Friday, April 04, 2003


It's a no-go. Several readers suggested I post something once a week, instead of signing off entirely. But it's clear that I'm not going to be able to hack it. I'm up 'til 1am every night with the friggin' Schrodinger equation or some wiggity-wack ketones. I'm pouring myself into chemistry now, and for the next several months, so I can make the career change to 'chemist'. I'm totally exhausted, and I can't even finish my Kekes series. So, I'll have to bid a final goodbye to all my dear readers and thank you all so much for coming along. I'm choosing brute necessity over delight. Without Philosoblog, my life will be worse. But without a smooth career change, disaster looms. I can't tell my two-year-old, "Um, I'm not going to fit that concept of a 'father as provider' anymore." How will I respond when the little tyke says, "Let me get this straight. You quit a well-paying career and now you're serving fries?!" I have nothing to offer our market economy besides a mediocre scientific acumen. (I thought maybe I'd try to make it in pro ball, since I'm only 37. But, nah.) The chemistry jobs are there, but I'll have to hustle. So, fare well, thanks again, and I'll no doubt see you in the blogosphere.

Saturday, March 29, 2003

This and that

Canadian, eh? Check out Curt Gebeshuber's site, and don't miss the initial picture of matrimonial bliss. Makes me want to get married again.

You wanna hear singin'? Go rent the 1997 Peanuts cartoon, "It was my Best Birthday Ever, Charlie Brown." When you hear Linus's new heartthrob sing Puccini's "O mio babbino caro" you will swoon. Great song, great singer. Hey, I take it wherever I can get it.

Thursday, March 27, 2003


God of the Machine has commented on the excellence of our warriors, and so has Aristotle. Aristotle even said that the courage of the warrior is the quitessential moral virtue. Of course, experienced warriors, pacifists, and others report that war is hell and should not simply be glorified.

Make no mistake; both points of view are right. War is hell. I hope my son becomes a warrior. War is amongst the most awful of things. Facing it and standing fast on the side of right, even during the most intense onslaughts, is at the apex of human attainment. To face hell, in order to protect one's people against undeserved assault, and to have the nerve to fight with excellence, is fine. Those who simply glorify war and deny its horrors, and those who disparage the warrior, are not to be taken seriously. Take for example the leftist twits who say that the manufacture of military weaponry is evil. (Some of these twits are full professors of philosophy at U. of Toronto - check the letters to the editor of this week's Globe and Mail.) There is a reason they are able to say this. It's that they aren't dead. And the reason for that is that the warrior protects them. Sometimes people overlook the horror of war and simply glorify it. But when they are brought up short by the gore, they should avoid inferring that it is inappropriate to venerate our warriors and recognize that what they do is fine, even most fine.


Thanks, again, to all of you who so kindly asked me to keep blogging. You've reversed the tide. Resolved: to blog on, albeit maybe only a couple posts a week. (If you don't know what I'm talking about because you haven't been here in a while, go here.) I'd like to continue with John Kekes. (One more post on Facing Evil and then it's on to A Case for Conservatism.) This Fall, I'd like to dig into John Adams.

A Steynism

Here's a chuckle for you: a Mark Steynism from about six months ago. Steyn maintained that bin Laden was not alive but was instead somewhere in Afghanistan "pushing up daisy cutter bits." I giggle over that one once a week or so.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Permissible and Obligatory

These are two categories of right action. Obligatory actions are a kind of permissible action. (If an action is obligatory, you can bet it's permissible.) The invasion is permissible for the allies to undertake, since it reduces the physical insecurity of those innocents affects; an action can't be wrong if it only helps innocents. I don't think the invasion is obligatory. We sacrifice too many of our men in undertaking it. This sacrifice outweighs the good it does for innocents. The reason is that the number of innocents under threat must be very, very high to make it obligatory for us to risk around 1,000 of our soldiers to help them. How high, I don't know, but you get the idea: much, much higher than 1,000. Millions. In other words, the invasion is a moral option. We may invade, or not. Whether it is prudentially rational for us to invade (as I think it is) is not relevant to the moral question of permissibility. It may be imprudent, even foolish not to invade and still permissible. (On the other hand, it may be obligatory for our government to invade if the government has a duty to protect us. But leave that aside. Consider the U.S. as a single person.)

The shame of Canada, then, is not that it fails its duty to aid Iraqi innocents. It's shame is that it argued against, and rejected, the permissibility of the invasion; it thus impeded the mission psychologically and distorted moral facts. It's shame is that it does nothing to support the invasion, in the way of moral, logistical or financial support. It's shame is that it is a security freeloader. It won't fight, but it will enjoy the security of reduction of terrorism. And as Aristotle would have put it, Canada's shame is that the invasion is an example of fine action; Canada backs down, in cowardice, hatred and envy, from an opportunity to engage in fine action with its friends. Canada has a duty to help the invasion in some way. Chretien was upbraided today in Parliament by a right-wing Alliance party member. He immediately justified his withholding support for the invasion on the following grounds: that Canada is a sovereign state that acts independently. This non sequitur is always the first reason Canadians give for maintaining their broken socialized health care system: difference from the U.S. This is shameful. Oddly, Canada had a duty to help the invasion where the U.S. perhaps did not have a duty to undertake it.

(Notice I don't speak of the shame of the French and Germans. They are shameless, and there is no point speaking about shame in their connection. They are morally dysfunctional societies.)

Some kinds of permissible action are supererogatory: beyond the call of duty: for the sake of others and requiring concession of one's own interests. The invasion of Iraq is not supererogatory, since it is in the U.S.'s interest to take out the Saddam regime. But since the invasion is not obligatory, the fact that similarly distressed peoples go without U.S. rescue is not an indication of U.S. hypocrisy. The U.S. has a right not to exercise its option to take out other murderous regimes. That it decides to exercise the option in the case of Iraq is therefore no grounds for the prevalent charge of hypocrisy heard today on the left. On the contrary, the fact that the U.S. clearly takes the rescue of Iraqis as one reason for invasion implies that it ought to be thanked by the rescued people, as I'm sure it already is and will be. One thanks a fireman who risks his life for one, even if he has additional, self-interested reasons for saving one.

Like I say, I think Philosoblog has only a couple weeks left, because I'm far behind on sleep, have to change careers, learn chemistry, move 600 miles, etc., all in the next couple months. So, I should quit blogging.

But, then, deep in my Gemini heart I know that's a lie. Geminis are driven to do many things at once.

No it isn't a lie. I guess. Anyway, thanks to those who've so kindly expressed regret that I'll be signing off.

Monday, March 24, 2003


The anti-war crowd exhibits a Stalinism: a disposition to psychopathic callousness to the suffering of innocents whenever compassion would hamper the leftist agenda. I just asked a lefty colleague about the Iraqis who are happy to be liberated. He denied these reports and shrugged the idea off. I repeat:

Knocking out Saddam's regime makes innocent people in the region safer, even taking into account the short-term dangers of the invasion. This is because the regime will kill many more, if it is allowed to continue into the indefinite future, than will be killed by the invasion. (Gulf War 1991 civilian deaths: less than 3,000; Saddam kills 3,500 per month.) There is therefore no grounds to protest the invasion. There isn't even a remotely plausible case that it is wrong. The anti-war protesters are motivated by dogma, hatred, envy and stupidity. (We may psychologize when our opponent in dispute lacks any plausible argument whatsoever. He must hold his position for reasons other than argument: psychological reasons.)


"But the U.S. doesn't take out many other evil regimes in the world." This is a red herring. It is permissible to destroy those regimes, too. At best you could say that the U.S. is remiss in not doing so. But this wouldn't have the slightest tendency to show that it shouldn't knock out the Iraqi regime.

"But the U.S. has self-interested motives: to dissarm Saddam/steal oil/take over the world." Red herring. The rightness of an action is independent of its motives.

"Ah, but, you see, the U.S. does intend to take over the world, and taking over Iraq is a step in that direction." Like Afghanistan and Bosnia, I guess. This is tin-foil hat stuff. This is genuine delusional mental illness caused by hatred.

"But it's against international law." False, but even if true, irrelevant. If an action would otherwise be morally permissible, the fact that it is illegal hasn't even the slightest tendency to override and show that it is wrong. And in this case, international law is a joke because there is no international government. "But it's illegal" is a moral reason only when the action in question would contribute to anarchy. But there already is anarchy in the international sphere.

"But then any country will be able to invade any other country, now that they know UN approval isn't necessary." This is loopy. Is there any evidence that the U.S.'s disposition to punish aggressors will encourage aggressors? Even very, very stupid aggressors, who say, "Well, the U.S. gets to invade people, so we do, too."? The idea that bad regimes will be encouraged to invade decent countries is bizarre and there is not the slightest bit of evidence for it. Moreover, if the U.S.'s actions encourage decent countries to take out evil regimes, then that's good, not bad.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

John Jay Ray

See John Jay Ray's post about mental illness and the anti-war position.

The 1991 Gulf War killed less than 3,000 Iraqi civilians. Saddam's regime kills more people than that every month, on average. Therefore, anyone who says that it is impermissible to invade in effort to knock the regime out is either evil, mentally ill, or stupid. There is no plausible case against invasion. Therefore, the anti-war movement is motivated by hatred for successful Americans. The hatred comes from envy. The envy comes from self-loathing.

