Monday, May 31, 2004

Is Greed the Engine of Capitalism?

If I were a liberal or a lemming, I would say I am a C-SPAN 'junkie,' but since I am neither, and abhor the debasement of language and thought, and in particular the suggestion that every habit is an addiction, I will just say that I am a regular C-SPAN viewer. This morning's Washington Journal on C-SPAN 1, with Steve Scully at the helm, was particularly excellent. I had to tear myself away at 5:50 AM to get my ride in before old Sol got too uppity. (It is starting to get a tad WARM out here in the Sonoran desert, but it's that famous DRY warmth.) One of the C-SPAN guests was a sweet old lady by the name of Mary Alice Herbert, the vice presidential candidate of the Socialist Party - USA.

She spouted a lot of nonsense, but the assertion that really got my blood up was the claim that, and I quote from my notes, "The engine of capitalism is greed." This is no better than saying that the engine of socialism is envy. Greed (avarice) and envy are vices. A vice is a habit. Habits don't float in the air; they are dispositions of agents. A greedy person is one who is disposed toward inordinate acquisition, while an envious person is one who is disposed to feel diminished by the success or well-being of others to the extent of hating them for their success or well-being. Clearly, one can support, and participate in, a free market economy without being greedy. Anyone who is reading this post is most likely an example. Equally, one can support, and participate in, a socialist economy without being envious. Think of all the good Russians who really believed the Commie nonsense, made their selfless contributions, but ended up in the Gulag anyway. Freda Utley is good on this.

Greed is not what drives a free market economy; indeed, greed is positively harmful to such an economy. Take Enron. The greed of Jeffrey Skilling, Kenneth Lay, et al. led to the collapse of the company and to massive losses for the shareholders. Don't confuse greed with acquisitiveness. A certain amount of acquistiveness is reasonable and morally acceptable. Greed is inordinate acquisitiveness, where 'inordinate' carries not only a quantitative, but also a normative, connotation: the greedy person's acquisitiveness harms himself and others. Think of the miser, and the hoarder. What's more, greed cannot be measured by one's net worth. Bill Gate's net worth is in the billions. But he is not greedy as far as I can tell: he benefits millions and millions of people with his software, the employment and investment opportunities he provides, and the vast sums he donates to charities.

C-SPAN viewers who called in to object that socialism has failed everywhere it has been tried were met with the standard Marxist response, namely, that capitalist encirclement, capitalist opposition, is responsible for socialism's failure. This is an example of the classic double standard leftists employ. The problems of capitalism are blamed on capitalism, but the problems of socialism are ALSO blamed on capitalism. Another form of the double standard involves the comparison of capitalist reality, not with socialist reality, but with socialist ideality, socialist fiction, socialist utopia. A reality to reality comparison issues in an unfavorable judgment on socialism.

Finally, there is a problem with the sort of 'bottom up' or democratic socialism that people like Herbert espouse. This is supposed to avoid the problems attendant upon the sort of 'top down' socialism attempted in the Soviet Union. The latter required a revolutionary vanguard unequal in power to those on whom it sought to impose socialism -- in obvious contradiction to the ultimate socialist desideratum of equality. Simply put, if equality is the end, the means cannot be dictatorship by the Party or by one man of steel. No entity, once it gains power, is likely to give it up. This is why Castro still rules his island paradise, forty five years after his 1959 ousting of Battista. The will to power is the will to the preservation and expansion of power.

Therefore, many socialists nowadays call themselves democratic socialists. But this smacks of a contradiction in terms. If socialism is to replace capitalism -- as opposed to being confined to isolated pockets of society such as communes -- then it must be imposed by force by a central authority. For there are just too many of us who cannot see why material (as opposed to formal) equality is even a value.



Sunday, May 30, 2004

On 'Socially Conscious' Investing

Should one be bothered, morally speaking, that the mutual funds (shares of which) one owns invest in companies that produce alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, and firearms? I say no.

For some, alcohol is the devil in liquid form. They should avoid the stuff, and it is certainly within their power to do so. For most of us, however, alcohol is a delightful adjunct to a civilized life. What good is a hard run on a hot day that doesn’t eventuate in the downing of a couple of cold beers? To what end a plate of Mama Gucci’s rigatoni, if not accompanied by a glass of Dago Red? I am exaggerating of course, but to make a serious point: alcohol for most us is harmless. Indeed, it is positively good for healthy humans when taken in small doses (1-2 oz. per diem) as numerous studies have been showing for the last twenty years or so.

The fact that many abuse alcohol is quite irrelevant. That is their free choice. Is it Sam Adam’s fault that you tank up on too much of his brew? No, it is your fault. This is such a simple point that I am almost embarrassed to make it; but I have to make it because so many liberals fail to grasp it. So read your prospectuses and be not troubled when you come across names like Seagrams.

I would also point out to the ‘socially conscious’ that if they enjoy an occasional drink, then they cannot, consistently with this fact, be opposed to the production of alcoholic beverages. You cannot drink alcohol unless alcohol is there to be drunk. Consistency demands of them complete abstention.

As for tobacco, suppose we begin by reflecting on this truth: Cigarettes don’t kill people, people kill people by smoking cigarettes, or, to be precise, they increase the probability of their contracting nasty diseases (lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease), diseases which are often but not always terminal, by smoking sufficiently many cigarettes over a sufficiently long period of time. If X raises the probability of Y to a degree <1, I don’t call that causation; I call that probability-raising. It should also be obvious that correlation does not prove causation. So I don’t want to hear about causation in this context. Nor do I want to hear about addiction. To confuse a psychological habituation with addiction is quite foolish. Addiction, if it means anything, has to involve (i) a physiological dependence (ii) on something harmful to the body (iii) removal of which would induce serious withdrawal symptoms. One cannot be addicted to nose-picking, to running, to breathing, or to caffeine. Furthermore, (iv) it is a misuse of language to call a substance addictive when only a relatively small number of its users develop -- over a sufficient period of time with sufficient frequency of use -- a physical craving for it that cannot be broken without severe withdrawal symptoms. Heroin is addictive; nicotine is not. To think otherwise is to use ‘addiction’ in an unconscionably loose way.

Liberals and leftists engage in this loose talk for at least two reasons. First, it aids them in their denial of individual responsibility. They would divest individuals of responsibility for their actions, displacing it onto factors, such as ‘addictive’ substances, external to the agent. Their motive is to grab more power for themselves by increasing the size and scope of government: the
less self-reliant and responsible individuals are, the more they need the nanny state and people like Hillary, who aspires to be Nanny-in-Chief. Second, loose talk of ‘addiction’ fits in nicely with what I call their misplaced moral enthusiasm. Incapable of appreciating a genuine issue such as partial-birth abortion, they invest their moral energy in pseudo-issues.

The main point is that tobacco products can be enjoyed in relatively harmless ways, just as alcoholic beverages can be enjoyed in relatively harmless ways. I have never met a cigarette yet that killed anybody. One has to smoke them, one has to smoke a lot of them over many years, and each time you light up it is a free decision.

Some people feel that smokers are irrational. This too is nonsense. Someone who smokes a pack of cigarettes per day is assuming a serious health risk. But it may well be that the pleasure and alertness the person receives from smoking is worth the risk within the person’s value scheme. Different people evaluate the present in its relation to the future in different ways. I tend to sacrifice the present for the future, thereby deferring gratification. Hence my enjoyment of the noble weed is abstemious indeed, consisting of an occasional load of pipe tobacco, or an occasional fine cigar. (I recommend the Arturo Fuente ‘Curly Head’ Maduro: cheap, but good.) But I would not think to impose my abstemiousness, or time-preference, on anyone else.

As for firearms, one can with a clear conscience invest in the stock of companies that manufacture them. One thereby supports companies that make it possible for the police and military to be armed. Think about it: without gun manufacturers, there would be no guns, and hence no effective police and military forces. And without gun manufacturers, decent citizens would be unable to defend themselves, their families, and their communities against the criminal element. The ‘socially conscious’ or ‘socially responsible’ want the protection afforded by the armed, but without getting their hands dirty. To be wholly consistent, they should go live somewhere where there is no police or military protection.

If the price of 'social consciousness' is logical unconsciousness, then I prefer to be socially unconscious.

View from the Right

View from the Right

I found this link on Mangan's Miscellany.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

On Throwing Latin, and a Jab at the 'Analysts'

If you are going to throw Latin, then you ought to try to get it right. One of my correspondents sent me an offprint of a paper of his which had been published in American Philosophical Quarterly, a very good philosophical journal. The title read, Creation Ex Deus. The author's purpose was to develop a notion of creation out of God, as opposed to the traditional notion of creation out of nothing (ex nihilo). He knew that 'God' translates as Deus, and that 'out of' is rendered by ex. Hence, ex Deus. But this is bad Latin, since the preposition ex takes the ablative case. Deus being a second declension masculine noun, its ablative form is Deo. Ex Deo would have been correct. Mistakes like this are not as rare as they ought to be, and we can expect more of them in the future.

It says something that the error just mentioned was caught neither by the author, nor by the editor, nor by the referees, nor by the proofreader. It says something in particular about 'analytic' philosophers. I am sorry to report that many of them are ignoramuses (indeed, ignorabimuses) wholly innocent of foreign languages, knowledge of history (both 'real' history and the history of ideas), and of high culture generally. One name analyst implied in print that the music of John Lennon was on the level of that of Mozart. There are Ph.D.s in philosophy who have never read a Platonic dialogue, and whose dissertations are based solely on the latest ephemera in the journals. Here, as elsewhere, ignorance breeds arrogance. They think they know what they don't know. They think they know what key theses in Kant and Brentano and Meinong mean when they have never studied their texts. And, not knowing foreign languages, they cannot determine whether or not the available translations are accurate. Not knowing the sense of these theses, they read into them contemporary notions. And if you told them that this amounts to eisegesis, they wouldn't know what you are talking about.

