
That too is an interesting point. We don't subscribe to the principle of 'an eye for an eye.' Thus we don't gouge out the eye of the eye-gouger; we don't sodomize the sodomizer; set afire the bum-igniter, etc. Your point, I take it, is that if we don't do these things, then we ought not kill the killer. But 'killing' is a generic term that covers a multitude of ways of killing: one can kill by stabbing, poisoning, drowning, choking, dismembering, burying alive, detonating, etc. So, while agreeing that we ought not stab the stabber, dismember the dismemberer, etc., it does not follow that we ought not kill the killer if the killing is done in a humane way.
I've heard it said that lethal injection is "cruel and unusual punishment," but that's risible. Say that, and you've drained the phrase (which occurs in the U. S. Constitution) of all definite meaning.
I'd like to pick up on the deterrence point in argument 3). In order for capital punishment to be an effective deterrent I would argue that would-be criminals must a) fear death and b) be cognizant of the fact that some crimes are capital crimes. I don't mean that they must 'know' that some crimes are capital crimes in some vague, non-immediate sense, like the sense in which I know that three of Wittgenstein's brothers committed suicide - a fact I had not recalled for some time until a moment ago. No, I mean that would-be criminals must be aware of the fact that some crimes are capital crimes in strong sense: a sense in which a fact affects your actions. I would wager that a) is at least contestable: drug lords live under the distinct possiblity of execution, without due process or lethal injection, by rival drug lords but it doesn't seem to affect their actions. And b) is debatable in the sense that some crimes are crimes of passion, crimes committed whilst drunk or high or otherwise in a mentally-altered state ('So we should let them off?!' you say. No, of course not. But capital punishment is unlikely to deter them).
When I said that swift and sure execution would have a deterrent effect I didn't mean for all. The examples you give are plausible. How much deterrent effect? Who knows. But it would be a substantial one.
It is a highly dubious principle if you think about it. But is there a better one?
Suppose you have two people, A and B. A is intelligent, well-informed, and serious. He does his level best to form correct opinions about the issues of the day. He is an independent thinker, and his thinking is based in broad experience of life. B, however, makes no attempt to become informed, or to think for himself. He votes as his union boss tells him to vote. Why should B's vote have the same weight as A's? Is it not self-evident that B's vote should not count as much as A's?
I think it is well-nigh self-evident. The right to vote cannot derive simply from the fact that one exists or has interests. Dogs and cats have interests, and so do children. But we don't grant children the right to vote. Why not? Presumbaly because they lack the maturity and good judgment necessary for casting an informed vote. Nor do we grant felons the right to vote despite their interests.
The problem, however, is that there is no obvious criterion that one could employ to segregate those who are worthy of voting from those who are not. A friend of mine once proposed that only Ph.D.s should be allowed to vote. That is a hopeless proposal for several reasons. First of all, specialized expertise is no guarantee of even minimal competence outside of one's specialty. Second, there are Ph.D.s who are not even competent in their own disciplines. Third, there are plenty of non-Ph.D's who are more worthy of voting than many Ph.D.s. There are Ph.D.s I wouldn't hire to run a peanut stand let alone cast an intelligent vote.
The same holds for any other academic credential. Would you want to exclude the likes of Eric Hoffer from voting on the ground that he had no formal schooling whatsoever?
Sex and race are obvious non-starters as criteria for separating the worthy from the unworthy.
What about owning property? Should owning property, or once having owned property, be a necessary condition for voting? No, for the simple reason that people eminently qualified to vote may for various good reasons remain renters all their lives. It is obvious that, generally speaking, property owners have a better and more balanced understanding of taxation and cognate issues than non-owners do; but if we follow out this line of reasoning, then only property owning married persons with children should be allowed to vote.
There are people whose experience of life is very rich but who are too conceptually impoverished to extract any useful principles from their experience that they could bring to bear in the voting booth. And then there are people who have deliberately restricted their range of experience (by not having children, say) precisely in order to be in a position to develop fully their conceptual powers. Now to adjudicate between cases of these two sorts with an eye to determining fitness for voting would require the wisdom of Solomon. So forget about it.
We live in a culture in which adolescent immaturity often extends through the twenties and into the thirties and beyond. So one might think to exclude the unfit by allowing only people of age 30 or above the right to vote. But just as being 30 years old is no guarantee of maturity, being 18 is no guarantee of the opposite. In general, older people, being more experienced, are more judicious and thus more likely to vote intelligently. But the counterexamples to this are legion.
I'll insert an historical aside here. The right of 18-year-olds to vote is guaranteed by the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Before that, one had to be 21 years old. The 26th Amendment was ratified on July 1st, 1971 during the Vietnam war, a fact which is of course relevant to the Amendment's proposal and ratification. Some of us remember the words of Barry McGuire's Eve of Destruction (1965): "...you're old enough to kill, but not for votin'...."
Once we exclude educational credentials, sex, race, property-ownership, and age as criteria, what do we have left? Nothing that I can see apart from the standard criteria of voter eligibility. One man, one vote though certainly a flawed principle, may be the best we can do.
We would make it worse, however, if we went the way of the Aussies and made voting mandatory. As it is here in the USA, roughly only half of the eligible voters actually vote, though this is changing with the exacerbation of political polarization. This is good inasmuch as voters filter themselves similarly as lottery players (quite stupidly) tax themselves. What I mean is that, generally speaking, the people who can vote but do not are precisely the people one would not want voting in the first place. To vote takes time, energy, and a bit of commitment. Careless, stupid, and uniformed people are not likely to do it. And that is good. Of course, many refuse to vote out of disgust at their choices. My advice for them would be to hold their noses and vote for the least or the lesser of the evils. Politics is always about choosing the least or the lesser of evils. To not vote because there is no perfect candidate is to let the best become the enemy of the good.
