Showing posts from September, 2014

The violinist analogy improved

Judith Jarvis Thompson famously put forward an analogy between abortion and someone who suddenly finds themselves hooked up on life-support to a famous violinist, and told that they cannot disconnect the life-support apparatus linking them to the violinist because it will take the life of the violinist. (The analogy is described in the fourth paragraph of the article I linked to above.) I think her analogy is seriously flawed, and here I will offer what I believe is a much more accurate one. However, in honor of the loyal reader who recently brought this analogy up, I change the musical instrument. *********** Srinivasan is a famed and beloved sitar player. He is so good, and so pleasurable to listen to, that many people have paid very large amounts of money to hear him play. But a tragedy has struck: his kidneys are failing. However, medical researchers are on the verge of perfecting artificial kidneys. In fact, they predict with confidence that in nine months, these will be c

"Blaming the Victim"

Bob Murphy puzzles needlessly over two stories. Here is the thing about cries over someone "blaming the victim": There is a sense in which victims can be partially to blame for what happened to them: blame for something bad happening can be shared among several people. This becomes objectionable when it is used to excuse the perpetrator , but there is nothing wrong with advising people to protect themselves. So: Let I say that I drive into a rough neighborhood and park my car there. I leave my windows down, and a $20,000 diamond bracelet laying in plain view on the dashboard. I then go shopping for a half an hour. When I come back I am shocked to learn that the bracelet is gone. Is there anything wrong with someone telling me, "Well, Gene, you were being somewhat of an idiot there"? I think not. But this doesn't mean that it was okay for someone to steal the bracelet! Similarly, there is nothing wrong with advising women to wear protective nail polish,

Idealism is a defense of objective reality

"There are difficulties enough, no doubt, in the way of accepting such a form of 'idealism,' but they need not be aggravated by misunderstanding. It is simply misunderstood if it is taken to imply either the reduction of facts to feelings... or the obliteration of the distinction between illusion and reality... "On the contrary, its very basis is the consciousness of objectivity. It's whole aim is to articulate coherently the conviction of there being a world of abiding realities other than, and determining, the endless flow of our feelings." -- T. H. Green, Prolegomena to Ethics , pp. 41-42

Cheese-eating surrender monkeys?

This was this sort of smear that the neocons liked to hurl at the French when they refused to go along with the American attack on Iraq in 2003. (I recall Jonah Goldberg using that very phrase.) In retrospect, they might have just instead called them "sensible." I have criticized this nonsense before, but, in listening to some lectures on World War I, I just came across a fact that highlights how ridiculous it is: Half of French men between the ages of 20 and 32 were killed in that war. And, of course, France never surrendered. Can you even imagine Americans' response if half of our young men between 20 and 32 had been killed in the Iraq war that started in 2003? Think about this carefully before you insult the French for their "cowardice."

As someone who was a software engineer for 18 years…

I always find it shocking to see someone who has been in the trade declaring that, for instance, "Siri often makes mistakes." When my software went wrong, I always knew that *I* had made a mistake. The software was simply performing the way I had programmed it to. I don't know how I even could have performed my job if I had thought for a second that it was my program that was making a mistake, rather than me.

The implications of Locke's dualism

"No one is more emphatic then Locke in opposing what is real to what we 'make for ourselves,' the work of nature to the work of mind. Simple ideas or sensations we certainly do not 'make for ourselves.' They therefore and the matter supposed to cause them are, according to Locke, real. But relations are neither simple ideas nor their material archetypes. They therefore, as Locke explicitly holds, fall under the head of the work of the mind, which is opposed to the real. But if we take him at his word and exclude from what we have considered real all qualities constituted by relation, we find that none are left. Without relation any simple idea would be undistinguished from other simple ideas, undetermined by its surroundings in the cosmos of experience. It would thus be unqualified itself, and consequently could afford no qualification of the material archetype, which yet according to Locke we only know through it or, if otherwise, as the subject of those 'pri


"The terms 'real' and 'objective,' then, have no meaning except for a consciousness which presents its experiences to itself as determined by relations, and at the same time conceives a single and unalterable order of relations determing them, with which its temporary presentation, as each experience occurs, of the relations determining it may be contrasted." -- T. H. Green, Prolegomena to Ethics , p. 17