Not all analytic philosophers are ignoramuses, of course. Hector-Neri Castaneda, for example, had a grounding in classics. When he founded Nous, a top analytic journal, he placed Nihil philosophicum a nobis alienum putamus on the masthead. It is a take-off on Terence, philosophicum replacing humanum. It is telling that the Latin motto was removed by Castaneda's successors after his untimely death. Princeton University, I understand, removed the language requirement for the Ph.D. in philosophy in 1980. An appalling development. It has been said that if you don't know a foreign language, you don't know your own.

The fact that many analytic philosophers lack historical sense, knowledge of foreign languages, and broad culture is of course no excuse to jump over to the opposite camp, that of the 'Continental' philosophers. For lack of historical sense, they substitute historicism, which is just as bad. For lack of linguistic competence, they substitute a bizarre linguisticism in which the world dissolves into a text, a text susceptible of endless interpretation and re-interpretation. For lack of broad culture, they substitute a super-sophistication that empties into a miasma of sophistry and relativism. Worse, much of Continental philosophy, especially much of what is written in French, is just plain bullshit. Indeed, to cop a line from John Searle, one he applied to Jacques Derrida, it gives bullshit a bad name. I'll get around to substantiating this charge later. It is therefore no surprise that the Continental types jump to embrace every loony idea that emanates from the Left.

You can see that I am warming to my theme. I am also brushing in very broad strokes. But details and documentation are readily supplied -- later.

What inspired this post was a query of a correspondent. He wanted to know how to render 'seize the world' into Latin. Well, we know that 'seize the day' goes into Latin as carpe diem. And we should have picked up by now that 'world' is mundus. 'Seize' takes the accusative, and since mundus is a second declension masculine noun, we get: Carpe mundum. If I am wrong about this, Michael Gilleland will correct me.

And another thing. I find it appalling that so many people nowadays, college 'educated' people, are completely innocent of grammatical terminology. Words like 'genitive,' 'dative,' 'ablative,' etc. elicit a blank stare. Grammar being a propaedeutic to logic, it is no wonder that there are so many illogical people adrift in the world.

E-Mail Policy

I do not open e-mail attachments from senders whose bona fides have not already been established. So, if you want me to read your message, make sure it appears in the main body of the message.

Any e-mail I receive is subject to being posted on this weblog, in whole or in part, with or without editing, unless the sender requests otherwise.

Friday, May 28, 2004

On Social Stigma

City Journal Autumn 2000 | Bring Back Stigma by Roger Scruton

Thanks to Keith Burgess-Jackson for this link. I share his high opinion of Scruton.

A Chess Riddle

My chess nemesis, Ron Fox, sent me this riddle:

Two men play five games of chess. Each wins an equal number of games, but there were no draws. How?

I solved it, can you? Answer to be posted later.

Is Ayn Rand a Good Philosopher?

Keith Burgess-Jackson, that prolific and penetrating argonaut of the blogosphere, has recently assembled some reasons why Ayn Rand is not taken seriously by most professional philosophers. I don’t disagree with any of KBJ’s reasons, but I should like to add one of my own.

To put it anachronistically, Rand’s writing reads like blogscript, loosely argued if argued at all, and sprinkled with a sizeable admixture of ranting and raving. To put it bluntly, she gives arguments so porous that one could drive a Mack truck through them.

Suppose we turn to p. 24 of Philosophy: Who Needs It (ed. Peikoff, Signet, 1982). There, in an article entitled “The Metaphysical and the Man-Made,”(1973) Rand states “...the basic metaphysical issue that lies at the root of any system of philosophy: the primacy of existence or the primacy of consciousness.” To contrast existence and consciousness in this way is dubious since
consciousness, if it is not nothing, exists. But I won’t pursue this line of critique; I will instead consider what Rand could mean by the primacy of existence. The primacy of existence is “the axiom that existence exists, i.e., that the universe exists independent of consciousness (of any consciousness), that things are what they are, that they possess a specific nature, an identity.”

If we think about Rand’s axiom, we see that it conflates three distinct propositions:
P1: Each thing exists independently of any consciousness.
P2: Each thing satisfies the Law of Identity in that, for each x, x = x.
P3: The identity of each thing consists in its possession of a specific nature.

Clearly these three are logically distinct. P2 is the least controversial of the three, for all it says is that each thing is self-identical. This is an admissible axiom since it is a law of logic. (An axiom is an ultimate premise, one that cannot be supported by logically deriving it from more basic premises.) But P2 does not entail P1. For if each thing is self-identical, it does not follow that each thing exists independently of any consciousness. To see this, suppose that God exists and creates everything distinct from himself. On this supposition, each thing distinct from God is self-identical but precisely NOT independent of any consciousness. Since P2 does not entail P1, these two propositions are logically distinct. Note that all I need is the mere possibility of God’s existence to show the failure of entailment.

Rand is deeply confused. She thinks that to say that x is self-identical is to say something about x’s mode of existence, namely, that x exists independently of any consciousness. If this were true, a mere law of logic would entail not only the nonexistence of God, but also the necessary nonexistence (i.e., the impossibility) of God. What’s more, it amounts to a solving by logical fiat of the problem of the external world. If Rand were right, one would be able to prove that an object of perception exists apart from its being perceived by simply pointing out that it is self-identical. Yonder mountain, qua object of perception, is of course self-identical; but that scarcely proves that it exists independently of my consciosness of it. Now consider an Aristotlean accident such as the being-tanned of Socrates. (Our man has been out in the sun, hence he is tanned, but he might have remained indoors.) An accident exists only in a substance, unlike a substance which exists in itself. An accident cannot exist in itself or by itself. Yet substances and accidents are both self-identical. It follows that self-identity implies nothing about mode of existence. To point out that x is self-identical leaves wide open whether x is an accident, a substance, a mind-dependent entity, a mind-independent entity, an abstract object, a concrete object, a process, a continuant, a nonexistent object of an hallucination, an existent object of a veridical perception, etc.

In sum, Rand is attempting to squeeze controversial metaphysical assertions out of a mere logical axiom. It can’t be done.

It is also clear that P2 does not entail P3. P2 merely says that each thing is self-identical. But this implies nothing as to natures. If a thing has a nature, then it has some essential properties. But it is possible, and many philosophers have held, that all of a thing’s properties are accidental. Therefore, it is possible that a thing be self-identical and yet have only accidental properties – which shows that P2 does not entail P1.

P1 is also distinct from P3 in that the negation of P1 is consistent with P3.

Suppose we adduce a further passage: “To grasp the axiom that existence exists, means to grasp the fact that nature, i.e., the universe as a whole, cannot be created or annihilated, that it cannot come into or go out of existence.” (P. 25) Rand goes on to say that the universe is “ruled” by “the Law of Identity.” (Ibid.)

Any professional philosopher should be able to see how pitiful this is. Let’s not worry about Big Bang cosmology according to which the universe precisely did come into existence some 15 billion years ago. Instead, let us ask ourselves how one can validly infer a statement about the nature of the existence of existing things, namely, that they cannot come into or pass out of existence, from a mere law of logic. Suppose we construct an argument on Rand’s behalf:

1. Necessarily, every x is self-identical.
2. To exist = to be self-identical
Therefore
3. Necessarily, every x exists
Therefore
4. Every x exists necessarily.
Therefore
5. No x exists contingently.
Therefore
6. No x can come into existence or pass out of existence.

The problem with this argument lies with premise (2). Rand needs (2), but (2) does not follow from (1). (2) must be brought in as a separate premise. But, unlike (1), (2) is scarcely self-evident. For even if it is true that x exists iff x = x, it does not follow from this that the existing of x consists in x’s being self-identical. It is conceivable that there be a nonexistent object such as Pegasus that is self-identical but does not exist. This shows that the biconditional given is circular: x exists iff x = x & x exists. There is more to existence than self-identity.

Furthermore, what Rand’s view implies is that the universe is made up of basic constituents, each of which is a necessary being (since the existence of each = its self-identity). This further implies modal Spinozism, the doctrine that there is exactly one possible world, the actual world. For if each of the basic constituents cannot come into existence or pass out of existence, then the collection of these constituents – the universe – cannot come into existence or pass out of existence. (Trust me, I am not committing the fallacy of composition.) But if the universe CANNOT come into existence or pass out of existence, then its actual existence entails its necessary existence, which entails in turn that no other universe is possible.

My point is not that modal Spinozism is false – although I do believe it to be false – but that this extremely controversial thesis is not equivalent to the Law of Identity. Thus, those of us who deny modal Spinozism are not trying “to exempt man from the Law of Identity.” (P. 26) Besides,if this law “rules the universe,” how could any mere philosophy professor exempt anybody from it.

Ayn Rand has some insights, and she is worth reading; but she is an astonishingly sloppy thinker. Take a gander at this passage:

A typical package-deal, used by professors of philosophy [those bastards!], runs as follows: to prove that there is no such thing as ‘necessity’ in the universe, a professor [any one will do] declares that just as this country did not have to have fifty states, there could have been forty-eight or fifty-two – so the solar system did not have to have nine planets, there could have been seven or eleven. It is not sufficient, he declares, to prove that something is, one must also prove that it had to be – and since nothing had to be, nothing is certain and anything goes. (p. 28)


A pathologist would have a field day with this tissue of confusion. First, the reference to philosophy professors amounts to a hasty generalization: only a few would argue in this deeply confused manner. Second, although it is true that the conventional needs to be distinguished from the natural, surely it is highly implausible to maintain that our solar system’s having nine planets is necessary. It is certainly not logically necessary: there is no logical contradiction
embedded in the supposition that there be some other number of planets. Nor is it nomologically necessary: the laws of physics do not dictate the number of planets. Had the initial conditions been different at the time of the formation of our planetary system, perhaps only eight planets would have congealed from the matter emitted from our sun. If Rand were right, then it would be necessary that the earth have only one moon, that this moon be waterless, that it have exactly the craters that it has, which implies that no meteors other than the ones that did slam into it could have slammed into it, that the Sea of Putridity, which is neither a sea nor putrid, have exactly the extent it has. And so on, for every natural fact.