In envy and self-loathing, Canada has spitefully left Iraqi children to be killed by Saddam into the indefinite future. Canada deserves to be punished for this treachery and cowardice.

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Anti-War Vitriol as Mental Illness

The big, unnoticed story about this moment is that the anti-war hysteria is mass psychosis, social disease, bonafide mental illness.

Eleanor Clift exhibits a delusional personality disorder. Rod Dreher takes a glance at the extent of the social psychosis. Toronto protester, seething with anger on CBC radio: "It's just an imperialist action, it's totally pointless." That's bonafide mental illness. Try to think about removing the Butcher of Baghdad as "pointless". Notice that the U.S. did not take over Afghanistan and does not have an empire. "Tony" (below) says that disobeying the UN by taking out Saddam is encouraging "tyranny". This is double-talk. Saddam's crimes go unacknowledged. One screams with hatred at a careful, international effort to take the Butcher out. The hysteria prevents rational thought. And, yet, the hysteria is long-term, settled; the rational thought is not just mometarily eclipsed but fundamentally crippled. This is mental illness.

Friday, March 21, 2003

Canada's Shame

This is the most shameful hour in Canadian history. A dozen British soldiers died in an effort intended, amongst other things, to stop the torture and murder of hundreds of innocents. Canada could not be bothered to lift a finger, mainly because it is envious of the U.S. Cowardly. Evil. The two 78-eight-year-old Canadian men in my jazz trio are ashamed of Canada. When the war is over, and the success apparent, Canada will be shamed. We should pull our businesses out of Canada. We should move GM and Ford to Australia, Britain, Poland, Spain, etc. This will ruin Canada. In overwhelming numbers, Canadians supported Chretien's stand against the effort to stop the Butcher of Baghdad. To hell with Canada, the land of "We stick with socialized health care because we are envious of American success and need something special to be proud of." I can't wait to be back in a country of moral substance.

UPDATE: On CBC television news this Friday night: images of southern Iraqis joyously celebrating their liberation by allied forces, and gleefully tearing down a poster of Saddam. How can Canadians look at themselves in the mirror? Canada begins the century by going on record as standing against one of the greatest military liberations of an oppressed people in history.

Thursday, March 20, 2003


Boy, am I extremely proud and extremely grateful to be American, and eager to get back in six weeks time. Here's hoping we don't lose too many of our guys and gals in the war.

It is obviously permissible to take out murderous dictators, such as Saddam Hussein, Mao, Stalin and Hitler. The only plausible argument against the right to invade Iraq is that is will cause as many deaths of innocents as will be caused by the indefinite continuation of the Hussein dynasty in Iraq. There is little evidence that it will do so. So, the invasion is robustly justified, in light of the depth of evil of that dynasty.

I've been listening to the CBC radio call-in show for a couple of hours. None of the anti-war callers makes that, the only remotely plausible argument. They only make stupid 'arguments,' such as that the invasion is illegal or that America, being evil, lacks the moral high ground, or that Bush is just an imperialist, or that the UN sanctions against Saddam are working, or that the UN said, "No," and we ought to obey it. Try listening to the CBC for an hour, hearing ten callers call in and argue that merely because America has done some bad thing many years ago, it lacks the moral license to take the Butcher of Baghdad out. This should fill you with revulsion and despair at the depth of evil of which simple, ordinary folk are capable. After much consideration of the anti-war 'arguments,' I've been driven to the conclusion that the anti-war position is largely stupid and evil. Of course, there are a few against the war who are neither evil nor stupid but merely understandably confused. But the majority are simply stupid or evil. Unavoidably, their position is that:

We should let the Butcher of Baghdad and his sons continue to butcher people.

Since the only other option is the use of force, there is no way around this. This is what you must believe if you are against the invasion, unless you have a plausible argument why taking Saddam out would cause even more grief to innocents. Very few make that argument, and it is weak. So, the anti-war folks are largely evil or stupid. They are advocating evil, perhaps to some degree without understanding. They are therefore stupid and/or evil.

We all know that more than 50% of the anti-war crowd, upon reading what I've just written, would reply, "If you think that Bush's motive is to stop the Butcher from killing innocent Iraqi's, then you're the stupid one." They would consider this adequate refutation of my argument that the invasion is justified by the fact that it will take out the Butcher. But this 50%+ statistic is conclusive evidence that my thesis is correct: the anti-war crowd is either evil or stupid. Anyone who thinks that it's wrong to kill Hitler unless one has selfless and pure motives is an idiot or a Nazi.

Canada is against the invasion and has decided not to help the U.S. take the Butcher out. Spain and Australia, and many other countries, but not Canada. Fuck Canada. I can't wait to leave this moral wasteland. There are many good and wise Canadians, and for their sake, I'm sorry to say this. But democracy here has spoken in overwhelming numbers. Canada demands that the Butcher of Baghdad be allowed to continue to torture innocents to death. This demand is either stupid or evil. I'm out of here in six weeks. Fuck this place. And to hell with all the assholes who oppose the removal of the Butcher merely because they hate America. I can't wait to see the looks on their faces after America pulls off another in its long string of successes, the ones that drive them insane with envy and hatred, insane to the extent that they would allow the Butcher to torture children to death, rather than see Americans succeed yet again. The human soul is at best half evil. The anti-war people prove it as readily as Saddam.

Suppose it was widely known in the 30s that Hitler was a butcher and no one demonstrated against his crimes. Then suppose that some demonstrated against the U.S. effort to invade and take him out. I don't know what else to consider those people but Nazi sympathizers. "Oh, I'm no fan of Hitler, mind you; he's a bad guy. But we shouldn't invade and take him out." That's a Nazi sympathizer and one who lies about it. Now just insert "90s" for "30s" and "Saddam" for "Hitler". To hell with the anti-war crowd. They are no better than Nazis, save that their stupidity is a mitigating factor.

UPDATE: Stockwell Day (Candian Alliance Party politician, arging in favor of invasion) argued on CBC radio this Friday morning that the US action in the 1991 Gulf War cost 3,500 innocent Iraqi lives, the exact number of innocents that Saddam's track record shows that he kills every month on average. That the UN prefers to allow Saddam to stay in power for the indefinite future means that the UN is evil. This is not a matter of principled difference of opinion. This is a matter of evil, stupidity, hatred and jealousy intending to rule the world. Fuck the UN, and especially the rep from South Africa who said, when asked by the CBC reporter this week how he could oppose the invasion in light of the moral question at stake, said, with a laugh, "Morals are subjective." That's a demon cackling.

UPDATE: An American named "Tony" called in to the CBC radio call in show this Friday at 3:45pm EST. He voiced his opposition to the invasion of Iraq. He stated that we must obey the UN's laws, unless we are to allow "tyranny". This clearly demarcates Tony as the devil. Think about it. Of course, Tony went on to state that Bush was not democratically elected but selected by the Supreme Court. He thinks this is relevant to whether it is justified to take out the Butcher of Baghdad. Tony has "I am evil and stupid" tatooed across his forhead.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Don't. Stop.

Since yesterday, there's been a little voice, or some writing on the wall, or something. Call him "Plod". He says, "You don't have time for this blog." "Odd," say I. "I don't recall asking for your opinion." "Dude, you haven't even had time to read many of your favorite blogs (over there on the left) for six weeks." “Thanks for reminding me.” “You have to sell your house and move your family 600 miles in the next two months.” “Fascinating. You’re a tremendous conversationalist.” “And then there’s the little matter of grading hundreds of papers this April. And how can we forget about finishing up our study of organic chemistry by May, and also getting a good grasp on thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, and chemical kinetics by the end of July. Did I mention that you need to pound the pavement for a job in chemistry this Spring?” “Shut up, you busybody!” “Heh, struck a nerve. Say, you’re coworkers remarked on how tired you looked today. You don’t have time for this blog.” “That’s it, just stick the knife in and twist it!” "Well? How are you going to handle all these tasks? “Shut up,” I explained. “You're going to make a blogwidow out of your wife.” “Who? Oh, yes. Ach! Plod! Maybe I don’t have time for this blog.”

Monday, March 17, 2003

Nothing, Really

Here's hoping that the number of casualties amongst the allied forces and the innocent Iraqis is unbelievably low.

A couple of comments have disappeared into Haloscan's netherworld (one was Alan's). Sorry if this happens to you.

Does Stumbling Tongue exist? Go to the left and click it to find out.

Posting is light at Philosoblog because I'm trying to sell my house, take in intro quantum mechanics, guzzle organic chemistry, raise my boy, teach three classes, etc. There'll be a final post on Kekes's Facing Evil soon, and then we'll move on to his A Case for Conservatism.

Bush and Blair can as little decide to bring peace to the Israelis and Palestinians as square the circle. People whose principle objective is to wipe you off the face of the earth can't be negotiated with. "Oh, but they don't want that. Surely they're reasonable and will settle for a West Bank state. It's Bush and Blair's fault for not moving the process forward." No, it's not, any more than it was America and Britain's fault in 1939 for not negotiating peaceful coexistence between Hitler and Eastern Europe. Hitler's goal was to have Eastern Europe. What room had he to negotiate? Either you have or you do not have. "But you can offer them part of the land." This was done. Very bad move. It was done in the case of Hitler, and also in the case of the Palestinians. Israel already gave the Arabs they're "Austria and Chekoslovakia": West Bank and Gaza. Surely people are good deep down and reasonable? No. Bush and Blair (if it's not a cunning PR move) are avoiding this fact. Many innocent Israelis will die as a result.

