Jeremy Pierce: July 2009 Archives

Now that I've seen Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, here are my rankings of the movies and books at this point.

Movies rankings:

1. Chamber of Secrets (movie 2)
2. Sorceror's Stone (movie 1)
3. Half-Blood Prince (movie 6)
4. Prisoner of Azkaban (movie 3)
5. Goblet of Fire (movie 4)
6. Order of the Phoenix (movie 5)

Books rankings:

1. Deathly Hallows (book 7)
2. Order of the Phoenix (book 5)
3. Goblet of Fire (book 4)
4. Half-Blood Prince (book 6)
5. Prisoner of Azkaban (book 3)
6. Chamber of Secrets (book 2)
7. Sorceror's Stone (book 1)

Isn't it interesting that how much I liked the movies is roughly inversely proportional to how much I liked the books? Part of what influences it is how faithful the movies are to the books, not that I insist on getting it exactly like the book, but until the latest film they were increasingly leaving out significant parts of the books, even parts that help explain otherwise unexplained phenomena or actions of characters. It left a much less satisfying experience, especially if you knew that there was an explanation in the books. Plus a lot of the scenes and entire plotlines that were left out were fun, interesting, and suspense-building. When you consider that the movies were actually getting shorter as the books got longer, it just drives home the disappointment, because there was so much room for more in Order of the Phoenix, the longest of the books but the shortest of the movies.

I expected Half-Blood Prince to be an improvement over the last few, because the book is much shorter than the two previous books, and they were willing to make it a longer movie. I figured they'd be able to include a higher percentage of plotlines and scenes from the book, and I was right. They were. There were still places where they changed things needlessly (most annoyingly at the end where they made Harry's incapacity to act because of Dumbledore's spell into a moral choice not to act). There wouldn't have been a huge increase in time if they'd explained a few things a little better with explanations from the book. The most unexplainable thing was the scene they completely made up that wasn't in the book at all with the Christmas attack. Harry's actions there made no sense. But it was far superior to the three previous movies, which all had major plots missing. What was missing from this was no more than what was missing from Prisoner of Azkaban, but it affected the plot less, so I place it above that. I didn't understand from the movie alone everything that had happened by the end, and I didn't get it fully until I read the book.

This film should be understandable in the most crucial ways to those who haven't read the book, and it's the first one since the two directed by Chris Columbus that that's true of, at least in the most important aspects. But those stories made complete sense in pretty much every way as films, and they didn't cut major plots the way this one did with the private lessons Dumbledore gave Harry all year about Voldemort's past, which they abbreviated far too much in the movie to be satisfying. I also thought they shouldn't have cut out the Professor Trelawney storyline, which both explains more on her prophecies, which will play a big role in the next one (although maybe they'll find a way to put it in that one instead). They didn't explain the Room of Requirement well, why Harry couldn't get in, why it looked different from it did in Order of the Phoenix when he did, and why it looked like what it looked for for Malfoy. They had Ginny hide the book rather than Harry, and I wonder if that will create problems when they need to return in the final movie for the item that in the book Harry sees while hiding his potions book. Leaving out the new Minister of Magic might make it harder to explain the transition for the Ministry near the beginning of book 7 as well, and the absence of the house elves again might create problems for when they have to reintroduce Dobby and Kreacher in the next one.

I'm hoping that the decision to split Deathly Hallows into two movies will prevent it from being any worse than this outing, since there really is a lot to include, and pretty much all of the necessary parts could easily make two three-hour movies if done well (and they're shooting for two to two-and-a-half hours per movie). They're going to have to trim some things, as they did here. I'm just hoping that they choose a little more judiciously than they did with a few things in this film.


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The 287th Christian Carnival is up at Brain Cramps for God.

Two Sotomayors

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The Senate Judiciary Committee voted almost along party lines yesterday to send Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the full Senate for a confirmation vote. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was the only Republican to vote in favor of her nomination. Two other senators, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), voted for the very first time in fairly lengthy Senate careers against a Supreme Court nominee. What's interesting about this is that this nominee's actual judicial record is probably more moderate than anyone else on President Obama's shortlist, and her decisions have been more moderate than several nominees Senators Hatch and Grassley have confirmed. So what's going on here?

I think there are two explanations. One has to do with our location in the history of the judicial confirmation process. The other has to do with the Two Sotomayors narrative that the Republican senators have been crafting. I've talked about the judicial confirmation process before (most recently here). I do think Republicans are getting frustrated that they've been letting Democratic judicial nominees sail through because of their commitment to give presidents deference, while Democrats have been blocking, filibustering, and voting against nominees who are as qualified and as ideologically-mainstream as the nominees Republicans have not opposed. Even some who are committed to showing presidents deference are going to moderate that commitment in such a setting if they think the judiciary is at stake because of the practical consequences of the two parties having different approaches to the amount of deference senators should give the president. This probably gives the second issue more weight than it might otherwise have, but I think it's at least a significant driving force in Republican resistance to Judge Sotomayor's nomination, even if they're not saying this in their explanations for their votes.

The explicit reason most of the Republican senators are giving depends on a running narrative from the Republican senators on the judiciary committee about the Sonia Sotomayor of her speeches and the Sonia Sotomayor of her decisions, and they want to know which one will appear on the Supreme Court if she's confirmed. Some of these differences are overstated, but some issues do raise a concern for many people. We might assume that a judge who has consistently ruled in an unbiased way in the majority of cases (which all sides agree is true of her) will continue to do so on the Supreme Court, even if she has expressed views in speeches that might seem at odds with that. It's been interesting to see some of the Democratic senators defending the speeches outright, while others have insisted on standing by her judicial record as a way of creating distance between her judicial decisions and her public statements.

Sotomayor herself has notably taken the second approach and backtracked from a number of things that she seems to have clearly endorsed in those speeches, emphasizing that her decisions have consistently applied the law and not interpreted it in light of the things the speeches seem to involve. She has articulated a view in her hearings on the relevance of foreign law to judging that sounds more like Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito in their resistance to use of foreign law for interpreting U.S. law and the U.S. Constitution. Consider her written response to Senator Sessions' questions:

In my view, American courts should not rely on decisions of foreign courts as binding or controlling precedent, except when American law requires a court to do so. In some limited circumstances, decisions of foreign courts can be a source of ideas, just as law review articles or treatises can be sources of ideas. The Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment cases establish how the Court considers constitutional challenges to the death penalty, and I accept those decisions.

On the other hand, her speeches on the subject sounded more like Justices Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, who have on several occasions used foreign law as a reason to consider evolving standards of decency or a new national consensus of policy preferences as reasons to take the U.S. Constitution and U.S. laws to mean something very different from what they originally meant and have meant for the entire history of interpretation (e.g. on what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment or how to interpret due process in the 14th Amendment).