T. H. Green on evolutionary ethics

"In Hume's time a philosopher who denied the innateness of moral sentiments, and held that they must have a natural history, had only the limits of the individual life within which to trace this history. These limits did not give room enough for even a plausible derivation of moral interests from animal wants. It is otherwise when the history may be supposed to range over an indefinite number of generations. The doctrine of hereditary transmission, it is held, explains to us how susceptibilities of pleasure and pain, of desire and aversion, of hope and fear, may be handed down with gradually accumulated modifications which in time attain the full measure of the difference between the moral man and the greater ape... "...the theory of descent and evolution opens up a vista of possibilities beyond the facts, so far ascertained, of human history... Such enquiry, it is thought, will in time give us the means of reducing the moral susceptibilities of man to the rank of ordi

Colbert Pounds the Krauthammer

Is there an uglier figure in our public discourse than Charles Krauthammer? Oh, yes, I forgot: Ann Coulter. But is there a second-uglier figure than Krauthammer? Here Colbert dismantles his ridiculous psychoanalysis of Obama: The Colbert Report Get More: Daily Show Full Episodes , Indecision Political Humor , The Colbert Report on Facebook

Collingwood on Berkeley

Thus we get a wholly new metaphysical position. Taking the elements of the traditional seventeenth-century cosmology and simply rearranging them, Berkeley shows that, if substance means that which exists in its own right and depends on itself alone, only one substance need be asserted to exist, namely, mind. Nature as it exists empirically for our everyday perception is the work or creature of mind; nature in Galileo's sense, the purely quantitative material world of the physicist, is an abstraction from this, it is so to speak the skeleton or armature of the nature we perceive through our senses, and create in perceiving it. To sum up: we first, by the operation of our mental powers, create the warm, living, coloured, flesh-and-blood natural world which we know in our everyday experience; we then, by the operation of abstractive thinking, remove the flesh and blood from it and are left with the skeleton. This skeleton is the ‘material world’ of the physicist. In the

Responding to Stove's critique of Berkeley

Another excerpt from my forthcoming paper: ************************** --> David Stove, in his essay “Idealism: a Victorian Horror Story (Part One),” begins by at least granting Berkeley his historical context, as we saw Hegel also did: Berkeley is one of those philosophers who are always arguing, and he gave a number of arguments for abridging the Cartesian world-view to the exclusive benefit of its mental half.   Once he had done it, everyone could see, even if they had not seen before, that Cartesianism had begged for an idealist abridgement, and that it had got it from Berkeley. (1991: 102) But what he gives with one hand he immediately takes away with the other: “There was only one catch; but it was a rather serious one.   This was that no one could believe the world-view to which those arguments of Berkeley led.” (1991: 102) Stove is certainly correct here in so far as his depiction of Berkeley’s world-view strains credulity, as it is as follows: You c

The universal explanation

I was just telling Nelson, my friendly neighborhood bodega operator, about my close encounter with a bear at my house in Pennsylvania. A woman at the counter said, "You're the second person I've heard today talking about a closing counter with a bear!" "Well," I said, "they are moving into populated areas more and more." "It's all a part of climate change," she replied. As I have mentioned before, I am not a climate change "skeptic." But ma'am, no, just no. Not every single circumstance that alters in the natural world is due to climate change. Bears disappeared from populated places after European settlement because there were people in those places who had guns and would shoot them. They are now repopulating those places because they are less likely to be shot. (Not that I think they are consciously calculating the odds here: no, this is a marginal process like so many other range of population changes.)

Well, of course if you *name* it...