Rand, that stalwart defender of rationality, ‘reasons’ as follows:
A. If some facts are not necessary, but contingent,
Then
B. No fact is necessary.
Therefore
C. Nothing is certain.
Therefore
D. Anything goes.

Each of these inferences is invalid. It is a contingent fact that there are nine planets, but it is not a contingent fact that water is H2O. So B does not follow from A. Nor does B entail C. Necessity is not the same property as certainty. The fact that I am now thinking is not necessary,but it is certain: see Descartes. Finally, C does not entail D. If nothing is known with certainty, it does not follow that there are no absolute truths; what follows is merely that we who hold them hold them fallibly.

Finally, let me point to a passage on p. 33 where Rand refers to John Rawl’s A Theory of Justice as “an obscenely evil theory [that] proposes to subordinate man’s nature and mind to the desires (including the envy), not merely of the lowest human specimens, but of the lowest non-existents....” To put it anachronistically, Rand the ranter is the Ann Coulter of philosophy. This sort of raving is not the way to refute Rawls.

Rand illustrates the perils of being an amateur philosopher. By the way, the difference between a professional and an amateur philosopher is not the difference between one who makes money from philosophy and one who does not. It is the difference between one whose work meets a certain standard of competence and rigor, and one whose work does not. Spinoza and Schopenhauer were professional philosophers despite their not making money from philosophy; Ayn Rand and plenty of hack philosophy teachers are amateurs who nonetheless made money from philosophy.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

More ACLU Idiocy

Last night, the O'Reilly Factor exposed the latest moronic move of the ACLU. They are suing to have a small cross removed from the seal of the City of Los Angeles on the ground that it violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This same seal, however, prominently displays the Roman goddess, Pomona, a wood-nymph who presided over fruit trees. (Trust me, I looked it up in Bullfinch's Mythology.) Therefore, if there were a good argument for removing the small cross, that would also constitute an argument for removing the image of Pomona. For if displaying a small cross constitutes an establishment of religion, then so does depicting a Roman goddess. There are polytheistic religions as well as monotheistic ones. If the idea is to remove every vestige of religion from public life, then surely the image of Pomona would have to be removed first, dominating as she does the seal.

The fundamental problem, however, is that leftists put an absurd construal upon the Establishment clause, which reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." What that means is that Congress shall not set up any religion as the state religion membership in which would be a condition for holding office, voting, etc. What does this have to do with a small cross on a city seal? Nothing. In what way does the presence of that small cross establish Christianity as the state religion? In no way. It no more establishes Christianity as the state religion than the image of Pomona establishes Roman polytheism as the state religion.

The cross is on the seal for historical reasons: the city of Los Angeles developed around the Mission of L.A. established by the Spanish Catholic priest Junipero Serra. To obliterate the cross would be to obliterate a bit of L.A.'s history. 'Los Angeles,' by the way, is Spanish for the angels. To be consistent, then, the ACLU types would have to agitate for a name change. Would they perhaps prefer Cheech and Chong's 'El Lay'? And while they are at it, they would have to agitate for a name change of the city of Pomona, a few miles east of downtown L.A., and obviously named after that very same Roman goddess. It would be easy to go on like this, reducing to absurdity the whole ACLU project of eliminating any vestige of religion from public life.

It is clear that on this issue the ACLU types have no cogent arguments. Since it is not fact and reason that motivates them, what does? In part it is animus against religion, Christianity in particular, but also the typical leftist hatred of anything that actually exists and provably works. They would destroy what it has taken generations to build up in the name of a utopian fantasy the very possibiity of which is in doubt.

It is important that these people be stopped. Do your bit: write letters to your representatives, start a conservative blog, inundate the L.A. Times with letters of protest. Confront liberals and leftists. You will not be able to engage them on the plane of reason, for that is not where they reside; but by confronting them you will contribute to their demoralization and ultimate defeat. There is too much at stake for you to sit back and do nothing.



Wednesday, May 26, 2004

The Ethics of War

This is the title of a new weblog by Keith Burgess-Jackson, his third, and it looks promising indeed. I plan to check in often to further my education. How does Keith do it? Why are some people so productive, but so many others the exact opposite?

Intelligent Design?

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2004.05.09
Shanks, Niall, God, The Devil, and Darwin: A Critique of Intelligent Design Theory, Oxford University Press, 2004, 296 pp, $25.95 (hbk), ISBN 0195161998

Reviewed by:
Neil A. Manson
The University of Mississippi

In this book Niall Shanks aims to debunk thoroughly “intelligent design theory” (henceforth IDT). The aim of proponents of IDT, Shanks warns us (p. xi), “is to insinuate into public consciousness a new version of science – supernatural science – in which the God of Christianity (carefully not directly mentioned for legal and political reasons) is portrayed as the intelligent designer of the universe and its contents.” He thinks the answer to the two basic questions about IDT – “Is intelligent design theory a scientific theory? Is there any credible evidence to support its claims?” (p. xii) – is an emphatic “no.” Such a response, Shanks thinks, is urgent, because IDT is just the thin edge of a wedge; “at the fat end of the wedge lurks the specter of a fundamentalist Christian theocracy” (p. xii).

Such overblown rhetoric peppers Shanks’ book, particularly in the sections in which he engages in political and social analysis of IDT (“Introduction: The Many Designs of the Intelligent Design Movement” and “Conclusion: Intelligent Designs on Society”). It sours what is in other respects a helpful book. IDT certainly merits severe criticism, on social and political grounds as well as philosophical ones. But do we really need to be told page after page that IDT proponents are “extremist” and “fundamentalist”? Entitling a chapter “The Evolution of Intelligent Design Arguments” is a good bit of fun – payback, perhaps, for creationists who write about “the faith of the evolutionist” and “the church of Darwin” – but did Shanks really need to say design arguments “survive, like tenacious weeds, in the minds of men” (p. 19)? In his discussion of Christian morality (pp. 232-3) did he really need to drop references to “pedophile priests,” “twisted televangelists,” white supremacists, and Adolf Hitler? If you want to read this sort of thing, buy a copy of Hillary’s Scheme: Inside the Next Clinton’s Ruthless Agenda to Take the White House. I expect better from a philosophy book.

The contempt Shanks displays is startling. Here is the most egregious example.

…among those who call themselves Christians and act on behalf of their faith are not just the likes of Mother Theresa and the ordinary decent folk who, without fanfare or media attention, perform simple acts of kindness and do the best they can to be good people. We will also have to consider the approximately 70,000 members of the Church of the Creator, mentioned previously, which boasts branches in 48 states and 28 countries. This is a church whose followers ’have shot, knifed or beaten blacks, Jews, and Asian Americans’ (Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, August 30, 2002) and which promotes racial holy war on behalf of whites. The actual moral message of Christianity is a mixed one, not only in theory but also in practice. (p. 233)
The non sequitur is appalling. Furthermore, Shanks simply takes the word of Matthew Hale regarding the membership and geographical reach of the Church of the Creator. Hale is its leader and the man Kristof interviewed. He was convicted on April 26, 2004 for soliciting the murder of a federal judge. Why does Shanks simply accept his boasts? In reality, reports the Southern Poverty Law Center (2003), the Church of the Creator never had more than several hundred members. But worst of all, the Church of the Creator is not even Christian! Kristof himself notes that “its sole theology is ’RaHoWa’ – racial holy war on behalf of whites.” The Anti-Defamation League (2004) states:

Creators see Christianity as a ’concoction’ of Jews that has been used as a ’tremendous weapon in the worldwide Jewish drive of race-mixing.’ They claim that there is no evidence that Jesus even existed and that the reliance of Christians on faith is merely childish gullibility.
Since this book claims, in part, to be a political expose of IDT, it is a grievous flaw that Shanks proves himself an unreliable investigative journalist. In his desire to lob bombs from his soapbox, he neglects to check his facts.

Furthermore, although Shanks proves himself to be a gifted science writer, he too often resorts to stomping his feet philosophically. For example, in “Chapter 6: The Cosmological Case for Intelligent Design,” Shanks does a fine job of laying out the essentials of Big Bang cosmology and presents some cases of cosmic fine-tuning. But then Shanks maintains these cases don’t support a design explanation because nothing possibly could. The idea of a supernatural mind affecting the natural world is “incoherent babble,” as meaningful as a science fiction story according to which “Captain Shanks….hit the accelerator on the snagglefarg drive, thus warping his ship into Jabberwocky space” (pp. 213-4). Well, fine – but if this is the case, Shanks need not write a whole book about IDT. If no non-naturalist view of the mind is even coherent, then proponents of design arguments can just pack up and go home. What would far more illuminating philosophically would be an argument for why, even if one admits the coherence of dualism, of supernatural mind, of agent causation, one still should not see in fine-tuning a reason to believe in a supernatural designer. Note that to grant the coherence of the idea of supernatural mind is not to beg the question. The conclusion of the design argument is that there exists a supernatural mind that designed the whole universe or that designed particular structures within the universe in a way that no everyday supernatural mind could. This conclusion goes well beyond the premise (necessary for the design argument even to get off the ground) that the notion of a supernatural mind is coherent. Since there are many people who are at least open to the idea of a supernatural mind – some of them even believe their own minds are not part of the natural order! – it would be nice (if only from a public-relations standpoint) if one’s case against IDT, or against design arguments more generally, did not rest on saying the notion of a supernatural mind is incoherent.

