Sunday, April 11, 2004

From Yesterday's Dallas Morning News

The "sin tax" is a great concept--raise money for something most people agree is good (say, schools) by taxing something most people agree is bad (say, tobacco). A "sin tax" being kicked around Austin right now involves, among other things, raising taxes on cigarettes, adult entertainment--and soft drinks. But why stop there? Aren't there other things that we'd all like to see taxed into oblivion? Here are some modest proposals: Cellphone use: A per-minute tax for people who talk while driving. And while we're at it--a fee for annoying ring tones that go off in public. Guys who peel rubber: Measure the tread mark, charge by the inch. Double after 9 p.m. Small children in R-rated movies: The rate increases 1 percent for each dirty word they learn. Cursing in public: Police could carry around a coffee can and collect a quarter per expletive, just like Mom used to do with Dad. Low-rise jeans: Because they make everyone look fat, even the skinny girls. Remember, the idea of a "sin tax" is supposed to be for your own good. Plastic grocery bags: Print the name of the store on them, tax the store for each one caught in a tree limb or fluttering across a vacant lot. Car salesmen: Forget raising taxes on cars--let's go after the guys who TALK THIS LOUD in their own commercials. (Additional fees may apply; title and license charges not included; your mileage from this idea may vary.) "Free" chips and salsa at restaurants: Actually, we like chips and salsa. So let's tax stale chips and tepid salsa. Probably cooked up by some Northerners--let's tax them, while we're at it, unless they know that when we ask for HOT sauce down here, we mean it. People who bring 13 items in the "12 items or less" checkout lane: Charge per excess item. Reality programs on TV: Stations that air more than one hour per night would have to make a donation to PBS. Silly ideas from politicians, and journalists who write endlessly about them: The rate rises depending on how much each report raised the average reader's blood pressure. Texas Living staff

Who Says Scholars Are Humorless?

Leslie A. Johnson, "Settled Insanity Is Not a Defense: Has the Colorado Supreme Court Gone Crazy?" University of Kansas Law Review 43 (October 1994): 259. Ian M. Rose, "Barring Foreigners from Our Airwaves: An Anachronistic Pothole on the Global Information Highway," Columbia Law Review 95 (June 1995): 1188. William Ewald, "Comparative Jurisprudence (I): What Was It Like to Try a Rat?" University of Pennsylvania Law Review 143 (June 1995): 1889. Grantland M. Clapacs, "'When in Nome . . .': Custom, Culture and the Objective Standard in Alaskan Adverse Possession Law," Alaska Law Review 11 (December 1994): 301. Kent D. Streseman, "Headshrinkers, Manmunghers, Moneygrubbers, Nuts and Sluts: Reexamining Compelled Mental Examinations in Sexual Harassment Actions Under the Civil Rights Act of 1991," Cornell Law Review 80 (May 1995): 1268. posted by Keith Burgess-Jackson 4/11/2004 07:21:21 PM The 1984 Detroit Tigers Steve Stone, who played Major League baseball for many years, is an announcer for the Chicago Cubs. During today’s game, which I watched on WGN, he perpetuated a myth about the 1984 Detroit Tigers that I want to destroy. Stone said that the 1984 Tigers were the only team to have won a divisional title in the first forty games of a season. (Teams play 162 games.) The Tigers began the 1984 season an incredible 35-5, which is a winning percentage of 87.5. It’s hard enough to win seven of eight games. The Tigers did that for five consecutive eight-game blocs! So far, I have no gripe. But Stone then added that the Tigers played “.500 ball the rest of the way.” In other words, they lost as many games as they won. This is not even close to being the case. The Tigers finished the 1984 season 104-58, which is a winning percentage of 64.1. If you do the subtraction, you find that the Tigers were 69-53 for the final 122 games of the season. That’s a winning percentage of 56.5. A team that won 56.5% of its games for an entire season would win 91.6 games. Sometimes that’s enough to win a divisional title! Contrary to Stone’s suggestion, the Tigers played superb baseball all season. Their season didn’t go from miraculous to mediocre; it went from miraculous to magnificent. And it didn’t end with the regular season, either. They swept the Kansas City Royals in three games in the American League Championship Series and defeated the San Diego Padres in five games in the World Series. Fittingly, they won seven of eight postseason games to match their early-season pace. Here’s a summary of the season: 35-5 (87.5%) (first forty games) 69-53 (56.5%) (remaining 122 games) 104-58 (64.1%) (regular-season total) 111-59 (65.2%) (regular season plus postseason) Don’t mess with my Tigers. It’s been twenty years since they won a World Series. Twenty years makes a man ornery. Ambrose Bierce Sheriff, n. In America the chief executive officer of a county, whose most characteristic duties, in some of the Western and Southern States, are the catching and hanging of rogues. (Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, c. 1911)

