Saturday, July 31, 2004

Sponsorship and Censorship

Lefties often conflate lack of sponsorship with censorship when it suits them. It is not that they are too dense to grasp the distinction, but that they willfully ignore it for their ideological purposes. If a government agency refuses to sponsor your art project, it does not follow that you are being censored. To censor is to suppress. But there is nothing suppressive about a refusal to fund. If you are a serious artist, you will find a way to satisfy your muse. On the other hand, if you expect to dip into the public trough, be prepared to find some strings attached to your grant. Don’t expect the tax dollars of truck drivers and waitresses to subsidize your violation of their beliefs.

More on the Status of Logical Laws

Message text written by Richard Carrier
>>Hello, Victor!

On Wednesday, July 28, 2004, at 01:16 PM, Victor Reppert wrote:

Bill: Thanks for weighing in. Carrier's comments about the laws of physics and the laws of logic seem odd. I take it if you argue that the resurrection of Jesus contravenes the laws of physics, this is not especially a devastating refutation; God could cause Jesus to rise from the grave. But we are not inclined to think it is within the powers of omnipotence to create a round square. So, doesn't that mean the laws of physics are less fundamental than the laws of logic?<<

RC: By definition, the "laws" of logic are the procedures by which one can arrive at true conclusions from true premises. Those procedures are fixed by the nature of the universe--just as all physical laws are.

BV: This obviously begs the question against Reppert. Reppert is arguing that since we can conceive of God contravening laws of physics but not the laws of logic, this gives us a reason for distinguishing the two sorts of law. One cannot respond to this by simply asserting that the laws of logic are laws of physics. That is precisely the issue. The laws of physics are logically contingent: they hold in some but not all logically possible worlds. The laws of logic, however, obviously hold in every logically possible world -- for the simple reason that they define what it is to be logically possible. Maybe one can argue against this distinction -- but then we need to see the argument.

Note that to say that a proposition is logically necessary is to say that it is true just in virtue of its logical form. But does anyone really want to assert that laws of nature are true in virtue of their logical form? Perhaps one will say that the laws of nature are metaphysically necessary -- where metaphysical necessity is distinguished from logical necessity -- but then argument is needed since most philosophers will hold that nomologically possible worlds are a proper subset of both logically possible and metaphysically possible worlds.

RC: God could only violate the laws of physics by changing the geometry of the relevant system (indeed, we might even be able to do that ourselves someday). But the necessity still holds: for any given geometry, a certain set of physical laws holds. God could never change that any more than he could, as you say, make a round square.

BV: This is confused. Suppose it is logically necessary that for any given geometry, a set of physical laws holds. Then that would be something God could not change. But that doesn't show that he couldn't change which geometry holds. From Nec(G --> L) one cannot infer Nec G or Nec L. Given that God could not alter the fact that Nec(G -->L), it does not follow that God could not alter the fact that G.

The necessity of the consequence does not entail the necessity of the consequent, or the necessity of the antecedent. It is a simple point of modal logic that a conditional statement can be necessarily true even if antecedent and consequent are contingently true. For example, it is necessarily true that if every book in my library bears my stamp, then the books on the topmost shelf of my library bear my stamp; but 'every book in my library bears my stamp' and
'the books on the topmost shelf of my library bear my stamp' both express contingent propositions, propositions which, though true, might well have been false.

RC: So physics and logic are in the same boat--they simply refer to different aspects of physical existence (one is about the way the world behaves, the other is about the way a certain goal can be accomplished within that world and all worlds relevantly similar).

BV: Non sequitur -- for the reason just given.

RC: Deductive logic is the same as physical law in this respect, because to violate the Law of Non-Contradiction, for example, God would, as withany other violation of physical law,...

BV: Note that RC is again begging the question. It needs to be argued that logical laws are physical laws, not assumed.

RC: ... have to change the relevant
geometry--but the Law of Non-Contradiction describes every geometry
that contains any physical distinctions, which is pretty much every
interesting universe. In that sense, deductive logic can be regarded as more fundamental in the same way the Laws of Thermodynamics are more fundamental than Boyle's Law, because the former apply to far more regions of the universe than the latter, and underly the latter.

The point is: the only way God could violate the Law of
Non-Contradiction is to change the geometry of existence in such a way that no distinctions would exist there--which of course would mean he could not accomplish anything useful, since he could only violate the Law of Non-Contradiction within a space where no distinctions exist,not in any other space. And what use would there be in having things happen in a universe where no distinctions exist? That is just like violating the inverse square law: God could not violate this unless he changed the geometry of space-time accordingly, but that would have numerous other unavoidable consequences as well.

BV: I have no idea what is going on now, or in the rest of Carrier's comments, which are too vague to merit response. Carrier seems to be missing the point that Reppert maintained (or at least suggested) that God could NOT violate LNC.

Friday, July 30, 2004

A Sign of Aesthetico- Moral Progress

When one sees more beauty in buttes and mesas than in butts and mammaries.

On Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is not necessarily opposed to the status quo. To criticize is not to oppose, but to sift, to assess, to assay, to evaluate. A critical thinker may well end up supporting the existing state of things in this or that respect. It is a fallacy of the Left to think that any supporter of any aspect of the status quo is an ‘apologist’ for it in some pejorative sense of this term. This mistake presumably has its roots in the nihilism of the Left. The leftist is incapable of appreciating what actually exists because he measures it against a standard that does not exist, and that in many cases cannot exist. The leftist is a Nowhere Man who judges the topos quo from the vantage point of utopia. There is no place like utopia, of course, but only because utopia is no place at all.

Liberal Entitlement

If it is great political analysis you want in these dangerous but exciting times, Keith Burgess-Jackson serves it up on almost a daily basis. Take a gander at today's offering on Liberal Entitlement.

At their best, Keith's political posts contain just the right admixture of 'edge': they go to the brink of rant without falling over. The zoon politikon must needs be a bit of a zoon polemikon.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?

The New York Times > Week in Review > The Public Editor: Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?

A good article except for Okrent's use of the phrase, "liberal theology." To use 'theology' when the right word is 'ideology' itself indicates liberal bias.

On Getting Older

There is less striving for what one doesn't have and more gratitude for what one does. Limitations are accepted and one becomes reconciled to one's lot. Having gotten this far, one realizes that as for worldly blandishments, one will go no farther; but it doesn't bother one as it would in younger days. There is less to prove and more to enjoy. There is more accepting with gratitude and less rejecting with resentment. There is less kicking against the pricks in a world full of them. A certain salutary disillusionment sets in which, in auspicious cases, brings wisdom in its train.

Why Do We Front Our Ideas?

"Preaching to the choir is unnecessary, and if you were to attain the age of a Methuselah you would still not be near converting your opponents. So what's the use of your arguing and asserting?"

This is a text-book example of a False Alternative. For there is a third reason to argue and assert, namely, to sway the fence-sitters whose number is legion, and to bring them over to our side.

What's more, it is false that preaching to the choir is unnecessary. We do so to reinforce them in their 'faith' and prevent their backsliding. It is also false that it is pointless to engage our opponents. We 'preach' to them for several reasons: (a) to change the minds of some; (b) to get our opponents to appreciate that we have a position that is rationally defensible even if not ultimately acceptable to them; (c) to oppose and demoralize them and make their arguments look bad so that their influence wanes.

A Quick Knock Out in the Philidor Exchange Variation

In keeping with the chessboxing theme, here is a quick 5-min. K.O. in the Philidor Exchange Variation. It features a cute knight sacrifice at f7 on move 7. (A purist will call this a 'pseudo-sacrifice' since the piece is regained on move 9.) By the way, perhaps the best ICC handle I've yet to see (some years back) was weakerthanf7.

[Event "ICC 5 0"]
[Site "Internet Chess Club"]
[Date "2004.07.29"]
[Round "-"]
[White "Wildazbill"]
[Black "priamo1961"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ICCResult "Black resigns"]
[WhiteElo "1267"]
[BlackElo "1226"]
[Opening "Philidor: exchange variation"]
[ECO "C21"]
[NIC "KP.04"]
[Time "12:25:22"]
[TimeControl "300+0"]

1. e4 e5 2. d4 exd4 3. Nf3 d6 4. Bc4 Nf6 5. Ng5 d5 6. exd5 Nxd5 7. Nxf7 Kxf7 8. Qf3+ Qf6 9. Bxd5+ Be6 10. Bxe6+ Kxe6 11. Qxb7 Qe5+ 12. Kd1 Qd5 13. Re1+ Kd6 14. Bf4+ Kc5 15. Re5 Na6 {Black resigns} 1-0

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Moore Gets Slaughtered By O'Reilly

DRUDGE REPORT 2004?

Here is the transcript provided by the Drudge Report of the O'Reilly/Moore debate held last night on the O'Reilly Factor. (The transcript appears accurately to reflect what I heard last night on TV.) Moore showed himself for what he is, either intellectually obtuse, or morally obtuse, or both. Like so many liberals, he cannot seem to grasp the notion that a lie is not the same as a false statement. Or if he does grasp this elementary notion, then either (i) he himself is lying when he claims that Bush lied about WMDs, or (ii) his claim that Bush lied is based on no evidence -- which makes his allegation morally reprehensible. Pick your poison.

Read the transcript and decide for yourself.