I'll conclude by considering an objection. I said that 'One man, one vote' is a flawed principle. For it implies that the vote of a sage and the vote of a dolt count the same. It might be objected in defense of the principle that both sage and dolt are equal in point of both having an equal interest in the structure of the society in which they live. Granted. But not all know their own long-term best interest. So from the mere fact that A and B have an equal stake in a well-ordered society it does not follow that each person's vote should count the same.
What's more, this sort of reasoning proves too much. For children and felons and illegal aliens also have a stake in a well-ordered society, and only the seriously benighted want to extend the vote to them. Of course, this does not stop many contemporary liberals from wanting to extend the vote to children and felons and illegal aliens. It merely shows that they have lost all common sense. (Presumably they would make an exception in the case of the unborn!) So if equality of interest entails right to vote, then we have a reductio ad absurdum of 'one man, one vote.'
The Cloudview Trailhead is the one nearest to my house. It is a bit hard to get to as one must negotiate a number of turns. One fellow didn't like people driving onto his property in search of it so he posted a sign: Not the Trailhead! Some time ago I notice he had replaced his sign with a new one depicting an arrow that pointed in the trailhead's direction.
Therein lies a moral: how much better to be positive than negative! The first sign said where the trailhead is not. The second one did that too (by implication) but also pointed out where the trailhead is.
Happy people work at maintaining a positive attitude, and it does take some work, how much depending on how naturally inclined you are to be positive. We were not all born with sunny dispositions. The happy realize that nobody likes to be around negative people. This is something the negative rarely realize. They are too wrapped up in themselves to realize it. And they feel oh so justified in their negativity. What they don't appreciate is that others don't care about their justifications or how they were mistreated. They don't see that others will not excuse their bad behavior because of what they suffered in the past. X judges Y by Y's behavior toward X at the moment; that Y has a load of justifications for being negative is typically of no interest to X.
And while we are on the topic of the power of positivity, why does Colin Fletcher, the grand old man of walkers, and author of the backpacker bible, The Complete Walker, refer to trailheads as roadends? I say good man, be positive! It is not the end of the road, but the beginning of the trail!
And while I'm on his case, it is not walking, it's hiking: a walk is what I take to fetch a newspaper, or what I would take to fetch a newspaper were I to read them, whereas a hike is on another level entirely. We need to mark this distinction, do we not? [Humor Off]
1. One could be called the 'epistemological' argument: it can't be known that one accused of a capital crime is guilty. The argument sometimes takes this enthymematic form:
P2. Capital punishment is sometimes inflicted on the innocent. Therefore C. Capital punishment ought to be banned.
But this argument is invalid without the auxiliary premise:
P1. Any type of punishment that is sometimes inflicted on the innocent ought to be banned.
In the presence of (P1) the conclusion now follows, but (P1) cannot be accepted. For if we accept it, then every punishment ought to be banned. For every type of punishment has been at some time meted out to the innocent. Obviously, to be found guilty is not to be guilty. Our first argument, then, suffers from probative overkill: it proves too much. I reject the argument for that reason, and you ought to too.
If the wrong person has been executed, that person cannot be restored to life. Quite true. It is equally true, however, that if a person has been wrongly imprisoned for ten years, then those years cannot be restored to him. So the cases are exactly parallel. At this point liberals will often say things that imply that their real objection to capital punishment is that it is capital. Well, yes, of course: it has to be. For the punishment must fit the crime, and anything less than capital punishment for certain crimes violates the self-evident moral principle that I put in italics. Justice demands capital punishment in certain cases. If you don't agree, then I say you are morally obtuse. On this issue which divides Right and Left either you see that justice demands capital punishment in certain cases or you are morally blind. End of discussion. To argue with the morally blind is as pointless as arguing with the color-blind and the tone-deaf.
2. Another argument repeatedly given against capital punishment is that it involves doing to a person what in other circumstances would be deemed morally wrong. We could call it the 'consistency argument.' The argument is that, since killing people is wrong, then the state's killing of people is also wrong. The trouble with this argument, however, is that it, like the preceding argument, 'proves too much.'
For if the argument were sound, it would show that every type of punishment is impermissible, since every type of punishment involves doing to a person what otherwise would be deemed morally wrong. For example, if I, an ordinary citizen, demand money from you under threat of dire consequences if you fail to pay, then I am committing extortion; but there are situations in which the state can do this legitimately as when a state agency such as the Internal Revenue Service assesses a fine for late payment of taxes. (Of course, I am assuming the moral legitimacy of the state, something anarchists deny; but the people who give the sort of argument I am criticizing are typically liberals who believe in a much larger state than I do.)
The state is a coercive entity that limits the liberties of individuals in all sorts of ways. It has to be coercive to do its job. If you hold that the state is practically necessary and morally justifiable, then you cannot reasonably balk at the state's killing of certain of its citizens.
If justice demands the execution of certain miscreants -- and it does -- then this justice must be administered by some agency. It had better be an agency dispassionate and impartial hedged round by all sorts of rules and safeguards. Otherwise vigilantism. The job falls to the state.
3. And then there is the 'cost' argument. The idea is that capial punishment is not cost-effective. It is claimed that the benefit to society does not outweigh the cost. A utilitarian might be able to rig up such an argument, but I am not a utilitarian. The issue is one of justice. Justice demands capital punishment in certain cases, and it doesn't matter what it costs, or whether there is any benefit to society, or even whether there is any society to benefit. (Recall Kant's last man example.)