Here is a researcher who claims dolphins aren't uniquely intelligent among non-human animals. And perhaps he is correct! I have no reason to doubt him, in any case. But along the way, he makes a bold claim: that human language is "limitless in its ability to discuss subject matter." And he backs this up by noting: "But humans can talk about anything—abstract ideas, concrete ideas—you name it and we can discuss it." Well, yes, I have no doubt that anything we name can be discussed using language... in fact, I have no doubt that once you have named it, it already is being discussed using language! Wittgenstein was not so confident: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

Andy Borowitz: Less Funny Than Ever

I have never been a big fan of Andy Borowitz. But this column finds him in a particularly unfunny mode. Let's start with this: "A climate-change march that organizers claim was the largest on record is nevertheless unlikely to change the minds of idiots..." Ha, ha, ha, they are so stupid, their minds are not going to be changed even by a very large march ! Um, but wait a second, Andy: I don't think a march is an argument , and it is hard to see why any march, however large, should ever convince anyone of anything other than, "Wow, a lot of people are enthusiastic / passionate about whatever it is they are marching about." When the Nazis had very large rallies in the 1930s, would Andy have called everyone who wasn't immediately "convinced" by these rallies an idiot? Anyway, Borowitz continues: "Despite bringing attention to a position that is embraced by more than ninety per cent of the world’s scientists..." First of all, s

Stove Can Be Funny

He writes that later idealists learned that the thing you had to do, when beginning any idealist work, was "First kick Berkeley."

Answering Stove on Berkeley

I happen to be reading David Stove because he addressed Berkeley (and the later British idealists) at some length. Here is an excerpt from my forthcoming Berkeley paper addressing Stove in particular: ***************** To Stowe’s credit, he does avoid one frequent error committed by Berkeley’s critics: “People think, that is, that Berkeley maintained a causal dependence of physical objects on perception: that things go in and out of existence, depending on whether or not we are perceiving them… [this view] is certainly not Berkeley… The benevolence and steadiness of the Divine Will, and nothing else, ensure that the ideas produced in the various finite spirits are, on the whole, in harmony with one another” (1991: 108). But once again, having gotten that much right, Stove immediately goes horribly wrong, saying that this means that “there are no physical objects Berkeley’s world” (1991: 109). Once again, we must point out that Berkeley never denies the existence of the physi

Just because I am not an anarchist...

it doesn't mean I don't find a lot of the things that governments do ridiculous. For instance, today on the radio, I heard New York Governor Cuomo saying that hundreds of extra security personnel were being dispatched around NYC due to "the obvious situation." This "obvious situation" turns out to be that ISIS is beheading people... in Syria and Iraq! Why this calls for more National Guardsmen at Grand Central Station is a little fuzzy for me.

Well, There's Fanaticism, and Then There's Fanaticism

A friend of mine just posted on Facebook that the fanatics who make up ISIS are really not that different than the fanatics in the US would take away the "reproductive rights of women." But fanaticism comes in many forms. Consider this one: there are fanatics who think that the "reproductive rights of women" always and everywhere trump the "right-to-have-a-life-at-all rights" of unborn children. The work of those fanatics results in about one million deaths per year in the United States, a lot more people than ISIS will kill this year, and the means of killing are often far more gruesome than mere beheadings. But, of course, when a fanatic is surrounded entirely by other fanatics who think exactly the same way, their fanaticism comes to seem perfectly normal to them, in fact, moderate, and the way any sane person would consider the matter. Oh, and it is easy to name the fanaticism involved: fanatical individualism.

Italy's entry into World War I

I am currently reading a set of history books acquired for me in Italy by my Italian tutor. Tonight's reading is on Italy's entry into World War I. What I find fascinating here is this: the Socialist party, the Catholic party, and the Liberals all supported Italian neutrality. According to this text, the one of the main groups supporting Italy entering the war was... Italian artists and writers! How weirdly different from the typical stance of our modern artistic class!

OK, I have to call this policy choice stupid

It looks to me, based on what I know, that the members of ISIS are generally very bad people. Could the US successfully intervene to defeat the group's aims? I find it doubtful, but if in fact we could, I am not reflexively opposed to the idea of doing so. But this idea of picking out particular "moderate" rebel groups and funding them just strikes me as ridiculous. But it is typical of our current politics: it expresses the felt need to "do something" about anything unsatisfactory in the world, while doing it without any real commitment or any real likelihood of success. It is based on the same sort of sentiment that regards NFL players wearing pink shoes for a month as an important step forward in curing breast cancer.