Noch Einmal: Nietzsche and the Genetic Fallacy

Hunt Stilwell writes:

Wow, sorry about the poor grammar. That's what I get for not editing, and starting to say things one way, and then saying it in another. Obviously, it should be, "Not only does he [Nietzsche]not explicitly say that he is doing this, but such a disproof...". Anyway, to make a coherent point. I should also have said our God-concept is a construction, rather than God itself. God may very well be "independent of everything that exists," but under Nietzsche's view, our concepts of God are constructions (whether they have any correspondence to the actual God, if it exists, or not). The point is simply that the construction, and subsequent use (notice Nietzsche talks about the prominence of such beliefs as part of the argument, and not just their origins) can be shown to be destructive, and therefore belief in them inadvisable. Bad fictions are not to be believed, and this is what our God-concepts would be if they were constructed and destructive (they would be fictions, even if God actually exists, and our concepts correspond to it in any way- imagine a character in a fictional book who inadvertently corresponds completely to an actual person - he's still a fictional character, who corresponds to the real by chance). If this is so, then disprooving such beliefs is unnecessary, and hence, superfluous.

BV: Now I think I see what you mean. You are inviting us to consider the possibility that God exists, but that (i) our God-concept is a mere human construction in the service of human, all-too-human, needs and desires, a concept that merely happens to correspond to something real, and that (ii) this concept is an impediment to human flourishing. I take you to be saying that a proof of both (i) and (ii) would render superfluous any proof of the nonexistence of God. In other words, if it can be shown that the concept of God is a deleterious human construction, then one ought not believe in God, even if God does exist, with the result that the objective question of whether God does or does not exist drops out. If this is what you are saying, then I concede that Nietzsche in the passage quoted can be so interpreted that he does not commit the genetic fallacy: he does not take the putatively human origin of the concept of God to show that God does not exist. On this interpretation, Nietzsche is 'bracketing' (in roughly Husserl's sense) the question of the existence/nonexistence of God and investigating the life-enhancing or life-stunting value of the God-belief in terms of its psychological and cultural origins.

This concession, however, does not settle the matter since Nietzsche and his defenders now face a dilemma. Either N. commits the genetic fallacy or he does not. If the former, then N. stands condemned and must repeat Logic 101. If, however, N. does not commit the genetic fallacy, then he accepts the coherence of an attitude like the following:

Even if God exists, I refuse to indulge in this belief on the ground that it will weaken me or otherwise unfit me for a strong, dominant, happy life in this world.

Now this attitude strikes me as incoherent. The question as to whether or not God objectively exists cannot fail to be a most serious question for any serious human being, as great philosophers such as Pascal and Brentano have clearly seen. For God is by definition the summum bonum participation in which would be the highest good for a human being. If God exists, then belief in, and ultimately knowledge of, God is where my happiness lies. To refuse to cultivate this belief on the ground that it unfits me for life in this world makes sense only if there is no God and this world is the only world. But then one must make a reasoned case for God's nonexistence. If that reasoned case involves an account of the origin of the God-belief, then N. and his followers fall into the genetic fallacy. If, on the other prong, they stay clear of the fallacy, and consider the God-belief in merely 'immanent' fashion, i.e., under bracketing of all concern with its transcendent reference or lack thereof, then they willy-nilly presuppose the nonexistence of God -- which is a frivolous thing to do if one is serious about human flourishing. They must presuppose the nonexistence of God if the God-belief is to be destructive of human flourishing.

The God-belief is destructive presumably because it is weakening. But it is weakening only if God does not exist. If God does exist, then the God-belief is ultimately 'empowering' -- I hate this PC term, but here it finds an appropriate use. So it seems to me that there is no getting around the question of the objective existence/nonexistence of God: to prove that the God-belief is destructive, one must first prove (or make a reasoned case for) the nonexistence of God.

Hence I persist in my original conclusion: theistic disproofs are not rendered superfluous by Nietzschean conceptual genealogy. They are necessary if one is to show that the God-belief is destructive of human happiness.

Mangan's Miscellany

I am happy to see that Dennis Mangan is back from his sojourn in Southern California. He offers us three more posts for our reading pleasure. His site is one of my regular 'stops' as I make my blogospheric rounds. Another is AnalPhilosopher. Trouble with old Keith, though, is that he steals too much of my thunder. I'll wake up with a blog topic on my mind and then log on to find that he has already nailed it down -- with his characteristic clarity and concision.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Chess Boxing

ChessBoxing

Remember, you saw it here first. Thanks to Mike Gilleland for the link.

Chess as Sport?

newsobserver.com | Nation

Link courtesy of my esteemed colleague, Dr. Michael Gilleland, in the Classics Department of the University of the Blogosphere.

Naturalism and the Status of Logical Laws

In a recent article, Victor Reppert writes, “If one accepts the laws of logic, as one must if one claims to have inferred one belief from another belief, then one must accept some nonphysical,nonspatial, and nontemporal reality, at least something along the lines of the Platonic forms.” (Philosphia Christi, 5:1 (2003), 19) This is part of Reppert’s case against naturalism since naturalism, as Reppert understands it, cannot countenance any nonspatial and nontemporal realities.

Although I have some objections to some of Reppert’s arguments, which I shall inflict upon him in due course, I am basically on his anti-naturalist side and propose to defend him against some of the objections raised by Richard Carrier in the latter’s lengthy critique of Reppert’s work. Carrier’s animadversions are in boldface. My comments are signalled by ‘BV.’ ‘[SNIP]’ indicates that I have omitted a portion of Carrier’s text.

For logical laws are just like physical laws, because physical laws describe the way the universe works, and logical laws describe the way reason works--or, to avoid the appearance of begging the question, logical laws describe the way a truth-finding machine works, in the very same way the laws of aerodynamics describe the way a flying machine works, or the laws of ballistics describe the way guns shoot their targets. The only difference between logical laws and physical laws is the fact that physical laws describe physics and logical laws describe logic. But that is a difference both trivial and obvious.

BV: There are a couple of reasons for thinking that the difference between physical and logical laws are not “trivial and obvious.” The first is that the laws of logic are necessarily true, whereas the laws of physics are not. The Law of Non-Contradiction (LNC), for example, does not merely happen to be true. For suppose ‘~(p & ~p)’ is contingently true. Then its negation, ‘(p & ~p),’ is possibly true, which is absurd. The negation of a law of nature, however, does not issue in a logical contradiction. Laws of nature are logically contingent.

The second reason for thinking that the difference between physical and logical laws is not “trivial and obvious” is that the laws of logic are prescriptive rather than descriptive: they prescribe how we ought to think if we want to arrive at truth in our reasoning. They do not “describe the way reason works” since reason often malfunctions. Carrier assimilates logic to psychology, thereby falling into the error of psychologism. At the very least, this is an issue that must be seriously addressed.

Reppert thinks there are other strange differences, but he doesn't think them through. For example, he says logical laws are unlike physical laws in that the former "pertain across possible worlds, including worlds with no physical objects whatsoever" (81; cf. 94). But that is again just the same trivial difference, that physical laws, not logical laws, describe physics.

BV: Carrier misses the point entirely. The laws of physics that hold in our world, do not hold in every logically possible world. But the laws of logic do hold in every logically possible world.
That’s the point. Perhaps Carrier can argue against it; but first he must see it. By the way, it is sloppy to say that physical laws describe physics. That’s just false taken literally. Physical laws describe nature or physical reality. Physics is the study of nature; as such, it is distinct from nature.

The reason logical laws pertain to "possible worlds" is the very fact that the sphere of possibility entailed by such a phrase is the sphere of imagination capable of being explored by the virtual model computations of our brain (the assembly and reassembly of the elements of experience),

BV: Not so. The sphere of logical possibility is not coextensive with the sphere of imagination. There are objects that are logically possible that cannot be imagined, Descartes’ chiliagon (one thousand-sided plane figure) for example.

For a world (or system or object within a world) to be "possible" is literally to be capable of simulation in our brain (or in any adjunct to our brain that extends its mental power--like a computer, hypothetical or real).

BV: This is false since impossible states of affairs can be simulated. Surely I can think impossible situations which I see to be impossible, as well as impossible situations which appear possible but which analysis shows to be impossible. What is possible and what is not cannot be tied to the representational powers of some such system as the human brain. Think about it. Could the possibilities and impossibilities pertaining to the brain itself depend on the representational powers of the brain? It is obvious that the possibility that human brains come into existence is prior to and independent of the representation powers of human brains. The world does not get its modal structure from the meat between our ears.

Since reason is a function performed on computed data, especially but not only that category of computed data defined by virtual models, obviously the rules of reason will by definition describe what is applicable to everything that can potentially be computed. It is no accident that Gödel's Theorem connected with work in computation: he proved that the realm of the possible excluded certain things precisely because those things could never be computed. The limits of computation literally are the limits of logic, because computation itself literally is logic (or "a" logic--as there are many types of computation, there are many logics).

BV: This is deeply confused. One of the things that Goedel showed is that there are undecidable propositions of arithmetic: propositions such that neither they nor their negations can be derived from the Principia Mathematica axiom set. Now if P is undecidable relative to that axiom set, then there is a sense in which P is not “computable.” But that is not to say that P is outside the “realm of the possible.” P is a truth of arithmetic. As such it is possibly true, and thus well within the realm of the possible.