Friday, March 14, 2003


I've given up hope. I don't think the blog is coming back. R.I.P..

Tuesday, March 11, 2003


Just one more breather from moral philosophy: the celebrated 'problem of induction'.

What would count as evidence that inductive reasoning was unreliable? Nothing would count. Any evidence put forth against the reliability of induction would be either deductive or inductive inferences. Deductive inferences won’t get you anywhere. In that department, there is only Hume telling us that induction is not deductively airtight. Hume famously pointed out that the evidence afforded by our experience of the past does not give us certainty of the future, where “certainty” refers to the logical impossibility of error. All one can distill off from this argument is that induction is not deduction, which is trivial.

As for inductive evidence that induction is unreliable, i.e., not conducive to reaching the truth, well, this is an incoherent idea.

So, the question, Are inductive inferences rational? or Is induction truth-conducive? is a non-question. There is no problem of induction. Inductive reasoning is by definition rational, reliable, truth-conducive. "Reasoning" means "using deduction or induction".

Monday, March 10, 2003


I just saw Daniel Pipes speak. There are two points of great moral depth underlying his message that I've never noticed before:

1. Evil simply cannot be tolerated; it must be faced and relentlessly opposed.

The Palestinian attitude toward Israel is evil. It should be opposed with all force necessary and with no negotiations. You don't negotiate with someone trying to kill you. You use brute force to shut him down.

2. People are free to decide how to act.

The Palestinians can simply accept the existence of Israel and stop killing Israelis. They can build their own society. It's up to them to do.

These are fundamental truths. They are regularly denied by many analysts of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Sunday, March 09, 2003

Let's take a break from moral philosophy for a moment.


Consciousness (i.e., all mental states) is just states of the brain, functional states, like software being run, but nevertheless physical like software, rather than non-physical. The program running your web browser right now is physical, and, by the same token, so is the consciousness in your brain. Here's why.

If consciousness were non-physical, we could conceive of a physical, human body operating normally, exhibiting the behavioral and brain states of a normal person but being devoid of any consciousness. "Hello," it might say, as it smiled and shook your hand, with the lights on but nobody home. In other words, if consciousness were non-physical, it could be peeled away from the brain in a thought experiment such as this. We could conceive of the brain working its neural net as usual but without any consciousness being generated by its activities. Such a being we could call a "zombie," but it wouldn't be like the zombies in the movies who act sleepy. Ex hypothesi it would act just like you and I.

This is all boilerplate in contemporary philosophy of mind. The problem is the whole field zigs where it should zag. It accepts that zombies are conceivable and then either tries to squirm out of the resultant dualism somehow or just gives up and accepts dualism. But we cannot conceive of zombies. To conceive of a kind of thing requires that one have an idea of what would count as evidence that there was a thing of that kind. To understand "apple" requires knowing what counts as evidence that there is an apple on the table, for example. But no one has any idea what would count as evidence that someone was a zombie. Look into its eyes, shake the hand, but, try as you might, you have in principle no way of telling that your new acquaintance is a zombie. Does he not cry when hurt? Does he not swoon during courtship? Ex hyposthesi he does. So, the concept of "zombie" is meaningless. The word "zombie" is as meaningless as "round square". Therefore, "consciousness is non-physical" is incoherent.

This proves that consciousness is nothing more than synapses firing. It is inconceivable that mind and body exist separately.

Saturday, March 08, 2003


I'm sorry this guy only took one class of mine (two years ago: business ethics). He came across me by Googling for "blog Huron College," and was surprised by my right-wing virulence. One of my old profs is not a lefty? Holy crap! Here's Hugh's Studied Authenticity. Me likey!
The Conservative Philosophy of John Kekes (#10)
The book Facing Evil, post D. Previous post here.
[All of these posts are free-standing; you can jump into the series at any point.]

Given the pervasiveness of evil in humanity, we can cope with it with a variety of alternative strategies. One is the “pragmatic,” a progressive, social engineering-type strategy, which aims to conquer evil by gaining and applying knowledge of human social psychology. The problem with this strategy is that it is ambitious and would give us power, when we, being the very ones prone to evil, are therefore certain to use this power and license to do great evil. The problem is the failure to face evil.

Another strategy is the rationalist, or ironic. It aims to conquer evil by putting aside all of our desires, moving to the level of pure reason, and looking upon society from a lofty, impersonal, desire-free and therefore bias- and evil-free vantage point. This is the stuff of Kant and the contemporary philosopher Thomas Nagel (who calls it “taking a view from nowhere”). There are three problems with this approach to evil. It assumes that there is such a thing as desire-free, objective, practical rationality, when in fact Hume has demolished the idea. It also assumes that by attempting to reach a desire-free level of “pure reason” we will not become ironic and nihilistic, like the psychotic or psychopath looking down ironically at ants and burning them to death with a magnifying glass. Indeed, I submit that it is no coincidence that leftist, rationalist regimes are nihilistic and tend to mass murder (and, yes, Marxism is a form of rationalism in that it demands that our traditional desires be relinquished and replaced with more rational ones). This is the reason it shouldn’t surprise us that Stalin referred to the death of one as a tragedy and the death of millions as a statistic. Rationalism means well, but by voiding itself of natural, traditional desires, it tends to nihilism (again: Hume showed that without desires there are no reasons). Finally, rationalism gives us no good reason why it should be rational to relinquish those desires or why we should need a justification for them. Kekes asks rhetorically, “What sort of justification would be required for caring reasonably about what matters to us?” I’ve been making this point to anyone who will listen for many years. All that matters is what matters to us; this is at the core of conservatism. The history of moral philosophy has been crippled for its inability to see the point of it. Think of utilitarianism and Kantianism. There are other examples. In any event, you can see that the rationalist strategy ignores the immanent possibility of evil. It takes a step toward nihilism and toward preventing millions from doing the only thing it is reasonable for them to do: fulfill their values.

Another strategy for coping with evil is the romantic. It fills up with the feelings of challenge, adventure and heroism of facing evil. It is glad there is evil, so that there can be such heroism and adventure. It thus veers towards embracing evil, rather than fighting it. And it thus tends to overlook it. In a fascinating discussion, Kekes shows that Martha Nussbaum is so enthusiastic about Euripides’s Hecuba that she overlooks the evil and despair of Polyxena. Polyxena is made to bear her breasts before a crowd and she is then has her throat slit by Achilles’s son. She is utterly hopeless and in despair. Nussbaum sees her as full of hope, triumphant. Nussbaum doesn’t mention much about the great evil of the throat slitting, preferring to focus on Polyxena’s covering her private parts in her dignity as she bleeds to death.

This brings us to the tragic approach to evil: to submit to it as inevitable and unchangeable. Kekes reads tragedies as advocating a realistic and tragic view of life, according to which we should only face evil. The tragic view is too pessimistic, preferring to dwell on the idea that we are as likely to resist evil as the young Oedipus was when he fled his home to avoid killing his father and lying with his mother. Kekes’s view (to be explained in the next post) is similar to the tragic, in that it is not overly optimistic, recognizing that efforts of partly evil people to change evil are likely to succumb to evil, too. But Kekes isn’t so pessimistic. There is room for hope, for pushing the enemy back a few yards: the enemy within and without, namely insufficiency of character, expediency, and malevolence: evil.

(I’m not sure about Kekes’s reading of the great tragedies. Are they recommending forlorn resignation? Or is tragedy a literary motif, calling forth the tempered, realistic, and moderate resolution to resist evil that Kekes advocates?)

Friday, March 07, 2003


Has Iraq. He's said this before: We'd be justified in invading Iraq, even if we knew that Iraq posed no threat to us at all. When you add in the threat and the right to self-defense, it's an overdetermined case for invasion.

He says, "The only legitimate excuse for opposing the removal of Saddam Hussein, the only one, is that you hadn't yet realized how immoral your position actually was." There is an excuse in the case of those opposing the war on reasonably plausible arguments. Whether to invade a country is a complicated matter. But I think most opposition to the war is not based on plausible argument. In the case of those who oppose for easily refutable reasons, bad arguments, peace dogma, and the like, there is no excuse. Believing oneself to be in the right is not an excuse. If we could verify that Lenin believed himself in the right, would that be case that he was not evil? No. Only if one arrives at the wrong moral position by following arguments that almost anyone might be fooled by does one get a pass for acting on the wrong moral judgment. There is a great deal of evil about, and it's inexcusable.

Jon Jay Ray has slightly changed his blog's address. The new one is this.

Thursday, March 06, 2003


Check this out: Libertarian Parent in the Countryside. She's just seen Vagina Monologues "[I]it wasn't at all as bad as I would have expected," Alice says. I guess she must have expected it to be abyssmal, then!

UPDATE: On second thought, "abysmal". Thanks to Jay Nordlinger at NRO for unknowingly giving me the tip today!
God of the Machine has just the cop for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003


On the radio show Coast to Coast they were talking about the human shields in Iraq, the Americans protecting the enemy. The host and guest said the shields made their blood boil. "Are they traitors or just stupid?" "Just stupid." "Yes." "They mean well."