The History of David Stove's Career

A rather blunt, stupid man, unable to make sense of any of the great philosophers, decides it is because they are all irrationally worshiped. UPDATE : I am not really being just to Stove in calling him stupid. He can be very clever at times. What is really going on is that he is completely unwilling to try to enter into the thought of any philosopher whose ideas upset his prejudices. And this unwillingness makes him stupid when discussing any such philosopher's ideas.


Another example. These signs are up all over town: I have no idea if expanding this compressor is a good idea or not. And I guarantee you that 90% of the people putting up these signs don't either. What they do know is that all of the "caring" sort of people have them up, so they had better too.

I Feel the Monkey in Your Soul

You know your are in the presence of a shibboleth when you see something being repeated again and again that adds absolutely nothing to the substance of what is being talked about. One modern instance of this is the frequent dropping of "our monkey brains" and such into discussions of almost anything to do with human cognition. This happens often over at Language Log: consider this post . What in the world does mentioning "plains apes" add to the discussion, except a shibboleth? Nothing. It is not as if we could see that if we were culturally-evolved forest lizards, we would have no such problems. It is not as though people prior to the formulation of the theory of evolution were unaware of human cognitive difficulties. And it is not as if we have the typical scalar-predicate-handling ability of the average ape, which is exactly zero. No, quite the opposite: the real surprise if not that an ape is using scalar predicates badly, but that it is using them at all.

A poem for a friend

God or no God? Makes no difference: practice! Buddha mind or no Buddha mind? Makes no difference: practice! Soul or no soul? Makes no difference: practice! What is enlightenment? A hammer banging in the distance

A dull-witted sensor?

I bought a new dehumidifier. Like every other one I have owned, water from the air is extracted into a bucket. If the bucket is full, the machine stops dehumidifying. And the same thing happens if you remove the bucket, say, to empty it. But, unlike with any other dehumidifier I have owned, with this one, that doesn't happen right away. In fact, I have time to carry the bucket to the sink a few feet away, empty it, and put it back in place before the machine stops dehumidifying! I find this behavior baffling. The mechanism that detects the bucket is gone must work almost instantly, mustn't it? And then it's got to be sending a signal electronically to the "brain" of the machine. Did the manufacture intentionally build in a delay? Why in the world would one do that? Could the cost of starting up the dehumidifying process be high enough to justify a long delay like this? Silas? Ken? Any other engineers out there?

Maybe I am prejudiced, or perhaps it is just my pride...

but I am having a lot of trouble getting into Jane Austen. Don't get me wrong: she is an excellent writer. I truly appreciate her exemplary skill. No, it is the characters. I am 30 pages into Pride and Prejudice , and I find myself hoping that on page 31 a nuclear weapon wipes out Meryton and some characters I am vaguely interested in move in afterwards.

The significance of my quotations

Sometimes blog readers think that if I quote something here, I must be endorsing the quotation. But that misses the main purpose of this blog: it is first and foremost my writer's notebook. The fact that some others seem to enjoy reading what I jot down here is an added bonus, and I appreciate their feedback, but it is secondary. So as I read, I collect quotes here that I find interesting. Some of them I might strongly disagree with. Others I agree with. Yet others I may not know for years whether I agree or disagree with. Just so you know.

Science does not deal with concrete reality

"All the matters about which science speaks, whatever the science be, are abstract, and abstract things are always clear. So that the clarity of science is not so much in the heads of scientists as in the matters of which they speak. What is really confused, intricate, is the concrete vital reality, always a unique thing." -- José Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses , p. 156

Who could have imagined?

Wild, anti-police rhetoric actually leads to anti-police violence : "Frein has held anti-law enforcement views for many years and has expressed them both online and to people who knew him, said Lt. Col. George Bivens."

What ever is of ultimate importance

is useless. I forget where I picked up this idea from, but its proof is very easy. Something is useful if it is useful for purpose X. For instance, sleep is useful to maintain our health. But this means that maintaining our health is what is truly important here, while sleep derives its importance from that goal. Therefore, it follows that whatever is of ultimate importance cannot be useful, because that would mean it derived its importance from something else for which it was used, which would mean it is not of ultimate importance after all.