It is false that “The limits of computation literally are the limits of logic” since P is logically possible but not computable. It is also false that “computation itself is literally logic....” Computation is a process while logic is a set of truths. Computation exists contingently; the truths of logic exist necessarily. Computation is going on in the CPU in front of me now, but not in other places such as my left foot. The truths of logic are not locatable. The move from “many types of computation” to “many types of logic” is a breath-taking non sequitur in the absence of a great deal of careful argumentative support.

Missing all this,

BV: Reppert “missed” all this? All what? He missed a farrago of nonsense, and did well to miss it.

Reppert goes on to declare that "if one accepts the laws of logic, as one must if one claims to have rationally inferred one belief from another" (emphasis added) "then one must accept some nonphysical, nonspatial and nontemporal reality" rather like Plato suggested (81). Note how close Reppert is to getting it--but just when you think he has it, he puts the cart before the horse, then observes that the whole caboose won't go, and from that concludes it can't go, without some wizard to cast a spell to levitate the cart so it can drag the horse along where it needs to go. If you think that is a silly way to respond to an inverted horse-and-cart, then you will agree Reppert's approach to logical laws is silly, too. The reason one must accept the laws of logic to rationally infer anything is the very same reason one must accept the laws of aerodynamics to fly. Surely Reppert would not conclude that we need some sort of supernatural powers and beings to explain why we need to follow the laws of aerodynamics to fly. The reason we need them is that it is physically impossible to fly any other way, and the only way flight is physically possible is exactly the way described by those laws. All you need for that to be true is a physical universe that is a certain way. Of Plato's hypothesis we have no need.

BV: Carrier is missing a very important difference between physical laws and logical laws, namely, that one can violate logical, but not physical, laws. There are logical inferences and illogical inferences. But there is no corresponding distinction between physical motions and unphysical motions. Every motion is physical, but not every inferring is logical. One cannot fly except in a way that satisfies the laws of aerodynamics, but one can reason in a way that fails to satisfy the laws of logic. Carrier ignores the NORMATIVITY of logic.
[SNIP]
Then we came to discover how to precisely describe the operation of such a computer, when we discovered the laws of ballistics themselves (by observing and testing and so on), and defined them (using languages, like mathematics, specially adapted to such purposes). Later, with this knowledge in hand, we were able to build nearly flawless ballistics computers superior to our own. But even without that technology we could use our own general-purpose computer--the cerebral cortex--to run a nearly flawless ballistics computation by running a program called "mathematics."

BV: So mathematics is a program that the cerebral cortex runs. But this is bizarre. A program is a set of instructions that tells a computer to execute certain tasks, e.g. go to memory location A, take the quantity stored there, raise it to the second power, add it to the quantity stored in memory location B, then deposit the result of the computation in memory location C. This all presupposes the truths of mathematics. I see no clear sense in which the infinity of mathematical truths (many of them undiscovered) can be described as a program.

[SNIP: chunk of text deleted]]
He [Aristotle] goes on to explain that words have definite meanings assigned by human convention, and for that very reason words cannot also mean what they by definition deny (ibid.1006a-1007a). Thus, for Aristotle, logical laws derive necessarily and automatically from the existence of communication (defining terms and reasoning with others) and computation (reasoning with oneself). The moment you have those, in any possible universe, you will always have logical laws. It can never be any other way. This is exactly what I argue above and elsewhere. And since one does not need anything more than physics to have communication and computation, you do not need anything more to have logical laws.

BV: The argument is this:
1. Logical laws derive from communication and computation.
2. Physics (i.e. the physical world) is all that is needed for communication and computation.
Therefore
3. Physics (the physical world) is all that is needed for logical laws.
I see no reason at all to accept premise (1). First of all, it is not clear what ‘derive’ means here. Does it mean that logical laws are empirical generalizations from the way people reason as a matter of fact? But if LNC were an empirical generalization, it might be falsfied by future experience – which is absurd. Logical laws do not derive from communication and reasoning: they are imposed on them. They are criteria of what is to count as true, and what is to count as real; as such, they cannot be said to derive from existing physical facts.

Extending the point to physical reality, Aristotle argues: Again, if all contradictory predications of the same subject at the same time are true, clearly all things will be one. For if it is equally possible either to affirm or deny anything of anything, the same thing will be a trireme and a wall and a man, which is what necessarily follows for those who hold the theory of Protagoras. For if anyone thinks that a man is not a trireme, he is clearly not a trireme [i.e. in their conception], but he also is a trireme if the contradictory statement is true. So the result is the dictum of Anaxagoras, "all things are mixed together," so that nothing truly exists. (Metaphysics 1007b) Aristotle goes on to explain that a posit asserts that something exists, while a negation asserts that it does not, so that to assert both is to declare, literally, nothing (ibid. 1007b-1008a). That is, a self-contradiction communicates nothing, and represents nothing even in the mind of one who wishes to declare it. Thus, it cannot correspond to anything real except the null set.

BV: This is sloppy. It confuses a self-contradictory utterance with a meaningless one. ‘I am both sitting and not sitting now’ is self-contradictory but not meaningless. If it were meaningless, it could not have a truth-value. Since every contradiction is false, every contradiction is meaningful.
[SNIP]
As Reppert himself says, "Part of what it means to say anything is to imply that the contradictory is false" (82). Indeed, that is too wishy-washy washy: the fact is that what it means to say anything is literally at the same time to say (not imply, but assert) that the contradictory is false.

BV: This is false. Suppose a child asserts that all his toy fire trucks are red. He is not thereby asserting that it is not the case that some of his toy fire trucks are not red. In general, if one asserts that p, and p implies q, it does not follow that one asserts that q. Reppert had it right.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Another Reason for Anonymous Blogging

A correspondent -- who wishes to remain anonymous! -- writes:

Not sure I want to be on record as reading Gut Rumbles but here is a relevant post. The company referred to is Kerr-McGee.

>>Several people emailed me about this post. I sent the guy a response because I believe that I have a story to tell. Yes, my blog cost me my job and the company I worked for made no bones about that fact. They paid me a shit-load of money to go away and be quiet. I tookthe money and ran.

But the whole thing still chaps my ass. I knew when I started this blog that I was risking a lot with some of the things I write, but I did it on my own time, not the company's. Less than six months before my ouster, I was given a big, fat financial reward for
being a "Top Gun," a high-octane performer. Then, they turned around and "retired" me because of my blog.

Suppose that instead of writing a blog, I practiced some sort of voodoo religion and bought a couple of billboards to advertise my expertise in goat-entrail reading. Would I have been fired for that? I don't think so. But a blog can bite you in the ass, especially if you write what I do.

Fuck 'em. I made out like a bandit.<<

====================

"This post" is a reference to:

Instapundit:

>>HELP A JOURNALIST! Mark Miller emails:

I'm a researcher for People magazine and I'm trying to track down anyone who has had a blog entry backfire on him or her either professionally or personally. Any help you can be is totally appreciated.

He asks that you email him here: markjmill@yahoo.com.<<

A Failed Defense of Nietzsche's Perspectivism

Prowling the Web for material on Nietzsche and the genetic fallacy, I stumbled across this passage from Merold Westphal, "Nietzsche as a Theological Resource," Modern Theology 13:2 (April 1997), p. 218. Available here:

Perspectivism need not be presented as an absolute truth; it can be presented as an account of how reality looks from where one is situated. It does not thereby cease to be of value. The account of the game given by the winning coach cannot claim to be THE truth about the game: other accounts must be taken into account, including those from the losing coach, the players, the referees,.... But that does not mean that we do not listen with attention to what the winning coach has to say about the game.

Perspectivism is the proposition P: All truths are perspectival. Either (P) applies to itself or it does not. If the former, then one must conclude that (P) is itself perspectivally true. Call this perspectivized perspectivism (PP). If the latter, if (P)is not taken to apply to itself, then (P) is nonperspectivally true. Westphal mentions, but does not take, this tack, so I shall ignore it. His position appears to be perspectivized perspectivism.

Unfortunately, his example shows that he does not understand it. He confuses (PP) with a quite different doctrine that could be called alethic partialism. What the latter says is that the whole truth about a subject cannot be captured from any one perspective. Take a quart of 10 W 30 motor oil. From the perspective of a salesman at an auto parts store, it is a commodity from the sale of which he expects to make a profit. From the perspective of a motorist, it is a crankcase lubricant. From the perspective of a chemist, the oil's viscosity and other such attributes are salient. From the perspective of an eco-enthusiast, it is a potential pollutant of the groundwater. And so on. But note that these partial truths add up to the whole truth about the oil. (By a 'partial truth' I do not mean a truth that is only partially true, but a truth that is wholly true, but captures only a part of the reality of what it is about.)

Alethic partialism sounds reasonable. But that is not what the perspectivized perspectivist is saying. What he is saying is that every truth is merely perspectivally true, and that this thesis itself is true only from his, and perhaps some (but not all) other, perspectives. Unfortunately, this allows a nonperspectivist such as your humble correspondent to say: "Fine! Truth is perspectival for you, Fritz, but for me it is absolute, and one of my absolute truths is that you are mistaken in your theory of truth." Clearly, the perspectivized perspectivist is in an uncomfortable position here. He wants to say something that is binding on all, but he cannot given the self-limiting nature of his position, a self-limitation demanded by logical consistency.