You see, that's what Kekes is talking about (see Kekes posts below). We are living under a regime of thought according to which someone can choose to do evil and get a pass, on the grounds that he's stupid and means well. But the shields are obviously not stupid. And they are in full awareness doing evil. So, they are evil. Do they believe they are doing right? There is no determinate answer to that, I think. There are elements of malevolence, hatred, and envy, as well as moral judgment in their decision. But it isn't straightforwardly true that they think they are doing right. Even if they do think they are doing right, their cognition of right is in such disorder that they are disposed to do evil. They are not deluded, mind you; their thinking is perverse. One is responsible for the perversity of one's thinking. It's not like being slipped a hallucinogen which causes one to have a psychotic episode resulting in murder. No one is responsible to be cognitively prepared to resist that sort of influence. The shields are evil and traitorous.

The only other question is whether it's okay for me to hope that they die when we bomb. This is like the question of whether it is okay to torture Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, to death. It would be good if moral monsters knew that an unspeakably miserable death awaited them were they to act on their inclinations. Yet, wiser heads than I say that an execution of this kind would be wrong. But I worry that the temptation to refrain from meeting the darkness with the full force required to repel it is cowardice disguised as wisdom. One thing I am sure of is that it is okay to torture Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to make him speak. In fact, it's obligatory. It may even be obligatory to torture him to death afterwards, let alone permissible. Won't moral monsters think twice, knowing that if they act, the unspeakable awaits them? Shall we allow another monster to kill thousands because we recoil at the prospect of delivering this punishment? Be careful: To say that you don't want to descend to that level, that you'd rather take the high road, is either begging the question or worse.

UPDATE: See the link just above. I suppose Applebaum wouldn't mind allowing Stalin to kill millions more, if that were the necessary consequence of her declining to torture him. In any event, she supplies no argument for the anti-torture position.
One Good Turn
...responds to my previous post. What he says is true.

Monday, March 03, 2003

Do and Allow

The Counterrevolutionary says that the fundamental error underlying leftism is its belief that "if you claim that your cause is humane then all your arguments and subsequent actions are excusable." This is quite a Kekesian diagnosis. (See my series of posts on Kekes below.) For Kekes, as for CR, people should be judged on the extent to which they are disposed to cause evil, not on whether they "meant well".

I add that there is another fundamental error: the erasure of the do-allow distinction. This is the deeply held value that doing harm is morally worse than allowing it. (E.g., not putting the neighbor's kids through college is not morally equivalent to actively depriving them of a college education; does the denial of this distinction ring a bell?) The distinction is one that we cherish and live by. The threat from leftism is one of violence. The distinction is part of what makes life worth living for us; it represents liberty, the right to live unbeholden to the desires of others. Since there is no argument against the distinction, the stance of leftism is simply in basic opposition to us. There is nothing left for it to do but violence to us, in order to bring about the desired "progress". We won't part with fundamental values without a fight to the death.

The leftist erasure of the distinction flows from facts such as these: The rich allow the poor to be poor. People maintaining traditional Western values allow allow alternative lifestyles to go unappreciated, uncelebrated. Israel allows Palestinians to suffer. The happy and fulfilled allow the unhappy to remain unhappy, and they do this happily. These facts drive the leftist to shrieks of outrage.

The leftist disguises envy and hatred as moral indignance. The unhappiness in the world can be eliminated if only the well-off would fulfill their duty and stop allowing the harms. Their allowing the harms is supposed to be morally equivalent to actually doing evil.

But we will not part with the do-allow distinction. In addition to the fact that we cherish the value and have been given no reason to relinquish it, there is another reason not to relinquish it. Doing away with it puts the good at the mercy of the wicked. People have a tendency to be lazy and wicked. The wicked and lazy may take what the good have procured, if do-allow is done away with. The good may not defend themselves against this attack if do-allow is done away with. The result is any one of the hell-holes known as communist states. Murder to get there, misery after you arrive. Liberty rights are not merely self-interested. They protect us all from evil, human nature being what it is.

CR may be right that it is time to stop playing the game of debating with leftists. There is no rational debate here. It's simply a cultural war. Many millions have died already.

UPDATE: The do-allow distinction should not be confused with the position that no one has a duty to help others (i.e., the position that it is never wrong to allow harm). It may be gravely wrong, even punishable, to allow someone to die. This does not entail that allowing harm is morally equivalent to doing harm.

Saturday, March 01, 2003


My employer, Huron College, has decided to lower admissions requirements for people who are not white men, on the grounds that the college ought to represent the various kinds of people in Canada and the various things about people that are important to them. Most importantly, their grounds are that "All people are of equal dignity and worth." Oh, yes, Osama bin Laden and the little brats who waste taxpayer money by coming here, not reading, not showing up to class, and defecating on educational values - these people are of equal dignity and worth to the students who study hard and perform wonderly, to John Adams, and to the people who took down the plane in Pennsylvania on 9/11. Equal dignity and worth. A civilization going down the toilet.

Jean Chretien said yesterday that Saddam should not be removed. In substandard English, he said that we should disarm him but not remove him on the grounds that, once you start changing regimes, where do you stop? Moron. You can't disarm Saddam unless you remove him from power. Chretien runs a country? I'm glad it isn't my country. Oh, yes, and "where do you stop?": Is that supposed to be an argument? From a head of state? On an important policy question? Oh, my god.

Some bitch named Parrish who is a Member of Parliament up here in Canada said of Americans that we are bastards and she hates us. She also claimed (as NRO dug up) that the U.S. gives Israel billions in military aid for the purpose of pounding on defenseless people huddled in tents. The reaction from Canada? A groan here and there, but mostly a yawn.

The lesson: attacking rich white men is in vogue. And it masquerades as taking the moral high ground. This is a widespread social disease. I suppose the cause is communications and envy. The modern world gave people the communications tools necessary to see spectacular freedom and success. They saw and envied. They also were treated to an education which, while not enough to compensate for their lack of cultural substance, did enable them to articulate their envy in crafty ways. In addition, there was French and German philosophy, 1750-1980. Rotgut. The two causes created the deplorable situation we face today. And there's probably more to it.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

Thomas the Tank Engine

Some episodes are narrated by George Carlin. When someone of my generation plays the video for his child, he gets a deeply uncanny feeling. George Carlin narrating moralistic stories about loyalty and working hard to please businessmen? Didn't he have long hair and a rather wild decade thirty years ago? Wierd. But he narrates well on many of his episodes, though falling a little flat on a few. By the way his 1998 book, Brain Droppings, is good. For an absurd little chuckle before bed, read that.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

This and That

Bigwig has suppression of dissent. I have a friend who spent his boyhood years under Nazi rule and his teen years under communist dictatorship. He laughs at the things that bother me. "You have it good, kid."

Alec Baldwin narrates some of the Thomas the Tank Engine episodes. It's a show about some locomotives with faces and personalities. He narrates brilliantly, seamlessly shifting amongst various English accents. But I wonder what he thinks about his narrating a show that teaches three-year-olds to be helpful to rich businessmen. Isn't he supposed to be for the people's liberation of something or other?

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

The Conservative Philosophy of John Kekes (#9)
The book Facing Evil, post C. Previous post here.

We're in the middle of the book. Let me share with you my reflections on it.

There are units of soul or mind which are kind, not self-centered, rational, and not subservient to their desires. If you’re a religious leftist, the unit is the soul. If you are a materialist leftist, the unit is the reason in a person. It’s a mind which decides what is good in a way that is not a function of our desires but, on the contrary, the determinant of what we desire if we are rational. It is a higher authority that bears you aloft, brings you to certain determinations through abstractions that take place at a transcendent level of ultimacy or rationality of some sort. The movements of its logic have never been fathomed, but they must be trusted and revered. This means clinging to simple truths against all temptation to deviate from them on the grounds of self-interest. War is irrational for the units to partake in. Resist the logic that leads to war, for it must be folly. Resist the interest the rich have in keeping their wealth. Resist any insult to one’s own merit and goodness. It is all the howling of the beast, the mere housing of the true soul/mind. In the future, a more rational system will prevent people from asserting a right to live as they like. It may be that we must refrain from resisting evil, but this will bring society to the next level where we can achieve the rational system. And what we’d be refraining from resisting would not be evil, really, but just the brutish assertions of desires that overcome our ignorance or weakness of will. This transcendentalism, be it religious or rationalistic, is a faith as even Kant, the paradigmatic rationalist, admitted. We will tap into the calculus, the vantage point, a view from nowhere. On that day, we’ll see.

But Kant said that someone who does the right thing because he simply likes to do so is a person who lives without a moral life. This is a tradition that tells us that we shouldn’t live the way we prefer because a judge, some metric, some eye, passes transcendent judgment on us. And if there is no such transcendent level, then we are told that all is lost and we are doomed to a bestial life devoid of goodness. So, we are to keep the faith.

You can see that this rationalism (progressivism, leftist, what have you) is fetishistic irrationalism at bottom. That’s why I find my home in British sentimentalism. Have you read Joseph Butler? His Sermons (1726) are quite good. And there are Hume, Adam Smith, Hucheson, and Reid. Don't forget their cousin Locke. The common sense in this tradition and its metaethical basis in desire make it clear that it is okay to live as we like. The other tradition implies that reason chooses something to be right which may not be what we like.