In these cases she's right to say that there were other issues, so the appeal to foreign law doesn't determine the outcome by itself, but a lot of readers have come away from the opinions with the impression that foreign law was driving it to begin with, and the justices had to find some way to justify their policy preference rather than simply deciding things according to precedent or what the text of the Constitution requires. So what she says here seems to me to be at odds with what it seems to me that these decisions she cites favorably actually do. Also, her speech on this question expressed concerns about how the United States would be viewed if we were significantly at odds with international law on important issues. A judge could be concerned about how our laws are viewed as a step toward arguing for changes in the laws via legislative process, but this statement wasn't in a speech advocating that. It was in a speech advocating the use of foreign law to get ideas for what judges in the U.S. can do.

Given a difference between her opinions as a judge and her speeches as a private citizen, the distinction between appellate judges and Supreme Court justices might make all the difference in which one of those would appear on the Supreme Court. If her views from her speeches really are worrisome, and the only thing keeping her from enacting them is that she's bound by Supreme Court precedent and Second Circuit precedent in her current role, with a Supreme Court review always possible for any decision she renders, then she will be freed from those constraints on the Supreme Court. That's why the narrative of the Two Sotomayors is still compelling for many people as an argument against her nomination. It's no defense, if this is right, to point out that most of her decisions have been in terms of legal rather than policy arguments or to point out that she hasn't based her decisions on empathy but on the law.

Welcome to the 94th Philosophers' Carnival. Sorry for its lateness. It's been harder to devote time to this over the last few days than I expected.

We've got a number of submissions on a variety of philosophical topics. If you submitted a post, and it isn't here, don't assume that I rejected it deliberately. Please let me know, and I'll check to see if I may have missed a submission or if it never got to me. But please be aware that hosts are given some discretion to accept and reject posts, and I had to make a call as to whether each submission was sufficiently philosophical (and at least one was outside the time period for this carnival). I did reject some submissions that didn't seem to me to be good fits for this carnival.

I'm going to organize the posts according to sub-topics within philosophy, and I'm going to provide a description of each post in Academic Philosopherese along with an English translation (or, more accurately, paraphrase).


I totally missed this. According to Dale Carpenter, the Obama Administration has endorsed all the conservative arguments against same-sex marriage. I wonder if that's a bit of an exaggeration, but it does seem as if one important argument that's roundly derided by most of my philosopher friends is present in the DOJ brief, and it's an argument that I think is exactly right (even if very unpopular among those who favor same-sex marriage).

The DOJ argues that it doesn't violate equal protection on sexual orientation grounds to fail to recognize same-sex marriage, because gay and straight people aren't getting different marriage rights as each other. Gay men are free to marry anyone of the same group that straight men are free to marry -- women. It's true that gay men can't marry other gay men, but neither can straight men. So any discrimination that's taking place isn't according to sexual orientation. Men of both orientations (gay and straight) are being treated equally. You might argue that it's unfair because one is able to marry according to their preference and the other isn't, but they are strictly speaking given the same marriage rights, and it isn't discrimination along sexual-orientation lines. There's a much better explanation of what's going on, which I'll get to in a moment. But I wanted to say that I'm glad someone left-of-center is acknowledging this, because it seems obviously true to me and seems completely the wrong way to argue that this is discrimination. (The DOJ apparently doesn't intend to argue that right now about marriage, though. The Obama position is pretty clear that there shouldn't be a federal-level recognition of same-sex marriage but that there should be a federal-level recognition of civil unions with all the civil rights that marriage would convey.)

I've seen all manner of twists of logic to try to resist this conclusion, but I don't know how you could get around it. It's not sexual-orientation discrimination to treat all gay men and straight men equally any more than Prohibition was discrimination against drinkers of alcohol. It simply wasn't. Everyone was prohibited from alcohol, not just drinkers. It certainly affects those who drink in a way that it doesn't affect those who don't, but that doesn't mean that drinkers were being discriminated against, since that would involve being singled out with a law that doesn't apply to others. Being singled out with a law that others don't care about isn't the same thing as being singled out with a law that only would apply to some people. Requiring people to wear motorcycle helmets doesn't affect me because I don't ride a motorcycle, but I'd have to wear a helmet if I were to ride one, so it's not discrimination against motorcycle riders.

Nevertheless, there's a discrimination argument that the DOJ brief doesn't acknowledge. In fact, there are two. I think these arguments are both also very obvious once you consider them, so it surprises me that they don't deal with them at all. Most people on the right on this issue don't accept these arguments, and I think there are things they can say in order to justify such resistance, but the claim in both cases does seem at least initially plausible to me.

One kind of discrimination involved with not allowing same-sex marriage is discrimination against couples on the basis of their being same-sex. The above argument is only about individuals. I don't think this would be discrimination against a gay individual, but you could much more easily argue that a couple who is same-sex is being discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation. Technically speaking, that's not right either. Two straight men could, in principle, decide to go against their sexual orientation and seek civil marriage. The discrimination here isn't really according to sexual orientation, then, but according to same-sex pairings vs. opposite-sex pairings. Treating a same-sex couple and an opposite-sex couple differently is discriminating against the couple who is being denied a privilege or right that the other couple is given.

(This gets immensely complicated in terms of the logic of it once you accept intersexual, transgender, or transsexual members of pairings, so I'm ignoring that for the sake of this argument. I don't think it affects what I'm trying to argue in any significant way, so I think for simplicity's sake it's not problematic to do so.)

The other argument is still about individuals but is not about sexual orientation at all. Denying a man the right to marry another man is discrimination if women are allowed that right. The same is true of denying a woman the right to marry another woman when a man can do so. But this isn't sexual-orientation discrimination. It's sex-discrimination. Men are given certain rights or privileges not given to women, and women have rights or privileges men don't have. This argument seems to me that it should be utterly obvious once it's made clear.



The 287th Christian Carnival will be hosted this coming Wednesday at Brain Cramps for GodThe Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see the Christian Carnival archive.

 
To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:

Calminianism

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Craig Blomberg recently announced that he's a Calminian, which turns out to be a Molinist with a creative new name. Molinism is a mediating position between open theism and Calvinism. Calvinists believe that God knows the future because God has planned it all out in a way that God's initiative leads to everything that happens in some sense. Open theists believe that God doesn't know everything that will happen, because human free choices are unpredictable. Molinism is an attempt to retain the libertarian freedom whereby we can choose things in a way that nothing (or nothing outside us) causes those choices, God included, while insisting that God can still predict what we'll do.