Pace Westphal, perspectivism is not "an account of how reality looks from where one is situated," but an account of the nature of truth, an account that implies that there is no reality. For truth is the truth of reality. A truth-bearer (a belief, say)is true just in case to corresponds to what is the case independently of anyone's beliefs, desires, or interests. To speak of truth as perspectival is to dissolve reality along with truth. From this one can see how obtuse Westphal's account of perspectivism his. He fails to grasp its radicality. And failing to grasp its radicality, he fails to appreciate its utter incoherence.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

The Joy of Six

Congratulations to Lance Armstrong for pulling off a sixth consecutive win in the Tour de France, the world's premier cycling event. I can already feel the lactic acid build-up I will inflict on myself tomorrow morning when I mount my steed at the crack of dawn and attack the meanest hill I can find. But isn't it ironic that Armstrong and his teammates are sponsored by the USPS, the U.S. Snail, whose service, in my experience, has been getting worse?

Once More on Nietzsche and the Genetic Fallacy

Hunt Stilwell (Austin, TX) writes:

I still disagree that Nietzsche's desire, in that passage or elsewhere, was to disprove God's existence. Not only does he not explicitly saying that he is doing this, but such a disproof would be counter to the way Nietzsche usually operated. Instead, I think he wants to show that God is a construction, and a dangerous/destructive one, and therefore render disproof of God "superfluous," because even if God does exist, because believing in Him would be impractical.

BV: Sorry, but I find this incoherent and not just because of the bad grammar. If God is a construction, then God does not exist. (It is God's nature to exist independently of everything else that exists, if God exists; therefore, to say that God is a conceptual construction is equivalent to saying that God does not exist.) It is therefore impossible both for God to be a construction and to exist. Therefore, any argument that God is a conceptual construction is an argument that God does not exist.

I'm willing to concede that it can be an instance of the Genetic Fallacy with Gettier-cases admitted, which makes it an unsound deduction, but given the improbability of the reality of Gettier-like cases, both in the sexual abuse cases (if it can be definitively shown that the beliefs were implanted) and in
the case of God-beliefs, the argument is still a pretty good inductive one.

Finally, sorry about the anonymity. I forgot that this email address doesn't have my signature automatically attached. The blog of the same name was anonymous because it was a joke, written by several different people (hence its lasting only 2 months, at which point, it was no longer fun). We knew nothing about blogs at the time. I'd almost forgotten about it. I do have a real blog. It's still pretty rudimentary, as well, and currently undergoing some changes in an attempt to start a real cognitive science blog.


Thanks for the reference to the new blog, and best wishes.

Steven Den Beste on 'Anonyblogging'

USS Clueless - An act of faith

Steven Den Beste presents his case against anonymous blogging.

Reasons for 'Anonyblogging'

BigHominid writes:

The question of bloggers who use pseudonyms (sometimes called "anonyblogging")has been around for a bit. I go by "Kevin Kim," which is two-thirds of my full name, and is in fact the name I generally use in Korea (my last name is too hard for Koreans to pronounce, so I dropped it years ago). It's also a cautionary measure: given my strange role as anti-government agitator these days, I'd prefer not to be tracked down and deported too easily. True: I'm not making much of an effort to cover my tracks, but I also don't want to make life too easy for the Office of Immigration or the MIC.

Many bloggers feel they have to post anonymously because of the delicate nature of their work situation. This is understandable. While it sounds noble to say we should all take responsibility for our words, this has to be weighed against the possibility that we can lose the freedom to express ourselves if a connection is discovered between our words and their authors. For people who aren't at such risk, I agree with you that they should "take responsibility" for what they have to say. For people who are at risk, however, I submit the question is more complex.


Australian blogger geekgirl2 has this to say:

As a former philsophy student I enjoy your blog, but one comment re this recent post:

"(By the way, why do so many bloggers hide behind pseudonyms? Why not be a man (or a woman), say what you think and take responsibility for it?)"

Some of us actually use pseudonyms because speaking out would harm us in some way. I am one of those people. There is no way someone in my position at work & in industry could speak out so openly & not cause myself, my business and my colleagues some harm. This is because not everyone on the net is capable of rational discourse. And also because the media can be quite cruel.

In a case like this should I be silent? I think not. A pseudonym is a rational response balancing a right to speak out & the right to protect myself from damage. At some stage in the future I will come out from behind the pseudonym but that will be after the business has completed our planned activities over the next 2 years.

Until then I am happy to stand up as a woman & say what I want to, but I am not willing to open myself to attack - hence the pseudonym. In this I see myself & others like me as little different to the pseudonymous pamphleteers of the late 18th & early 19th centuries.

Of course, the foregoing comments do not preclude some people using pseudonyms because they are gutless cowards who are just big fraidy cats (which interpretation, should you so desire, you could also apply to me ;-)


BV: I guess what struck me is how many remain anonymous. I wouldn't want to deny that in particular cases there are excellent prudential reasons for anonymity. Indeed, in some cases it may even be morally obligatory (to protect one's family for example). And no, I wouldn't accuse any particular person of being a coward when I don't know his or her circumstances. Thanks to both of you for writing.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Nietzsche and the Genetic Fallacy: Objections and Replies

A blogger by the name of StrangeSemantics offers a thoughtful, well-written, and interesting reply to yesterday’s Nietzsche post:

(By the way, why do so many bloggers hide behind pseudonyms? Why not be a man (or a woman), say what you think and take responsibility for it?)

The genetic fallacy is a fallacy of relevance, as I'm sure you know. However, in the case of Nietzsche's point about God-beliefs, the historical analysis is not irrelevant. If God-beliefs originated in and gained prominence through cultural factors, rather than actual experience of God, then Nietzsche's point is perfectly valid.

BV: Let’s be sure we understand what N’s point was in the passage I quoted. It was that “in former times, one sought to prove that there is no God...,” while today (Daybreak was published in 1881) “one indicates how the belief that there is a God could arise.” This genetic account is supposed to make a proof that there is no God “superfluous.” In other words, one can show that the proposition that God exists is false simply by tracing the origin of the belief that God exists. But this is the genetic fallacy: it confuses questions about the origin of a belief-state (in an individual or in a group) with questions about the truth-value of a proposition which is the accusative of the belief-state. The crucial distinction between a belief-state (whether occurrent or
dispositional) and the belief-state’s content or accusative is at the root of the allegation of genetic fallacy.

Suppose no God-belief ever arose from any actual experience of God. Suppose instead that every such belief arose by inferences from facts about the physical world (its contingent existence, its order) or facts about our mental life such as the experience of conscience. It would still not follow that God does not exist. The objector speaks of “cultural factors.” Well, suppose every God-belief arose from cultural or psychological factors such as a need for comfort. See here. That would still not show that God does not exist.

Consider an analogy. A man dying of thirst in a desert forms a mental image of a water-source of such-and-such a description. Pretty clearly, it is his extreme need that accounts for the formation of the mental image. But then he stumbles upon a water-source of that very description. This is a possible situation. Its possibility shows that the inference from ‘need accounts for the image’ to ‘nothing corresponding to the image exists’ is invalid.

What is really going on here is that Nietzsche and his defenders are simply begging the question against the theist: they are presupposing the nonexistence of God. Of course, if God does not
exist, then the only possible explanation of God-beliefs must be in non-God terms. But then one has simply traded one fallacy (the genetic fallacy) for another (that of begging the question).

Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against psychologizing. Once you show that the subject’s beliefs are false, you may psychologize all you like. But the crucial point is that you cannot show they are false by psychologizing.

Take another example where the origins of a belief matter. You may or may not be aware of the relatively recent debate among psychologists over the existence of recovered memories. Many of these recovered memories involve the belief that the individual who has recovered these memories was the victim of some previously unrecalled sexual abuse at the hands of a parent or family friend. These beliefs have led to criminal cases, and even convictions, based on little or no evidence other than the testimony of the allegedly abused individual based on his or her recovered memory of the alleged abuse. The primary argument against the existence of recovered memories, both in individual cases and in general, is a genetic one: these memories are not the product of actual instances of abuse, but of implanted memories from therapists or other sources
(e.g., books, friends, loved ones, or environmental sources such as newspapers accounts of other abuses). If we were going to structure the argument against a particular individual's (X) recovered memories being veridical as a syllogism, we would put it something like this:

P1 Beliefs about sexual abuse (or any other type of event) based on implanted recovered memories, rather than memories originating from actual abuse (or other type of event), are false.
P2 The beliefs of X about his/her sexual abuse are based on implanted recovered memories.
Therefore:
C The beliefs of X about his/her sexual abuse are false.

This argument is both valid and sound. Both premises are true, and so is the conclusion.


BV: I simply deny that (P1) is true. I take it there is a tacit universal quantifier in play in (P1) -- indeed there must be if the argument is to be valid in point of logical form. So what (P1) amounts to is: Every belief based on implanted recovered memories is false. And that is plainly false. What is true is that such beliefs are dubious and not sufficiently trustworthy to stand up in a court of law.