Although Enlightenment rationalism is only 200 years old or so, it continues the Medieval Christian tradition of construing evil as a lack, a failure to activate rationality. Progressivists therefore see it as too ephemeral to be taken seriously, to be “faced.” On this view, there is no evil, really. To take evil seriously and oppose it with sufficient force is short-sighted and shallow. The long-term, enlightened approach would give people who cause evil resources, freedom and a chance to let their inner goodness and rationality shine through. I think you can compare the Spanish Inquisition and Stalinism. Both held that the seeming evil visited upon their victims was what the true self would agree to if it were free from being a the “slave to desire” that conservatives such as Hume perversely say is its proper role.

[N.B.: I’m presenting Kekes’s philosophy in my own way. But we disagree on two technical points: Kekes does not accept British sentimentalism, the view that morality is a function of desires. He finds it too reductive. He also denies that people who do evil as a matter of characteristic or habit but without any deliberation to speak of do it by choice (see previous post).]

Monday, February 24, 2003


There are many ways to use the word "choice," but I assume that the most common meaning does not entail that, in addition to picking an action, a choice chooses the desires, preferences, and dispositions that motivate it. Given that desires and the like obviously are in large measure, or perhaps entirely, unchosen, it would follow that we never or almost never choose our actions if the common meaning of "choice" were so inclusive. So, it includes only the action chosen as its object. Determinism does entail that it is written in stone already which people will be good and which wicked, even long before they are born. But this does not commit us to accepting, absurdly, that since no one is responsible for his character, no one is to be praised or blamed for his actions. "You can't blame him; he's wicked" is a non-starter, a joke, and the reason is that when we speak of choice, no one cares about the trivial causes that account for the wicked fellow. All that matters is that he is a wicked fellow. "Why praise him? He simply happens to be hard-working by disposition" is a funny one, too.

Sunday, February 23, 2003


Hey, here's Cacciaguida. For opera, snowstorms, and who-knows-what.

Saturday, February 22, 2003

Friday, February 21, 2003

Conservatism and Metaethics

There is something irksome about the question, In what are property rights grounded? Property rights are basic. Ownership is so pervasively important in our morals that it may be considered as bedrock. There is no grounding needed. We prefer to live this way. What makes one nervous is that the question above is being examined this year at an American university in a philosophy course. I'm wincing because I think the odds of this course being fair are too far from 100% for comfort. University courses of this sort don't usually have professors who are keenly interested in protecting property rights. They tend to lie more to the left. This does not entail bias, of course, but leftism, with its foundation in Kant, Marx and Rawls, does have a tendency to go the insufficiently argued route. Kant admits that what he's talking about - a noumenal self grasping moral truths of reason - is ultimately a matter of faith. Marx says arguing for morals is a sham. And Rawls chops logic so you can't see that there's no argument.* So, you wince and wait for the basic convictions to be proclaimed, the ones that any reasonable person is supposed to recognize as truths of reason, items such as the view that all people are of equal worth just as people.

Of course, I've said that I uphold a basic conviction, too. The difference is metaethical. I say the overwhelming majority uphold this basic conviction in property rights, in the sense of prefering to live according to it, not in the sense of grasping it as a truth of reason independent of preference. This is the tradition of British sentimentalism (Joseph Butler, Hume, and the like). The other is the tradition of the Continental Enlightenment, especially Kant. The former says that people may live the way they prefer. The latter says that morals are the object of thought quite abstract from preference. The former takes its basis in desire. The latter takes its basis in an idol called "Reason," which has so far silently kept his ethical wisdom to himself. And yet we're told that if we can't hear his utterances, it is because our minds are beclouded by desire (Kant, Marx and Rawls roll into one here). Any objection to leftist philosophy must be that of a corrupt mind.

*One more thing about Rawls's book. He tells everyone to bracket his personal biases and desires and think in abstraction in order to figure out what justice is. But Rawls is the author, so he reserves the right to import his personal preference: a self-interested desire to minimize the badness of his worst possible outcome. I guess people who don't want to burden others are irrational, because their preference is not allowed behind the "veil of ignorance". But Rawls's preference is allowed behind the veil. No reason - it just is. This makes A Theory of Justice count as bad philosophy.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003


Here's Condi Rice stuff (link via Instapundit ). I was an aspiring Sovietologist c.1983, and I consequently have an irrational fanaticism for her. She did it. She became a Sovietologist. But will she be president? No, she prefers to fulfill her life-long dream of becoming commissioner of the NFL. This self-directedness also increases my fanaticism. Plus, she's a concert pianist. I'm sold.
The Conservative Philosophy of John Kekes (#8)
The book Facing Evil, post B. Previous post here.

Kekes thinks it is very important to notice that philosophers and others often fail to take evil seriously enough. I have argued that the only justification for inflicting injury and death on enemy innocents during a war against an aggressor is that there is a moral failing in the aggressor society partly explained by the vices of its members. Whether he would agree with that argument, I don’t know, but Kekes thinks that this sort of increase in our scope of moral condemnation is justified by the fact that there is evil, severe and undeserved harm, caused by vicious people who are escaping the scope now. Morality must oppose that evil. But modern moral and political philosophy shows a tendency to exclude fundamental vices from blame: psychological or cognitive deficits, selfish expediency, and malevolence. These lead people to do evil - by insensitivity, laziness, and the like in the first case, by injuring others callously for one’s selfish ends in the second case, and by injuring others out of spite in the third case. These conditions of character are not chosen. The evil actions are therefore unchosen, as well. Modern philosophers often raise the threshold of blame, in order to avoid an uncomfortable concession that much for which people are rightly to be considered blameworthy, or even wicked, is unchosen evil.

Kekes is surely right that, whether by gene or upbringing, we end up with unchosen vices. The vices cause great evil, which morality ought to condemn and which philosophy therefore oughtn’t overlook. But I think Kekes feels overly perturbed by a supposed free-will problem. He thinks that the actions caused by unchosen vices are themselves often unchosen. But it isn’t so. A thug is free to do otherwise when he commits his insensitive, selfish, and hateful thugery. Because if he preferred to do so, he could refrain from committing thugery, yet he chooses not to do so. Isn’t there a gangster in West Side Story who tells the cop, “Your honor, you can’t blame me, ‘cause I’m destoibed”? Grotesquely selfish and malevolent types seem disturbed. But if that means crazy, they’re not disturbed. They’re just evil; they have deficits of caring about others. They may think little, but they make decisions. If you asked them whether they decide to do as they do, I think they would say that they do decide. So, Kekes is right, but he takes an unnecessarily concessive route to his point. In any event, what emerges is quite plausible: that there is a blindness to evil. This explains some unexpected awakenings in late September, 2001. There are large swathes of evil in the world, and certain cultural stances are crucial for reducing its concentration.

More on this question of choice and free will in the next Kekes post.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003


Haloscan is well again. Comments are back.


Eddie and Aaron have Hegel on tap. I wouldn't go with Aaron's line that all of Hegel is gibberish; Philosophy of Right says something. But I've read The Phenomenlogy of Spirit twice, and it's mad. Yet, Eddie's batting for Hegel. He's right about one thing: Schopenhauer was just bitter. I heard that the poor bastard had to lecture to only one or two students while Hegel's lectures were standing room only.


Bigwig argued this a couple months ago, but it bears repeating. It is permissible for the U.S. to take out Saddam even in the absence of any al Qaeda link, and even if there were no sign that he is aggressive towards neighboring states. He is a dictator and a thug, and it is permissible to liberate people from dictatorial thugs, unless they indicate that they prefer to be oppressed. Of course, this leaves aside the question of whether it is fair to our own soldiers to send them into harm's way for this purpose. So, the only case that needs to be made for war is whether it's fair to our soldiers. The possibility of horrendous attacks on the U.S. will be lowered significantly with Saddam removed. So, it is fair to our soldiers, since they enlisted to defend the country. Anyway, the point is that there is no need to justify our defending ourselves. The fact that Saddam is so bad to his own people justifies war. Now add that he kills his neighbors. Now add that he hates us and might help al Qaeda kill us. The case is airtight.

Stumbling Tongue has future history.

It's quaint and banal, but the desire to discover the truth is also of vital importance. As I said just below (in Emoting), the disposition to ignore evidence can bring evil. And this disposition is best combated by a healthy desire for the truth, though this requires courage, perseverance, and other virtues. Mark Steyn is on this point when he says, "In Saturday's demonstrations, the heirs to Churchill's Harrow schoolmasters were well represented -- lots of teachers and professors. Yet the difference between now and then is their reluctance to expose their assertions to debate -- these days few institutions are as aggressively protective of their fragile little pieties as the academy." Brute dogma passes in social sciences and humanities in universities today. In other words, the chance that it will be met with scathing indictment is not close to 100%. It passes. But devotion to truth is of fundamental importance to our society. Betraying it can result in stupidity and death, as well as other evils.

Al Qaeda/Iraq

Mansoor Ijaz has a conspiracy theory.

Aaron Haspel serves up poetry. It's a great essay.