Shanks goes so far as to refuse to grant that fine-tuning needs explanation, happily classifying the life-friendly character of our universe as a one-off bit of luck – comparable to surviving five games of Russian Roulette (where, in each game, you have a 1/6 chance of surviving, so that the odds of surviving are about one in 10,000).

While this is a small number indeed….this sequence of outcomes is as likely as any other sequence of outcomes, all of which involve at least one bullet being fired. The only difference is that a sequence of five clicks on an empty chamber is a sequence in which you survive to tell the tale. That you might, anthropically, care about this sequence of five clicks does not change its likelihood of occurrence, nor, if you play the game five times and survive, does it mean that the hand of providence had intervened….
One hard-headed response to the fine-tuning arguments - and I think it is the right response, for what that is worth - is that it was just a matter of luck, and maybe not so hard-headed, if the only alternative should turn out to be incoherent. We know unlikely events do happen. We have no reliable evidence for the existence of a supernatural cosmic universe-tuner, except as an explanation for what might be attributed to luck. This latter, however, seems to be little more than a cosmological version of the gambler’s fallacy, manifesting itself here in the urge to offer causal explanations for the lucky streak of coincidences we had with the values of the cosmological variables. (p. 216-7)
Peter van Inwagen (1993, p. 135) has called this “one of the most annoyingly obtuse arguments in the history of philosophy,” and I have to agree with him. Not dying in five games of Russian Roulette suggests alternative hypotheses. [If five games are not enough to shake your confidence in luck, up it to a hundred.] Probably your first hypotheses will not involve supernatural agency (“Perhaps dud bullets were smuggled in or the gun’s hammer is made of rubber”). But if, after investigation, none of the natural explanations bear out, what would you think? Shanks tells you that since hypotheses involving supernatural intervention are “incoherent babble,” nothing could possibly be evidence for them, so you will just have to dismiss your surviving as dumb luck – presumably no matter how long you play Russian Roulette without getting shot!

This can’t be right. If, as Shanks allows, a universe with life really is a special and highly improbable outcome (this is implied by his calling this outcome the result of “the lucky streak of coincidences we had with the values of the cosmological variables”), then reasonable people will see it as demanding explanation. What a naturalist like Shanks needs to do here is argue that the outcome really is not special. Value, he might argue, is a natural property that only emerges after evolution produces sentient beings; to think a life-permitting universe is a special outcome is to be guilty of anthropocentric projection. This, at least, would be a fruitful line of philosophical debate.

Also in connection with the fine-tuning argument, Shanks makes the head-scratching claim that “[n]o demonstration ….has been offered anywhere” that life would be impossible if the values of the cosmic parameters differed (p. 215). The central message of Chapters 5 and 6 of Barrow and Tipler’s The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (a book which Shanks himself cites) is that many of the cosmic parameters are such that, were their numerical values slightly different, carbon-based biochemistry would be impossible. In Chapter 8 they argue against proposed alternative biochemistries. A similar case is made by John Leslie in Chapters 2 and 3 of his seminal book Universes. Amazingly, Shanks does not cite Universes and indeed seems unaware of Leslie’s work entirely. [The only mention of Leslie in the whole book (p. 216) is second-hand: “Rees (1997, 242) uses the {firing squad} analogy, which he got from a philosopher called John Leslie.”] More recently, Robin Collins (2003) has presented “six solid cases of fine-tuning,” showing how slight changes with respect to the cosmological constant, the strong and electromagnetic forces, carbon production in stars, the proton/neutron mass difference, the weak force, and gravity would lead to a universe without life. Assuming ’demonstration’ means, in this context, ’detailed argument supported by evidence’ (as opposed to ’deductive proof’), it is simply false that no demonstration has ever been offered that life is impossible when the values of the cosmic parameters differ. Whether these cases hold up and, if so, how to interpret them are, of course, fair issues, but simply to deny that anyone has even made the argument shows Shanks does not know the literature on fine-tuning.

I note that none of the authors I’ve just mentioned (van Inwagen, Barrow, Tipler, Leslie, Collins) are proponents of IDT, even though they have all written about (and, in most cases, supported to some degree) the design argument. There are other notables who have defended or at least respectfully discussed the design argument without in any way supporting IDT: Paul Davies (1992), Derek Parfit (1998), and Richard Swinburne (2003), to name just a few. This brings out another limitation of Shanks’ book. As he recognizes, behind IDT is a movement. The movement is committed to a particular account of the logic of the design argument (that of William Dembski’s The Design Inference), to a design hypothesis that is officially silent on the identity of the designer (to the point of allowing, as Michael Behe does [2003, p. 277], that the designer might be part of the natural world!), and to a particular emphasis on design in biology. As Shanks correctly notes, the particular political, legal, and religious needs of the proponents of IDT give rise to these commitments, yet they are baggage which does not necessarily burden all design proponents. The philosopher interested in a critique of the best design arguments available today will be disappointed to find that Shanks only offers a critique of IDT.

The book does have several virtues, chief among them being the excellent primer Shanks offers on the scientific details relevant to assessing IDT. He provides useful and elegant short histories of both the design argument (Chapter 1) and evolutionary theory (Chapter 2). In Chapter 4 he gives a spirited rebuttal of the claim that Darwinism rests on dogmatic adherence to philosophical naturalism. “The central stumbling blocks for intelligent design theory actually have little to do with pernicious materialistic philosophies alleged to be held by its opponents,” he says (p. 139). “The central stumbling blocks are all evidential in nature.” He illustrates this point in the second half of Chapter 4 with a study debunking claims about the beneficial medical effects of religious belief and of prayer.

Shanks does an fine job in Chapter 3 of explaining the laws of thermodynamics and of rebutting the argument that the emergence of life and complexity in the universe is contrary to those laws. The argument that evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics is a real loser, so it is nice to see it shot down in print. I would just add that an oft-made argument in the same vein is that the universe at the Big Bang had extremely low entropy, that this is in violation of the second law, and so the initial low entropy bespeaks design. Yet the second law is silent about the initial level of entropy in any system; it only tells you that, whatever that level of entropy is, it will increase over time. The second law is entirely consistent with the universe or its parts having a low level of entropy at the beginning. In any case, it is not even true that the universe at the Big Bang did have extremely low entropy, as Shanks correctly points out (p. 132); low entropy emerged as a result of the expansion of space, which allowed gravity the opportunity to organize matter into discrete chunks.

In Chapter 5 Shanks tackles the key scientific claim of IDT – that certain biological systems are “irreducibly complex.” Shanks argues that such systems are actually only “redundantly complex.”

We see redundant complexity when we notice that many actual biochemical processes do not involve simple linear sequences of reactions, with function destroyed by the absence of a given component in the sequence. Instead, they are the product of a large number of overlapping, slightly different – hence redundant – processes. Redundant complexity is also embodied in the existence of backup systems that can take over if a primary system fails. Finally, redundant complexity is observed in the phenomenon of convergent biological evolution, whereby systems with different evolutionary histories, perhaps using different substrates and products, nevertheless achieve similar biochemical functions.
The redundant complexity of biochemical processes turns out to lie at the heart of the stability, flexibility, and robustness they manifest in the heart of perturbations that ought to catastrophically disrupt systems conceptualized from the standpoint of Behe’s metaphor of the well-designed, minimalist mousetrap – the absence of any component of which should render the system functionless. (p. 180)
With redundantly complex biological systems in place, a perfectly natural explanation of irreducibly complex biological structures becomes possible. They are simply the result of the stripping-away of unnecessary parts – a process that is analogous to the erection and then removal of the scaffolding necessary for the production of an arched stone bridge.

You cannot, of course, gradually build a self-supporting, free-standing arch by using only the component stones, piling them up, one at a time. But if you have scaffolding – and a pile of rocks will suffice to support the growing structure – you can build the arch one stone at a time until the keystone is in place, and the structure becomes self-supporting. When this occurs, the (now redundant) scaffolding can be removed to leave the irreducibly complex, free-standing structure. In this way, the redundant complexity of biochemical systems, whose existence Behe concedes, can be employed to explain the origins of irreducibly complex systems. (pp. 184-5)
This observation, I think, demolishes the claim that the existence of an irreducibly complex biological structure cannot be accounted for by Darwinian evolutionary theory. With that, the key scientific prop is kicked out from under the IDT proponent.

This book needs to be on the shelves of philosophers specifically interested in IDT. As for those who focus their attention on non-IDT versions of the design argument – the versions that are not proposed for inclusion in high school curricula, do not become the subject of court cases, and are not presented to members of Congress – reading God, the Devil, and Darwin will at least give a sense of the huge fuss IDT provokes.

References
Anti-Defamation League (2004) “ADL Law Enforcement Agency Research Network Report on Extremism in America: The Creativity Movement,” www.adl.org/learn/ext_us/WCOTC.asp

Barrow, John D. and Tipler, Frank J. (1986) The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (New York: Oxford University Press)

Behe, Michael (2003) “The Modern Intelligent Design Hypothesis: Breaking Rules,” in Neil A. Manson (ed.), God and Design: The Teleological Argument and Modern Science (New York: Routledge), pp. 277-291

Collins, Robin (2003) “Evidence of Fine-tuning,” in Neil A. Manson (ed.), God and Design: The Teleological Argument and Modern Science (New York: Routledge), pp. 178-199

Davies, Paul (1992) The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World (New York: Simon & Schuster)

Dembski, William (1998) The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance Through Small Probabilities (New York: Cambridge University Press)

Leslie, John (1989) Universes (New York: Routledge)

Parfit, Derek (1998) “Why anything? Why this?” London Review of Books 22 January, pp. 24-27

Southern Poverty Law Center (2003) “Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Report: Creator Crack-Up,” www.splcenter.org/intel/intelreport/article.jsp?aid=23

Swinburne, Richard (2003) “The Argument to God from Fine-tuning Reassessed,” in Neil A. Manson (ed.), God and Design: The Teleological Argument and Modern Science (New York: Routledge), pp. 105-23

van Inwagen, Peter (1993) Metaphysics (Boulder, CO: Westview Press)


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© Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

ISSN: 1538 - 1617

Twilight Time for the Universities?