The reason is, the origins of beliefs about sexual abuse are relevant to the veracity [read: veridicality] of those beliefs (Gettier-like cases in which a person believes that he or she was abused because the beliefs were implanted, but was in fact abused and simply has no genuine memories of the event not withstanding). Nietzsche maintains, throughout his work, that the same is true about other beliefs, and about God-beliefs in particular. If God-beliefs arose not through experience of God (even if that experience is direct, in the sense that philosophers like Plantinga talk about these days), or reports about experience of God, but were created out of particular human psychological or cultural motives, then those beliefs are false, based on an argument similar to the one above about sexual abuse beliefs.

BV: Your central claim is this conditional statement: If God-beliefs originated from cultural/psychological motives, then those beliefs are false. But I deny that the consequent follows from the antecedent. No matter what the origin of a belief, the question of whether or not it is true is a logically independent question. Suppose a mathematician takes LSD and discovers a proof of a theorem. The validity of the proof is in no way mitigated by the rather extreme goings-on in his brain under the influence of LSD. Of course, later, when the LSD wears off, the validity of the proof can be checked by him and by his colleagues. But equally, theistic beliefs, once they have originated ontogenetically or phylogenetically by whatever concatenation of cultural or psychological causes, can be checked for rationality and plausibility
by philosophers even if these beliefs cannot be conclusively proven. (The only reason math results can be conclusively proven is because they rest on axioms that no one thinks to dispute.)

But even when our mathematician is not under the influence of drugs, he is is still under the influence of his brain-chemistry. If the cultural origin of God-beliefs shows that they are false, then why doesn’t the electrochemical origin of math-beliefs show that they too are false?

As in the sexual abuse situation, you could have Gettier-like cases that are relevant to Nietzsche's argument, in which God does exist, but our beliefs in God (all beliefs, including the first beliefs among humans) originated independent of any experience of God. A counter argument to Nietzsche's might be that while God has not directly interacted with any human, He set up the world, or the human mind, in such a way that humans would eventually invent a concept of Him.

BV: Very interesting. You now seem to be conceding what I said above when I rejected (P1).

This does not show that Nietzsche's argument is invalid. Instead it argues that Nietzsche's version of P1 is false, and therefore his argument is unsound. However, the need for a counter-argument like this shows the relevance of P1 in Nietzsche's argument, and thus demonstrates that Nietzsche is not committing the genetic fallacy.

BV: What you saying here is none too clear, but perhaps you have the following in mind as Nietzsche’s argument:

N1 Every belief that does not arise from its putative object but from some other cause is false.
N2 Theistic beliefs are not caused by God but by human wishes, needs, fears, etc.
Therefore
C Theistic beliefs are false.

This is a valid argument. It is unsound because (N1) – and perhaps (N2) as well – is false. But why is (N1) false? It is false because it commits the genetic fallacy: (N1) rests on the confusion of the question of the truth/falsity of a proposition p with the question of the origin of the belief that p. These are logically independent questions; (N1) violates this independence.

I am sure you are aware that the genetic fallacy is an informal fallacy; hence an argument valid in point of logical form can fall afoul of it. So, depite what you say, I persist in my view that Nietzsche commits the genetic fallacy in the passage I quoted.

A final note: Nietzsche does not argue that his point amounts to a disproof of God's existence.

BV: That’s exactly what he argues in the passage quoted. Please read it again.

Instead, he wants to show that our God-concepts are human constructions, rather than empirical or a priori beliefs.

BV: But obviously we don’t need Nietzsche to teach us that; we could have got that from Kant.

Showing that our God-concepts were constructed does exactly that! This is why he does not claim that such a historical argument amounts to a disproof of God's existence. Rather, it renders such disproof's "superfluous."

BV: ‘Superfluous’ means unnecessary. Now why is a disproof of the divine existence unnecessary? Precisely because it has already been accomplished by the genetic debunking of the God-belief. If the historical-genetic ‘argument’ does not amount to a purported disproof of God’s existence, what does it amount to? Seems you are missing N’s entire project. He is the debunker par excellence. He is out to genetically debunk practically all traditional notions, whether logical (identity), moral (guilt, conscience), theological, religious (sin), psychological (freedom of the will, existence of the self) – you name it.


Friday, July 23, 2004

Factor This!

My liberal friend John Gallagher may be softening a bit. He sent me the following.

O'Reilly is actually fair and balanced. At least for this one segment:

The Daily Howler

MR. O BATTLES THE SPIN: O'Reilly did have some problems last night, especially in his "Talking Points Memo." But if you watched him in two later segments, you saw him question basic elements of RNC spin about Berger. His first guest was National Review's Byron York. When York seemed to imply that Berger was trying to steal all the copies of a "scathing report," Mr. O brought down the hammer:

O'REILLY: OK, but-hey, Mr. York, here's the deal. The original report remains in the hands of the government. All Berger had access to was copies. So him taking copies out of that room doesn't really matter because this government still has the original stuff. So he can't divert attention from it. He can't cover it up.

York, who was also basically fair, seemed to accept Bill's statement. Mr. O summarized thusly:

O'REILLY: I want to stay away from the speculation. But even so, he's not going to cover up anything because the 9/11 Commission had access to all of the original documents. They were going to see what Berger saw, whether he took these copies out or not.

Obedient little RNC hacks know not to mention this fact. And Bill's debunking wasn't done. He did bring up that shaky "socks" imagery. But just that quickly, he semi-debunked it:

O'REILLY: Now the other thing is that in the New York Daily News-and I respect that paper, they carry my column; they're good reporters, aggressive-they say unnamed archive people saw Berger stuffing it in his underwear and socks. And my question in the "Talking Points" was well, if you saw that, you wouldn't get in today. You can't do that. It's against the law. Stop doing that. So that doesn't make too much sense.

Bill had been more coherent in his "Memo," saying the sock-stuffing story didn't make sense because staffers would have stopped Berger if they'd observed such conduct. That is, of course, a speculation itself. But Factor viewers saw two big hunks of RNC spin called into question.

So I take back everything bad I ever said about O'Reilly. Naw, he's still an asshole:

Media Matters

BV sez: I report, you decide.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Nietzsche and the Genetic Fallacy

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality, Book I, sec. 95:

Historical refutation as the definitive refutation. -- In former times, one sought to prove that there is no God -- today one indicates how the belief that there is a God could arise and how this belief acquired its weight and importance: a counter-proof that there is no God thereby becomes superfluous. -- When in former times one had refuted the 'proofs of the existence of God' put forward, there always remained the doubt whether better proofs might not be adduced than those just refuted: in those days atheists did not know how to make a clean sweep.

This passage, which is entirely characteristic of Nietzsche's way of thinking, strikes me as a text-book example of the genetic fallacy.

Every belief has an origin: it comes to be held by a person or a group of persons due to certain causes. Thus I came to believe that there are nine planets by reading it in a book as a child. Is Nietzsche suggesting that every belief is false just in virtue of its having an origin? That would be absurd. Is he suggesting instead that only false beliefs have origins? That too would be absurd. My belief that our solar system consists of exactly nine planets orbiting one mediocre star is true despite its having an origin.

Given that both true and false beliefs have origins, it follows that one cannot refute a belief, i.e., show it to be false, by tracing its origins. To think otherwise is to commit the genetic fallacy.

People who commit this fallacy fail to appreciate that questions as to the truth or falsity of a belief and as to the reasons for its truth or falsity are logically independent of questions as to the origin (genesis) of the belief in question. Herr Nietzsche is therefore quite mistaken in thinking that accounting for the genesis of a belief renders "superfluous" (ueberfluessig) the question of its truth or falsity.

Far from being the definite refutation, historical refutation is no refutation at all. A belief's loss of widespread acceptance and existential importance says nothing about its truth.

Nietzsche was subjectively certain of the nonexistence of God. But this was merely a fact about his psyche, a fact consistent both with the existence and the nonexistence of God. Similarly, the "death of God" -- in plain English: the waning of widespread belief in God among educated people -- is merely a cultural fact, if it is a fact. As such, it is consistent both with the existence and the nonexistence of God.

What Nietzsche and his followers do is presuppose that there there is a way things are: There is no God, no moral world-order; truth is a matter of perspective, a "vital lie"; the world at bottom is the will to power; and so on. Their view that logic is a falsification of experience absolves them of arguing for these theses. Armed with these unargued presuppositions, they set out to debunk countervailing positions. What they seem not to appreciate is that debunkers can be debunked and psychologizers psychologized; bullshitters of the decadent French form can themselves be bullshat. Deny truth and your presuppose truth. Turn everything into flux, and you flux yourself up as well. The river into which you can step only once turns out to be a river into which you cannot step at all. Logic, rendered super-fluous, gets its revenge in the end.

Nietzsche on Bentham, Mill, & Co.

"If we have our own why of life, we shall get along with almost any how. Man does not strive for pleasure; only the Englishman does. (Twilight of the Idols, "Maxims and Arrows," #12.)

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

John Stuart Mill on Higher and Lower Pleasures

In normative ethics, hedonism is the doctrine that pleasure is always good for its own sake, and that it is the only thing that is good for its own sake. Other things may be instrumentally good, good for the sake of what is ultimately good, but on the hedonist scheme pleasure alone is ultimately good. But if pleasure is the criterion of the good, will it be possible to distinguish in some principled way between higher and lower pleasures? Will it be possible to say that some types of pleasure are not just different from, but intrinsically superior to, others? Or is pleasure just pleasure, so that no type of pleasure is preferable to any other?