In any case, there is nothing necessary about high costs. They could easily be reduced. A limit could be set to appeals -- and ought to be set to them. Endless appeals make a mockery of justice. And if malefactors were executed in a timely fashion, the deterrent effect would be considerable. Thus the 'no deterrence' argument is also worthless in my opinion. Apart from the suicidal, people love life -- criminals included. Swift and sure execution for capital crimes could not fail to have a deterrent effect.
I will add that if it could be shown that in some jurisdiction the capital penalty was not being applied fairly and justly (due to prejudice against people of Middle Eastern descent, let us say), then I would support a moratorium on the penalty in that jurisdiction. But this question is distinct from the question of principle. That alone is what I have been discussing.
A paucity of common sense, a lack of wisdom, a tendency among those in authority to abdicate . . . these are among the characteristics of contemporary liberals. Common sense would suggest that in a sex-saturated society putting young men and women together in the same dormitory would be an unwise idea, one rather unconducive to the traditional purposes of a university. Among the traditional purposes were the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge and the inculcation of critical habits of mind. (Take a gander at Newman's Idea of A University.) The facilitation of 'hook-ups' and the consumption of prodigious quantities of alcohol was never on the list as far as I know. 'Hook-ups' there will be. But only a liberal would adopt a policy that facilitates them. University officials abdicated their authority starting in the 'Sixties. The abdication of authority is a fit topic for a separate post.
That a Catholic university would sponsor coed dorms is even more absurd. In Catholic moral theology sins against the sixth and ninth Commandments are all mortal. It would be interesting to explore the reasoning behind this. But part of the motivation, I think, is a conservative appreciation of the awesome power of the sex drive and its perhaps unique role in distorting human perceptions. Of the Mighty Tetrad (sex, money, power, fame/recognition) sex arguably ranks first in delusive power. In the grip of sexual obsessions we simply cannot think straight or live right. The news is replete with examples, Anthony Weiner being the latest example. 'Weenie-texting' he threw away his career. In the grip of his obsession, a naked old man, Strauss-Kahn, pounced on a hotel maid. And so on.
This was written in September of 2006 and posted on the old blog. But the topic is back in the news. My view hasn't changed, so I repost.
WARNING! Polemical post up ahead. Don't like polemics? Don't read it!
More puzzling to me than liberum arbitrium indifferentiae is the question, asked of old, asked now, and ever to be asked, namely, why are liberals so contemptibly obtuse?
The latest example, from the NYT no less, concerns voter indentification. Now anyone with common sense must be able to appreciate that voting must be conducted in an orderly manner, and that only citizens who have registered to vote and have satisfied the minimal requirements of age, etc. are to be allowed into the voting booth. Given the propensity to fraud, it is therefore necessary to verify the identities of those who present themselves at the polling place. To do this, voters must be required to present a government-issued photo ID card, a driver's license being only one example of such. It is a reasonable requirement and any reasonable person should be able to see it as such.
It is not enough to present a bank statement or a utility bill for the obvious reason that such a document does not establish one's identity: the statement or bill might have been stolen.
Missourians who have driver's licenses will have little trouble voting, but many who do not will have to go to considerable trouble to get special IDs. The supporting documents needed to get these, like birth certificates, often have fees attached, so some Missourians will have to pay to keep voting. It is likely that many people will not jump all of the bureaucratic hurdles to get the special ID, and will become ineligible to vote.
Considerable trouble? Bureaucratic hurdles? What silly exaggeration! If one doesn't have a birth certificate, one should get one since one will need it for other purposes. Stop buying lottery tickets for a week and you will have money for any fees that might be charged. In any case, what sort of person has no birth certificate? Presumably, the same people who lack ID. How do they live? How do they cash checks? Where do they live? Under bridges? Are these the sorts of people you want making decisions about matters of moment? Is this the new base of the Democrat Party?
Our editorialist is worried about the few who will not vote because they will not make the minimal effort required to obtain the necessary ID. It would be better for him to worry about the integrity of the voting process. The election process must inspire confidence in the citizenry, but it cannot do so unless it is well-regulated. Felons, illegal aliens, and other unqualified individuals cannot be allowed to vote.
The NYT editorialist thinks that supporters of photo ID are out to "to deter voting by blacks, poor people and other groups that are less likely to have driver's licenses." This is slander. Now if this moral cretin of an editorialist wants to engage in this sort of psychologizing, we can easily turn the table on him: the reason Dems want unregulated voting is to make possible voter fraud by illegal aliens, felons, and others, people who are their ticket to power.
We can also call him a racist since he apparently thinks black are so incompetent and inferior as to be unable to secure proper ID.
1. Avoid unhappy people. Most of them live in hells of their own devising; you cannot help them, but they can harm you.
2. Avoid negativity. Squelch negative and useless thoughts as they arise. Your mind is your domain and you have (limited) control over it. Don't dwell on the limits; push against them and expand them. Refuse entry to all unwanted guests. With practice, the power of the mind to control itself can be developed.
3. Set aside one hour per morning for formal meditation and the ruminative reading of high-grade self-help literature, e.g., the Stoics, but not just them. Go ahead, read Seligman, but read Seneca first.
4. Cultivate realistic expectations concerning the world and the people in it. This may require adjusting expectations downward. But this must be done without rancour, resentment, cynicism, or misanthropy. If you are shocked at the low level of your fellow human beings, blame yourself for having failed to cultivate reality-grounded expectations.
Negative people typically feel well-justified in their negative assessments of the world and its denizens. Therein lies a snare and a delusion. Justified or not, they poison themselves with their negativity and dig their whole deeper. Not wise.
Know and accept your own limitations. Curtail ambition, especially as the years roll on.