Morris Berman, The Twilight of American Culture (Norton, 2000), p. 122:

Latin mottoes adorn the crests of many of these schools, boasting of "light" and "truth." [WFV: Harvard's crest shows Veritas] The reality, however, is something very different, as thousands of these institutions have literal or de facto open admissions policies in the name of "democracy." The democratization of desire means that virtually anyone can go to college, the purpose being to get a job; and in an educational world now subsumed under business values, students show up -- with administrative blessing -- believing that they are consumers who are buying a product. Within this context, a faculty member who actually attempts to enforce the tradition of the humanities as an uplifting and transformative experience, who challenges his charges to think hard about complex issues, will provoke negative evaluations and soon be told by the dean that he had better look elsewhere for a job. Objecting to a purely utilitarian dimension for education is regarded as quaint, and quickly labelled as "elitist" (horror of horrors!); but the truth is that there an be no genuine liberal education without such an objection.

Chess, Maugham, Free Will and Dr. Lasker

Michael Gilleland, whose erudition continues to inspire and amaze, writes:

There's an interesting passage on free will and determinism and chess in W. Somerset Maugham's book The Summing Up (1938), section LXXII:

"The metaphor of chess, though frayed and shopworn, is here wonderfully apposite. The pieces were provided and I had to accept the mode of action that was characteristic of each one; I had to accept the moves of the persons I played with; but it has seemed to me
that I had the power to make on my side, in accordance with my likes and dislikes and the ideal that I set before me, moves that I freely willed. It has seemed to me that I have now and then been able to put forth an effort that was not wholly determined. If it was an
illusion, it was an illusion that had its own efficacy. The moves I made, I know now, were often mistaken, but in one way and another they have tended to the end in view. I wish that I had not committed a
great many errors, but I do not deplore them, nor would I now have them undone."

Interestingly, when I googled to see if anyone on the Web had quoted this passage, I found a gross plagiarization of it by someone named Lance Gallagher. It's a metaphor that could be expanded further
(Zugzwang, checkmate, etc.). Emanuel Lasker had some philosophical training, I think.


Thanks for writing, Mike. Here are some observations.

1. Could free will in the strong could-have-done-otherwise sense be an illusion? Well, it is certainly not an illusion in any ordinary sense of the term. Illusions can typically be seen through and overcome. For example, 'sunrise' and 'sunset' enshrine perceptual illusions that are easily seen to be such by theoretical considerations. The mis-perception of a bent stick as a snake is easily overcome by more perception. But a systematic and total illusion that we have no possibility of disembarassing ourselves of -- how could such an 'illusion' be called an illusion? Free will could only be an illusion from the point of view of a transcendental spectator that had no need of action. But we are agents (actors) whether we like it or not -- we are essentially (as opposed to accidentally) agents -- and to be an agent in the sense in which we are agents is to be a free agent. (Thus we are not agents in the way in which a cleaning agent is an agent.) We are free to do either X or Y, for some X and Y, but we are not free to throw off our freedom or our agency. An atheist like Sartre will say that we are "condemned to be free," while a theist will say that we are created to be free by a supremely free being who wishes to share an aspect of his being with us. Either way, we are -- to put it paradoxically but not incoherently -- determined to be free. We are determined (from above or from below) to be such that we could have done otherwise with respect to at least some of our actions and omissions.

Some kibitzer now jumps in and demands an argument for this libertarian freedom of the will. Here's one: (1) We are morally responsible for some of our actions/omissions; (2) Moral responsibility logically requires freedom of the will. Therefore, (3) We possess freedom of the will with respect to some of our actions/omissions. This argument is not compelling, but then no argument for any substantive thesis is compelling; it is, however, valid in point of logical form and endowed with plausible premises.

It would be nice from time to time to be able to 'turn off' our freedom (and with it our moral reponsibility) and go on 'automatic pilot.' But it can't be done. I must choose between alternative courses of action in the light of the practical certainty that the outcome is (in part) 'up to me.' If this practical certainty is an 'illusion,' then it is a necessary and unavoidable illusion and to that extent no illusion at all. From the point of view of the agent, freedom of the will is an ineliminable presupposition.

The determinist is comparable to someone who thinks we are always on 'automatic pilot' but under the illusion that we are not. I say that is nonsense. The appearing to ourselves of being free is the reality of our being free, just as the percipi of a headache is its esse. The reality of free will is simply inaccessible to the objective spectator. Our predicament is paradoxical: we are both spectators and agents, and it is quite unclear how the two aspects of our being fit together. Paradoxical or not, I see no reason to subordinate the agent's perspective to that of the spectator.


But these are bold assertions that I cannot adequately justify here. Making them, I part company with our beloved master, A. S. See his On the Freedom of the Will, a delightful classic. No one should monkey with the question of free will and determinism without first reading this.

2. You would be surprised how many chess analogies there are. I'll present some later. For the moment, I'll run a bit with the Zugzwang suggestion. As you know, Zugzwang (compulsion to move, pronounced tsoogk-tsvongk), refers to a situation in which one must move (since it is one's turn to move) but every possible move is such that it would worsen one's position were one to make it. Applying this to the human predicament -- and it is indeed a predicament -- we are "condemned to be free" (J-P Sartre)and so must act (move) and take responsibility for our actions (moves). And yet, there are situations in which anything we do worsens our predicament. A possible example of this is torturing an al-Qaeda operative or other terrorist who knows the location and detonation time of a nuclear device that could level half of Manhattan. Torture him and you open the floodgates to more human depravity by doing something that is intrinsically wrong. But refusing to torture him on the basis of a Kantian argument based on the intrinsic dignity of each person seems even worse, judging by consequences. Perhaps we can say that terrorists have put the human race into deontological/consequentialist Zugzwang.

3. As for Emanuel Lasker, he was a mathematician and something of a philosopher. As I recall, he wrote two philosophical works, one entitled Kampf the other entitled (if memory serves) Die Philosophie des Unvollendbar. He called his philosophy machology. I'll have to post more on this later.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

WildAzBill Misses an Early Mate

[Event "ICC 5 0"]
[Site "Internet Chess Club"]
[Date "2004.05.25"]
[Round "-"]
[White "Wildazbill"]
[Black "alastorx"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ICCResult "Black checkmated"]
[WhiteElo "1210"]
[BlackElo "1287"]
[Opening "Scandinavian (center counter) defense"]
[ECO "B01"]
[NIC "VO.17"]
[Time "12:02:13"]
[TimeControl "300+0"]

1. e4 d5 2. e5 c5 3. c3 Nc6 4. d4 Qb6 5. Nf3 Bg4 6. Be2 e6 7. O-O Bxf3 8. Bxf3 cxd4 9. cxd4 Nxd4 10. Qa4+ Nc6 11. Be3 Qxb2 12. Nd2 Qxe5 13. Rac1 Bd6 14. g3 Qf6 15. Rxc6 Ne7 16. Rxd6+ Kf8 17. Rd7 e5 18. Bc5 e4 19. Bxe7+ Qxe7 20. Rxe7 Kxe7 21. Bg4 Rhd8 22. Rc1 g6 23. Rc7+ Kf8 24. Rd7 Rdc8 25. Rxb7 f5 26. Qd7 Rc1+ 27. Kg2 e3 28. Qf7# {Black checkmated} 1-0

Instead of 16. Rxd6+, I should have played 16. Rc8++. That would have been cute: a discovery resulting in double check and mate. I plead the constraints of blitz (5 minutes per player).

On Academic Credentials

Be sure to read Michael Gilleland's excellent post on academic credentials. It responds to part of an equally fine post by Keith Burgess-Jackson.

A topic of great interest to me, but one on which I now have time for only a few quick observations.

The Ph.D. is a trapping that means something, but not that much. There are fools with doctorates, and sages without them. Should Kierkegaard go unread because he is a mere Magister? Should we turn a blind eye to Eric Hoffer's True Believer because its author was a migrant farm worker and stevedore who, as a pure autodidact, has no credentials at all, not even an elementary school diploma? Fifty years after it was written, in these days of Islamo-fascism, Hoffer's penetrating book has gained even more relevance.

As Schopenhauer was always keen to point out, there is a difference between a philosopher and a professor of philosophy, namely, the difference between someone who lives for philosophy and someone who lives from it. The professors, parading their titles and credentials, show thereby that they are more concerned with appearance than with reality, when the office of the philosopher is precisely to penetrate appearance and arrive at reality. (I am reporting Schopenhauer's view here, and would point out against him that of course a professor of philosophy can be a genuine philosopher. Schopenhauer himself would be forced to admit this given his great admiration for Kant.)

An important text relating to this question is William James, "The Ph.D. Octopus" in Essential Writings, ed. Wilshire (SUNY 1984), pp. 343-348)

A Tempest in a Pee Pot

This came over the transom yesterday:

Dear Bill,

Although Big Hominid "wasn't offended," I see that
your remarks about "the Big Ho's proctological and
scatological obsessions" annoyed a couple of his
blogospheric buddies. At the risk of further agitating
this tempest in a peepot, this squabble in a cesspool,
let me add to the the swizzle.