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) addresses the question of qualitative distinctions among pleasures in Chapter 2 of his Utilitarianism (1863). Mill’s utilitarianism consists in the view that “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to promote the opposite of happiness.” (Piest, p. 10) Mill’s hedonism consists in his identification of happiness with pleasure. “By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure.” (Ibid.) Presumably, one could be a utilitarian without being a hedonist.

The notion that the ultimate end of human existence is the enjoyment of pleasure and the avoidance of pain strikes many as ignoble, something porcine rather than Socratic. Hoping to counter this perception, Mill tries to show that not all pleasures are equal, that some are intrinsically superior to others and ought to be preferred. Of course, intellectual pleasures are more permanent, less costly, and safer than the pleasures of the flesh. Think of the ill-starred John Belushi whose pursuit of the lower pleasures culminated in his taking the ‘speedball’(heroin + cocaine) express to Kingdom Come. Had he engaged in the more sober delights of Socratic dialectic he might still be among us – as a philosophical blogger perhaps. But the difference between safe, permanent, and inexpensive pleasures and those that are dangerous, short-lived, and expensive is merely descriptive, not normative. What Mill wants to show is that the higher pleasures of intellect, imagination, and emotion are superior in their intrinsic nature and not merely in their circumstantial advantages. In other words, what Mill aims to prove is that the higher pleasures are better, and so ought to be pursued for their own sake and not merely because they are advantageous to us.

Mill’s argument (pp. 12-15) is essentially as follows:

1. Let A and B be two types of pleasure.
2. Those with experience of both types prefer A over B.
Therefore
3. A-pleasures are preferable to B-pleasures.
Therefore
4. A-pleasures are intrinsically better than B-pleasures.

This argument is invalid, as has been noted on many occasions. Although (3) follows from (1) and (2), given that ‘preferable’ simply means able to be preferred, (4) does not follow from (3). For what is able to be preferred need not be worthy of preference, i.e., better. Such words as ‘desirable,’ ‘preferable,’ ‘choosable,’ ‘electable,’ ‘delectable,’‘nubile’ are systematically ambiguous. They invite the illicit slide from the descriptive to the prescriptive/proscriptive. Take ‘nubile.’ Distracting connotations aside, it means marriageable. But that can mean either able to be married, or worthy of being married.

Mill’s Problem: If the ultimate end of human action is pleasure, if this is the supreme goal of all striving and the final moral criterion, then how can one class of pleasures be intrinsically better than another? Compare the pleasure of sexual orgasm with the pleasure that comes from solving a mathematical or chess problem. The former pleasure cannot be repeated as often as the second. But this difference, being merely descriptive, does not make the second better than the first. To suppose that some pleasures are better than others is to suppose that there is a
standard of goodness other than pleasure.

The Millian hedonist faces a dilemma. Either pleasure is the ultimate standard of goodness, or it is not. If the former, then there is simply no ground for saying that some pleasures are of higher quality than others: pleasure is pleasure regardless of its origin. If the latter, if plesure is not the ultimate standard, then hedonism has simply been abandoned.

At this point, the argument may proceed in one of two directions. We either hold fast to hedonism, and abandon the view that some pleasures are better than others; or we adhere to the view that there are qualitative distinctions among pleasures, distinctions that presuppose a standard of goodness other than pleasure, and consequently reject hedonism. My inclination is to move in the second of these directions.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

My Sybaritic Existence

In a flattering post, for which I am most grateful, Keith Burgess-Jackson says he envies me my "sybaritic existence." A sybarite, however, is a voluptuary or sensualist, whereas my existence inclines more or less toward the ascetic. Here is what Robert Hendrickson has to say about 'sybarite' in his Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, p. 701:

Sybarite. One ancient Sybarite, legend says, complained to his host that he could not sleep at night because there was a rose petal under his body. Inhabitants of the Greek colony of Sybaris on the Gulf of Tarantum in southern Italy, the Sybarites were noted among the Greeks for their love of luxury and sensuousness, and to some extent for their effeminacy and wantonness, all qualities associated with the word sybarite today. The fertile land of Sybaris, founded in the sixth century B.C., made luxurious living possible, but too many pleasures weakened the people. The neighboring Crotons, assisting the Troezenians, whom the Greeks had earlier ejected from the city, destroyed Sybaris in 510 B.C., diverting the river Crathis to cover its ruin. It is said that the Sybarites had trained their horses to dance to pipes and that Crotons played pipes as they marched upon them, creating such disorder among their rivals that they easily won the battle. The city of Thurii was later built on or near the site of Sybaris.

Too many pleasures weakened the people! There is a moral here. But getting back to Dr. Keith's post, he says the following in explanation of it in an e-mail message: "I did pause before writing 'sybaritic,' since, as you say, it connotes hedonism. But you do say on your blog that you're living a life of creative leisure, which I assume gives you pleasure! (Isn't leisure a form of hedonism?)"

A plausible response, except that it raises the difficult question whether there is any justification for a distinction between higher and lower pleasures. Can it be maintained that the pleasures of Aristotle's contemplative life (bios theoretikos) are intrinsically superior to the pleasures of the flesh? I will consider this vexatious question in my next post.

Examples of the Inordinate Love of Universal Quantifiers

Stephen Flynn, Meet the Press, last Sunday morning: "We have never had enemy boots on our ground." Really? What about the War of 1812?

One often hears: "Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East." But Turkey is in the Middle East and is a democracy --flawed though it may be.

This too is often heard: "Before 9/11/01, the U. S. mainland had never been attacked." Nonsense, War of 1812.

Tom Brokaw: "The World War II generation is the greatest generation." Phrased in terms of a universal quantifier, and with a sidelong glance in the direction of Anselm of Canterbury: "The WW II generation is the generation than which there is no greater." So it was greater than the Civil War generation, the Revolutionary generation, and every other generation in human history?

There are uses of language other than the fact-stating use. But when one is supposed to be stating facts, one must make an attempt at getting them right. There is too little respect for truth these days, and too much indulgence in empty rhetoric and wild exaggeration.

Monday, July 19, 2004

New Zealand Blogger Writes

Bill,

Although I do not share your politics, I enjoy reading the thoughtful commentary on your "Maverick Philosopher" website.

I just wanted to bring to your attention a follow-up post I wrote about a week ago, on truth and relativism. Go here.

The one major disadvantage of your site, in my opinion, is its self-imposed isolationism. Without comments or trackback etc., there is no easy way for your readers to notice who else is responding to your posts. If you are set against comments, and can't be bothered
integrating Haloscan trackback into your template, then perhaps the easiest way for you to overcome this would simply be to provide a link (in your sidebar) to your Technorati page.

This page lists all the blogs who have recently linked to your site.
It is very easy and convenient, and would allow your readers to follow the development of online "conversations." I can see no disadvantage to this.

Regards,
Richard Chappell
Philosophy, et cetera

Mr. Chappell,

Thanks very much for writing. I wasn't aware of Technorati, and I am very glad you brought it to my attention. You make some good points in your relativism post. One of your points I would paraphrase as follows. An absolutist about truth does not of course deny the context-sensitivity of many sentences, a sensitivity that brings with it a certain relativization. Thus, sentences containing comparative terms like 'tall,' indexical words such as 'I' and 'here' and tensed verbs can only be evaluated relative to a context of use. But once those context-sensitive elements are replaced with context-invariant terms, the result is what Quine calls an 'eternal sentence' absolutely true if true at all. For example, 'I am hungry' may be true when you utter it but false when I utter it. But that is not the case for 'Richard Chappell is hungry at noon on 15 July 2004.' If true, it is true regardless of who utters or thinks it.

Regards,

BV

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Logical Versus Emersonian Consistency

Consideration of context is crucial for correct interpretation. An often misquoted and even more often misunderstood line from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” reads as follows: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. . . .” This ‘text-bite’ suggests the denigration of logical consistency. But now read the line in context:

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words and tomorrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard
words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.(Ziff, 183)


It should now be clear that Emerson’s dictum has nothing to do with logical consistency and everything to do with consistency of beliefs over time. The consistency in question is diachronic rather than synchronic. A “little mind” is “foolishly consistent” if it refuses to changes its beliefs when change is needed due to changing circumstances, further experience or clearer thinking. It should be clear that if I believe that p at time t, but believe that ~p at later time t*, then there is no time at which I hold logically inconsistent beliefs. Doxastic alteration, like alteration in
general, is noncontradictory for the simple reason that properties which are contradictory when taken in abstracto are had at different times. My coffee changes from hot to non-hot, and thus has contradictory attributes when we abstract from the time of their instantiation. But since the coffee instantiates them at different times, there is no contradiction such as would cause us to join Parmenides in denying the reality of the changeful world. Belief change is just a special case of this. Suppose a politician changes her position for some good reason. There is not only nothing wrong with this, it shows an admirable openness. She goes from believing in a progressive tax scheme to believing in a flat tax, say. Surely there is no logical contradiction involved, and for two reasons. First, the property of believing that a progressive tax is warranted
is not the contradictory, but merely the contrary, of the property of believing that a flat tax is warranted. (They cannot both be instantiated at the same time, but it is possible that neither be instantiated.) Second, the properties are had at different times. A logical contradiction ensues when one simultaneously maintains both that p and that ~p.