Ortega y Gasset on the specialist

"We shall have to say he is a learned ignoramus, which is a very serious matter, as implies that he is a person who is ignorant, not in the fashion of the ignorant man, but with all the petulance of one who is learned in his own special line. "And such in fact is the behaviour of the specialist. In politics, in art, in social usages, in the other sciences, he will adopt the attitude of primitive, ignorant man; but he will adopt them forcefully and with self-sufficiency, and will not admit of--this is the paradox--specialists in those matters. By specializing him, civilisation has made him hermetic and self-satisfied within his limitations; but this very inner feeling of dominance and worth will induce him to wish to predominate outside his specialty." -- The Revolt of the Masses , p. 112 Ortega y Gasset could not have better described the attitude of many contemporary physicists, such as Hawking, towards philosophy. While I would never dream of challenging anything Hawki

A Hayekian Caveat About Mass Immigration

Here .

Calling someone who thinks that there might be an optimal number of immigrants...

less than infinity "anti-immigrant" is like calling someone who thinks there might be an optimal amount of calories consumed less than infinity "anti-eating."

Philosophy is not "useful"

"Philosophy needs neither protection, attention or sympathy from the masses. It maintains its character of complete inutility, and thereby frees itself from all subservience to the average man." -- José Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses , p. 86

"False" doctrines are usually one-sided views of the truth

"Hence, Bolshevism and Fascism, the two "new" attempts in politics that are being made in Europe and on its borders, are two clear examples of essential retrogression. Not so much by the positive content of their doctrine, which, taken in isolation, naturally has its partial truth--what is there in the universe which has not some particle of truth?--as on account of the anti -historic, anachronistic way in which they handled the rational elements which the doctrine contains." -- José Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses , p. 92

Property ownership is based on violence: Who said it?

No googling! "All ownership derives from occupation and violence. [...] That all rights derive from violence, all ownership from appropriation or robbery, we may freely admit..."

State trooper assassinated 10 miles from my house

And another was injured . This was someone who just went gunning to kill some cops. To all of you who keep posting that all cops are thugs and are our enemy, this is the logical outcome of your words. You may be just playing to the crowd to get a bunch of your like-minded friends to like your posts, but there are people out there who will take your words seriously.

Is Caplan joshing us?

I am hard put to say whether Bryan Caplan really takes this argument seriously, or if he just thinks it works rhetorically with some people: "What would you think about a law that said that blacks couldn’t get a job without the government’s permission, or women couldn’t get a job without the government’s permission, or gays or Christians or anyone else?" George Mason economist Bryan Caplan asks. It's a pretty easy question. Obviously, such a law is discriminatory on its face, serves no rational purpose, and is unacceptable in a liberal democracy. But Caplan continues: "So why, exactly, is it that people who are born on the wrong side of the border have to get government permission just to get a job?" Well Bryan, it is because they don't. Someone born in Canada does not need the permission of the American government to get a job. They can take any job they want in Canada, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter, without checking with the American gove

Ortega y Gasset on what constitutes a world

"For this is the fundamental meaning of the idea 'world.' The world is the sum total of our vital possibilities. It is not then something apart from and foreign to our existence, it is its actual periphery." -- The Revolt of the Masses , p. 41 This gets at the heart of why the imaginary, abstract world of physical objects existing apart from all consciousness is not really a world at all: it is not a world to anyone or to anything. It contains no vital possibilities.

The stupid aspects of the universe

"Physical space and time are the absolutely stupid aspects of the universe." -- Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses , p. 39

How readers approach a piece of intellectual writing

"the present writer, when he takes his pen in hand to treat a subject which he has studied deeply, has to bear in mind that the average reader, who has never concerned himself with this subject, if he reads does so with the view, not of learning something from the writer, but rather, of pronouncing judgment on him when he is not in agreement with the commonplaces that the said reader carries in his head." -- José Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses , p. 18

The occupation of Fiume (1919)

Is it perhaps the only time in history that a poet (Garbiele d'Annunzio) led the invasion of a city?

A simple way to promote worker owned firms in our tax code

Josiah Neeley ask me how I thought corporations like this one could be promoted through policy. A relatively simple way would be to extend eligibility for S corporation status to firms with over 100 shareholders, so long as: 1) The majority of shareholders are employees; and 2) The majority of employees are shareholders. (Of course these conditions could be tweaked, so that the requirements might be two-thirds and two-thirds, for instance.) Such companies would face no corporate taxation.