5. Blame yourself as far as possible for everything bad that happens to you. This is one of the attitudinal differences between a conservative and a liberal. When a conservative gets up in the morning, he looks into the mirror and says, "I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul. What happens to me today is up to me and in my control." He thereby exaggerates, but in a life-enhancing way. The liberal, by contrast, starts his day with the blame game: "I was bullied, people were mean to me, blah, blah, people suck, I'm a victim, I need a government program to stop me from mainlining heroin, blah, blah, et cetera ad nauseam. A caricature? Of course. But it lays bare some important home truths like all good caricatures do.
Perhaps we could say that the right-thinking person begins with a defeasible presumption in favor of his ability to rely on himself, to cope, to negotiate life's twists and turns, to get his head together, to be happy, to flourish. He thus places the burden of proof on the people and things outside him to defeat the presumption. Sometimes life defeats our presumption of well-being; but if we start with the presumption of ill-being, then we defeat ourselves.
We should presume ourselves to be successful in our pursuit of happiness until proven wrong.
6. Rely on yourself for your well-being as far as possible. Learn to cultivate the soil of solitude. Happy solitude is the sole beatitude. O beata solitudo, sola beatitudo. An exaggeration to be sure, but justifed by the truth it contains. In the end, the individual is responsible for his happiness.
7. Practice mental self-control as difficult as it is.
An article by Martin P. Seligman. Now there's an aptronym for you. Selig is German for happy, blessed, blissful, although it can also mean late (verstorben) and tipsy (betrunken). So Seligman is the happy man. Nomen est omen?
That would be Danny Gatton. Here he uses a nearly full bottle of beer to play overhand slide guitar. That can get messy, so he throws a rag over the fret board and plays over it. The guy has amazing chops. Red Neck Jazz. Funky Mama.
Well, you must have read this sentence a million times but let me tell you once again, anyway: I have been an ardent follower of your blog and simply admire it. I thought you might be the best person to write to as I am confident you will also give me honest advice regarding a troublesome question I have. Here it is. I plan to do a course in philosophy since I love this subject. And finally get a Ph.D. if possible. I am afraid, according to the descriptions you have given of the academic marketplace in philosophy, I might only end up hurting my passion for this subject. At the moment I am a pleasure reader and love philosophy this way. At least, it helps me organize my life and has had a positive effect. If studying philosophy academically only cracks my rose-colored glasses and I end up being repulsive, then it might not be worth it. Perhaps I am better off reading the little that I can and gather all the pleasure thereof. Would love to know what you may advise me.
I do get probably more fan mail than I deserve, but it is all gratefully received. So thanks for the kind words.
One question you appear to be asking is whether a person can embark upon and complete a course of study in philosophy at the graduate level and not become as disagreeable and nasty as G. B. is portrayed as being in Philosophy as Blood Sport. Yes, of course. I employ the 'No Asshole Rule' the blogospheric corollary of which is 'Delete and Block.' If a person behaves badly, I have nothing to do with him. You could do the same. Before applying to a department, visit it and get a feel for the atmosphere there by talking to grad students and others. If you don't like the vibe, apply elsewhere.
Another question you may be asking is whether pursuing a Ph.D. in philosophy is a good bet when it comes to generating an income that is above the bare subsistence level. My thoughts on this topic are at the other end of the first hyperlink above.
A third question in the vicinity is whether it is necessary to study philosophy formally to become competent it it. I would say 'no.' It depends on whether you have intelligence, philosophical aptitude (which is not the same as intelligence), and discipline. If you have these qualities in sufficient quantity, then formal study can actually be a hindrance.
Nowadays, with the Internet, it's all our there. You can find almost everything you need, for free, when you want it, wherever you live, including lectures (on YouTube). Suppose you are interested in topic X. Read the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on the topic and then start working your way through the bibliography. Try to write something yourself on the topic and try to get it published in a decent journal. You only learn philosophy by doing it: thinking, reading, writing, and submitting your work to the criticism of others. The emphasis must be on your own thinking and writing. Otherwise you may end up a mere scholar who knows who said what when but hasn't a clue as to what he himself believes.
Hashing things out with competent, sincere, like-minded others is also important, not to mention extremely enjoyable. For as Aristotle says somewhere, "We philosophize best with friends." But friendly interlocutors are not necessary. What is necessary, besides intelligence, aptitude, and discipline is a desire to get to the truth of the matter that trumps every other desire.
What is the essence of proceduralism? I suggest: the criteria by which we judge that such-and-such is the case are constitutive of what it is for such-and-such to be the case. Or perhaps: the norms governing the validity of the 'output' of a procedure are identical to the procedural rules whereby fair are distinguished from unfair procedures. But I had better give an example, and pronto.
1. Lotteries. About (fair) lotteries we ought to be (pure) proceduralists. That is, we ought to hold that the procedure by which it is determined that a certain number is the winning number constitutes what it is to be the winning number. Of course I am assuming that the lottery procedure is fair: the selection process is random, and so on. So assume we have a fair lottery and that Wealthy Willy wins a pile of loot. Surely the following questions are senseless: Did Willy really win? Or was he merely judged to have won by the lottery officials? Isn't it possible that the lottery procedure, though fair and unbiased, selected the wrong winner? Isn't it possible that Impecunious Ike, or some other guy, is the real winner?
The point could be put as follows. With respect to lotteries, it is broadly-logically impossible that a person instantiate the property being judged to be a winner of lottery L and not instantiate the property being a winner of lottery L.
When it comes to lotteries, proceduralism is the only game in town.
2. Elections. The same, I think, goes for elections. If Snerdly gets more votes than the other candidates, he becomes president of the chess club. Surely it would be senseless to question whether Snerdly has really been elected, as if he could have an 'elective status' independently of the (fair) procedure by means of which he either wins the office or not.