Emerson’s sound point, then, is that one should not make a fetish out of doxastic stasis: there is nothing wrong with being ‘inconsistent’ in the sense of changing one’s beliefs when circumstances change and as one gains in experience and insight. But this is not to say that one should adopt the antics of John F. (‘F’ for Flibbertigibbet, or else ‘Flip-Flop') Kerry. Relative stability of views over time is an indicator of character.

Before leaving this topic, let's consider what Walt Whitman has to say in the penultimate section 51 of “Song of Myself” in Leaves of Grass:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)


Here it appears that Whitman is thumbing his nose at logical consistency. If so, the Emersonic and Whitmanic dicta ought not be confused.

Tammy Bruce.com

Tammy Bruce.com

Check out this gun-totin' lesbian.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

On Hairsplitting

The charge of hairsplitting has always been one of the weapons in the arsenal of the anti-intellectual. One root of anti-intellectualism is a churlish hatred of all refinement. Another is laziness. Just as there are slugs who will not stray from their couches without the aid of motorized transport, there are mental slugs who will not engage in what Hegel calls die Anstrengung des Begriffs, the exertion of the concept. Thinking is hard work. One has to be careful, one has to be precise; one has to carve the bird of reality at the joints. It is no surprise that people don’t like thinking. It goes against our slothful grain. But surely any serious thinking about any topic issues in the making of distinctions that to the untutored may seem strained and unnecessary.

Consider the question of when it is appropriate to praise a person. Should we praise a person who has merely done his duty? Should we praise people who feed, clothe, house, and educate their children? Of course not. For this is what they ought to do. We ought not praise them for doing such things; we ought to condemn them for not doing them. Praise is due only those actions that are above and beyond the call of duty. Such actions are called supererogatory. So we have a distinction between the obligatory and the supererogatory. The former pertains to those actions that must be done or else left undone, while the latter to those actions that are non-obligatory but such that if they are done they bring moral credit upon their agents.

Is that hairsplitting? Obviously not. We are in the presence of a genuine distinction. One would have to quite obtuse not to discern it. Clarity in moral matters demands the making of this distinction, and plenty of others besides.

A second example. The phrase, “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” will strike some as containing redundant verbiage. But there are three distinct notions here since one can tell the truth without telling the whole truth, and one can tell the whole truth without telling nothing but the truth.. This is not hairsplitting, but the making of necessary distinctions. Necessary for what? Necessary for clarity of thought. Why is that a good thing? Clarity of thought is required for ethical action and for prudent action.

So what is hairsplitting if this is supposed to be something objectionable? One idea is that it is to make distinctions that correspond to nothing real, distinctions that are merely verbal. The ‘distinction’ between a glow bug and a fire fly, for example, is merely verbal: there is no distinction in reality. A glow bug just is a firefly. Similarly there is no distinction in reality between a bottle’s being half-full and being half-empty. The only possible difference is in the attitude of someone, a drunk perhaps, who is elated at the bottle’s being half-full and depressed at its being half-empty.

But this is not what people usually mean by the charge of hairsplitting. What they seem to mean is the drawing of distinctions that don’t make a practical difference. But whether a distinction makes a practical difference depends on the context and on one’s purposes. A chess player must know when the game is drawn. One way to draw a chess game is by three-fold repetition of position. But there is a distinction between a consecutive and a nonconsecutive three-fold repetition of position, a distinction many players do not appreciate. When it is explained to them, as it is here some react with ‘hairsplitting!’

The truth of the matter is that there are very few occasions on which the charge of hairsplitting is justly made. On almost all occasions, the accuser is simply advertising his inability to grasp a distinction that the subject-matter requires.

A Common Mistake in the Abortion Debate

It is commonly assumed that opposition to abortion can be based only on religious premises. To show that this assumption is false, only one counterexample is needed. What follows is an anti-abortion argument that does not invoke any religious tenet:

(1) Infanticide is morally wrong; (2) There is no morally relevant difference between abortion and infancticide; ergo, (3) Abortion is morally wrong.

Whether one accepts this argument or not, it clearly invokes no religious premise. It is therefore manifestly incorrect to say or imply that all opposition to abortion is religiously-based. Theists and atheists alike can make use of the above argument.

Is it a good argument? Well, it is valid: if one accepts the premises, then one must accept the conclusion. That is a logical ‘must’: one who accepts the premises but balks at the conclusion embraces a contradiction. But there is nothing to stop the argument from being run in reverse: Deny the conclusion, then deny one or both of the premises. Thus, one might argue from ~(3)and (2) to ~(1). Someone who argues in this way is within his logical rights, but is saddled with having to swallow the moral acceptability of infanticide.

Friday, July 16, 2004

The Declaration and the Establishment Clause

Here is a question for liberals, especially those of the extreme ACLU type. Given your excessively latitudinarian interpretation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States – an interpretation so extreme that it requires the removal of a small cross from the seal of the city of Los Angeles -- why do you consider the Declaration of Independence a document fit for posting in public places?

Note first that there are at least four references to God in the Declaration. In the opening paragraph we find the phrase, “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God....” And in the second paragraph, we are told that it is a self-evident truth that “all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights....” (In case it is not obvious, a reference to God is not the same as an occurrence of the word ‘God’ since God can be referred to in ways that do not use ‘God.’) In the final paragraph, there are references to God via the phrases, “Supreme Judge of the World,” and “divine Providence....” Given these obvious references to God as God of Nature (and thus as distinct from nature), as creator, as supreme judge, and as provider (in the two-fold sense of one who foresees (pro-videre) and supplies our needs), how can the extreme ACLU-type liberal countenance the posting of the Declaration in any public place? The Establishment Clause reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion....” Now it should be completely opaque to any rational person how the posting of the Ten Commandments, say, by a judge, say, in his chambers, could be taken to be an establishment of any particular religion as the state religion. First of all, a judge is not the Congress. Second, the mere displaying of an ancient document does not suffice to establish a religion. Third, the Ten Commandments is not specific to any one religion: it is common to the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

But let that pass. On the present occasion I am arguing ex concesso: I concede the extremist interpretion of the Establishment Clause in order to raise a question of logical consistency, namely, how is it logically consistent to uphold the extremist interpretation while not applying it to the public display of the Declaration? If the references to God in the Ten Commandments
disallow its posting in public, why don’t the references to God in the Declaration have a similar effect?

What I am saying to the ACLU-type liberal is this. Be consistent: either apply your extremist interpretation of the Establishment Clause to the Declaration and argue for the latter’s removal from public places, or give up the extremist interpretation. Of course, a conservative will opt for the second disjunct and take the first as a reductio ad absurdum of the liberal position. But the conservative cannot expect the liberal to follow him in this. But what one can expect, and indeed demand, is that the liberal be logically consistent. Making this demand, one does not impose one’s views on him, one merely demands that he be consistent in the views that he chooses to hold.

But what if our dear liberal rejects the Law of Non-Contradiction? Such a person should be simply ignored. For such a person, as Aristotle remarks in his classic defense of LNC in Metaphysics, Book Gamma, is “no better than a plant.”(10006a15)

George Orwell's Adaptation of 1 Corinthians 13

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not money, I am become as a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not money, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not money, it profiteth me nothing. Money suffereth long, and it is kind; money envieth not; money vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. . . . And now abideth faith, hope, money, these three; but the greatest of these is money.

From Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Frontispiece, p. vii.

Wilson Contradictions Leave Democrat Senators Speechless

Wilson contradictions leave Democrat senators speechless

Saddam's attempt to acquire uranium. Link courtesy of Tom Coleman.

Can a Catholic be 'Pro-Choice'?

Denver Archbishop says those who Support Abortion "Rights" Cannot be Catholic

A refreshing blast of common sense. A tip of the hat to my old college buddy, Tom Coleman, for the link.

Michael Badnarik, Libertarian Presidential Candidate

The Washington Monthly

Link courtesy of John Gallagher.

Ex-World Chess Champion Fischer Detained in Japan

Yahoo! News - Ex-World Chess Champion Fischer Detained in Japan

Thanks to Mike Gilleland for the link.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Sudden Loss in Functionality

On this post and the last, I have had to add the HTML code by hand: the usual tools (bold, italics, link, indent, preview) do not appear on the Create page. Has anyone else experienced this? Everything was working fine until yesterday. Any ideas?

Verbum Ipsum

This new blog earns the Maverick's imprimatur and nihil obstat. I have installed a standing link to it. Thanks to Bill Keezer for the reference.

More on Liberal Bias

OpinionJournal - Extra

A good article with plenty of examples. Thanks to Keith Burgess-Jackson for the link.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Political Correctness Watch

A tip of the hat to the prolific and penetrating John Ray over at Political Correctness Watch for his excerpting of my recent post on PC. I have installed a standing link to PC Watch, which provides a much-needed service in these strange times. Mr. Ray may have found a reference to my PC post over at Analphilosopher. Thanks, Keith!

War Blog by FrontPage Magazine

FrontPage magazine.com :: War Blog by FrontPage Magazine

Studded with links.

Mr. Sharon, Build This Wall !