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Texas Weather

Every year, between the months of March and November, I participate in bike rallies. I’ve done as many as thirty-one rallies in a year. For the past few years I’ve averaged about twenty-two. A bike rally is an event for bicyclists. For example, today there was a rally in Lancaster, a town south of Dallas. I’ve done it several times. I got up, drove 34.7 miles to Lancaster, walked to the registration area, picked up my packet, and returned to my car to prepare. By 8:50, ten minutes before the start, hundreds of bicyclists were lined up on a side street waiting to be loosed on the unsuspecting residents of Lancaster and surrounding towns. Rallies are not races, although some of them have a monetary prize for the first person to finish. Most people show up to ride, not race. They ride for health, for enjoyment, for the camaraderie, and because they want to get outside. You see every sort of person at bike rallies: old, middle-aged, and young; male and female; black, white, Asian, and Hispanic; tall and short; heavy and thin. You see tandems, recumbents, and ordinaries. A bike rally is a microcosm of society. I used to hammer at every rally. (I’ve done 326 of them--counting today’s--since 30 September 1989.) To hammer is to ride hard, all the time. Every hill is a personal challenge. You get out of the saddle to climb it, or, if you’re descending, get into your best tuck position to get your speed as high as possible. (I’ve gone as fast as fifty-two miles per hour.) Hammering gets old after a while, although I’ve never tired of riding in packs or pace lines. There came a point when I wanted to have fun rather than torture myself. It helped that I had taken up marathon running (in September 1996, at the age of thirty-nine). This served as an outlet for my competitiveness. Bicycling became a social event--a chance to see and talk to my friends, to enjoy the countryside, and to experience small-town Texas life. (Every rally goes through many small towns, often down their main streets.) Unlike some sports, bicycling takes place in all kinds of weather. I’ve ridden in oppressive heat (one hundred degrees Fahrenheit and more) and in frigid cold. I’ve ridden on calm days and in gale-force winds. I’ve ridden in sunshine and in rain. I’ve even ridden in hail. Only if the roads are ice-covered is the event canceled (for obvious reasons). Actually, no sooner did I type these words than I remembered the Fort Worth bike rally of May 1995. The night before, a devastating hailstorm struck the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Many cars and house roofs were destroyed. When I got to the rally site the next morning in my hail-damaged Grand Am, I learned that the rally had been canceled. Evidently, there was too much debris--including tree limbs--on the roads. I’m still driving the hail-damaged car, by the way. It’ll be fifteen years old in August. Today’s rally began under sunny skies. The forecast since at least Monday was for storms. Even today’s newspaper forecast storms. My friends and I laughed at the incompetence of the weather forecasters. But they were right. An hour or so into the ride, the sky clouded up. Then the wind picked up. It was a northerly wind, too, which meant cold, dry air. I grew increasingly cold as I pedaled. Rain began to fall, but only for a few minutes. I hadn’t expected the change in the weather or I would have worn a long-sleeved shirt under my jersey. The wind was the worst part. It was brutal. My pace slowed to a crawl. People were putting their bikes into “sag wagons,” which is an admission of defeat. I just concentrated on turning the pedals over. I knew from experience that all bad things must come to an end, and this one, mercifully, did. I didn’t bother partaking of the festivities on the town square. I rode straight to my car, packed up, and headed for home. The sky was dark and ominous. We went from spring to winter during the course of a four-hour ride. That’s Texas for you. Ordinarily, it’s so hot at the end of a rally that I turn the car’s air-conditioner on. Today I fired up the heater. It was good to get home and take a hot shower, followed by a long nap. Sad to say, but this may have been my slowest rally ever. It was a difficult sixty-one miles. But I had fun. I’ve already filtered out the pain. I’ll be back in Lancaster a year from now, ready for more of that strange admixture of suffering and joy that every bicyclist loves.

Friday, April 9, 2004

Hitchens on Burke

Here is a review, by the indefatigable Christopher Hitchens, of a new critical edition of Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). Enjoy! posted by Keith Burgess-Jackson 4/9/2004 07:44:44 PM Paul Weiss on Sport "Sport" has no clear, commonly acknowledged use. It is reasonable to suppose that it covers whatever is dealt with in the sports pages of newspapers and magazines. But these also contain reports on bridge and chess, which it would be odd to call "sports." * * * Hockey demands bodily exertion. Like every other sport, it tests what a rule-abiding man can bodily be and do. Though chess also has rules, and these have a history, and though a masterly game makes considerable demands on the stamina of the players, chess is not a sport because it does not test what a man is as a body. Mind and body more or less reverse their roles in these two cases. In hockey judgment and determination are subservient to bodily achievement, but in chess the body is used only to make possible a more effective judgment and determination. (Paul Weiss, Sport: A Philosophic Inquiry [Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1971 (1969)], 132, 142-3) Ambrose Bierce Self-evident, adj. Evident to one's self and to nobody else. (Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, c. 1911)