In both the lottery and election cases one could of course maintain that there is something unfair, though not procedurally unfair, about the result. If Wealthy Willy, who needs no money, wins a million then that will be perceived as an unfair outcomes by the other players, all of them poor schmucks. But this is irrelevant to the point. It is also irrelevant to Snerdly's 'legitimacy' that he is not competent to be president if you assume that he was fairly elected.
3. Trials. Suppose a man is found guilty of a crime in a court of law in which all the proper procedures have been followed. Assume that the prosecution, the defense, the judge, and the jury are all highly competent and morally above reproach. The man has been found guilty of committing some crime; can one nevertheless reasonably ask whether he in fact committed the crime? In the case of Wealthy Willy, one cannot reasonably ask whether he in fact won: his having won just is his being-judged-to-have-won by the lottery officials.
If a sharp thinker insists that even in the Willy case there is a distinction between the two properties, I will cheerfully concede the point and congratulate the thinker on his intellectual acuity; but I will go on to insist that the distinction obtains only on the 'intensional plane' and not on the 'extensional plane.' For surely it is impossible that Willy or anyone instantiate the first property without instantiating the second.
So, extensionally, there is no distinction in the case of Willy between the property of having won and the property of having-been-judged-to-have-won. My question is whether, extensionally, there is a distinction between being guilty and being found guilty in a properly conducted court of law.
My answer is in the affirmative. This implies that there is at least a serious question as to whether proceduralism holds with respect to legal trials. A rational person must be a proceduralist when it comes to lotteries, but he needn't be when it comes to the law.
But I am prepared to make a stronger claim. Not only is there a serious question as to whether proceduralism holds with respect to legal trials, proceduralism does not and cannot hold with respect to them. For it is not perfectly obvious that people have been tried, convicted, and executed for crimes they did not commit? They were found guilty but they were not guilty in fact. All the procedures were properly followed and they were found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But they were not guilty in fact.
4. One might object to the foregoing as follows:
Look, we are agents, not transcendental spectators, and we have to come to intersubjectively binding and enforceable decisions in a timely fashion about matters of moment in conditions in which certain knowledge is rarely available. Sure, Jones is conceivably innocent despite having been found guilty in the eyes of the law. His guilt or innocence is not constituted by his being found guilty or innocent. But that is a merely theoretical consideration. For all practical purposes to be found guilty is to be guilty. After all, there is no other way we have of reliably determining guilt and innocence apart from the court sytem. We cannot call God on the phone. He is incommunicado, the hot line to the divine having been down for some millenia now. Given that there is no other equally efficacious procedure available, for practical purposes the 'ouput' of the legal procedure is identical to the objectively correct 'output.'
This objection concedes the main point I wanted to make, namely, that one cannot be a (pure) proceduralist when it comes to legal trials. This objection is the best I can do by way of a charitable interpretation of certain recent animadversions of commenter Philoponus in the comment thread to this post. But perhaps I haven't understood him.
Carl Schmitt, Glossarium: Aufzeichnungen der Jahre 1947-1951, hrsg. v. Medem (Berlin: Duncker und Humblot, 1991), S. 213 (14. I. 49):
Das Feindschaftpotential des Denkens ist unendlich. Denn man kann nicht anders als in Gegensätzen denken. Le combat spirituel est plus brutal que la bataille des hommes.
The enmity potential of thought is infinite. For one cannot think otherwise than in oppositions. Spiritual combat is more brutal than a battle of men. (tr. MavPhil)
There is something to this unrepentant Nazi's onesided observation. Philosophy in particular sometimes bears the aspect of a blood sport. But thinking is just as much about the reconciliation of oppositions as it is about their sharpening. A good thinker is rigorous, precise, clear, disciplined. These are virtues martial and manly. But there are also the womanly virtues, in particular, those of the midwife. Socratic maieutic is as important as ramming a precisely formulated thesis down someone's throat or impaling him on the horns of a dilemma. The Cusanean coincidentia oppositorum belongs as much to thought as the oppositio oppositorum.
There is more to philosophy than the Butlerian "A thing is what it is and not some other thing." There is also the Heraclitean "The way up and the way down are the same." To take either as one's motto would be to philosophize onesidedly. Sometimes a thing is what it is in virtue of not being what it is not, its not being its Other being constitutive of what it is. That is indeed the case with the way up and the way down. Each is what it is by not being what it is not as non-independent moments of a whole which is their unity.
There is no philosophy without analysis and distinction, but there is also no philosophy without a concern for unity and wholeness. Discursive reason is diremptive but is also somehow aware of this fact and so seeks its Other, the reason that reconciles and harmonizes.
Every judgment, after all, is both an analysis and a synthesis. To judge that a is F is to separate a subject and a predicate while combining them. This holds for both what we in the trade call analytic and synthetic judgments. There is a clear sense in which the analytic Every cygnet is a swan is synthetic and the synthetic Some cygnets have broken wings is analytic.
The ability to listen and lay oneself open are as important in a philosopher as the ability to probe, penetrate, and dissect. When the manly and martial squeezes out the feminine and receptive, then philosophy can degenerate into a blood sport.
Our old friend Vlastimil Vohanka from the Czech Republic asked me if moral objectivism is a respectable metaethical position. It depends on what exactly moral objectivism is. Let's first of all see if we can locate it on the metaethical map. Then I take a quick look at Mackie's 'argument from queerness.'
Let's think about sentences like
1. Slavery is a great moral evil.
Presumably anyone reading this blog will assent to (1) and also hold that everyone ought to assent to it. So our question does not concern the ground-level acceptability of (1) which is here simply taken for granted. Our concern is metaethical.
(1) is a grammatically indicative sentence that appears to predicate the property of being evil of an action-type or an institution-type. If it puzzles you how an action-type can be evil, I say: an action-type is evil just in case actual or possible tokens (instances) of the type are evil.