Political perfectionism

Oakeshott sometimes referred to the rationalist style of politics as "politics as the crow flies." I had occasion to think of the phrase today, while listening to an educational administrator on NPR. She -- I think she was the head honcho of the Newark public school system, but I never heard her title or her name, and it doesn't really matter to this post anyway -- was defending the Newark charter schools. Apparently they are producing some great results. But a caller, whose daughter is actually in a charter school, was very worried about the fact that not every child in Newark is getting this great education her daughter is. The administrator immediately conceded that the caller's point was a matter of grave concern, and talked about a plan being worked on to ensure that every child does receive this excellent education. We all know that this will not happen. There are social pathologies in poor neighborhoods that leave too many young residents simply incapable of p

Capitalism done the right way?

E.F. Schumacher, in his book Small Is Beautiful , describes the Scott Bader Commonwealth, a chemical company where the founder turned much of his ownership over to the employees, and created a "constitution" that guaranteed a limited company size, a low ratio of remuneration between the highest and lowest paid employees (7-to-1), a no firing policy (since everyone was a partner), and guaranteed charitable contributions. At the time Schumacher was writing, in 1973, the company had been successful for over 20 years with this constitution in place. But, I wondered, how had the company fared through another 40+ years of market tests? Pretty darned well , it turns out. Here is a nice reform idea: let us rewrite our incorporation laws to favor company structures like this one. Efficiency should not be the only test of our social institutions: their humanity might be an even better one.


"A person goes by a signpost only in so far as there is a regular use of signposts, a custom." -- Ludwig Wittgenstein

No smoking

Professor Daniel Robinson of Oxford, in a very nice lecture series entitled Consciousness and Its Implications (Alex take note!), spends some time discussing rule following from a Wittgensteinian perspective. As Wittgenstein carefully demonstrated, "following a rule" is not at all the simple thing it appears to be at first glance. Professor Robinson illustrates this point with the example of a "No Smoking" sign in a restaurant. He considers three different reactions to the sign by people who we can imagine to be alien to American customs to varying degrees. (Robinson actually makes the third reactor a space alien.) 1) Person one understands "smoking" to mean the direct inhalation of tobacco products. However, as he enjoys the smell of tobacco burning, he simply lights a cigarette and leaves it burning on a plate at his table, thinking he is not thereby smoking. He has violated the rule, despite thinking that he is following it. 2) Person two understands t


"A person goes by a signpost only in so far as there is a regular use of signposts, a custom." -- Ludwig Wittgenstein

Another renowned physicist on mind and matter

"[T]here is a universal flux that cannot be defined explicitly but which can be known only implicitly, as indicated by the explicitly definable forms and shapes, some stable and some unstable, that can be abstracted from the universal flux. In this flow, mind and matter are not separate substances . Rather, they are different aspects of our whole and unbroken movement." -- David Bohm (emphasis mine)

Is Idealism Anti-Physics?

Let one of the physics greats assure you it is not: "As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter." -- Max Planck

And someone paid lawyers good money to write this!

On the news tonight, I heard that there is trouble with the BP settlement concerning the gulf oil spill. BP feels people are fraudulently claiming lawsuits. Who should have been eligible to claim a loss and get compensation? As I recall from what they kept repeating on the radio, it was much like "Anyone who suffered an economic loss due to the oil spill." Well, it is no wonder that there is trouble afoot: what an incredibly vague criterion! If I fished for shrimp in the gulf, and could not fish for many months after the spill, it is clear that I qualify. But what about the fellow who serviced the engine of my fishing boat? What about the guy who serviced the van of the guy who serviced the engine of my fishing boat? What about the woman who sold that guy his sandwich and coffee in the morning? What about her babysitter? For all I know, maybe *I* suffered economic loss due to the gulf oil spill. I'm thinking perhaps I should become a highly paid corporate lawyer. I have b

Why idealists say that an object apart from all experience is "a mere abstraction"