God knows what we will do because God has what philosophers call middle knowledge. God knows what any free being would do under any circumstance. So God knows what I would have been doing right now if I had chosen to apply to graduate school in my senior year instead of a year later, because he knows what all the free choices of every person in the world would have been in that scenario and can trace out what they all would have done in the time since. The way God remains sovereign is that God can arrange events in such a way that people will freely choose the things God intends them to choose. So the degree of control God possesses is as strong as Calvinists think, but the causal relationship between God and the choice is much weaker.

Molinism can't work, because it fails in one key aspect. It assumes certain kinds of truths that can't exist if we have libertarian freedom. Libertarianism requires a genuine possibility of doing any of multiple options. If there's a fact about what I'll do in certain situations, then I don't have libertarian freedom. Philosophers call these facts about what I'll do in a certain situation counterfactuals of freedom. According to Molinism, there'a a counterfactual of freedom for any possible scenario. That means there's a truth of what I would do in any situation. The question is what explains why these counterfactuals are true. It can't be any facts about the world as it exists now or in the past, because then I would be caused to act in a way that libertarians deny. It can't be facts about the future, because free choices aren't explained by backward causation. If there's any fact that explains the truth of these counterfactuals, then it threatens predetermination, and we're left without libertarian freedom. So to preserve libertarian freedom, we'd have to deny that there's anything that makes these counterfactuals of freedom true. Nothing at all explains why there are such counterfactual truths. But if nothing explains why they would be true, then there must not be any true such counterfactuals. So middle knowledge is impossible if libertarianism is true.

Now I don't think libertarianism is true. I don't think freedom requires this absolute power to do something contrary to what we actually do. Libertarians insist that our choices can't be explained by any events within us, but I think freedom makes no sense unless our character and internal nature lead to our choices. When I want my choices to be free, what I want is for my own desires and character to lead to what I do in the right sort of way. So freedom doesn't conflict with being caused. It requires it. This compatibilism about freedom and predetermination is exactly what Calvinists have long insisted on. A Calvinist has no problem accepting middle knowledge, also. God certainly does know what free human beings would do when faced with any particular situation, so God knows what I would do in any alternative situation from what I actually do face. Middle knowledge isn't incoherent. It's just incompatible with libertarian views of human freedom. Thus it doesn't rescue exhaustive foreknowledge and libertarian freedom in the way Molinists want it to.

So that's the view that Craig says he's adopting when he says he's a Calminian, and that's why I don't think it really does what it's supposed to do. But there are several things he goes on to say that don't make any sense to me.

A friend of mine on Facebook left a comment in response to a status update to the effect that there's an inconsistency in much of the rhetoric from the left when it comes to our attitude toward the next generation. I think this is a problem for both sides, actually. You can often find people who will issue very harsh criticisms of those on the other side for ignoring the devastating consequences of either inaction or a particular course of action on a certain issue, while the same people will ignore the devastating consequences of inaction or a certain course of action on a different issue.

You hear a lot about how we're failing in our responsibilities to the next generation if we allow climate change to continue at the rate it's going. Yet the same people who make these urgent calls to think about the next generation are happy to spend massive amounts of money that we couldn't hope to pay for in several generations, even if (as is likely) President Obama has to settle for significant departures from his campaign promises about taxes. (See note 1 below for more on this, which I decided was too intrusive to my argument to keep here.)

I would add that they're also happy to impose regulations that will almost certainly generate hardships for lower-earning wage-earners both in making it more difficult to buy new houses and cars with something like the cap-and-trade proposal currently at work or providing health insurance for people who don't have it, at the cost of making health care much worse on the whole for many people, including lower wage-earners whose employer currently does provide health insurance but who will be forced to move to worse health insurance as a result. (See note 2 for my own situation with respect to this, which I wanted to say something about but was also becoming too intrusive to my argument.)

But on the right, you can have similar inconsistencies. Some conservatives favor significant environmental regulation, but most want it limited. Some reject it entirely. Some of those who reject it are nevertheless environmentally conscious, taking it to be a problem we should do something about. For example, Dick Cheney, who is very generous with his money with regard to charitable donations, gives quite a lot of money every year to conservation-related charities, a good portion of of which (I believe) goes toward exploring technologies that will help deal with environmental problems more effectively than regulation could ever do. But there are conservatives who are simply not interested in environmental concerns, who nevertheless put a lot of effort into criticizing the Obama Administration and the current Democratic-led Congress for not caring about the future generations with their ridiculous levels of spending and regulation that will certainly have a negative impact on the next generation.


The 286th Christian Carnival is up at Thoughts and Confessions of a Girl Who Loves Jesus.

There's an ongoing debate about exactly what role senators should have in the process of confirming judicial nominees. The Constitution gives the President the role of appointing people to certain positions, including "Judges of the Supreme Court", but this role is qualified. It is to be done "by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate".

At this point there are two main views about what that advice and consent is supposed to be. Some senators have consistently maintained that ideology can play a role. If a senator disapproves of the ideology or perceived ideology of the nominee, it's perfectly fine to vote against the person's confirmation. Other senators have consistently maintained the view that senators should give significant deference to the president, voting to confirm any mainstream nominee who is qualified enough, even if the person tends significantly to the other side of the political spectrum or to a contrary judicial philosophy.

There are reasons for each view. Deference to the president makes some sense. When we vote for president, we do so while knowing what sort of judges the candidate is likely to appoint. Anyone who voted for Barack Obama while thinking he would appoint judicial conservatives to the bench is an idiot. Anyone who voted for George W. Bush while expecting him to appoint liberal justices to the Supreme Court wasn't paying attention to the kinds of justices he said he admired and would appoint. Mistakes can happen (as with Justice Souter with Bush's father), but you shouldn't expect your preferences to be fulfilled with judicial appointments if you vote for someone for president who has opposite preferences. Senators on the other side might say that elections have consequences and that presidents are owed some deference due to the political process. On the other hand, elections have consequences. Senators are elected. They represent the preferences of their constituents, and isn't the function of senators in judicial appointments part of what you should consider when you vote for someone for that office? So even on the democratic process argument, you might think it cuts both ways.

But other considerations have been offered against giving presidents a lot of deference on judicial nominations. One problem is that you still need to decide when to defer and when not to defer. How far outside the mainstream counts as sufficiently outside? Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito were both presented by Democratic senators as being outside the mainstream of conservative thought on evidence that's actually pretty similar to the evidence being used to argue that Judge Sotomayor is not outside the mainstream of judicial thought. It turns out, then, that this view isn't really a coherent, unified position. It's not about whether to give the president deference but about how much deference to give the president.

No one wants the Senate to rubber-stamp whoever the nominee is no matter what, so qualifications must matter, but it's not clear the ideological considerations are really separate from qualifications. Some would argue that an ideology that's very extreme actually disqualifies someone from being a good judge, because a good judge would interpret the law accurately and fairly, and extremist judges of certain sorts do not. But according to a judicial conservative, liberal jurisprudence then counts as a lack of qualifications. Any nominee who is ideologically liberal in terms of judicial philosophy is not a qualified nominee, and senators can vote against them on that basis and call it a matter of the nominee not being qualified.