But is (1) a fact-stating piece of discourse? If yes, then it has a truth-value. But note that if sentences like (1) are truth-valued, it does not follow that some are true and others false. It might be that they are all false, as on J. L. Mackie's Error Theory, which I won't discuss in this entry. Now let's introduce some terminology.
He is an animal, but also a spirit -- and thus a riddle to himself. He reasons and speaks, he objectifies, he says 'I' and he means it. Thus he does not parrot the word 'I'; uttering 'I' he expresses self-awareness. Man has a world (Welt), not merely an environment (Umwelt). Man envisages a Higher Life, a higher destiny, whether within history or beyond it. And then he puzzles himself over whether this is a mere fancy, a delusion, or whether it presages the genuine possibility of a higher life.
More than an animal, he can yet sink lower than any animal which fact is a reverse index of his spiritual status. He can as easily devote himself to scatology as to eschatology. The antics of a Marquis de Sade are as probative of man's status as the life of a St. Augustine.
Kierkegaard writes that "every higher conception of life . . . takes the view that the task for men is to strive after kinship with the Deity . . . ." (Attack Upon Christendom, p. 265) We face the danger of "minimizing our own significance" as S. K. puts it, of selling ourselves short. And yet how difficult it is to believe in one's own significance! The problem is compounded by not knowing what one's significance is assuming that one has significance. Not knowing that it is or what it is, one cannot minimize it.
Kierkegaard solves the problem by way of his dogmatic and fideistic adherence to Christian anthropology and soteriology. Undiluted Christianity is his answer. My answer: live so as to deserve immortality. Live as if you have a higher destiny. It cannot be proven, but the arguments against it can all be neutralized. Man's whence and whither are shrouded in darkness and will remain so in this life. Ignorabimus. In the final analysis you must decide what to believe and how to live.
You could be wrong, no doubt. But if you are wrong, what have you lost? Some baubles and trinkets. If you say that truth will have been lost, I will ask you how you know that and why you think truth is a value in a meaningless universe. I will further press you on the nature of truth and undermine your smug conceit that truth could exist in a meaningless wholly material universe.
The image is by Paul Klee, Engel noch tastend, angel still groping. We perhaps are fallen angels, desolation angels, in the dark, but knowing that we are, and ever groping.
I need a criterion. Perhaps the following will serve. Can I be myself, my best self, around this person? Or must I hide myself? If 'yes' to the first and 'no' to the second, then the person in question is a serious candidate for friendship.
You know, your inquiry into burden-of-proof (BOP) has put the idea in my mind that we could, if we wanted, institute something like a “court of philosophy”. Bear with me for paragraph—I don’t mean what follows as parody.
It would work like a civil action in which a claimant appears before a judge and files his motion: “I believe the following version of the Ontological Argument is sound and I will prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.” The judge examines the claimant's motion and informs him precisely what his BOP will be at trial with respect to each of the key premises of the argument. If the claimant agrees, the judge accepts the case. At this point the claimant must deposit a hefty bond with the court. It will be returned with interest if he carries his motion at trial but otherwise forfeited. The judge appoints a prosecutor/opponent who will argue against the claimant. A trial date is set and a jury of unbiased academics (philos?) seated. At trial the claimant set out his thesis as the opening statement and the prosecutor attacks it. The claimant gets to respond. The prosecutor gets his redirect. Expert witnesses may even be called on technical points like modal logic. The judge decides when the back and forth has continued long enough and then charges the jury. “You will decide whether the claimant has proven his thesis beyond a reasonable doubt.” The jury deliberates and reaches a verdict. “We the jury find that the claimant has not shown beyond a reasonable doubt that the Ontological Argument is sound.”
OK, I think we could do something like this. We could structure a philosophical debate like a civil action at law with clear assigned BOPs and a clear winner and loser. The question is, have we compromised anything essential or important about philosophical debate by imposing this kind of structure? Wouldn’t it be interesting to try this format and see what we get? Accumulated “case” law from these trials might be highly instructive. For example, suppose a dozen people have tried to sustain the Ontological Argument and all have failed at trial.
You have been arguing in several posts that BOP doesn’t belong in philosophical debate as we know it. I agree, but the question I’m now asking you is whether we could do philosophy in the style of a civil action? And if we could, wouldn’t it be useful to try?
One important difference is that the dialectical situation in the court room is practical whereas the dialectical situation in the stoa or seminar room is theoretical. By a dialectical situation I mean a context in which orderly rational discussion occurs among two or more competent and sincere interlocutors who share the goal of arriving as best they can at the truth about some matter, or of resolving some question in dispute. Legal and philosophical proceedings are both dialectical in this sense, but in the legal context the issue in dispute must be decided and in a timely manner, whereas in the philosophical context there is no need for a decision -- a 'verdict' if you will -- and also virtually no prospect of one.
One way decisions are arrived at in the law is via presumptions. Suppose Peter has one child, Paul, and no wife. One day Peter vanishes and is not heard from by anyone for years. He leaves behind his house and various other assets. Paul decides that he should inherit the assets. But he cannot inherit his father's estate until the man is dead. There is a question of fact here, the question whether Peter is dead or alive. But there is no conclusive evidence either way. The law deals with this via the presumption that a person who, without reasonable explanation, has not been heard from for at least seven years is dead. Given this presumption, all that Paul or his attorney has to show is that he is Peter's only living heir and that the father has been incommunicado for seven years or more. One can see from this example that the presumption makes possible the decision, and that without it no definite decision could be arrived at.