Chess Is Not a Sport

A few days ago (see here), I described Bart Giamatti’s taxonomy of play. Giamatti defined “contest” as a competitive game. There are, he said, two types of contest: intellectual and physical. Physical contests are sports. I wrote that chess and checkers exemplify the category of intellectual contests and that baseball and bicycle racing exemplify the category of physical contests (sports). To my surprise, three or four people wrote to say that chess is a sport. (See here, for example.) They said that it requires endurance and that it causes an elevated heart rate and perspiration. I assume they would say the same about marathon Monopoly, Scrabble, checkers, or card-playing sessions. Is high-stakes poker a sport? I’m sure it gets the players’ hearts racing. Monopoly and card-playing are not sports, and, with all due respect to my correspondents, chess isn’t, either. The tone of the letters suggests that classifying chess as an intellectual contest rather than as a sport is insulting. But why? What’s wrong with intellectual contests? Dividing contests into those that are intellectual and those that are physical isn’t to rank them in a hierarchy, any more than to divide humanity into male and female is to rank them in a hierarchy. Two things can be different but equal. Baseball is better than chess, but not because it’s a sport. What I actually said in my post, as Matthew S. Mullins of Ektopos pointed out in my defense, is that there are two types of contest: those that are purely intellectual and those that are both intellectual and physical. Every physical contest has an intellectual component or dimension, so defining a category of purely physical contests would create an empty category. I suppose it’s also true that any intellectual contest has a physical component or dimension. We’re embodied beings, after all. Any competition is going to affect one’s body. Playing cards all night requires endurance. Tense moments in Scrabble, checkers, or bridge make one sweat and cause one’s heart rate to increase. So where do we draw the line? How physical does a contest have to be to count as a sport? Different people will draw the line in different places, depending, perhaps, on which physical attributes they think are most important. Is it strength? Speed? Quickness? Endurance? Agility? It’s an abuse of language to call chess a sport. It’s not an abuse of language to call golf a sport, although I consider golf a borderline case and am inclined to classify it as an intellectual contest. Chess is not even borderline. It’s a paradigmatic nonsport. Indeed, I would consider it a defect in any taxonomy that it classifies chess as a sport, just as I would consider it a defect in any taxonomy that it classifies bicycle racing as a nonsport. Bill's Comments Bill Keezer is discovering his inner blogger. See here for his latest provocative posts. I hope you're visiting his blog on a regular basis. The best blogs, like the best teachers, both edify and entertain. Thanks I'd like to thank all the people who sent birthday greetings. I wasn't fishing for greetings, but I'll take 'em.

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor: I applaud Princeton University for trying to rein in grade inflation (news article, April 8). But its proposed quota for A's (35 percent of all grades, down from 47 percent) will not address the underlying problem. Where college grades used to be critical only for those going on to graduate or professional schools, now students applying for jobs send transcripts to potential employers. The result is students badgering instructors to raise their grades, and faculty and graduate assistants trying to help their students' prospects. If college career offices stopped encouraging students to make their grades part of the job-hunting process, perhaps students would stop credentialing themselves and get back to the business of learning. AMANDA I. SELIGMAN Glendale, Wis., April 8, 2004 The writer is an assistant professor, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Intellectual Dishonesty Paul Krugman is trying to have it both ways. He wants to blame President Bush when economic indicators are down, but not praise him when they're up. See here. But then, liberals have never been known for their honesty, have they? The thing you must remember about liberals is that, for all their talk of principle, they're result-oriented. The end justifies the means. To achieve their social-engineering goals, they must have power; and they will do whatever it takes, including lie, to get that power. Take my word for it: I used to be one of them. I know how they think.

Thursday, April 8, 2004

John E. Hare on Ethics and Christianity

Writing from the perspective of traditional Christianity will already make [my] project suspect to much of the audience I would like to reach. I intend the book for two groups and their intersection: both for those who call themselves Christians, or at least take the claims of Christianity seriously, and for those interested in the academic study of ethics. This makes the project problematic, since many of those who fall into the second group find the attitudes and commitments of the first group incomprehensible or, if comprehensible, entirely unattractive. From the perspective of the academic study of ethics, it can seem that belief in traditional Christianity is possible for the uneducated, perhaps even desirable; but that for those who are fully alive to the movement of thought over the last two hundred years, it is no longer a serious option. I believe, however, that a strong case can be made that this attitude within academic philosophy has led to a bad misreading of the great philosophical texts on which academic philosophy depends. I have an advantage here from an accident of my education. I did Greats at Oxford, in which the syllabus took a leap from Aristotle to Frege; and then a Ph.D. in the Classical Philosophy programme at Princeton, in which I read nothing between Aristotle’s medieval commentators and Bradley. ‘Modern’ philosophy is therefore something I have read on my own, directly from the primary sources. I have been constantly struck by how often the Christian content of these sources has been ignored by the standard interpretations in the secondary literature. This is notably true of Kant, as I shall try to show. His system does not work unless he is seen as genuinely trying to ‘make room for faith’. Failure to see this has led to heroic measures, either excising portions of text as not properly ‘critical’, or attributing his views to a desire to appease the pious sentiments of his faithful manservant. What is true of Kant is also true of Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Leibniz, and even Hume. We are given a reading of modern philosophy that leads from its birth in the new science of the sixteenth century to its maturation in the death of God and the death of metaphysics. Descartes is seen as an incipient atheist, bringing in God not because of personal faith but to appease the Church. Large sections of Leviathan, where Hobbes talks about the will of God, are ignored as though they were inessential to the project of the whole. In Bertrand Russell’s critical exposition of the philosophy of Leibniz, God appears in none of the five original axioms. Hume is seen at the end of the Dialogues as insincere in portraying Philo’s change of heart. It is no doubt tempting, if you cannot take Christianity seriously yourself, to interpret your favourite philosophers as sharing this distaste; but it leads to a distortion of the texts. Those engaged in the academic study of ethics ought to try the experiment of seeing what the world looks like from the perspective of traditional Christianity, even if merely to understand their own tradition. This book can be seen as such an experiment. (John E. Hare, The Moral Gap: Kantian Ethics, Human Limits, and God’s Assistance, Oxford Studies in Theological Ethics [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996], 2-3)