So I'm no longer sure that the distinction between qualifications and ideology really explains much in terms of what senators should pay attention to, at least not in any way that will be agreed upon by a significant number of senators. Several other considerations also might favor looking to ideology. Some have argued that too much deference to the president leads to extremist judges on both sides, since presidents will get away with as much as they can if the Senate just defers.


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The 286th Christian Carnival will be hosted this coming Wednesday at Thoughts and Confessions of a Girl Who Loves JesusThe Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see the Christian Carnival archive.

 
To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:

Jerome Walsh's commentary on I Kings is probably the best thing out there on narrative issues in I Kings. I've heard good reports on it from several commentary reviews, and two people who have used it in their sermon preparation for our current sermon series in Kings have found it very helpful. It's fairly rare that he says anything that evangelicals would find problematic with regard to the nature of scripture, but I did identify one thing when reading his commentary on I Kings 11, and I don't think he can consistently maintain it given other things he says.

When discussing Solomon's failures as a king, Walsh says the following about the narrator's perspective underlying the critical account (from p.136):

Yahweh is described as "the God of Israel" to contrast with the other national deities named in verses 5 and 7. The concept here is very different from our own. The narrator presumes a polytheistic worldview: other gods besides Yahweh existed, and each deity had its own national sphere. The text does not understand Solomon's apostasy as turning away from the only true God to worship false gods. Solomon's evil is that he supported in Israel, Yahweh's own nation, the worship of Yahweh's rivals.

First of all, Walsh uses the wrong term. The view that there are other gods that you shouldn't worship and only one you should worship is not polytheism, which is the worship of many gods. It's called henotheism. There's evidence within the Bible itself that some people in ancient Israel were henotheists. There's actually more evidence that many were polytheists, including Solomon himself according to this passage. But the consistent message of the biblical narrators and prophets is not of henotheism but monotheism. The book of Kings is actually a pretty clear case of this. Solomon's speeches and prayers at the temple dedication are pretty clear that there is just one God who is sovereign over all the earth.

In fact, even four pages later Walsh seems to recognize this. In his discussion of the rebellions Solomon faced from two subjugated peoples (Edom and Aram) and one internal rebellion (Jeroboam), he emphasizes the narrator's theological perspective of Yahweh's sovereignty over the doings of those in other nations (p.140):

The effect of this heaping up of parallels is to recall that both Moses' and David's careers were divinely directed, and thereby to intensify considerably the impact of the claim that "God raised up" Hadad and Rezon. The same Yahweh who raised up Moses as Israel's savior, the same God who raised up David to be Israel's ideal king, now raises up adversaries to oppose Solomon. The punishment of Solomon and the impending disintegration of his empire become part of the sacred history of Yahweh's dealings with Israel, on part in importance with the Exodus and the covenant with David.

Such a view of Yahweh's role with respect to other nations doesn't necessarily require thinking the other gods don't exist. They might just be fairly impotent beings in comparison with Yahweh's sovereign might. But it's hard to see it as consistent with the view that the only reason to worship Yahweh is because he's the god who happens to be Israel's god, whereas other nations have real gods who happen to be their gods. It's very hard to put Walsh's own view of the narrative position of Kings together with his statement that Solomon's sin is disloyalty to the god who happens to be Israel's god. The text itself commands the view that Yahweh is sovereign over other nations in a way that there's no reason to consider worshiping them even if they do exist. In fact, any acknowledgement of their existence is consistent with thinking of them as something like demonic beings whose existence and actions are all subject to divine sovereignty in the same way the human figures in these accounts are.

Now I'm well aware of the view in scholarship that takes some of these accounts to have been written from different theological perspectives. The idea is that earlier materials assume many gods, and later authors added stuff that assumes one sovereign God. Walsh indicates agreement with this elsewhere (e.g. in note 9 on p.112). But Walsh is a narrative commentator, committing to dealing with the final form of the text. Surely if the final compilers agreed with the orthodox view that there is just one sovereign God, they would not have meant the discussion of Solomon's sin to reflect henotheistic concerns but monotheistic concerns. Anyone who could endorse the understanding of Yahweh's sovereignty over foreign kings could not think of those kings as properly worshiping their own gods over Yahweh, since Yahweh is the supreme God. Such a compiler/narrator would therefore not accept the view Walsh attributes to the narrator, and this is true even if many in Israel did hold such a henotheistic view at the time these events are describing. (Since many actually held full-out polytheism, which is what the text is criticizing, it's not a major concession to think many were henotheists as well.)

So I think Walsh's contention is extremely hard to reconcile with what he himself recognizes about the narrator's theology, and that's even conceding for the sake of argument that the original narrator of some passages was a henotheist (which I don't think is true to begin with).

We start off with Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) today. The senators are going through their second round, limited to 20 minutes each instead of 30 (and most aren't using the full time either).

I'm only going to comment if anything new occurs. A lot of these second-round questions are simply rehashing what they've talked about before.

Kyl challenges her on Ricci. She says she decided the case based on Second Circuit precedent. That applies in the original hearing of the case. She voted on the case the same way in the en banc review, when the whole Second Circuit heard it. He wants to know why she voted not to hear it en banc, given that precedent wouldn't bind her at that point. The district court decision doesn't bind her, and the Second Circuit precedent doesn't apply. So he wants to know what bound her to decide the same way then.

She says the three-judge panel opinion she issued was now precedent, making the district court opinion precedent. He says the Supreme Court said there was no precedent. She says that was on whether the circuit court decision used the right standard. Two provisions of Title VII need to be assured to be consistent with each other. That issue was raised with them but not with her panel. The outcome she came to wasn't based on that. He's trying to get her to admit that she wasn't bound by precedent when it came to voting to hear the Ricci case en banc but did so vote, and he wants her to explain why in terms other than precedent, because precedent doesn't bind her at that point. She won't admit that, but as far as I can tell it's true.

He reads from Judge Cabranes saying that cases are not typically dismissed with summary judgments when they are of this import. She doesn't seem to have anything to say about that either. He says the nine Supreme Court justices all said it shouldn't have been a summary judgment. He says there were three tests: the one the appellate court used, the one the Supreme Court went with, and the one the dissent went with. But all nine of them said it shouldn't have been a summary judgment. She says she doesn't read the opinion that way.

Kyl turns to a speech discussed by Senator Hatch yesterday about justice for an individual in a district court and justice for society in an appeals court. But in the appeals court, it's still supposed to be about justice for the individual. It might have the effect of building reliance on rule of law and creating precedent, but the decision is supposed to evaluate based on the law on this case. She agrees. The legislature's contribution to policy is making law. When judges follow the rule of law, they create precedent that then have a policy impact, but it's not in the sense of making law the way Congress does.