I'd say that there is a faith that going forth in benevolence and love will cure all. And there is a line where it crosses over from naive and kind-hearted to wickedness. We know this because we know it's wrong to let all prisoners out of jail with the intention of curing them with love. The only question in any case is to what extent does the pacifist cross over into having sufficient justification to believe that an undeserved evil will befall someone if the innocent pursue the pacifist's recommendation of benevolence. Pacifism becomes a fetish, some kind of quasi-religious infinite psychological loop, in which evidence favoring the use of violence is treated as null because it points the way to war and not peace, demented, but somehow insidious and requiring that we steel ourselves to its temptations and cling ever faithfully to peace. When we steel ourselves to evidence, we're in the area of dogma and compulsion. This is cognitive disorder. There is probably also a gene for a tendency, however strong, to pacifism, because tribes that had such a gene did better, given that their disorder was shored up by leaps of faith back from the brink of total social collapse. The trouble comes when all cases are treated as such and a society is hamstrung by pacifism, unable to do the necessary task of crushing bugs that threaten big evil. Here the pacifist would sacrifice victims at the altar of a fetishistic kind of love. The instrument of sacrifice is the deprivation of the right to use the police and military to stop evil.

Monday, February 17, 2003


Haloscan comments have been on the fritz. I have no idea.

Sunday, February 16, 2003


Bigwig's on war, and One Good Turn is, too.

Just now on CBC radio, a strong round of applause for a poet saying, How would you like it if you were an innocent Iraqi? and, We should start thinking in terms of world citizenship, not different citizenships. But I would have no objection to being bombed if I were an innocent person living in the bad guys' country. That's the breaks. And talk of world citizenship is either emotive fluff and therefore not a genuine objection, or it is serious, and thus marks once again the leftist penchant for a world dictatorship and willingness to take an evil path to get it. Because to bring about world citizenship you'd have to have a dictatorship run by evil people. The good in the world wouldn't go along with equality with the evil. So, you'd have to have someone evil enforce this world citizenship. Leftism is therefore inextricable from evil dictatorship, given the facts of life as anyone not too naive knows them. (Of course, John Jay Ray has more arguments along these lines.)

All of this leftist nonsense derives from the idea that allowing the rich to harm the poor is evil, since the poor can't be evil, owing to their lack of resources with which to attain autonomy. The rich should give resources to the poor, raising them to the level of autonomy and rationality where the poor's harmful behavior will stop. If the rich attack the poor, then the rich are genuinely evil because they have autonomy and yet turn away from the light, like Satan himself. So, never should a war on the poor by the rich by countenanced. Human nature is basically good, and if we allow real leaders to redistribute the wealth and provide practical value education to all, then evil will be mostly eradicated.

That's the theory. It's insane. It's cowardly, naive, and kind-hearted, and tends to lead to high cruelty and evil. It accounts for a large portion of discourse in the political forum. The political forum does not receive a clean bill of mental health.

Saturday, February 15, 2003


If you're in the U.S./allied military and you're shipping out, thank you and my boy and I will be there to cheer you when you return safely.

Friday, February 14, 2003


I think people like The King of the Hill and The Simpsons because they express very well the fact that you don't have to do anything fancy in order have a good life.

Some bloggers were talking about Hegel today. All his nonsense about living for some vast historical scheme - bah! We're living in nothing more than a sea of rock, space and fire, to which nothing matters. We may have a historical scheme if we want, or we may do otherwise, instead. There is not more rationality in a history than in a person. History is not a mind or person. We alone matter. While there is an exhilaration in living a very good life that is something akin to living for something beyond oneself, it's nothing more than the feeling of being very glad to exist. And maybe also partaking of a great historical culture is very good. But there is no scheme.
Conceptual Problem in the Concept of Addiction

I wonder whether the concept of addiction is based upon a confusion between two kinds of liberty. One kind is full autonomy, the disposition to act on well-considered judgments (judgments made in understanding of the moral significance and other important features of the various alternative courses of action). The other kind of liberty is the disposition to act according to one’s decisions. I think that the concept of addiction entails that the first kind of liberty is the standard in force. Addicts fail this standard. But the trouble is that they don’t fail the standard that entails only the second kind of liberty. The second kind of liberty is an adequate concept of liberty. What is called “addiction” embodies the psychological wherewithal necessary for liberty. But addiction is, by definition, the concept of people who do not have liberty. So, it is an incoherent concept. The only way to prove that the richer concept of freedom is the real nature of freedom is to show that it is somehow more objective. I don’t see how, though. Autonomy may be a good time but you don’t need it, in order to be free.


Why follow rules, anyway? I think we should do what we want. If we all agree that we don’t want to follow any rules, then there’s no reason why we should follow any. It’s not rational to treat anything except one’s preference as a practical norm. “Because that’s the rule” is not a good enough basic reason for action. If morality runs against our shared preferences, then it is not rational for us. But morality is rational for us. And our preferences do not track rules. This shows that rule-based moral theory is untenable.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

More Rules

John Ray posts that libertarians aren't much different from conservatives, except that conservatives are uptight about sex or have some other axe to grind. Actually, the difference is more than that. Libertarians have a master value, or rule, that trumps all others: liberty. Conservatives have many values and do not take any of them as a trump value.

As the link in John's post says, "Libertarianism is simplicity itself. It proceeds from a single, quite beautiful, concept of the primacy of individual liberty...." Which is why it's untenable. It is obvious that no value trumps all others, for the reasons I stated below ("More on Rules").

UPDATE: John posts a reply (see his Feb 14 post).
On the Sly
What the - ? Actually, I, too, think gravity is a push and not a pull. I don't know, it just feels that way to me. So, I'm going with that theory.

A few posts ago, I raised a puzzle of contemporary epistemology: How can experience provide justification for beliefs, given that it is an event and not a proposition and therefore cannot have any logical connection to any conclusion? Here is an answer to the puzzle that I think is right. In order to be justified in believing that you are seeing an ordinary object, such as a table, it must be that you seem to see a table. This is because in order to be justified in believing that you see a table, you must be justified in believing that you seem to see one. But you can’t be justified in believing that you seem to see one unless you do seem to see one. This is because if there aren’t components of your visual experience that are jointly constitutive of seeming to see a table, then you have nothing to cite as a fact about your experience that justifies you in believing that you seem to see a table. “Because there seem to be four straight things going down from a flat expanse in my visual field” is an example of the sort of reason you need in order to be justified in claiming that you seem to see a table. In other words, in order to be justified in believing that you see a table, you must have a visual experience of a certain sort. Therefore, experiential states can provide justification for belief by fulfilling this necessary role.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

More on Rules

One general theme of the view of moral reasoning I've been suggesting is the following. There are many moral values in the set of values to which we are commited. We can describe these values; the descriptions are principles. But no one has ever shown that any principle trumps all others. On the contrary, it is obvious that every principle is overridden in some cases. "Never kill an innocent" is overriden in some cases, and if it is, then every principle is overridden in some cases. The large set of principles in our set of values are weighted parameters, but none is a rule (a principle that overrides in all cases). Therefore, to satisfy as many of these parameters as much as possible in each case one encounters ("to satisfice" the parameters) is the goal of moral reasoning. In fact, to satisfice desires is the goal of any practical reasoning. The reasoning one uses in traveling from one's house to downtown is an example. Rule-based AI will fail to produce a robot that can do this as well as a human can, and the reason is that the possible conditions encountered during the trip are indeterminately many, and their ramifications for the various parameters to be satisficed indeterminately many, as well. If you can't get downtown by following rules, you can't reliably pick out the right thing to do by following rules. Moral life is vastly more complex than the trip downtown.
The Conservative Philosophy of John Kekes (#7)
The book Facing Evil, post A. Previous post here.

[This is a series of posts on the contemporary philosopher John Kekes. I will very concisely present the ideas in five of his books: Against Liberalism, A Case for Conservatism, Facing Evil, The Art of Life, and Moral Wisdom and Good Lives. I hope you will read them. They are quite readable.]

There is evil, more of it that we care to admit. We don’t recognize the extent of it because we deny it in our acquaintances, making excuses for their bad behavior on the grounds of challenges they face. But there is quite a lot of evil: serious, undeserved harm. What can we hope for, in the way of handling it and maximizing good?

Whether we should go with morality or choose personal satisfaction is a quandary, comfortingly resolved by the Socratic ideal that there is no conflict between the two, that cultivating virtue and doing one’s best will lead to both and that such autonomous self-control maximizes one’s chance at a good life. But good lives require internal and external goods - goods of character and social structures that nurture good lives - and these are partly beyond the individual’s control: one’s genetic endowment and the values upheld by one’s society. There are internal and external goods - satisfactions of one’s individual achievements and of social goods, such as honor, comfort and a beautiful environment. While Socrates is right that it is possible to have a good life without certain external goods as rewards, he is wrong to suppose that there aren’t many external goods that are necessary for good lives. The Socratic ideal doesn’t overlook that moral life can be satisfying, but it wrongly thinks that the satisfaction is merely internal.