Wednesday, April 7, 2004

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

I’m forty-seven years old today. Every year, when my birthday comes around, I whine about not wanting to get older. It’s not fair, I say. I refuse to get older. Who set things up this way? But life is not fair. It’s not unfair, either. It just is. We’re born; we plod along; we die. If we’re lucky, we have fun along the way. If we’re really lucky, as I am, we get to spend our days doing exactly as we please. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to ensure that I’m not dreaming. You mean they pay me to read, write, think, and teach? I would do all but the teaching part for free. (Don’t tell the dean!) When I was twenty, I would have thought someone forty-seven years of age old. But now that I’m forty-seven, I think twenty-year olds are children. They know nothing; they’ve experienced nothing; they have no perspective on even their own small region of spacetime. And yet they think they know everything. It’s funny, really. As you age, you realize how little you know and how little you’ll ever know. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t try to learn, only that you should be humble about it. Learn what you can; accept your limitations. If I’m lucky, I’ll have another thirty years in this vale of tears (to use Jeremy Bentham’s term). The first thirty years of my life seemed to take forever, probably because there were so many big events along the way. High-school graduation, the first job, the first car, college, graduation from college, law school, the bar exam, graduate school, the Ph.D. dissertation, the first job. Once I got tenure, the temporal slide began. The past ten years have gone by in a flash. My life, like Immanuel Kant’s, is filled with pleasant routines. Every day is full. I have never been bored for a minute in my life. But now that all the big events are over, there’s nothing to stop the flow of time. If twenty years ago seems like yesterday, then tomorrow is 2024 and the day after that 2044. I envy theists, for they believe that life is eternal. I’ve never believed that and couldn’t if I tried. I have a finite amount of days. I believe I value each of them more than any theist does for the simple reason that they’re finite. If you have an infinite amount of something, how valuable can it be? Water is more valuable in Arizona than in Michigan. Nor do I believe that this mundane life is preparation for something greater. It’s all I have. But it’s enough. More than enough. I’ve had a wonderful life. If I die tonight, do not mourn for me. Celebrate. Celebrate my demise if you must, but celebrate.

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor: Re "Tracking Terrorist Bankrolls" (editorial, April 4): Ending terrorist financing is a top priority for President Bush. The president's budget includes a more than 16 percent increase for the Treasury Department and a 5 percent increase for Internal Revenue Service criminal investigation activities. In fact, more than 400 special agents and more than 200 investigative analysts will be added for I.R.S. criminal investigations in 2005 alone. The global campaign to find and seize terrorists' blood money uses the strengths of multiple agencies strategically. The interagency team, which includes the Treasury, State, Justice, Defense and Homeland Security Departments, the intelligence community, the F.B.I., federal regulators, and state and local authorities, has achieved many successes. President Bush has made the battle against terror financing a front-burner issue worldwide and has led a global coalition in the identification and disruption of terrorist financing networks around the world. As a result, America is safer and more secure from those who would harm us. ROBERT NICHOLS Asst. Secretary for Public Affairs Department of the Treasury Washington, April 5, 2004

From Today's Dallas Morning News

France and Germany are the big cheeses of what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has described as "Old Europe." An undiplomatic phrase? Perhaps. But judging by the current state of affairs in both countries, the designation "old"--as in crabby, feeble and resistant to change--is apt. The governments of President Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder are dealing with widespread public discontent, stemming in large part from persistently high unemployment and sluggish economic growth. Yet the public remains stubbornly defiant in the face of attempts to rein in generous social spending by the vast welfare state bureaucracies. The French and the Germans no longer can afford their welfare states, yet they can't bring themselves to abandon them. There's a French word for what grips both nations: malaise. It's a word commentators used to describe the speech that Jimmy Carter delivered to a national TV audience in July 1979--an address that recognized the crisis of confidence then paralyzing America. There's a straight line from the malaise speech to the election of Ronald Reagan 16 months later, which restored America's self-confidence and brought about painful but necessary reforms (as Britain had embraced earlier with the election of Margaret Thatcher). We will see if there are any Reagans or Thatchers in France and Germany. In the meantime, we Americans should learn the lessons of our allies' crises. In an era of globalization, reality will wash away economic and social structures that seemed permanent. If France and Germany don't find ways to embrace reform and arrest decline, they will write one more lesson into the history books: Old nations never die; they just fade away. Ambrose Bierce Friendship, n. A ship big enough to carry two in fair weather, but only one in foul. (Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, c. 1911)