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The 285th Christian Carnival is up at The Minority Thinker.

Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) starts things off today. He's rehearsing the same worry about the different picture painted by her decisions as a judge and her public speeches, where the worry is that being less constrained on the Supreme Court would move her away from judging the way she has done on the Second Circuit and more like the picture she's presented in her speeches.

She says she stands by her words as she intended them but understands how people have taken them in a different way.

Cornyn moves on to the issue of the law being in flux. Why is the law indefinite? She says it's a matter of which legal cases apply. People bring cases because they believe precedents don't clearly answer the question at hand. They present facts that they say entitle them to relief under the law. Indefiniteness isn't about what the law is but how it's applied, and it leads people to believe it's unpredictable. Judges don't make law the way Congress does, but they apply law in new ways, as initiated by arguments of lawyers and not by judges themselves. Judges ensure the law applies to the facts, interpreted according to Congress's intent, being informed by precedents as applied to new facts.

A life experience as a prosecutor may help her understand things in a criminal case but not much in an anti-trust suit. Judges from a variety of backgrounds should increase public confidence because more issues will be addressed. It's not better addressed but it helps public confidence that all issues will be considered properly. She says in the particular paragraph she said we should ask the question as a possibility to think about. She wasn't answering it. She wasn't suggesting a difference in outcome, just a difference in process.

He keeps focusing on how physiological differences could do this. He's missing the point. She wasn't talking about physiological differences but different experiences. If he thinks men and women or whites and blacks have the same experiences, there's not much hope for her to convince him of this.

He asks if anyone asked her about views on abortion, and she says no one asked her anything about any specific issue. He asks why the White House would then assure abortion rights groups not to worry, and she says she knows no reason. She follows the law on all issues she addresses, and her record shows it.

He asks about the head partner of her firm saying she'd be clearly on the pro-choice side, and she says she never talked to him about that issue or any other social issue. She's upheld the law as it stands in every case she looked at. She upheld the Mexico City policy that prohibited federal funds for foreign abortions. She doesn't think he's read her 17-year judicial history, because he's a corporate litigator, and corporate litigators only read cases relevant to their current cases. He said she had liberal instincts, and she thinks he must be thinking equal opportunity is a liberal view, and she had pursued that as a board member of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund.

He wants to know why the court's opinion in Ricci was unpublished, denying the firefighters' claims without discussing them. She says the briefs were available to the other judges when they considered whether to review it en banc, so Judge Cabranes had access to that. She can't speak for his reasons why he chose to reconsider the case. The issues of the case weren't hidden from the other judges, though. 75% of circuit court judgments are by summary order. (Right, but this is a much more major question than most.) She cites the district court's long opinion as a need not to repeat all that.

So I guess I'll liveblog at least part of this today.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT): Most of this seems to be about the best characteristics of judges and the role of the judge.

Sotomayor: As a judge, her role isn't to make law. Her role is to decide whether the law, as it exists, has principles that apply to new situations. That sounds pretty good to me, although people who say that might have a wide variety of how they carry it out, and some might see others as not doing that at all.

Leahy asks her about the Ricci case (the Connecticut firefighters who weren't promoted because not enough minorities did well enough on the test for promotion). He says it's "damned if you do, damned if you don't" case, but I didn't get the set of alternatives he presented. I suspect it's a false dilemma, but I need to look more closely at what he said to be sure.

She frames the issue as about the city certifying the test vs. finding a test that would measure effectiveness without the disparate impact. Was the decision of the city based on race or based on what its view of the law required it to do? Her panel concluded it was a lawful decision under established law and 2nd Circuit precedent. The Supreme Court applied a new standard and announced it as a new standard from a different law.

Now he asks about the "wise Latina" comment. She says she gave variants of the speech to several groups of young Latina lawyers to inspire them to believe their lives and experiences will enrich the legal system, because different backgrounds do. She wanted to inspire them to become anything they wanted, as she did. She thinks the words created a misunderstanding. She doesn't believe any ethnic, racial, or gender group has an advantage in sound judging. Every person has an equal opportunity to be a good and wise judge regardless of their background and life experiences. She says her words agree with the sentiment Justice O'Connor was trying to convey. Men and women are equally capable of being wise and fair judges. Judges disagree about legal outcomes in close cases. It can't be that one of them is unwise, despite the fact that some people think that. (Legal realism coming in?) She says her record shows that she first looks to what the law requires.

Leahy moves on to guns, making it clear that she recognizes the Supreme Court's Heller case establishing an individual right to bear arms when it comes to federal laws but not establishing anything about whether states can restrict gun ownership. (That is indeed what Justice Scalia's opinion says, and the circuit courts have split on that very issue, so it will face the Supreme Court soon enough.)

She says she has friends who hunt, and one godchild of hers is an NRA member. She recognizes the individual right under the 2nd Amendment as limiting the federal government rights to restrict firearm ownership. She does well explaining incorporation. The right doesn't apply to the states. Scalia didn't actually said that. He just said he's not commenting on that issue. She says she has an open mind on that issue. She'd follow Supreme Court precedent when it speaks directly on an issue, and she did in her Maloney decision where she took the view that [Second Circuit] precedent doesn't incorporate that right, but she'd hear the arguments open-mindedly if it came up on the Supreme Court [which doesn't have any precedent on the issue, but she didn't make that completely clear].


I've been listening to some of the senators' speeches at the confirmation hearings for Judge Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court. I'm not going to live-blog these hearings, at least if that means updating every time I have anything to say, but I do want to record some thoughts on the senators' opening statements today, and I may comment on the questioning that begins tomorrow. I'm linking to senators' statements if they are online. Not all of them are (at least yet).

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) spends a good deal of time explaining the racist questions at Justice Thurgood Marshall's hearing, the anti-semitic questions at Justice Louis Brandeis' hearing, and the anti-Catholic assumptions of the unnamed first Catholic nominee (who I believe was Justice William Brennan). He then explains that we're in a different era, and we're beyond that now. Why then does he encourage the Republican senators not to cave to the pressure of special interest groups who are caricaturing Judge Sotomayor unless he thinks the conservative opposition to her is racially-based, and we're really not in a different era? I'm not sure which groups he means, but I haven't seen any of that from mainstream opponents of Sotomayor. There are those who have called her a racist, but it's not racist to call someone a racist if you think the view they hold is racist.