FrontPage magazine.com :: Mr. Sharon, Build This Wall by Dick Morris

George Orwell on Pacifism

Here is an excerpt from Orwell's 1942 essay, "Pacifism and the War":

Pacifism. Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one. In practice, ‘he that is not with me is against me’. The idea that you can somehow remain aloof from and superior to the struggle, while living on food which British sailors have to risk their lives to bring you, is a bourgeois illusion bred of money and security. Mr Savage remarks that ‘according to this type of reasoning, a German or Japanese pacifist would be “objectively pro-British”.’ But of course he would be! That is why pacifist activities are not permitted in those countries (in both of them the penalty is, or can be, beheading) while both the Germans and the Japanese do all they can to encourage the spread of pacifism in British and American territories. The Germans even run a spurious ‘freedom’ station which serves out pacifist propaganda indistinguishable from that of the P.P.U. They would stimulate pacifism in Russia as well if they could, but in that case they have tougher babies to deal with. In so far as it takes effect at all, pacifist propaganda can only be effective against those countries where a certain amount of freedom of speech is still permitted; in other words it is helpful to totalitarianism.

I am not interested in pacifism as a ‘moral phenomenon’. If Mr Savage and others imagine that one can somehow ‘overcome’ the German army by lying on one’s back, let them go on imagining it, but let them also wonder occasionally whether this is not an illusion due to security, too much money and a simple ignorance of the way in which things actually happen. As an ex-Indian civil servant, it always makes me shout with laughter to hear, for instance, Gandhi named as an example of the success of non-violence. As long as twenty years ago it was cynically admitted in Anglo-Indian circles that Gandhi was very useful to the British government. So he will be to the Japanese if they get there. Despotic governments can stand ‘moral force’ till the cows come home; what they fear is physical force. But though not much interested in the ‘theory’ of pacifism, I am interested in the psychological processes by which pacifists who have started out with an alleged horror of violence end up with a marked tendency to be fascinated by the success and power of Nazism. Even pacifists who wouldn’t own to any such fascination are beginning to claim that a Nazi victory is desirable in itself. In the letter you sent on to me, Mr Comfort considers that an artist in occupied territory ought to ‘protest against such evils as he sees’, but considers that this is best done by ‘temporarily accepting the status quo’ (like Déat or Bergery, for instance?). a few weeks back he was hoping for a Nazi victory because of the stimulating effect it would have upon the arts:

As far as I can see, no therapy short of complete military defeat has any chance of re-establishing the common stability of literature and of the man in the street. One can imagine the greater the adversity the greater the sudden realization of a stream of imaginative work, and the greater the sudden katharsis of poetry, from the isolated interpretation of war as calamity to the realization of the imaginative and actual tragedy of Man. When we have access again to the literature of the war years in France, Poland and Czechoslovakia, I am confident that that is what we shall find. (From a letter to Horizon.)

I pass over the money-sheltered ignorance capable of believing that literary life is still going on in, for instance, Poland, and remark merely that statements like this justify me in saying that our English pacifists are tending towards active pro-Fascism. But I don’t particularly object to that. What I object to is the intellectual cowardice of people who are objectively and to some extent emotionally pro-Fascist, but who don’t care to say so and take refuge behind the formula ‘I am just as anti-fascist as anyone, but—’. The result of this is that so-called peace propaganda is just as dishonest and intellectually disgusting as war propaganda. Like war propaganda, it concentrates on putting forward a ‘case’, obscuring the opponent’s point of view and avoiding awkward questions. The line normally followed is ‘Those who fight against Fascism go Fascist themselves.’

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

George Orwell on the Motives for Writing

The following excerpt is from George Orwell's 1946 essay "WhyI Write":

(i) Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen — in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all — and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.

(ii) Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc. Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.

(iii) Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.

(iv) Political purpose — Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.


BV's Comment: The last two sentences are true or at least very plausible. But it doesn't follow that art ought to be political. Art is distinct from opinions about it. If Orwell means to suggest that art ought to be political, then he hasn't made a case for this. Surely the following two arguments are invalid:

Every book is politically biased; therefore, every book ought to be politically biased.

The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude; therefore, art is or ought to be political.

Refuting the Alethic Relativist, Part Two

My strategy for refuting the alethic relativist is to drive him onto the prongs of a trilemma. A trilemmatic argument against a thesis is an argument possessing exactly three mutually exclusive ‘horns’ or lemmata each of which is unacceptable, but which are jointly exhaustive of the possibilities available to the defender of the thesis, one of which the defender must accept. The thesis in question is

R. All truths are relative

which is equivalent to

R*. All truths are true-for-X.

In Part One, I showed that if (R) applies to itself and is taken to be true simpliciter (true period, nonrelatively true), then (R) is self-refuting. Clearly, if all truths are relative, and (R) is true, then (R) cannot be true simpliciter, but must itself be true-for-X, or relatively true. The consistent alethic relativist must adopt a relativized relativism. But this too leads to difficulties explained in Part One.

There is, however, a second way to avoid the contradiction that ensues when (R) is taken to be both self-applying and true simpliciter, and that is to deny that it applies to itself. This yields

ER. All truths except (ER) are relative.

Accordingly, there is a class of relative truths and a class of absolute truths, where the latter contains (ER) and its immediate logical consequences. The problem that now arises is whether it makes any sense to suppose that there are two kinds of truth, absolute and relative. Since there is no difference among absolute truth, truth simpliciter, and truth, this is equivalent to the question whether or not there are two kinds of truth, truth and relative-truth.

Now this is absurd on the face of it. It is like saying that that there are two kinds of leather, leather and artificial leather. Obviously, leather is not a proper kind of leather, where a proper kind of F is a kind that admits of other kinds of F. And since artificial leather is not leather at all, but merely a material that resembles leather closely enough to be confused with it, artificial leather is not a kind of leather. ‘Artificial’ in ‘artificial leather’ is an alienans adjective (like ‘decoy’ in ‘decoy duck’) and not a specifying adjective. Now just as it is nonsense to say that leather and artificial leather are kinds of leather, it is also nonsense to say that truth and relative-truth are kinds of truth. ‘Relative’ in ‘relative truth’ is an alienans, rather than a specifying, adjective.

To sum up. The concept of truth is the concept of something absolute by its very nature. Talk of relative truth is just a confused way of referring to something quite distinct from truth, rational acceptability, for example. The proposition that water is an element was rationally acceptable to the ancient Greeks, in the sense that it was reasonable for them to believe this proposition, but it is not rationally acceptable to us. Rational acceptability is a relative concept. It depends on who is doing the accepting, how he is situated, what his background knowledge is, etc. Truth, however, cannot be identified with rational acceptability. To see this, consider that it was reasonable for the ancient Greeks to believe that water is an element, reasonable for Dalton to believe that it is the compound HO and reasonable for us to believe that it is H2O. If truth = rational acceptability, then, given the truism that the truth about X corresponds to the way X is, it follows that the chemical structure of water has changed – which is absurd. Therefore, truth cannot be identified with rational acceptability.

But what about identifying truth with rational acceptability (or warranted assertibility) at the ideal limit of inquiry? This doesn’t work either as a later post may demonstrate.

Hodges Reports on Korean Internet Censorship

Dear Bill,

You might be interested in seeing an email that I have
just sent to the Korea Herald this morning (July 13).
We'll see if the paper publishes it.

Yours,

Jeff

-------------------------------------------------------

As many of you are aware by now, the Korean Ministry
of Information and Communication (MIC) is blocking
millions of websites. As justification for this
censorship, the MIC has explained that its intention
is to block access to the video of Kim Sun-il's
beheading at the hands of radical Muslims. Apparently,
the MIC's aim has failed since many Koreans are
reportedly sharing the video privately through other
cybernetic means.


Many netizens have commented on the MIC's
inconsistency in blocking the Kim Sun-il video while
allowing videos showing the beheadings of foreigners
such as Daniel Pearl, Nicholas Berg, and Paul Johnson.
Netizens have also argued for total freedom of access
to the internet as integral to the right of free
expression. Roughly, the argument is that a free
society depends upon free speech, and therefore upon
free access to information.


The MIC might counter that blocking websites showing
the beheading of Kim Sun-il poses no special threat to
internet access and that there is an overiding need in
this case to prevent emotional trauma to Kim's family.
The fallacy in this argument is twofold. First, as
already noted, the MIC has failed to stop many Koreans
from viewing the video. Second, the MIC is not
blocking just specific websites; it is blocking entire
domains, millions of websites.


Censorship on this scale does pose an implicit threat
to a free society. Take my situation. I am an
assistant professor at Korea University, and my
research interests are rather broad. Korean libraries
do not always have the English-language sources that I
need for my research, but thanks to Korea's cybernetic
sophistication, I have been able to use the internet
to meet most of my scholarly needs. Consequently, I
have published on John Milton, Islamic radicalism, and
the worldwide growth of Christian evangelicalism,
among other articles. Recently, I have worked with
scholars from Hanshin University and Yonsei University
on a project investigating the problematics of Korean
unification, for which I was almost totally dependent
upon internet resources. In all of my research, I had
always been very satisfied with my ability to access
online articles.


Currently, however, I am encountering a problem. As I
continue my research on various topics, I find that
the blocking of domains has cut off access to many,
many websites. A websearch process that once took only
seconds is now impossible. I am merely one individual,
but if we multiply my case by hundreds, thousands,
even millions of others, then the danger to a free
society becomes clearer.


Korea's deserved status as a modern society and its
stated goal of becoming an economic hub for Northeast
Asia will increasingly depend upon individuals having
broad internet access. I therefore call upon the MIC
to lift the blocking of domains and again allow free
access to the internet.

=====
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