Maximum Leader interprets you to be saying:

"Yeah, Kevin is a really bright guy who can comment
intelligently on philosophical matters. But, all this
potty humour is better relegated to somewhere where I
wouldn't have to sift through it to get to the good
stuff. And by the way, I only linked to him because he
linked to me."

Except for the last line, from which I'd drop "And by
the way" as well as "only," so that it reads "I linked
to him because he linked to me," ML's summary seems
accurate. But then, ML goes on to remark, "What a sad
response," suggesting that you were "embarrassed for
providing the link" to the Big Ho's blog.

I suppose, Bill, that you'd have to tell us if you
were embarassed, but from my perspective as your
blogospheric buddy, I'd say that you weren't
embarassed by BH's scatological cum eschatological
humor (Gabriel tooting his horn). Rather, I
interpreted you to mean that you find it distracting.
As one who takes a look at BH's blog every day, I
second that emotion. (Or is distraction not an
emotion?)

Which leads me to Air Marshall's reaction:

"BH's humor is kind of out there, and for most people
reading this, you know and love it. I suppose Dr. V
pointed out there is a second class of people who read
this blog for BH's philo/religions discussion. Fine.
Get used to the nastiness. It's fun and liberating."

The initial statements are fine with me, but I again
take issue with the latter remarks. I can ignore the
"nastiness" but why should I get used to it? As for
its being "fun and liberating," that sort of humor may
have seemed so back in my NoZe Brother days (and maybe
it was, as a phase), but looking back from my nearly
50 years of growing up, I just don't find it so. This
is my honest response, not intended as an attack,
merely my perspective.

But what really bothered AM, it appears, was what he
refers to as Dr. V's "boomercentric view of BH's
humor":

"If it's bad, it must be because of Boomers and
evaluated in terms of Boomers. Piss on Boomers. BH's
humor has nothing to do with Boomers at all. Remember,
this is the generation that gave us BOTH Bill Clinton
AND Dubya. Ooooh there's a wonderful track record.
Piss on Boomers."

AM, you need to read more of Dr. V. His low view of
boomers is not far from yours. But if you think that
the Boomer generation's sexual revolution had nothing
to do with BH's humor and its broad acceptability,
then you are simply wrong. Read William S. Burroughs'
Naked Lunch (not the product of a boomer, but
popular in the 60s) or Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's
Rainbow,
for instance, and see if the way wasn't paved
by the boomer generation.

And don't miss the irony that your disavowal of the
boomers recapitulates that boomers' disavowal of the
generation before them. But what the hell -- let's all
disavow the boomers. I'm with you on that.

Well, Bill, thanks for letting me air my views on your
blog. I guess that I should get my own -- except that
I have no time for regular blogging (and even now have
to rush off to class half-prepared).

Yours,

Jeffery Hodges

=====
Office:

Assistant Professor Horace Jeffery Hodges [Ph.D., History, U.C. Berkeley]
Department of English Language and Literature
Korea University
136-701 Anam-dong, Seongbuk-gu
Seoul
South Korea

On the Misuse of Superlatives and Two Other Fallacies

Adjectives admit of three degrees of comparison: positive, comparative, and superlative. The first refers to the zero case of comparison: Tom is tall. The second refers to a situation in which two things are compared: Tom is taller than Tim. The third refers to a situation in which a thing is compared to all the other members of its reference class: Tom is the tallest man in Fargo. It is easy to see that if Tom is the tallest man in Fargo, then (a) there cannot be a man taller than him in that reference class, and (b) he is unique in respect of tallness in that reference class. (I.e., there cannot be two tallest men in the same reference class. Diana Ross should have thought of this when she named her vocal outfit ‘The Supremes,’ unless she intended that each singer is supreme in respect of a different attribute, say, body, soul, voice.)

Therefore, if the WWII generation is the greatest generation (relative to some agreed-upon criteria of generational greatness), then (i) there is no greater generation, and (ii) the WWII generation is unique in respect of greatness. Now does Tom Brokaw really want to affirm both (i) and (ii)? Is the WWII generation the greatest generation of any country in the whole of recorded time? Or is it merely the greatest generation in American history? The latter is clearly
dubious if not outright false: the generation of the founders is arguably the greatest generation of Americans. A fortiori, for the former.

What Brokaw is doing when he speaks of the WWII generation as the greatest is misusing the superlative ‘greatest’ to mean the positive ‘great,’ or perhaps the comparative ‘greater.’ Perhaps what he really wants to say is that the WWII generation is greater than the Baby Boomers. But instead of saying what he means, he says something literally false or else meaningless. One might think that a news anchor would have higher standards.

Perhaps the underlying problem is that people love to exaggerate for effect, and see nothing wrong with it. Not content to say that Bush was wrong about WMDs, his opponents say he lied – which is a misuse of ‘lie.’ Not content to say that she is hungry, my wife says she is starving. Not content to say that Christianity is more than a doctrine, Kierkegaard and fellow fideists say that Christianity is not a doctrine. Not content to use particular quantifiers ‘Some’, ‘Most’),people reach for universal quantifiers such as ‘Every,’ ‘All,’ ‘No,’ and ‘Never.’ Thus instead of saying that one must be careful when one generalizes, one says, ‘Never generalize,’ which refutes itself.

I have exposed three mistakes that the truth-oriented will want to avoid. We have the misuse of superlatives, the misuse of universal quantifiers, and the mistaken notion that if X is not identical to Y, then X and Y have nothing to do with each other. Let me expatiate a bit further on the last mentioned mistake. If X is not identical to Y, it does not follow that X and Y are wholly diverse from each other. A book is not identical to its cover, but the two are not wholly diverse in that the cover is proper part of the book. Regretting is not identical to remembering, but the two are not wholly diverse: Every regretting is a remembering, but not conversely. A melody is not identical to the individual notes of which it is composed, but it is obviously not wholly diverse from them.

Same God?

One morning an irate C-Span viewer called in to say that he prayed to the living God, not to the mythical being, Allah, to whom Muslims pray. The C-Span guest made a standard response, which is correct as far as it goes, namely, that ‘Allah’ is Arabic for God, just as ‘Gott’ is German for God. He suggested that adherents of the three Abrahamic religions worship the same God under different names. No doubt this is a politically correct thing to say, but is it true? The intertranslatability of the different names for God in different languages does not obviously prove real identity of reference. How so?

The underlying issue concerns the mechanism of reference. How do linguistic expressions attach or apply to extralinguistic entities? How do words grab onto the world? It is reasonable to hold, with Frege, Russell, and many others, that reference is routed through, and determined by, sense: an expression picks out its object in virtue of the latter’s satisfaction of a description associated with the referring expression, a description that unpacks the expression’s sense. If we think of reference in this way, then ‘God’ refers to whatever entity, if any, that satisfies the definite description encapsulated in ‘God’ as this term is used in a given linguistic community.

Now consider two candidate definite descriptions. D1: ‘the unique x such that x is omnipotent,omniscient, omnibenevolent, and created the world ex nihilo.’ D2: ‘the unique x such that x is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, created the world ex nihilo, and is triune.’ Suppose that reference is not direct, but routed through sense, or mediated by a description, in the manner explained. If D1 is the description that explicates (‘unpacks’) the sense of ‘God,’ then Jews, Christians, and Muslims refer to the same entity when they use ‘God’ (or its equivalents in Hebrew and Arabic). But if D2 is the description that explicates the sense of ‘God,’ then Jews, Christians, and Muslims do not refer to the same entity. This is because it is no part of the sense of ‘God’ for a Jew or a Muslim that God be triune, i.e., be one God in three divine persons. On the contrary, the Jewish and Muslim emphasis on the transcendence and radical unity of God entails for them the denial of any trinitarian structure in God.

Since D2 comes closer than D1 to a full unpacking of the sense of ‘God’ as Christians use this term, it follows that Christians and Muslims do not refer to the same entity. They do not refer to, or worship, the same God for the simple reason that their conceptions of God – conceptions built into the very sense of ‘God’ – are mutually exclusive.

Now what about the Eastern Orthodox? They too are trinitarians, but they reject the filioque clause: they deny that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the the Father and the Son, holding instead that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone. (Imagine chopping someone’s head off over a theological nicety such as this.) So do the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox refer to the same entity when they say ‘God’? No, if reference is routed through sense, and if the filioque clause is part of the very sense of what the Eastern Orthodox mean when they say ‘God.’

A further wrinkle. I would say that any God worthy of worship must be ontologically simple, while Alvin Plantinga – no slouch of a philosopher – would reject the very idea of divine simplicity as incoherent. So when he and I use ‘God,’ are we referring to the same entity?

I hope you are beginning to see how much is hidden behind the facile remark that Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same God. If ‘God’ is a logically proper name whose meaning is exhausted by its reference, a Kripkean rigid designator, then perhaps the above difficulties can be circumvented. But others arise from the fact that we seem to have no access to God except via our conceptions of God.

Let me extract a metaphilosophical moral from this. Almost any foreground consideration leads inevitably into a philosophical labyrinth. In this sense, philosophy is entirely natural: philosophers do not create puzzles where there are none; they simply uncover the puzzles that are already there.

The Childless as Anthropological Danglers

This coinage of mine is analogous to Herbert Feigl’s ‘nomological danglers.’ Mental states as the epiphenomenalist conceives them have causes, but no effects. They are caused by physical states of the body and brain, but dangle nomologically in that there are no laws (nomoi) that relate mental states back to physical states.

Similarly, the childless dangle anthropologically. They have ancestors (causes) but no descendants (effects). Parents are essential in a two-fold sense: without some parents or other we could not have come into existence; and indeed we could not have come into existence without the very parents that we actually have. The second point is an example of what is known in the trade as ‘the essentiality of origin.’ But offspring are wholly inessential: one can exist quite well without them.