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) seems to be setting the tone of possible criticisms well without being defaming. He's raising worries about things she's said and opinions she's joined or written. It's nice having a real judicial conservative running the Republican side of the committee again. He's a bit worried about certain decisions and statements from her, but he's not being strident or unfair about it at this point. He's doing a better job than most politicians do at setting forth a conservative judicial philosophy. It's good that he's the ranking member, thanks to Specter's defection (which he's now paying the price for, since he's the lowest-ranked member of this committee besides Senator Franken, who has only been a senator for about a week). I do think he's going too far, though, with some of her statements.

Senator Sessions thinks her record is clear that she defends the view that it's ok for judges to be biased, and I don't think her statements really amount to that, particularly with her view that experiences can and should inform how judges interpret the world and apply the law. How I see the meaning of the law is surely affected by my experiences in life, and there might well be ways that someone with experiences being discriminated against according to ethnicity will have a different view from me about what counts as wrongful discrimination. What's wrong with Sotomayor's view is that she assumes the person who has been discriminated against more often is going to have the right view, because she says a Latina judge will be a better judge than a white man. That's not necessarily true, but it's not the same thing as saying that a Latina judge should favor Latina people in particular cases. She's biased about what sort of people she expects to be better judges, but that's not a bias in how she will view people coming before her court, and Sessions is being a bit unfair in treating the two as the same thing.

Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) makes the case for considering her whole record and not just going by her decisions. He's making a lot of room for the Republicans to find places to criticize, but I think he's also trying to frame some ways she'll be able to respond to those criticisms. He and his fellow Wisconsinite Senator Feingold have always struck me as less partisan than the rest of the Democrats on this committee. That's true even though Senator Feingold is probably the most liberal member of the committee in his policy views (athough maybe that's changed with some new members).

Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) reads off a number of then-Senator Obama's criteria when he filibustered the nomination of Judge Janice Roberts Brown to the D.C. Circuit. He arguesconvincingly that those criteria should have led to approval votes for Roberts and Alito. One signal that he's considering voting against Judge Sotomayor's confirmation, when he has never done so in the past, is that he seems to be getting fed up with the disjunct between what Democratic senators have said about Republican nominees and the official standards they present. Another sign is that he went out of his way to point out that judicial philosophy can be a qualification, and he said that presidents only get some deference for their qualified nominees. He's opening up the door for a "no" vote, and I get the sense that he's at least open to voting against her nomination, despite what many have assumed.



The 285th Christian Carnival will be hosted this coming Wednesday at The Minority ThinkerThe Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see the Christian Carnival archive.

 
To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:



President Obama has appointed human genome superstar Francis Collins to head the National Institute of Health. Collins is an evangelical Christian with a best-selling book on his conversion to Christianity from atheism and how he thinks about his scientific work as a Christian.

Collins is an interesting character for sociological study of the language of politics. He's a supporter of intelligent design, although you'd never hear him admit it. He accepts the fine-tuning argument for the existence of God, which by any reasonable standard counts him as supporting intelligent design and its detectability by scientific study. He at least thinks you can observe through science enough evidence to make the existence of God reasonable as an inference to the best explanation.

Still, he regularly speaks of intelligent design arguments as bad arguments, presumably meaning the ones based on biological evidence rather than the evidence from physics that he himself thinks makes the inference to a designer reasonable. He doesn't think biology shows the kind of evidence that leads to an reasonable inference to a designer. At least that's the charitable explanation for his resistance to ID. He might just misunderstand the argument, thinking that the arguments don't disprove evolution. I've heard him putting ID arguments in opposition to evolution even though there's nothing in the ID arguments that should rule out common descent from non-human animals or purely natural causes for how human beings came to be. That makes me wonder if maybe he'd accept the arguments given a proper understanding of them, since he is open to evidence that could be taken as a reasonable basis for an inference to a designer as the best explanation of the data. I've regularly found myself shaking my head at the failure of those who discuss this issue to make proper philosophical distinctions between the various positions in conceptual space (most of them actually occupied by real people in this case).

Consider the following views:

1. Atheistic evolution: Everything we experience is best explained by naturalistic explanations such as natural selection and random chance, with no guidance from an intelligent being.

2. Naturalistic-like theistic evolution: Natural selection and what appears to be random chance constitute the best scientific account of human origins, but God intelligently guided the process along by setting up the laws of nature so that they would lead to human development.

3. Non-naturalistic theistic evolution: Natural selection and the mechanisms of the standard evolutionary account are correct in postulating human origins from common descent with other animals, but God intelligently guided the process along by intervening in the natural order.

4. Special creation (old-earth): Divine intervention occurred to create human beings at a certain time in history without humans having descended from other animals. Nevertheless, this took place in the general time scheme scientists accept for when humans first appeared, and the universe and the earth are as old as our best science generally takes them to be.

5. Special creation (young-earth): Divine intervention occurred to create human beings at a certain time in history without humans having descended from other animals. This happened during the one exact week that God used to create the universe and all life on earth, with humans appearing on the sixth day of that week.

Now here's another set of views on a somewhat separate issue:

I noticed an interesting translation issue as I was reading Jerome Walsh's commentary on I Kings. The longstanding debate between favoring the grammatical form vs. favoring the sense of a text comes up full force in I Kings 11:1-4. Consider the NRSV translation of these verses:

King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the Israelites, "You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you; for they will surely incline your heart to follow their gods"; Solomon clung to these in love. Among his wives were seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old, his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David.

Walsh makes the following comment in a footnote (p.134, n.2):

Hebrew uses the same word (nasim) where English has two different ones, "women" and "wives." The NRSV tries to capture the proper nuance to translate each case. My discussion tries to reflect the way nasim becomes a motif word in the Hebrew text.

Some people favor the sense over the form, most noticeable in translations sometimes called dynamic equivalence (e.g. in Bible translation, the NLT is a good example, and the NIV and TNIV tend in that direction often). One good thing about this kind of translation in cases like this is that you get to capture the nuance of the word in different contexts. The same Hebrew word can mean both "wife" and "woman". In different contexts, it might have the flavor of one of those rather than the other, and here it has each flavor a verse apart. If you translate them both the same way, that's harder to capture. In particular, if you talk about Solomon's women rather than Solomon's wives, in English you get the sense that it's talking about his harem. But then with Solomon you actually are talking about his harem, so maybe it's not that big a difference in his case. Still, one might argue for translating the word as "wives" in all of its occurrences so as to avoid that sense instead of translating it consistently as "women" the way Walsh does. You lose something either way, but you lose something if you translate it differently in different instances also.

I think it's easier to tell from the context what the sense might be, so it's less necessary in these verses to seek to distinguish between the senses the word can have by translating as the NRSV does, as one in one verse and the other in the other verse. What Walsh points out, though, is that you miss something important about this passage if you emphasize sense over form. The repetition of the word conveys something in the Hebrew that you lose in an English translation if it distinguishes between different senses the word can have throughout this passage. There's a literary element of the passage that the NRSV translates away.