Morality and Self-Interest

Most of us experience morality as a burden. It constrains our actions. It tells us either not to do what we’d like to do or to do what we don’t want to do. Morality is like a parent, a boss, or a drill sergeant: stern, demanding, unforgiving. For better or for worse, we cannot escape it. Making moral judgments is in our nature, and having moral judgments made about one--or one’s actions--is inescapable. We are hard-wired to think in terms of right and wrong, good and bad, just and unjust. We are moral animals. Every now and then, however, morality and self-interest converge. It’s wonderful--and remarkable--when they do, as this snippet from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn shows: By and by it was getting-up time. So I come down the ladder and started for down-stairs; but as I come to the girls’ room the door was open, and I see Mary Jane setting by her old hair trunk, which was open and she’d been packing things in it--getting ready to go to England. But she had stopped now with a folded gown in her lap, and had her face in her hands, crying. I felt awful bad to see it; of course anybody would. I went in there and says: “Miss Mary Jane, you can’t a-bear to see people in trouble, and I can’t--most always. Tell me about it.” So she done it. And it was the niggers--I just expected it. She said the beautiful trip to England was most about spoiled for her; she didn’t know how she was ever going to be happy there, knowing the mother and the children warn’t ever going to see each other no more--and then busted out bitterer than ever, and flung up her hands, and says: “Oh, dear, dear, to think they ain’t ever going to see each other any more!” “But they will--and inside of two weeks--and I know it!” says I. Laws, it was out before I could think! And before I could budge she throws her arms around my neck and told me to say it again, say it again, say it again! I see I had spoke too sudden and said too much, and was in a close place. I asked her to let me think a minute; and she set there, very impatient and excited and handsome, but looking kind of happy and eased-up, like a person that’s had a tooth pulled out. So I went to studying it out. I says to myself, I reckon a body that ups and tells the truth when he is in a tight place is taking considerable many resks, though I ain’t had no experience, and can’t say for certain; but it looks so to me, anyway; and yet here’s a case where I’m blest if it don’t look to me like the truth is better and actuly safer than a lie. I must lay it by in my mind, and think it over some time or other, it’s so kind of strange and unregular. I never see nothing like it. Well, I says to myself at last, I’m a-going to chance it; I’ll up and tell the truth this time, though it does seem most like setting down on a kag of powder and touching it off just to see where you’ll go to. (Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn [Toronto: Bantam Books, 1981], chap. XXVIII, pp. 179-80 [italics in original] [originally published in 1884]) Huck could not believe that doing the right thing and doing what was in his interest converged in this case. It was “strange and unregular.” Well, here’s another case. Becoming a vegetarian (or moving in that direction by eliminating certain animal products from your diet) is both the right thing to do and the prudent thing to do. By ceasing to eat meat, you both refuse to participate in an oppressive institution and improve your health. You can become a vegetarian both for the sake of the animals (the moral reason) and for your sake (the prudential reason). I hope nobody thinks meat-eating is healthy. If you do, then you have not been keeping up with the science of nutrition. Not only is meat-eating not healthy; it’s unhealthy. It sets back your interest in health, and therefore your ulterior interest in a long, happy life. See here for a statement by the American Dietetic Association, which is a nonpartisan organization. Live clean. Do right. Vegetarianism accomplishes both.

Tuesday, April 6, 2004

Still Learning

This is a test. Until tonight, I was unable to get curved quotation marks, accents, and other special symbols in my blog entries. I have two ways to compose: (1) in a Microsoft Word document, using the copy-and-paste function to transfer the text to Blogger; and (2) in Blogger. I know how to insert accents in a Word document, but when I pasted the text to Blogger, the accented letters appeared as trash. The same happened with the curved quotation marks that I use in Word documents. What I ended up doing is turning off the curved-quotation-marks function in every blog entry I composed, then turning it back on afterward. Needless to say, this was annoying and time-consuming. Tonight I decided to do something about it. I began by asking John Ray, who has been so helpful to me during the past five months. John mentioned tinkering with the settings in Blogger. When I went in, I saw that my encoding was set to “Universal (Unicode UTF-8).” There were many other choices, but only one looked promising: Western (Windows-1252). To make a long story short, I changed the setting and tried copying accents and curved quotation marks to Blogger. It worked! Thanks, John. Here, as a further test, are some special symbols: cliché raison d’être vis-à-vis 10° Fahrenheit 89¢ 7¾ feet I hope they come through! Richard Rorty on Philosophy To drop the notion of the philosopher as knowing something about knowing which nobody else knows so well would be to drop the notion that his voice always has an overriding claim on the attention of the other participants in the conversation. It would also be to drop the notion that there is something called "philosophical method" or "philosophical technique" or "the philosophical point of view" which enables the professional philosopher, ex officio, to have interesting views about, say, the respectability of psychoanalysis, the legitimacy of certain dubious laws, the resolution of moral dilemmas, the "soundness" of schools of historiography or literary criticism, and the like. Philosophers often do have interesting views upon such questions, and their professional training as philosophers is often a necessary condition for their having the views they do. But this is not to say that philosophers have a special kind of knowledge about knowledge (or anything else) from which they draw relevant corollaries. The useful kibitzing they can provide on the various topics I just mentioned is made possible by their familiarity with the historical background of arguments on similar topics, and, most importantly, by the fact that arguments on such topics are punctuated by stale philosophical cliches which the other participants have stumbled across in their reading, but about which professional philosophers know the pros and cons by heart. (Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979], 392-3 [italics in original])