A tragic view would rather recognize that evil is woven into the fabric of our being and situation. Evil is neither accidental, superficial, abnormal, nor generally unintentional. We are prone to vice, as well at to virtue. Vice causes evil and much suffering in ourselves and others. We will always fail when we resolve never to do evil again, as the Socratic ideal seduces us into attempting to do. We live in a world of contingency that does not care about us or provide cosmic justice, and we are prone to bouts of destructiveness. It is not odd for people of good intentions to do and suffer evil. These facts should help us to decide how to live - in forlorn resignation? In romantic transcendentalism? Will Kekes say that a tragic view copes adequately with evil? I don’t think so. We’ll see.

C.Bloggerfeller is on about Marx, in response to God of the Machine. It really is a queer business when you deny that justice is anything more than a ruse fostered by the economic system that happens to reign at the moment, and then you realize that you've been advocating that one system is the really just one, and then you catch yourself in the contradiction and ultimately just bury yourself in your maniacal economic studies as a way of coping with the intellectual dissonance. It's rough when you realize you advocate a telos, having devoted your career to it and to proving that it doesn't matter. It's awful being Marx. So, of course you'll lash out, ad hominem.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Rules, Cases, Analogies

God of the Machine has rules. He talks about the innocent casuistry I propose - case-based analogical reasoning - as though it were covertly rule based, and he calls this "little-rulism". He says,

Little-rulism is an accurate description of how most people actually do reason morally, most of the time.... (I speak from long and painful experience.)

Well, I speak from long and happy experience in saying the same thing. He says that "big-rulers don't have this problem" of engaging in messy analogical reasoning, but I suggest that if you want to do a job right, you have to get your hands dirty. Applying one master rule to all moral deliberations is clean, but no one has ever produced a rule that could perform the task truth-conducively. Any rule you can name generates the wrong judgment in some cases if it is taken strictly.

This is why critical common-sense-ists - people who conduct messy moral deliberations by reasoning by analogy - are not even little-rulists. They don't use rules. Rules hold in every case. The little rules don't, so they must be treated merely as rough generalizations; call them "principles".

So, we have the case of killing innocent Iraqis. Aaron says, "[F]or any little rule you formulate, a case will fit it either exactly or not at all." Yes, but it fits more than one "little rule" (principle): don't kill innocents; it is permissible to defend yourself. So, when Aaron says,"First, why not, as a little-ruler, stop at the first rule? We have found a perfect fit," the answer is that the case will fit one rule better than any other conflicting rule, since one and the same action cannot be both right and wrong. And when Aaron says, "Second, if we continue to pursue the question, when do we stop? How many little rules must we examine?" the answer is that we stop when, upon careful reflection, we cannot find a rule which fits better than the leading candidate rule. Abortion, or euthanasia of the brain-dead: "Well, it's killing a human, and that's wrong.... But, wait, this human is not a person; it has no brain activity. So, it is not wrong....I can't see that any other rule overrides."

And, "Finally, since all applicable rules will fit the case perfectly, how do we adjudicate among them, lacking 'more' or 'less' analogous as a standard?" Aaron claims without argument that critical common-sense-ism is really rule-based and not based on analogical reasoning. I maintain that it is not rule based but based on analogical reasoning. Still, the question is a good one. How do you know which of two conflicting rules to apply? Well, they aren't "rules" but principles; each is a gesture at a set of analogous cases about which we would make the same judgment. Whenever the case at issue has been shown to have a property listed by a rule - rule 1 - as relevant, rule 1 is applicable: a candidate for the place of "overriding rule". But you will often find a rule 2 which is also applicable and overriding in all other cases in which rule 1 is applicable; it therefore replaces rule 1 as the leading candidate for the case at issue. You look for a rule 3 to displace rule 2 similarly, and proceed until exhaustive search shows that a rule to displace the leading candidate rule cannot be found. (You could be wrong. Twenty or 500 years later, such a rule could be discovered; the case of refuting the morality of slavery in the U.S. South is an example, as is the women's suffrage movement.) In addition, you might instead have found that rule 2 overrides in some cases in which rule 1 applies but is defeated by rule 1 in other cases. Obviously, a third rule is at work, as well. So, you look for a rule 3 which overrides rules 1 and 2 in other cases, and you conclude that it overrides in the case at issue, as well. This is what it means to say that moral reasoning is the endeavor to determine whether the case at issue is "most analogous to" the cases in which rule 1 overrides, or to the cases in which rule 2 overrides, or the cases in which rule 3...., etc. Finding the overriding rule, the final winner, is finding the set of cases to which the case at issue is "most analogous". (Again, I've used the word "rule" when I shouldn't have; these "rules" don't override in every case in which they apply; they're only principles.)

Critical common-sense-ism is like Aaron's orderly hierarchy of rules, except that, contrary to what Aaron thinks, there are too many rules for a reliable finite decision making proceedure to be written. Practical reasoning isn't rule-based because the cases we encounter are indefinitely many in kind, shading from the rule 1 shade of gray to the rule 2 shade in so many ways that the hierarchy cannot be given as a formula, let alone formulated on the basis of one rule, as Aaron, Kant, Hobbes, and the utilitarians try to do. Even the practical reasoning involved in finding your way from your house to a location downtown is so complex that rules won't work to describe it. (This is why AI is not going to be rule based, but neural-net based. Nets are weighting connections, not rules.) Scientific reasoning bears the same complexity. Math, deductive logic, and perhaps jurisprudence are the only kinds of genuinely rule-based decision making procedures, as far as I can tell.

Monday, February 10, 2003


Instapundit said something about France facing Germany after NATO has ceased to exist. Hmm. So, say NATO ends, France and Germany having flipped us the bird, and we pull our military out of central Europe. And say ten years from now it's 1939 or 1914 again for poor France. I know how the phone call between France and the U.S. will go:

France: "Hi. Ummm.... [pause]."

U.S.A.: "Ummm.... [pause]."
Liberals are Stupid, and Conservatives are Evil

The first: Because (left-)liberals won't face facts about human evil, but will assert that it exists only in people who are in power and who claim that it exists in people who aren't in power. Because liberals will believe that turning the other cheek and extending the olive branch will ultimately work, as long as you keep trying and don't resort to violence. Because liberals believe that all people will be good if they have enough of the basic material necessities for leading a decent life. Because liberals believe that it isn't cowardly but courageous to believe that if you just go forth with love and goodness in your heart, everything will be okay - poor or brown wrongdoers will be brought to tears in response (not the rich white ones - they're incorrigible), there will be a group hug, and we'll have world peace and prosperity.

The second: Because conservatives don't share those beliefs.

Actually, neither is really true. Conservatives, as such, aren't evil. They're realistic. Liberals aren't exactly stupid. Many liberals have loads of degrees and high IQs. But they do tend to the naive, quixotic, dogmatic and cowardly. These traits can appear to be stupidity to the observer. Ironically, in full flower, liberals are genuinely evil (e.g., when they steal from the rich or support the evil side in cases of armed conflict). Also, there is a certain simplicity, almost a dull streak in conservatism. If you're content with good ways of life, your mind doesn't race around like a monkey. So, there is something to "Liberals are evil, and conservatives are stupid," too.

Arthur Silber has some thoughts about the draft. The "libertarian argument" (poorly named by me) is quite strong. I only wonder whether the worries of cowardice and laziness are considerable enough to warrant mounting an objection to it. I have no idea.

If a historian could cite a case of a country that was well worth fighting for but that was conquered due to laziness or cowardice impeding its efforts to muster an army, that would be interesting. Also, even if the courageous number enough to defend the country, the slacker-cowards perhaps should give pause. D'you really want to be fighting and dying for some of these jokers as they watch you do it on CNN?
Those Are the Rules

God of the Machine presents a scathing indictment of a certain member of the Court. Aaron quotes and fisks:

"General propositions do not decide concrete cases." OK. Then what does exactly? "The decision will depend on a judgment or intuition more subtle than any articulate major premise." Intuition. This is what remains after we abandon concrete and abstract propositions alike.

Aaron has taken me to task for rejecting rule-based reasoning in ethics. (It may be that rules should have a greater role in law than in ethics, but leave that aside.) Yet, I share with him a disdain for intuitionism. The point is that intuitionism is not the only option to rule-based moral reasoning. Here's another option.

Intuitionism, as a theory or stance in ethics, is nothing more than a refusal to give reasons. Even when the opponent points out incoherence, the intuitionist simply says, "Well, my intuition shows me that the incoherence is resolved. I can't explain how, and I don't have to; it's intuition." The other option shares with rule-based moral reasoning the assumption that reasons are required. It is more akin to science or empirical reasoning in general than to rule-based reasoning or intuition.

Sunday, February 09, 2003


We're done with Against Liberalism. There's more in the book, but let's move on to the next book this week: Facing Evil. It's supposed to be his best.
What he was talking about...

...was happening to him as he spoke. Sorry, my tongue fumbles.
Revelation from the Toronto Star

This column explains that there is no reason to invade Iraq or respond to the Twin Towers attacks at all. The so-called "reasons" are just manufactured by Bush and other powers that be by using buzzwords, like "terrorist" and "collateral damage." Thanks, Toronto Star (and lefty academics cited in the column)! I really needed that Marxist deconstruction of the right to self-defense! I've seen through The Man's newspeak now!
Knowledge from Experience

There is an old puzzle in epistemology: How is it that we get knowledge from experience? In other words, how is it that our visual and other sensory states give us justification for believing something about things in the world? This is not the problem of skepticism. This problem admits that, for example, a visual experiential state can give you reason for believing something about an object; the problem is: How can it do this?