Id asked me about this in the comments of another post. Let us consider the question in the context of a house, since that was the object in the original post. Let us posit a house claimed to be existing apart from all experience, that of humans as well as any universal mind. Now we ask of the person making this claim: "What color is this house?" He will have to admit that it is of no color whatsoever, as color is an interaction between an observer and an object observed. "What is the texture of the house?" we ask. He will have to admit that it has no texture, since a texture is an interaction between an observer and an object observed. (As Berkeley noted, this kind of thing will be very different depending upon whether a human or a dust mite is answering the question: A surface that is smooth to a human might be mountainous to a dust mite.) "What sound will the house make when a rock hits it?" He will have to admit that it is no sound at all, since a soun

Arguing with an Ancap

Rob and Gene go to the market

Some people are puzzled over why the rules governing the market can't themselves be an outcome of the market. (Claiming they can't is not the same as saying what goes on in real markets won't influence the rules!) Let us then imagine Rob and Gene have been cleaning out their pads and finding stuff they don't need, and so they agree to meet at "the market" to exchange things. "What rules will govern this market?" Gene asks. "Oh, we don't need to set up some committee to determine this: let's just let the market itself decide the rules!" replies Rob. "OK," thinks the devious Gene. They arrive at the agreed upon spot, and Rob lays out the goods he wishes to trade. "What will you give me?" he asks. "This," Gene replies, and whacks him on the head with a mallet. Rob passes out, and when he comes to, he looks for Gene to complain. He finds Gene has dragged all the goods Rob brought back into h

Correcting Russell on Berkeley

From a working paper (and a very hard-working one too, I might add): ***************************************** Bertrand Russell devotes a chapter of his History of Western Philosophy to Berkeley . After a generally accurate discussion of the role of God in Berkeley’s metaphysics, he claims: “If there were no God, what we take to be material objects would have a jerky life, suddenly leaping into being when we look at them; but as it is, owing to God’s perceptions, trees and rocks and stones have an existence as continuous as common sense supposes.” (1945: 647) But this is absurd: for Berkeley, without God, there would simply be no “material” objects (or other beings to see their jerky existence, for that matter). What characterizes something for Berkeley as being a part of the physical world is that it has existence not just in a human mind, but in the mind of God: that is what gives it its solidity, its ineleuctable character. Russell goes on to discuss Berkeley’s “argument

OK, Google Docs is worse than a joke

It is supposed to be "compatible" with Microsoft Word. I had a document extensively formatted in Word, with about twenty styles or so. But to edit it on my Chromebook, I had to use Docs. Well, importing destroyed almost all of my styles and a lot of the formatting that went with them. But I had edited the document quite a bit before I discovered the full extent of the devastation. "All right," I thought, "I'll bite the bullet and re-create all of these styles in Google Docs." But wait a second: I see a few styles, but how do I create my own? There doesn't seem to be any "New Style" menu option... Oh, here we go . You just... WHAAAAAT?!! You can have custom styles, apparently, so long as they are all named "Heading X," where X is an integer. So, I can create styles, but I can't name them "Bibliography" or "LongQuote" or "Equation." No, I have to memorize what number each style is! O, and

How the false scent of consent led us astray

As in so much else, it was in the 17th century when things began to go seriously astray. The 17th century had its tremendous triumphs, but in a way these are the very source of the problems it bequeathed us. Like a childhood prodigy who achieves tremendous success early in one subject, and therefore comes to believe he is good at everything and has nothing to learn from his elders, 17th-century thinkers took the advances being made in physics in their time as evidence that the solution to all human problems was at hand, and only required employing the same approach that had advanced physics to everything. Atomism was in the air, and was naturally carried over to social thought by understanding individual human beings as analogous to physical atoms. But what would bind these atoms together into a society? Since it was not completely forgotten that these were moral atoms, consent seemed a plausible candidate. And so in Hobbes, Locke, and the American founders we get the notion that a