Struggling with SpamBlocker

I thought I had my spam problem solved. The other day I downloaded and installed the newest version of EarthLink's SpamBlocker, which has a challenge-response feature. But it doesn't work just as I want it to, so I've disabled it. Here's the problem. I have twelve names in my Outlook Express "contacts" list. I like to keep this list simple. It has the names of people to whom I write often, such as my mother and my bicycling friends. Anyone on the "contacts" list who writes to me gets through without having to do the challenge-response thing. If you're not on the "contacts" list, your e-mail to me gets stored in the "suspect email" folder on EarthLink's server. I can see how many messages are in this folder by clicking the SpamBlocker logo in Outlook Express. Suppose I see that there's a message and go to EarthLink's server to see what it is. It's from X, one of my blog correspondents. What I'd like to do is say, "Let this person's mail get through to me." But all I can do is say, "Let it get through to me and add the person to my 'contacts' list." I don't want to add everyone to my "contacts" list! I want to keep it simple. My only alternative is to click "Send message to inbox without adding person to 'contacts' list." You guessed it. The next time X writes to me, he or she has to do the challenge-response thing again. Do you see my predicament? I want to let certain people's messages get through to me, but not by adding them to my 'contacts' list. Maybe I'll write to EarthLink. It seems like a simple thing to change, and I'll bet I'm not the only person who dislikes this feature. By the way, I apologize to those of you who had to respond to a challenge more than once. It's my fault, since I didn't add you to my "contacts" list. To make things worse, I lost several e-mail messages this afternoon. I thought I sent them to my inbox, but they disappeared. If you sent something to me, please resend it. Tax Cuts Steve Headley has an interesting post on tax cuts over at Texas Conservative. I agree with Steve that tax cuts stimulate economic growth. It's common sense. But we must not lose sight of an important principle, to wit: People are entitled to the fruits of their labor. So there are two arguments for tax cuts: the consequentialist argument, which says that tax cuts have good consequences, and the deontological argument, which says that people have a right to retain the fruits of their labor even if this does not have good consequences, indeed, even if it has bad consequences. Suppose it is shown that tax cuts do not stimulate economic growth. This undercuts only the consequentialist argument. I wish the Bush administration would articulate the deontological argument. It's important. The Bush administration has done a poor job in general of articulating its principles, explaining its policies, and justifying its decisions. The case for war in Iraq, for example, is manifold. There are at least five good reasons to have gone to war, no one of which is necessary but any one of which is sufficient. The administration made far too much of the so-called weapons of mass destruction. Now it's paying the price for that single-mindedness. The lesson is simple: Don't put all your justificatory eggs in one basket.


I chuckled when I read this post by Bill Keezer over at Bill's Comments. I, too, like watching things being built. Just today I watched from the third floor of my office building (Carlisle Hall) as workers prepared the foundation of a new campus building. Years ago, I had a bird's-eye view of the Chemistry Building going up. For a while I was looking down, then straight across, then up. I'm mechanically incompetent, so every building seems to me to be a miracle. posted by Keith Burgess-Jackson 4/6/2004 07:07:05 PM From Today's Dallas Morning News Re: "Terrorists prefer Bush," by John Godbey, Thursday Letters. John Godbey opines that George Bush "will keep the flames of hatred against America burning in the Muslim world." Mr. Godbey doesn't get it. The Muslim world does not need George Bush to engender hatred against America. They teach it in their schools every day. If John Kerry gets elected president, the Muslims won't hate us any less; they will just respect us less. William L. Haralson, Richardson Ambrose Bierce Truth, n. An ingenious compound of desirability and appearance. Discovery of truth is the sole purpose of philosophy, which is the most ancient occupation of the human mind and has a fair prospect of existing with increasing activity to the end of time. (Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, c. 1911)