You might say, What's the problem? I have a certain visual experience of seeming to see a table, and so I have reason to believe there is a table there. But there is a problem. Experience is an event, not a proposition. Only propositions have logical force on other propositions. Experiences, being events, have no logical force and, so, no justificatory power. The proposition, There is a table there, wants a reason, something that entails it, gives logical support for it, something before which can be put a "because". But an event, such as the event of having a certain visual experience, doesn't meet these requirements. "Because [experience]" is not a proposition and can't entail the desired conclusion. "Because I seem to see a table" is a proposition, but what is the basis on which it stands? The visual experience. And so the problem just gets pushed back.

In other words, reasoning deals in reasons. Reasons are claims, propositions. Experiences are not reasons, claims or propositions, but mere events. Reasoning would seem to be isolated from experience, unable to make use of it. But it does make use of it. How?

Until recently, no one had ever figured out how it is that we get justification for our beliefs from experience. I think there is a solution now, and I'll tell it to you later.

Friday, February 07, 2003

North Korea

Bigwig has some analysis.
Cultural Change

Vodkapundit is right that it's not a good idea to be reactionary and too strongly averse to cultural innovation. Some of the new pop now will be a classic to people living in future centuries. Innovation makes wealth and makes life better. But conservatives are right that continuity, what Lao-tzu called the well-worn path in a field, has sublime value. If nothing stays, nothing's deep. To deny either is either too reactionary or too shallow.

Thursday, February 06, 2003

The Conservative Philosophy of John Kekes (#6)
The book, Against Liberalism (Post F). Previous post here.

Some of these posts stick closes to Kekes’s text, while some go off on tangents. This post pertains to Kekes’s refutation of Rawlsianism, the quintessential statement of liberal political philosophy. This is part of the book is sizeable list of Rawls’s errors. The list is terse, clear and devastating, so I’ll let you read it yourself someday. (I’ve blogged on Rawls before here, here and here.) Here, I’ll offer not so much a tangent as a general meditation on the nature of liberal philosophy and its errors, as Kekes has exposed them.

Kant and Rawls have inserted a virus into Western moral and political philosophy. It is the idea that we each have selves, wills, which are rational, logical, and free from any particular desires. They are like Vulcans of Star Trek: aloof, not inherently subject to the bio-bestial realm of contingent desires cultural persuasions. Only the determination of such a self counts as impartial, moral, autonomous, or rational. And all of the determinations of such a self will be moral, good, and right. Whereas Hobbes, Butler, and Hume had said that only efficient desire fulfillment is rational and moral, the liberals hold that only ignoring desires is rational and moral. How there can be such a noumenal self is a mystery; that it exists is an article of liberal faith. Without it, we must despair in the debased and selfish existence of beasts.

This self of liberal philosophy always determines that every person is entitled to support sufficient for autonomous living - plenty of food, shelter, leisure, education, security, and medical care. For no one could reasonably choose not to have these things. Further, the self chooses egalitarian equality, since no one could reasonably consent to being left behind. How the self chooses these things when it is by definition without any desires remains a mystery. That it can have preferences as a purely logical Vulcan, free of feeling and passion, is another article of faith. That its preferences are morally right is, too. Liberalism turns impartiality into a cult of self-abnegation.

Finally, liberal political philosophy assumes that its system, in which everyone’s autonomy is sustained by redistribution of resources, is one in which there is no wrong-doing to speak of. Autonomous people, by definition, are rational, and therefore are impartial and moral. That our inner selves are free of evil, as well as desire, that no one does evil in full autonomy, is another article of faith.

Yet, there is the paradoxical fact that, as John Ray and Charles Krauthammer have pointed out, liberals believe conservatives are uniquely evil. The reason is that conservatives have everything they need for autonomous living, and yet they have, in full autonomy, turned their backs upon the light. Only that is real evil. The poor mugger is not evil but merely held back from reaching autonomy. In fact, the mugger is to be assumed to be better than the conservative, since the mugger is likely good deep down, lacking only the conditions of autonomy of which the conservative has deprived him, while the conservative knowingly, autonomously chooses evil.

All of these points form the foundation of liberalism. They are all wildly implausible, a kind of faith, hardly the stuff of philosophy. It’s more akin to an irrationalist cult, or a dementia-inducing virus, at best a dream. Martin Peretz says (TNR, 2/3/03), “In the grand conflicts of the last century, there as always a left-wing structure of Manichaeanism. On the one side: imperialism and capitalism. On the other: a compelling and revolutionary dream. The dreams turned out to be nightmares. But they were dreams, nonetheless. Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Che, the Viet Cong, the Sandinistas, always a man and a movement saying they aimed to build a better world, which they actually tried to describe. In the end, of course, the better world did not arrive: In its place were death camps, mass deportations, forced famines, massacres, reeducation programs, prisons of the body and greater prisons of the soul.”

The liberal heart bleeds for human evil and miserable poverty. It develops a fantasy in which evil is erased, poverty no more. It teeters on the brink of nihilism for at bottom it is a failure to accept the tragedy of what is. It’s unlikely marriage to pomo/Marxist nihilism isn’t so strange. Both reflect an inability to accept what is and make the best of it. Kekes says,

“Justice is about maintaining the balance between good and evil caused and received - about people getting what they deserve. One great fault of liberalism is that its illusions obscure this realistic view. Liberalism systematically de-emphasizes contingency, wickedness and moral inequality. The liberal faith is comforting because it is pleasant to believe that autonomy c an minimize contingency, that all human beings are basically disposed toward the good, that wickedness is due to institutions whose defects are remediable, and that because of this basic capacity for autonomy all human beings are morally equal and ought to be treated accordingly. However, pleasant, these beliefs are false, and holding them is inconsistent with justice and good lives.”

Just Go now. It's Aaron Haspel on poetry.

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

The Conservative Philosophy of John Kekes (#5)
The book, Against Liberalism (Post E). Previous post here.

[This is a series of posts on the contemporary philosopher John Kekes. I will very concisely present the ideas in five of his books: Against Liberalism, A Case for Conservatism, Facing Evil, The Art of Life, and Moral Wisdom and Good Lives. I hope you will read them. They are quite readable.]

Liberals tend to be egalitarians, believing that justice requires that everyone have an equal share of goods. Liberalism rejects desert as a basis for determining justice, instead believing that people's sameness is the basis. They think that all people have a certain characteristic in common which entitles them to equal treatment. This characteristic is people’s capacity for autonomy. The problem is that liberals think that asserting this bedrock moral principle is enough to ground justice. They hope then to go on to assign distributions of goods on the basis of it. But in fact it is hardly even relevant, let alone sufficient. Liberals fail to explain why people’s common capacity for autonomy is morally relevant or why the basis for justice must be some common characteristic. To assume that any such common characteristic must be the basis is to beg the question of whether the egalitarian conception of justice is correct.

Kekes doesn’t diagnose the liberal’s confusion fully. What would make liberals say such things as the following? “Some theories, like Nazism, deny that each person matters equally. But such theories do not merit serious consideration” (Will Kymlicka); and “In attributing human worth to everyone, we [are]...expressing an attitude of respect toward humanity in each man’s person. That attitude is not grounded in anything more ultimate than itself, and it is not demonstrably justifiable.... If none of this convinces the skeptic, we should turn our back on him and examine more important problems” (Joel Feinberg).

The answer is that liberals confuse the trivial claim that “Everyone is to be treated equally unless there is a morally relevant difference between him and others” and the contentious leftist claim that “Everyone is to be treated equally.” Of course, anyone who rejects the first claim is not to be taken seriously in matters of moral deliberation. But the first claim is not the second and, given certain obvious truths about the world, is inconsistent with it. In fact, while the egalitarian liberal philosophy professor gnashes his teeth at right-wing anti-egalitarianism, in fact it is he who is not to be taken seriously in matters of moral deliberation.

Kekes also describes what I think is the Paul Wellstone-type of liberal who holds that in a just society no one has misery he doesn’t deserve but instead has it removed by the institutions of justice. This sort of liberalism is at least able to see that justice is based on desert, and it is not even committed to egalitarianism. The problem with it is that it overlooks that the need to generate the wealth required in order to maximize justice requires that some people’s undeserved misery go unremedied. Moreover, many other values can override desert in certain cases (family ties, private property, mercy, etc.).

It is really very bad that we lost Paul Wellstone; the Democratic Party needed him. (Did you see the Democratic response to the State of the Union address?) Wellstone made judgments as conservatives do: on the basis of desert, undeserved suffering and not on the basis of leftist ideology about equality. Contrast this with the nonsense of Rawls, who, as Kekes mentions holds that desert is no basis for justice, since no one can help it if he happens to be inclined to vice. A Democratic party with Wellstone liberals in it would be keen to discern and represent particular, plausible government programs that might do a lot of good and therefore be worthy of consideration, to make the case for pacifism when it needs to be made, and to remind us of our duty to the undeservedly destitute. Such a Democrat would join Republicans in the center and argue as a valued and loyal opposition about where the sweet spot lies. He’d be wrong more often than not, but we need two parties, in order to hit the sweet spot reliably. Instead, we have enshrined the nonsense of John Rawls, settled for Gary Locke, and lost Paul Wellstone.