In philosophy, however, everything either is or can be called into question. This is the glory of philosophy -- but also its misery. And so there is no room for presumptions and BOP-assignments in philosophy. There is no room for judicial fiat of any kind. One cannot just lay it down that, e.g., an ontology that posits n categories of entity is to be preferred to one that posits n + 1 categories. In a court of law neither the law itself nor the procedural rules are on trial; but in philosophy, everything is 'on trial' including the most basic principles of logic. And so it comes as no surprise that nothing is ever decided in philosophy: no question is definitely answered, and no problem solved, to the satisfaction of all competent practioners.
And so I suggest that a court of philosophy would not be a court of philosophy. For what would go on in that court would not be philosophy, but rather a sort of dogmatically constrained quasi-philosophy. One would get answers all right, but only because various arbitrary decisions had been made, decisions that would be philosophically questionable.
Orwell, then, presented Catholics as either stupid or blinkered, dishonest or self-deceived. Yet he was very far from denying the need for religion. In his opinion socialists were quite wrong to assume that when basic material needs had been supplied, spiritual concerns would wither away. ‘The truth,’ Orwell wrote in 1944, ‘is the opposite: when one’s belly is empty, one’s only problem is an empty belly. It is when we have got away from drudgery and exploitation that we shall really start wondering about man’s destiny and the reason for his existence. One cannot have any worthwhile picture of the future unless one realises how much we have lost by the decay of Christianity.’
Exactly right. Would that the point were appreciated by the so-called New Atheists and their cyberpunk acolytes. Were they to rid the world of religion, what would they put in its place, to satisfy the needs of the spirit for meaning and point in the teeth of time and transition?
Prescriptive worldly counsel and other-worldly [hyphen added!] ideals were both anathema. ‘No doubt alcohol, tobacco and so forth are things that a saint must avoid,’ Orwell wrote in his essay on Gandhi, ‘but sainthood is also a thing that human beings must avoid.’ ‘The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection, that one is sometimes willing to commit sins for the sake of loyalty, that one does not push asceticism to the point where it makes friendly intercourse impossible, and that one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one’s love upon other human individuals.’
Part of what attracts me to Orwell is his intellectual honesty. He sees the problem, one that superficial atheists and dogmatic believers alike often paper over. The baubles and trinkets of this all-too- transient life cannot satisfy anyone with spiritual depth, which is presumably why Marxists and other leftist activists of a less superficial stripe invent a pie-in-the-future ersatz which is even less believable than the promises of traditional religion. But on the other hand, the dogmatic certainties projected by the will-to-believe flabbergast the critical intellect and appear as so many idols set up to avoid nihilism at all costs.
Yet seven months before Orwell died, he wrote to Buddicom, insisting that there must be some sort of afterlife. The letter, unfortunately, is lost, but Buddicom remembered that he had seemed to be referring not so much to Christian ideas of heaven and hell, but rather to a firm belief that ‘nothing ever dies’, that we must go on somewhere. This conviction seems to have stayed with him to the end: even if he did not believe in hell, he chose in his last weeks to read Dante’s Divine Comedy.
In his will Orwell had left directions that he should be buried according to the rites of the Church of England. Of course no one was better qualified to appreciate the beauty of the Book of Common Prayer; nevertheless the request surprised some of his admirers. A funeral was duly held at Christ Church in Albany Street; and David Astor, responsible for the arrangements, asked if his friend’s body might be interred in a country churchyard, at Sutton Courtenay, in Berkshire.
Appealing to both Right and Left, invoked by both, Orwell is owned by neither. He was his own man, a maverick. Hats off.
People are voting with their feet. Voting with the feet and the wallet are more effective than casting ballots when it comes to expressing views and punishing enemies, not to mention voting with 'lead,' a last resort which, one hopes, will remain unnecessary.
It's good that he takes care of his body, but what's the thing about his thing?
It has been alleged that Weiner 'sexted' some of these photos to at least one woman.
So why does he continue to stick it out? Elsewhere in these pages I speak of the Mighty Tetrad: "Money, power, sex, and recognition form the Mighty Tetrad of human motivators, the chief goads to action here below." He won't resign because of the money, a salary of $174, 000 per annum plus benefits. He won't resign because of the power of his office with its attendant privileges and perquisites. Power, as Henry Kissinger once observed, is a strong aphrodisiac. If it made old Henry attractive to the opposite sex think what it does for an in-shape dude like Weiner. And besides being sex-obsessed, our boy is apparently also an attention whore. In him the Mighty Tetrad achieves a particulalry twisted configuration.
He says he will seek 'treatment.' A typical liberal, he would apply the disease model to everything including his morally reprehensible behavior. He ought to man up, resign, and learn that, even in the Beltway, manhood is not something located south of the belt line.
It is the control of the cock, more than its deployment, that makes the man.
If you want to know why so many Americans feel alienated from their government, you need only go to Target and check out the light bulb aisle. Instead of the cheap commodities of yesteryear, you’ll find what looks like evidence of a flourishing, technology-driven economy.
There are “ultrasoft” bulbs promising “softer soft white longer life” light, domed halogens for “bright crisp light” and row upon row of Energy Smart bulbs -- some curled in the by-now- familiar compact fluorescent form, some with translucent shells that reveal only hints of the twisting tubes within.
It seems to be a dazzling profusion of choice. But, at least in California, where I live, this plenitude no longer includes what most shoppers want: an inexpensive, plain-vanilla 100-watt incandescent bulb. Selling them is now illegal here. The rest of the country has until the end of the year to stock up before a federal ban kicks in. (I have a stash in storage.) Over the next two years, most lower-wattage incandescents will also disappear.