There is a downside and an upside to being an anthropological dangler.

The downside is that it unfits one for full participation in the life of the community, removing as it does weight and credibility from one’s opinions about pressing community concerns. As Nietzsche writes somewhere in his Nachlass, the man without Haus und Hof, Weib und Kind is like a ship with insufficient ballast: he rides too high on the seas of life and does not pass through life with the steadiness of the solid bourgeois weighted down with property and reputation, wife and children.

The upside to being an anthropological dangler is that it enables one’s participation in a higher life by freeing one from mundane burdens and distractions In another Nachlass passage, Nietzsche compares the philosopher having Weib und Kind, Haus und Hof with an astronomer who interposes a piece of filthy glass between eye and telescope. His vocation charges him with the answering of the ultimate questions; his pressing foreground concerns, however, make it difficult for him to take these questions with the seriousness they deserve, let alone answer them.

Monday, May 24, 2004

The Etymology of 'Abort'

Shootin' from the hip, I claimed that 'abort' derives from a contraction of 'ab' and 'port.' I asked Michael Gilleland, the laudator temporis acti, if this was right. Here is what he said:

Sorry I overlooked the ab-port derivation, which is incorrect. Abort is from the Latin verb aborior, aboriri, abortus sum = pass away, disappear, be lost;miscarry, be aborted; set (sun/planet/star). Aborior is a compound of ab (from) + orior (arise). So really the "ort" in abort is related to English words like orient, not to the derivatives of porto. Orient is from "sol oriens" = rising sun, as occident is from "sol occidens" = falling or setting sun.


Neologisms, Paleologisms, and Grelling's Paradox

'Neologism’ is not a new word, but an old word. Hence, ‘neologism’ is not a neologism. ‘Paleologism’ is not a word at all; or at least it is not listed in the Oxford English Dictionary. But it ought to be, so I hereby introduce it. Who is going to stop me? Having read it and understood it, you have willy-nilly validated its introduction and are complicit with me.

Now that we have ‘paleologism’ on the table, and an unvast conspiracy going, we are in a position to see that ‘neologism’ is a paleologism, while ‘paleologism’ is a neologism. Since the neologism/paleologism classification is both exclusive (every word is either one or the other)and exhaustive (no word is neither), it follows that ‘neologism’ is not a neologism, and ‘paleologism’ is not a paleologism. Such words are called heterological: they are not instances of the properties they express. ‘Useless’ and ‘monosyllabic’ are other examples of heterological expressions in that ‘useless’ is not useless and ‘monosyllabic’ is not monosyllabic. A term that is not heterological is called autological. Examples include ‘short’ and ‘polysyllabic.’ ‘Short’ is short and ‘polysyllabic’ is polysyllabic. Autological terms are instances of the properties they express.

Now ask yourself this question: Is ‘heterological’ heterological? Given that the heterological/autological classification is exhaustive, 'heterological' must be either heterological or else autological. Now if the former, then ‘heterological’ is not an instance of the property it expresses, namely, the property of not being an instance of the property it expresses. But this implies that ‘heterological’ is autological. On the other hand, if ‘heterological’ is autological, then it is an instance of the property it expresses, namely the property of not being an instance of the property it expresses. But this implies that ‘heterological’ is heterological.

Therefore, ‘heterological’ is heterological if and only if it is not. This contradiction is known in the trade as Grelling’s Paradox. It is named after Kurt Grelling, who presented it in 1908.

Linguistic Change and Linguistic Conservatism

May a linguistic conservative such as your humble correspondent coin new expressions? Of course. A conservative is not one opposed to change as such, or linguistic change as such. A conservative is one who is opposed to unnecessary, or idiotic, or deleterious changes – the kind our dear liberal friends love to introduce. An example of a change that was unnecessary was the renaming of the Western Division of the American Philosophical Association to ‘Central Division’ some years back. This rankled this curmudgeon for two reasons. First, the change is wholly unnecessary: given that there is a Pacific Division and a Western Division, one would have to be consummately stupid indeed not to realize that the former is to the west of the latter.

Second, this wholly unnecessary change obliterates an interesting piece of history, namely, that the APA once had only two divisions. Should Case Western Reserve University change its name because the Western Reserve region of Ohio is practically in the East nowadays? (By the way, that strange name is an amalgam of 'Case Institute of Technology' and 'Western Reserve University.' Case Institute of Technology was where Michelson and Morley in 1881 conducted the famous experiment that put the ether hypothesis out of commission. When I was visting at CWRU, I got a thrill out of conducting some of my classes in Morley Hall.)

True, ‘Western Division,’ was a misnomer – but only if one takes it as a description in disguise as opposed to a logically proper name the meaning of which is exhausted by its reference. Recall Saul Kripke’s old example of ‘Holy Roman Empire’ from Naming and Necessity. The entity denoted was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. But that did not prevent the phrase in question from functioning as a proper name. Similarly with ‘Western Division.’

Militant Islam

Andrew C. McCarthy on War on Terror on National Review Online

This is an important article that all should read. Thanks to Keith Burgess-Jackson for the link. Be sure to read his Peeve #6.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Schopenhauer Passage Found

The Scowl of Minerva award goes to Dennis Mangan whose devotion to the texts of the Master has uncovered the place where he invokes Omnia mea mecum porto, albeit in altered word order:

Dear Dr. Vallicella,
I don't know if I'm doing this to death, but I did come across your motto, in Schopenhauer's Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life, in Volume 1 of Parerga and Paralipomena, Chapter 5 (Counsels and maxims):

To be self-sufficient and to be all in all to oneself and to be able to say omnia mecum porto mea , is certainly the most useful qualification for our happiness. Hence Aristotle's saying [original Greek omitted] (felicitas sibi sufficientium est, Eudemian Ethics, VII. 2) ["Happiness belongs to those who are easily contented"] cannot be too often repeated. (It is also essentially the same idea that is expressed in that exceedingly well-turned sentence of Chamfort. I have prefixed it as a motto to this essay.) ["Happiness is no easy matter; it is very difficult to find it in ourselves and impossible to find it elsewhere."] For we cannot with any certainty count on anyone but ourselves; moreover, the difficulties and disadvantages, the dangers and annoyances, that society entails are countless and inevitable.

Please keep up the great blogging.
Best,
Dennis Mangan

On the Spatial and Temporal Limitations of Life

Our lives have definite limits both in space and in time. At any given time, my body occupies a vanishingly small portion of space, and if one were to plot my path over time, the resulting space-time ‘trajectory’ would pass through an exceedingly small number of spatiotemporal positions. And yet my spatial limitations do not bother me. What bothers me is that my life is approaching a temporal limit. Setting aside questions of a possible survival of bodily death, this temporal limit looms as a sort of calamity, unlike my spatial limits which I accept with equanimity. It bothers me that my life will not extend much beyond three score and ten, but it bothers me not at all that my height does not extend beyond 6' 1". I suspect that this difference in attitude, the difference between dread at coming to an end in time, and equanimity at coming to an end in space, is shared by most of us. If the difference in attitude is justified, it would seem to point to a fundamental difference between spatial and temporal limits, and thus between space and time.

Yet not everyone sees it this way. Lanza del Vasto writes, “We are not as high or as broad as the mountains: has it ever come into our heads to complain? Why then complain of having a limit in time?” (Principles and Precepts of the Return to the Obvious, Schocken, 1974, p. 33.) Del Vasto seems to be suggesting that the difference in attitude toward our spatial and temporal limits is not justified, and that there is no fundamental difference between the two sorts of limit.

Del Vasto’s view makes sense if we think of space-time as a four-dimensional manifold of which time is one of the dimensions. To think in this way is to assimilate time to space by thinking of times other than now as existent, just as we think of places other than here as existent. No one thinks that only events occurring here exist while events occurring elsewhere do not exist; why not then think of events earlier and later than the present as just as real, just as existent, as events occurring in the present? To think in this way is to think of past events as events earlier than present events, future events as events later than present events, and present events as events simultaneous with one another. What this amounts to is a replacement of pastness, presentness, and futurity, conceived of as nonrelational temporal attributes, with the relations, earlier than, simultaneous with, and later than. In the terminology of McTaggart, it amounts to a reduction of A-properties to B-relations and a concomitant reduction of the A-series (events as ordered by the A-properties of pastness, presentness, and futurity) to the B-series (events as order by the
B-relations of earlier than, simultaneous with, and later than.)

Suppose we say that a B-theorist is someone who asserts that, at ontological bottom, all there is to time is the B-series. The B-theory implies that there is no temporal becoming. Future events do not become present, recede into the past, and then become ever more past. There is no absolute NOW to which events approach, and from which they recede. There is no temporal dynamism: all events are fixed in their relations to one another in a static four-dimensional block universe. Thus, if E1 is later than E2, E1 is alway later than E2. The ontological corollary of this lack of temporal dynamism is that all events are equally existent. Hence, on the B-theory, nothing comes into existence, or passes out of existence. A sort of temporal/ontological egalitarianism reigns: each event exists equally at its position in the four-dimensional space-time manifold. Since no time has the temporal privilege of being NOW absolutely, no time (or object or event at that time) has the ontological privilege of existing in a way that past and future times and events do not exist. Existence cannot be identified with temporal presentness, for the simple reason that, on the B-theory, there is no irreducible nonrelational property of temporal presentness. Since nothing can gain or lose temporal presentness, nothing can gain or lose existence. It follows that the existence I fear losing in the future is an illusion: I will not lose existence in the future (i.e., at some time later than the time of this keystroke) any more than I lose existence where my feet end and the floor begins. No doubt, my existence is temporally limited: I do not exist at all times. But why should this bother me if I am not bothered by the fact that I do not exist at all places?