This sort of thing often happens in the so-called dynamic translations. Translations that emphasize form, while sometimes missing elements that a sense-for-sense translation will convey, does capture some elements like this that you won't see in a translation like the NLT and often won't see even in the NIV or TNIV. There are those who regularly deride translations like the ESV or NASB as if they have no positive features as translations, seeing them as wooden artifacts of archaic language that barely make sense as English and are too hard for the average English speaker to understand. Whatever element of truth there is in that characterization, there are certainly things that the ESV and NASB preserve that you don't find in the sense-for-sense translations, and it's one reason I always like to have one around.

(The ESV does translate them the same way the NRSV does, as "women" and then "wives", I should note. This is a theoretical point about Bible translation, not an argument for a particular translation as a whole.)


 
 










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Welcome to the 284th Christian Carnival. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. For more on Christian Carnival participation, see here.

I'm not including every post that was submitted. To qualify for inclusion in the Christian Carnival, submissions must have been posted to your blog within the past week. Hosts often allow a little wiggle-room for submissions that are close enough (I allowed several exceptions), but this week's submissions included posts as old as January and February. It also has to be Christian-related. Again, there's a lot of wiggle-room as to what counts as Christian for the purposes of the Christian Carnival, but a list of blogs having to do with Zen or a list of iPhone apps isn't Christian by any reasonable standard. This is also a blog carnival, which means submissions need to be blog posts. If it's not from a blog, this isn't the forum for it, especially if it's from a spam link-farm or some other advertising outlet. We also allow just one post per author per blog. One author submitted give posts this week (only two were written this past week, so it wasn't as hard to choose which to include: I just went with the one that was submitted first). Hosts don't often reiterate these criteria, so I thought it was worth drawing some attention to them.

I was expecting to have more time to put this together, but I took a lot longer to finish my grading for my summer courses than I'd expected, and my family got back yesterday from a long trip to New York City to see family, and the boys started summer school this morning, which involves a lot more than just putting them on the bus when special education services are at issue and they've got professionals working with them who don't know them at all. So I'm a bit late in putting this together, and I'm pretty much giving you the links, titles, and blog titles for submissions unless the submission included a description. But we've still got a list of the self-evaluated best posts of the week from the Christian blogs whose authors went out of their way to submit something. Enough business . . . on to the Carnival! Posts are in the order I received them.

I've been accused by some Christians of having skewed judgments because I've drunk deeply from the well of academia. I've also been accused by atheists of having skewed judgments because I'm too willing to let my religious views shape how I think about issues where an unbiased person would come to an obvious conclusion opposite my own. So maybe I'm just suspect from both ends, but I wonder if in some ways I'm in a more ideal position to be able to see through ways people in both sides have allowed their preferences, value judgments, and assumptions to shape their thinking in non-rational and perhaps even irrational ways.

I spent a good deal of time last summer in commentaries on Proverbs, and my daily Bible reading has taken me back to Proverbs again, so I've been thinking about the secular basis of this fairly large biblical book. Scholars have found similar collections of proverbial material in Babylon and Egypt, and it's pretty clear that both wisdom traditions predate the biblical proverbs. Some of these proverbial collections include material that's extremely close to particular proverbs in the biblical book. The biblical narratives about Solomon, one of the few places outside Proverbs to discuss the content of the book, seem to indicate that had access to the wisdom traditions of other nations.

Daniel reports the righteous behavior of Daniel and his three Hebrew friends who were exiled to Babylon. They refused to worship other gods and insisted on keeping Torah dietary restrictions as much as possible, even to the point of eating no meat at all since they couldn't guarantee any of it had been killed properly. One thing they didn't do is refuse to learn the Babylonian wisdom traditions.

On the other hand, the prophets roundly condemn pagan prophets as unedifying and full of lies about false gods. They're not worth listening to. Paul speaks of the philosophy that the Colossians had been listening to as empty and something to avoid (though it's not clear that he says this of philosophy as a discipline or field of study, as most translations wrongly convey). Pagans like Ruth are perfectly kosher for intermarriage when they convert but completely forbidden when they don't, as the concluding evaluation of Solomon in Kings makes clear. Rahab seems to be another example.

What should we conclude? There's a spiritual threat from listening to false statements that have a bearing on important spiritual matters. But the biblical picture is not to avoid that at all costs. There are certain settings where avoiding it is the only thing to do, but those settings involve marriage and worship. There are other settings where learning it and considering it, as long as it's with discretion, are presented as entirely unproblematic. There are even strong indications that an entire book of the Bible derives from material that includes a significant amount of secular reflections on life.

As with many things in Christian life, there's a tension here between two principles that are both morally important. God created humans with the ability to reason and to arrive at truths about life and reality, and fallen humanity has found ways to corrupt and avoid using that capacity, in some cases leading to an ability to see the truth at all. One case that's especially so is our ability to come to understand the good news of the salvation God offers to us in Jesus the Messiah. But even with an inability to appreciate the gospel message apart from the Holy Spirit, that doesn't mean we're incapable of coming to understand true things that are related to that issue, and we're also talking about Christians who do have the Holy Spirit, who can indeed and according to Jesus' teaching are in fact guided into truth by the Spirit.

So why the absolute prohibition on drinking from the well of academia, whose secular assumptions and goals can certainly be obstacles to the truth but whose God-given abilities and resources for understanding the truth are nonetheless present? Why even the extremely strong resistance, even if not absolute, that many Christians have? Surely there's a need for discernment, and for some people that discernment might require staying away entirely from certain kinds of things, as with anything. But it seems to me that a lot of the resistance I see is highly unbiblical, despite its appearance of piety.

This is the 51st post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. The previous post discussed a different kind of dualism from Descartes' interactionist substance dualism. To avoid objections against Descartes' view, some philosophers propose epiphenomenalist property dualism. They argue for this view based on facts about the first-person perspective that can't be reduced to third-person facts accessible to science. This post looks at Frank Jackson's formal argument for that thesis. 

Consider someone who can discern shades of red better than we can. Show him two tomatoes that look the same color to the rest of us, and he'll be able to see them as two different shades. He will consistently separate the same tomatoes as being red-1 and the others as being red-2, no matter how many times and how well you mix them up again. There's something about his perception of colors that we can never know, even if we know everything about his brain and how it works. There's a fact that remains - what his experience is like for him.

Consider a color scientist named Mary who has never seen red. She lived in a black and white environment with special contact lenses all her life, so she'd never seen most colors.  Then she went on to learn the neuroscience of color perception. She now knows everything there is to know from science about color perception. She knows what color words apply to which wavelengths of light. She knows what goes on in the brain when people see various colors. But she's never seen red. Then she takes off the contact lenses, and someone gives her a tomato. She now sees red for the first time. Does she learn something? Jackson says she does - what it's like to perceive the color red.