Banned on the Left Coast in the People's Republic of Californication! It figures. It's sad to see what has become of my native state. But I am fortunate to flourish in Arizona where bright sun and hard rock and self-reliant liberty-lovers have a suppressive effect on the miasma of leftists. So with a firm resolve to stick it to the nanny-staters I headed out this afternoon in my Jeep Liberty to Costco where not a single incandescent was to be had. So I went to Lowe's and cleaned 'em out. I bought four 24-packs. Three packs were Sylvania 60W 130V A19's @ $10.03 per pack and one pack was Sylvania 100W 130V A19's @12.02 per pack. Total: $42.11 for 96 bulbs. That comes to less than 44 cents per bulb.
The 130 volt rating means that I will get plenty of life out of these bulbs at the expense of a negligible reduction in illumination. A voltage check at a wall socket revealed that I'm running just a tad below 120 V.
Next Saturday I'll pay a visit to Home Despot Depot and add to my stock.
And now I am remined of what were supposed to have been Goethe's last words: Licht, Licht, Mehr Licht! Light, light, more light!
My body is my body and not my body's body. So I am not my body. I have a body. This having, presumably sui generis and unlike any other type of having, is yet a having and not a being. My body doesn't have a body. I know that I have a body. My body doesn't know this. So again I am not my body. 'This body is this body' is a tautology. 'I am this body' is not a tautology.
The human body is not a body in the sense of physics alone but an embodiment of subjectivity. The body of the Other is the body of the Other.
Contra Husserl: I cannot constitute Paul's body (Leib, nicht Koerper) as a lived body without first constituting him as an Other Mind. So I cannot explain the constitution of the Other as Other by starting from the constitution of the body. The Fifth of the Cartesian Meditations ends in shipwreck.
Blogging has been good to me. I have met a number of very interesting and intellectually stimulating characters via the blogosphere. I had breakfast with four of them last Sunday morning: Peter L., Mike V., Carolyn M. and Seldom Seen Slim. Topics included logic and existence, the concept of sin, the question why be moral, and the distinction between being guilty and being found guilty in a court of law.
Slim and I found ourselves in that dialectical situation known as a disputation or dispute. Douglas N. Walton, a noted writer on informal logic, defines the term as follows. "A dispute is a dialogue in which one side affirms a certain proposition and the other side affirms the opposite (negation) of that proposition." (Informal Logic: A Handbook for Critical Argumentation, Cambridge UP, 2007, p. 60.) I affirmed the proposition that to be found guilty/not guilty in a court of law is not the same as to be guilty/not guilty. Slim affirmed the negation, namely, that to be found guilty/not guilty is the same as to be guilty/not guilty. The distinction strikes me a self-evident; but Slim denied it and I could not budge him from his position.
While thinking further about the matter yesterday, the following argument occurred to me which strikes me as decisive.
Here are two questions we can ask with respect to burden-of-proof (BOP) considerations as they figure in our legal system. First, why is a BOP assigned at all? (One can imagine courtroom proceedings in which no BOP is assigned.) Second, why is it assigned to the prosecutor/plaintiff? Part of the answer to the first question is because a decision must be made, a question resolved, a dispute adjudicated -- and in a timely manner. If there is no presumption on one side or the other, or, correlatively, no BOP assigned to the other side or the one, then in cases where the evidence is evenly balanced or unclear a decision might be not be achievable in a reasonable time. But why lay the BOP on the state or the plaintiff or their respective representatives? At least part of the answer to this second question is that we collectively judge it to be better that a guilty person go free than that an innocent person be wrongly convicted.
Now if Slim grants me this obvious point, then I have all I need to refute his assertion. To prefer that a guilty man go free than that an innocent man be penalized and in some cases executed is precisely to presuppose my distinction between being guilty/not guilty and being found guilty/not guilty in a court of law. He who denies this distinction removes the main reason for the presumption of innocence, a central pillar of our legal system.
Apparently, Slim thinks there is no objective fact of the matter as to whether or not a person accused of a crime is guilty of it or not. He seems to think that a guilty verdict or an acquittal is what makes one either guilty or not guilty. To my mind this is utterly preposterous. It elides the obvious distinction between a fallible judgment about the way things are and the way things are.
My point goes through even if there is no distinction betweem morality and legality. Suppose there is no distinction between a morally wrong killing of a human being and a legally wrong killing of a human being, that the former collapses into the latter. (Someone who holds this could argue that abortion is legal and so ipso facto moral.) Even so, either Jones killed Smith in a legally proscribed manner or he did not -- regardless of a court's verdict. There are hard facts about what the law proscribes, and there are hard facts about Jones' behavior in relation to Smith. Those two sets of fact taken together determine whether he is guilty or not guilty.
There is only one way I can imagine my distinction collapsing. In the divine court, if such there be, there cannot be any discrepancy between being found guilty and being guilty, nor between being found innocent and being innocent. The distinction would hold only on the intensional plane; extensionally there would be no possibility of a person beng found guilty/not guilty and being guilty/not guilty. Here below, however, we are stuck with fallible courts. And it is a curious form of idolatry to suppose that our fallible courts can do what only the divine court can do.
Or: Why does he stick it out? One reason is that he's a Dem and Dems as a group, when compared to Republicans as a group, are shameless. But the main reason is very simple:
Weiner has also complained to friends that he wasn’t sure how he would make a living if he were to leave Congress and its $174,000 annual salary. "He’s worried about money and how to pay his bills," said a Democratic insider. "He’s very concerned about that."
$174,000! To do what? Basically to perpetuate a system whose main goal is the protection of its members' own power, privileges, and perquisites. For far too many pols these days government is nothing more than their hustle, a hustle like any other.
Yet another argument for limited government.
When it comes to Weiner's 'sexting' of his love engine, bigger is better. But when it comes to government, bigger is not better. Wise up, liberals.