Hamlet soliloquy mashup

I read the famous "to be or not to be" soliloquy to Siri, continually switching my input language is I did so (while continuing to read in English). James Joyce would have liked the result I think: ******************************************* To be or Nacci B: Ben il est équation Bei der Lektüre Snowboard in gemeint tschüss suffer El sueño hacer arroz o outrageous fortune, Oggi Telecom Circles SE auf Jobbox, Un pareil à part août cinq end them? To die: Missouri, No more; en pagas güey Chelsea y Willy end The heartache Andy draußen Nerd Frau Sharks Flash deals heir to, tu essayes train de ses mèches Choacahui chipi web. To die, Küssli; Si si: corcheas Cheo dream: ay, there's Vibrator Four in that Slipknot e quattro dreams Weltraum Berwick lascia poco this mortal coil Masques passeport

Market Anarchism...

is the idea that the rules of the market themselves should be decided on the market. It is very similar to the idea that the rules of NBA games should be decided by the outcome of NBA games.

Did Buddha Achieve Enlightenment?

I say "No." Because that way of expressing things gets it backwards. From the point of view of the possesive ego, enlightenment is a disaster: it confirms that ego's worst fear: that it does not really exist as a substantial entity. From the point of view of Siddhartha Gautama's pre-enlightened ego, he completely screwed up at that moment he stopped trying to achieve enlightenment (which all along was a trick of the ego to block actually achieving it) and accidentally did so in the process. This is what Tolkein called the "eucatastrophe," which is portrayed symbolically at the climax of The Lord of the Rings . The ego (Frodo) can tell itself it is on a quest to destroy the ring of power (its attempt to manipulate reality to sustain the illusion of its own solidity), but it cannot achieve its goal: its very belief in its existence as a solid entity depends upon the failure of the quest, and at the edge of destruction (as it sees things), it attempts to seize

Aristotle discovers pure mind

" It is clear then from what has been said that  there is a substance which is eternal and unmovable and separate from sensible  things. It has been shown also that this substance cannot have any magnitude,  but is without parts and indivisible (for it produces movement through  infinite time, but nothing finite has infinite power; and, while every  magnitude is either infinite or finite, it cannot, for the above reason,  have finite magnitude, and it cannot have infinite magnitude because there  is no infinite magnitude at all). But it has also been shown that it is  impassive and unalterable; for all the other changes are posterior to change  of place." --   Metaphysics , Book XII

Aristotle on the desire to know

"ALL men by nature desire to know. An indication of this  is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness  they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight.  For not only with a view to action, but even when we are not going to do  anything, we prefer seeing (one might say) to everything else. The reason  is that this, most of all the senses, makes us know and brings to light  many differences between things." -- Metaphysics , Book I I am always stunned by academics who demand a "point," some practical guidance to action, from any and all research. Do they not have a sense of curiosity that wants to be satisfied even if there is nothing to "do" with what one discovers?

Good history is not about determining the veracity of sources

"For lies, Mademoiselle, tell a listener just as much as truth can. Sometimes they tell more." -- Agatha Christie, Sad Cypress What a great historical thinker!

Hume's theory of causation...

has pretty obvious problems, doesn't it? If it were really just "constant conjunction" that led us to posit causes, everyone would believe that the buying of summer fashions caused the hot weather that follows, right?

Real business cycle theory is not a cycle theory at all

I have pointed this out before, and got some flack for saying it, which is surprising given the fact that RBC proponents have boasted of this as a feature of their theory. Anyway, here is Noah Smith making this point: "In fact, RBC is really sort of a giant null hypothesis -- a claim that the phenomenon known as the business cycle is just an illusion, and that recessions are the normal, smooth functioning of an efficient economy."

In Ancapistan, if you get shot, it was voluntary

Rob and George recently graduated from Hillsdale College and State U., respectively. They have been friends since childhood, and decide they will move near each other in Vermont so they can continue their friendship. But they have different political views, so while George picks the small town of Statesburg, Rob chooses to move to the private community of Ancapsville. Rob feels sure his choice is morally superior to that of George, and tries to convince him that this is so. Their dialogues on this point go something like this: Rob: Ancapsville was founded in 1995 when The Pepzi Brothers Foundation bought 2500 acres of land from a lumber company. They constructed roads, divided the land into parcels of one to four acres each and sold them to builders or people who planned to live in the community. That set up a charter for the community which set the initial rules, and established how a democratically elected community board would take over from the corporation once a sufficient