Monday, April 5, 2004

Meat-Eating and Rape

As many of you know, I stopped eating red meat (beef, pork, venison, &c) in early 1981. I gave up turkey, as planned, on the last day of 1981. Since then, the only animal products I've ingested are chicken, fish, and eggs. (I've been allergic to dairy products since 1972.) A couple of years ago I stopped eating chicken. More recently still, I ruled out eggs from confined hens. As of today, the only animal products I ingest are (1) fish and (2) eggs from free-roaming hens. Do I live up to my moral standards? No. But I'm close, and that should count for something. A few years ago, in correspondence with several philosopher friends, I was taken to task by one of them for continuing to eat chicken and fish. He couldn't believe I hadn't gone all the way (cold turkey, whole hog). He said it was preposterous for me to think I was doing well. "Imagine someone saying that he commits only an occasional rape," he said. The implication, of course, is that rape is unacceptable. It's not good enough to reduce the number of rapes one commits (unless the reduction is to zero). One virtue of my friend's analogy is that it brings individual animals into the picture. The flesh one eats comes from individual animals, not from a species, a population, or a collection. Each rape is an affront to the dignity of a distinct person. Each act of consuming steak, hamburger, or a chicken leg is an affront to the dignity of a distinct animal. We tend to think of chicken as a mass term, like peanut butter, but it refers to body parts of individual chickens. My friend's criticism stung me, and it has bothered me ever since. Am I no better than the rapist who "cuts back" on the number of victims? Does my sense that I'm doing better than most people and better than I once did rest on sand? Am I deluding myself? I don't think I'm deluding myself, and I hope I'm not deluding myself by thinking that I'm not deluding myself. Suppose I were a rapist, and suppose I had been raping five women a month for many years. If I cut back to two women a month, I'd be doing better than I was. There are fewer victims. Clearly, I should not be raping at all, but raping twenty-four women a year is morally better than raping sixty a year. Would my friend disagree? He would probably say, "You shouldn't be raping any women!" But I can agree with that without giving up my belief that I'm doing better now than before. The two judgments--one comparative and one noncomparative--are compatible. My friend seemed unwilling to address the comparative claim. He's a purist. To him, there are just two choices: (1) rape at will and (2) don't rape at all. By analogy, (1) eat as much meat as you want, of whatever types you want, and (2) don't eat meat at all. There's a lot of purism (my term) in the animal-liberation movement. Anyone who hasn't purged animal products from his or her diet is viewed with skepticism (at best) or animosity (at worst). I wonder why this is. Why not celebrate each incremental movement toward veganism? After all, most of us grew up eating meat. Is it reasonable to expect people to eliminate animal products from their diets overnight, or even over the course of a year? There's a learning curve, for one thing. Vegetarian diets require new cooking skills and a better understanding of nutrition. There's also this brute fact: People enjoy the taste of meat. Perhaps they shouldn't (if that makes sense), but they do; and we're talking about changing lifelong habits. Dietary habits are especially difficult to change, since food plays such an important role in our rituals and identities. (I'll write about that in another post.) If you're a vegan, like my friend, be reasonable. Rape is abominable. But it's better for one woman to be raped than for two to be raped. This doesn't justify or excuse the rape; it simply compares two states of the world in terms of the individuals that compose those states. Eating only fish is better than eating all meats. Eating only eggs from free-roaming hens is better than eating just any eggs. It seems like common sense, but then, philosophers are not long on common sense. From the Mailbag Thanks to Matthew in his post of 4/5 for letting readers know where to find Smullyan's version of the philosopher's dream. I didn't get it from Smullyan. I got it by word of mouth, and (although I may be mistaken) I believe that it was current before 1983. Matthew thinks that I used the story to dodge the issue. What issue was that? The post I was responding to [see here] didn't contain any arguments, only opinions. But, as I used to tell my students, unsupported opinions have (as Russell was wont to say) all the advantages of theft over honest toil. Len Carrier