Therefore, if the B-theory is true, then Del Vasto is right, and there is no justification for different attitudes about ending in space and ending in time. Indeed, Del Vasto is right only if the B-theory is true. Therefore, the question whether he is right is equivalent to the question whether the B-theory is true. If, on the other hand, the B-theory is false, and time is not exhausted by the B-series, so that there is an absolute moving Now that confers existence on events, then Del Vasto is wrong, and we are justified in feeling differently about ending in space and ending in time. For if the last event in the sequence of events comprising my life is getting ever closer to the
moving NOW, then, when this last event becomes present, the NOW as it were confers existence upon it. That’s the good news. The bad news is that this moving NOW as MOVING, “giveth but also taketh away”: it confers existence on the last event in my life only take it away again in the next moment. The moving NOW, in the process of creating destroys. So, given that my life is concentrated in its last event (since all the earlier events no longer exist), when that last
event passes out of existence, I pass out of existence. And that is precisely what I dread. The A-theorist’s answer to Del Vasto, therefore, must be that at my temporal limit, I cease to exist, while at my spatial limits I continue to exist in the sense that all the other spatial points that I occupy continue to exist. Time, unlike space, has something to do with existence: X exists if and only if X has the temporal property of presentness, a property whose exemplification is, unfortunately, ever shifting. The NOW of our experience is a nunc movens; I myself would prefer a nunc stans, a standing NOW. But that is just to say that I would prefer eternity over time, real eternity, not that miserable substitute that Nietszche serves up under the title, das ewige Wiederkehr des Gleichen.

To sum up. Most of us feel differently about our spatial and temporal limits. This feeling is veridical, revelatory of reality, only if the B-theory is false and the A-theory is true. To credit this feeling, therefore, is to commit ourselves to the A-theory. For the feeling, if taken seriously as a veridical feeling, entails certain very general facts about the world. This leads me to a very interesting metaphilosophical conclusion: ordinary feelings and attitudes commit us to metaphysical positions. This is of course distinct from saying that these feelings and attitudes provide evidence for these positions.

Metaphysics, like philosophy generally, is unavoidable. The only question is whether or not we will have a consciously and rigorously articulated metaphysics, or instead one that remains an uncritically accepted tacit presupposition.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

How Not to Begin the Day II

Dennis Mangan writes:

Your post on mornings, with the quote from Thoreau, was also quite good, and served as a reminder to me about what I really believe. Do you think that reading blogs or surfing the net in the morning is the equivalent of newspaper reading? If so, I am guilty of the practice, and I should probably mend my ways.

I am glad you brought this up, Dennis. I was thinking of adding an addendum on early morning computer use. I am against it. My monkish day begins at 2:30 AM, and I don't fire up the computer until about 9:00 AM. I reserve the first three hours of the morning for reading good books, writing with a pen in my journals and notebooks, and an hour or so of (nondiscursive) meditation. I try not to let anything practical intrude except for things like making coffee and feeding my cat, who, of course, gets up at the same time, and makes sure that I get up at that time. No personal finance, no chess, and of course no radio or TV, not even C-Span. Then around 5:30 AM out of the house for a hard ride or run for about 90 minutes, then breakfast, kitchen patrol, and only then do I log on. The early morning's activities are all 'archaic': reading from a book, writing with a pen, meditating, running.

Obviously, not everyone can, or should, adhere to such a monkish regimen, but it does at least illustrate one way to make good use of the morning. But equally important is the proper organization of the evening. A night spent in pursuit of the female ass and the whisky glass will obviously ruin the next morning, and something similar goes for imbibing the usual media dreck such as movies, going to parties, and so on: one is not properly priming oneself for the next day's work. Alphonse Gratry is very good on this:
A very serious question of practice is involved in the use of your evenings, in respecting your evenings. We have just spoken of what can be called the consecration of the morning. Let us now speak of consecrating our evenings. It is at this point or never, that you must have the strength to break with your present customs. I declare flatly that minds are formed and grow, just according to the real organization of their evenings. (Logic, pp. 533-534)


As you can see from this and from the Thoreau quotation, I am not speaking from my own authority here, but simply repackaging the insights of Gratry, Thoreau, and a hundred others.

South Dakota Monk

SoDakMonk

A blogging Benedictine monk. What is the world coming to? I found this link on Bill Keezer's site. Take a look at Bill's recent post on the colloidal suspension know as coffee.

Epochism

In these politically correct times we hear much of racism, sexism, ageism, speciesism, and even heterosexism. Why not then epochism, the arbitrary denigration of entire historical epochs? The other night, a television commentator referred to the beheading of Nicholas Berg as “medieval.” As I remarked to my wife, “That fellow is slamming an entire historical epoch.” The names of the other epochs are free of pejorative connotation even though horrors occurred in these epochs the equal of any in the medieval period. Why then are the Middle Ages singled out for special treatment? This is no mean chunk of time. It stretches from, say, the birth of Augustine in 354 A.D. , or perhaps from the closing of the Platonic Academy in 529 A. D., to the birth of Descartes in 1596, albeit with plenty of bleed-through on either end: Greek notions reach deep into the Middle Ages, while medieval notions live on in Descartes and beyond.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) counts as an epochist. When he comes to the medieval period in his Lectures on the History of Philosophy, he puts on his “seven-league boots” the better to pass over this thousand year period without sullying his fine trousers. (Vol. III, 1) Summing up the “General Standpoint of the Scholastics,” he has this to say: “...this Scholasticism on the whole is a barbarous philosophy of the finite understanding, without real
content, which awakens no true interest in us, and to which we cannot return.” “Barren,” and “rubbishy” are other terms with which he describes it. (Vol. III, 94-95)

The politically correct may wish to consider whether the descendants of Hegel should pay reparations to the descendants of Thomas Aquinas, et al.

The Joys of Teaching

See here for Michael Gilleland's fine post anent this topic. In a similar vein, I would add the following observations.

Teaching is the feeding of people who aren't hungry.

Teaching philosophy is the feeding of people who neither hunger nor know what food is.

Teaching is like agitating water in a glass with one's forefinger. As long as the finger is in motion, the water is agitated; but as soon as the finger is removed, the water returns to its quiescent state.

The classroom is a scene of unreality. No one takes it quite seriously. Not the students, from whom little is expected and less demanded. Not the teachers, who waste their time in discipline and remediation.

According to an apocryphal story about George Santayana, one day, while lecturing at Harvard, he suddenly intuited the absurdity of teaching. Stopping in mid-sentence, he walked out of the classroom never to return. The truth is less dramatic: he dutifully finished the semester, turned in his grades, resigned his professorship, and embarked for Rome where he spent the rest of his life in cultured retirement.

Friday, May 21, 2004

From the Mail

Bill Keezer writes:

Dr. Vallicella,

I was a sporadic reader of your parent blog (or slog) and enjoyed it very much. In fact I copied the essays in the discussion of God for later study. I certainly like your new blog. I learned of it through Keith Burgess-Jackson, who helped and encouraged me to start my blog. I also consider Keith my friend. What I notice most about your new blog is that it has shed the heavy academic tone without removing any of the intellectual content.

One thing I notice that both you and Keith have in common is straightforward, clear writing. I also notice that neither of you stray into the kinds of unreasoned pronouncements that I dealt with when I had my exchanges with a certain individual who shall remain unnamed. I suspect the difference is that you and Keith both have worked hard (I have read both biographies and kept hold of the various facts that come through besides) and seen life for what it really is.

It is a joy to read such carefully worded and reasoned posts. I am already a daily visitor.

Sincerely,
Bill Keezer

Dear Mr. Keezer,

Thank you for your friendly comments. Now that you mention it, I think you are right that my tone in the new blog is less heavy and academic. That may be because I took more time with the other posts. I was slogging rather than blogging. Now, under the pressure of daily updates, I am forced to get right to the point. It is good discipline for someone who tends to be prolix.

I agree that Keith is an extremely clear writer. What amazes me about him is that he can produce so much good copy so fast given all the rest of his activities. Like many productive people, he finds time to help others, unlike unproductive people who have plenty of time but, precisely because they are unproductive, profit neither themselves nor others. It's a bit of a paradox.

Thanks for visiting daily. Now the pressure is on me to write something worth reading every day. Don't be afraid to fire off a critical comment if you think I have missed the mark. I do a fair amount of shootin' from the hip.

Regards,

Bill Vallicella

Varieties of Cyberlinkage

The symmetrical linker links to every site that links to him. The asymmetrical linker links to no site that links to him. The nonsymmetrical linker may or may not link to a site that links to him.

The totally reflexive linker links to all and only those sites that are identical to his site. The totally reflexive linker is also known as a windowless monad. All his links are internal or ‘on-site.’ The partially reflexive linker links to himself, but only on condition that some other site links to him. The irreflexive linker links to no site that is identical to his site. All of his links are external or ‘off-site.’

The transitive linker links to every site that is the target of a link of every site to which he links, and to every site that is the target of the target of every site to which he links, and so on. That way lies madness.

The moderate cyber-onanist is a person with two or more sites all of which are weakly interlinked, where two or more sites are weakly interlinked if and only if each site is symmetrically linked
to one of the others. The extreme cyber-onanist is a
person with two or more sites, all of which are strongly interlinked, where two or more sites are strongly interlinked if and only if each site is symmetrically linked to each of the others. The solipsistic cyber-onanist is a cyber-onanist (whether extreme or moderate) all of whose links are internal. The incorrigible cyber-onanist is an extreme solipsistic cyber-onanist.

The Gulag Archipelago in Romania: The Story No One Has Told Before

www.chiesa | The Gulag Archipelago in Romania: The Story No One Has Told Before

Thanks to Horace Jeffery Hodges for this reference.