Gilbert Ryle (1900-1976) on the Role of Philosophy

There are many branches of methodical inquiry into the different departments of the world. There are the mathematical sciences, the several natural sciences, and there are the humane or human studies of anthropology, jurisprudence, philosophy, the linguistic and literary studies, and history, which last embraces in one way or another most of the others. There are also many disciplines which teach not truths but arts and skills, such as agriculture, tactics, music, architecture, painting, games, navigation, inference, and scientific method. All theories apply their own several principles and canons of inquiry and all disciplines apply their own several principles and canons of practice. These principles were called by Professor [Robin George] Collingwood [1889-1943] their 'presuppositions'. In other words, all employ their own standards or criteria by which their particular exercises are judged successful or unsuccessful. Now it is one thing intelligently to apply principles; it is quite another thing to step back to consider them. A scientist who ceases for a moment to try to solve his questions in order to inquire instead why he poses them or whether they are the right questions to pose ceases for the time to be a scientist and becomes a philosopher. This duality of interests may, as history shows, make him both a good philosopher and a better scientist. The best philosophical theories of mathematics have come from mathematicians who have been forced to try to resolve internal puzzles about the principles of their study, a philosophical exercise which has sometimes led to the origination of new mathematical methods and has often led to the origination of illuminating philosophical views. Every genius is the inventor of new methods and he must therefore be some sort of a critic of principles of method. Professor Collingwood [Ryle's predecessor as Waynflete Chair of Metaphysical Philosophy at Oxford University] was an historian who was puzzled about the canons of historical research. He wanted not only to explain certain historical processes and events but also to elucidate what sort of a thing a good historical explanation would be. Nor was this a purely domestic or technological interest. For to see what is an historical explanation, is, among other things, to see how it differs from a chemical, mechanical, biological, anthropological, or psychological theory. The philosopher may, perhaps, begin by wondering about the categories constituting the framework of a single theory or discipline, but he cannot stop there. He must try to co-ordinate the categories of all theories and disciplines. The problem of 'Man's place in Nature' is, roughly, the problem of coordinating the questions which govern laboratory researches with the questions governing the researches prosecuted in libraries. And this co-ordination is done neither in libraries nor in laboratories but in the philosopher's head. Professor Collingwood saw more clearly, I think, than did his most eminent predecessors in the philosophy of history that the appearance of a feud or antithesis between Nature and Spirit, that is to say, between the objectives of the natural sciences and those of the human studies, is an illusion. These branches of inquiry are not giving rival answers to the same questions about the same world; nor are they giving separate answers to the same questions about rival worlds; they are giving their own answers to different questions about the same world. Just as physics is neither the foe nor the handmaid of geometry, so history, jurisprudence and literary studies are neither hostile nor ancillary to the laboratory sciences. Their categories, that is, their questions, methods and canons are different. In my predecessor's word, they work with different presuppositions. (Gilbert Ryle, Philosophical Arguments [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1945], 3-4 [this essay is Ryle's Inaugural Lecture as Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy, delivered before the University of Oxford on 30 October 1945]) Ambrose Bierce Edible, adj. Good to eat, and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm. (Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, c. 1911) Greenie Watch Dr John J. Ray ("You can call me Ray; you can call me J.; you can call me R. J.; you can call me J. Ray"), my polymathic friend Down Under, has a new blog devoted to the politicization of the environmental movement. See here. (I've also added a permanent link to the left, in, fittingly, the green area.) Sadly, science often takes a back seat to politics when it comes to understanding and protecting the natural environment. John is a no-nonsense defender of science and common sense. Please visit his new blog. He says he will post to it daily. John's main blog, of course, is Dissecting Leftism. Your day is not complete without a liberal dose of the conservative Dr Ray. From the Mailbag Dr. Carrier might wish to provide a citation for his philosopher dream story [see here], as the original author probably deserves credit. It comes from Raymond Smullyan's 5000 B.C. and Other Philosophical Fantasies (St. Martin's Press, 1983). The story is "A Universal Philosophical Refutation." You can find it here. I found the book to be an interesting and funny read. By the way, another nice dodge of the issue by Carrier. Matthew @ Ektopos

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor: Re "TV Shows Take On Bush, and Pull Few Punches" (front page, April 2): Like most people, I watch less and less network TV because of the violence and sexual content; these attacks on the president just give me another reason to flip over to something less offensive. Frankly, I don't believe that TV writers should be attacking the president, regardless of party. Not because he is above reproach, but because I believe that this gives a writer a forum in which to express his opinion (almost always liberal). And contrary to comments about presenting both sides, I haven't seen Hollywood do that in its TV shows. Why can't these producers and writers just put together entertaining programs and leave the politics to the news media and opinion makers? Middle America is turned off by Hollywood types' using their positions to influence public opinion. With the networks struggling to retain their shrinking audiences, you would think that they would want to avoid offending people and work on making programs of interest.

Them Wacky Academics

Professors do a funny thing. When they list their academic affiliation on their curriculum vitae (CV), they put "Current Position." The implication is that it's temporary. It screams out, "I don't plan to be at this embarrassing place for long!" It says the person in question is better than the job he or she has. It expresses frustration, envy, even resentment. Imagine some other applications of this principle: Current residence. Current citizenship. Current crime record. Current wife (or husband). There does seem to be a lot of mobility within the professoriate. Everyone is on the make and on the move, trying to climb the ladder to the top. Ambition reigns. Status rules. Not in a top-twenty program? Get going! Not yet a star professor? You're not working hard enough! The professor's mantra is "Have Ph.D., will travel." The impolite name for this is "mercenary." I once fell victim to this onward-and-upward mentality. It's engrained in graduate students. Then, one day, I asked why I would want to go anywhere else. I'm happy where I am. I have all the research-related resources I need; I have great colleagues (including our secretary, Billie); I have a reasonable teaching load; I get all the courses I want to teach, when and where I want to teach them; and I like the campus facilities. As if all this weren't enough, I'm delighted with the nonacademic aspects of my life. I live west of the Mississippi (which, perverse as it sounds, means a lot to me); I have a warm-weather climate, which makes for mild winters; I have all the athletic opportunities I want; and, not insignificantly, the cost of living is low (Texas has no state income tax). It amazes me when people uproot their families and leave their friends to get an incrementally higher-paying or more prestigious job. Some professors move across country. Some move several times in a decade. Thank goodness I got that questing out of my system long ago. I'm content with what I have. Are you?