  1. Mary knows every physical fact about color perception.
  2. There's a fact about color perception that Mary learns when she sees red - namely, what it is like to experience seeing that color.
  3. Therefore, there are more than just physical facts (so materialism is false).

There have been a few traditional ways of resisting this conclusion.

  1. If materialism is true, maybe we shouldn't expect Mary to learn anything new.  If this is right, we should expect her to see red for the first time and say "Ah! That's exactly what I expected it to look like."  That seems highly implausible.
  2. David Lewis suggests that Mary doesn't learn a new fact but just gains a new ability - how to recognize red from within. She could identify red before in different ways, and she's gained a different way to identify it. It's like learning a new language, only more complicated. You can say the same facts in a different language once you've learned it, but hearing something in German that you already knew in English doesn't mean you've learned a new fact. Some philosophers call this implausible also, since language learning is just translating things we knew into different representations, but this is a totally new experience. There's got to be something more to seeing red than just having a certain ability.
  3. Some have suggested that Mary gains a new concept but doesn't learn anything new. She has a new way to express what she already knew - in terms of color experiences now, whereas before she just had the concepts involved with wavelengths, brain waves, neurons, and human behavior. But is this going to be successful? Mary seems to gain some new knowledge about color perception. Gaining just a concept doesn't seem enough. Something about the new experience seems to suggest more than just gaining a new way to think about something she already knew.

In the end if Jackson is right, you get dualism. You might think it's the best of both worlds. It avoids the simplicity arguments against dualism, since it doesn't require actual things in the world that are non-physical. It just requires some feature of me, a physical being, to be a non-physical property. So the view is called property dualism. The standard dualist view, substance dualism, holds that there is a real thing that's part of me - an immaterial soul or mind. Also, this view avoids conservation law problems. According to our best science, matter and energy can't be created or destroyed. If something comes in from outside the physical  order and interferes, this law would seem to be broken. But property dualism just says there are features of physical things that it wouldn't be right to call physical. The natural order of things continues on as normal. Nothing outside the natural order needs to come in and affect the physical world. So someone can honor dualist intuitions and have a view that's not materialist but seems to avoid the dualist's problems. Some people think they're trying to have their cake and eat it too, but Jackson and Nagel see this as the best of both worlds.

The other way around the Knowledge Argument is to deny the first premise. Mary doesn't really know all the physical facts about color perception. She does know all the impersonal facts, facts you can know independently of experiencing the color through perception. But maybe these experiential facts are still physical facts, just not impersonal ones. This does get out of the argument, but for some reason many materialists don't take this way out. It might be because they see people who take this line as abandoning one of the motivations for being a materialist in the first place. The whole idea was to get a theory according to which you can understand all of reality in scientific terms. That's why we want to avoid dualism, since that goes beyond science. This approach abandons that idea. Science can't capture all the truths, even all the physical truths. The other ways of avoiding Jackson's argument try to hold on to that notion. This one abandons it. It could be right, but as a materialist view it seems less in line with materialism as a whole, since it loses one key reason for being a materialist.

One response to this argument might be that it's not in principle impossible to get all the facts, even first-person ones. We lack the technology, but it seems possible with virtual reality. We could give someone the same brain state as someone else. This might take a lot of work, and it might be difficult to get the person to remember it when  you restore them to their previous brain state, but it seems in principle possible to give one person the same inner feeling another person has, provided we figure out how to manipulate neurons, transform brain matter to match how another person's brain is physically arranged, and so on. It probably wouldn't take changing the whole brain, just the parts necessary for conscious experience. This does rescue at least some of the idea that science can in principle capture all facts about the universe, and any investigator could eventually in principle do what's necessary to know any fact. It would take something far more radical than just what I described above, though. After all, we would have to be able to experience for ourselves what it's like to be a bat, a bee, or any other organism that has conscious experience, even the ones with minimal experience. To get ourselves so that we could do that, we might have to modify our brains so radically that we're not really us anymore, depending on your view of personal identity. So this response has something to say, but it's not clear that it goes all the way.

Another hesitation a materialist might have at this response is that this isn't what people meant by science capturing all the facts about the world. The original idea was to list all the facts resulting from external, third-person investigation, measurable entities you can quantify. If you can't simply list off all the facts, even if you have the potential to have all the possible first-person experiences anything could have, then you can't even in principle give a scientific account of the world in third-person terms. It's that kind of description of the universe that many materialists want science to come up with, and if Jackson is right that these first-person facts are additional facts, that ends up being impossible.

In the next post, I'll look at one further mind-related issue before turning to personal identity: artificial intelligence.


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I'll be hosting the 284th Christian Carnival this coming Wednesday. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see the Christian Carnival archive.
 
To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:

Property Dualism

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This is the 50th post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. The last post looked at the interaction problem, which is raised against the standard form of substance dualism known as interactionism. This post moves to a different form of dualism, property dualism or epiphenomenalism.

According to this view, the physical does cause the mental, but no mental event causes any physical event. The physical world gives rise to mental activity, but there's nothing going the other way. It's sort of like a free rider. Whenever brains are constructed in the right way, thoughts happen. Brains have mental properties, and there's nothing physical about these properties. This view doesn't assume any soul-like mind as a substance. There doesn't have to be any thing that's non-physical. Because of this, the view is often called property dualism (as opposed to substance dualism). This view avoids the problems of interaction (at least the problem with the conservation laws) and the problem of simpler views being more likely, since the mental things don't exist according to property dualism. This view agrees with materialism about which things really exist. The strangest thing about the view is that it's got one feature in common with parallelism - the mental stuff doesn't do anything. Nothing in the world is caused by it. So your thoughts don't affect anything. It's worth thinking about which objections to parallelism also apply here.

The Mutant and Zombie cases to illustrate this view (I believe David Lewis first used the term 'mutant' this way, and David Chalmers seems to be the one who coined the philosophical use of 'zombie' in this way). Mutants are just like normal people physically but have different qualitative experiences. Some of them have their colors reversed. When a color mutant sees what we see as red, she says it's red but sees it the way we see blue. When she sees what we see as yellow, she says it's yellow but sees it the way we see orange. Is there any way we could know that such a thing was going on? Maybe it does occur. There's no way to rule it out. The same sort of thing could go on with the sense of taste (sweet and sour reversed, salty and bitter reversed), sound (high and low pitches reversed), or even touch (soft and hard, rough and smooth). Maybe even pain and pleasure could be reversed, with someone experiencing what we feel as pain but calling it pleasure and smiling, etc. This seems really weird, but if their physical makeup is just as ours, then they would smile and say it's good when they have the same brain state as we do when we experience pleasurable things. Yet maybe their internal feel is totally different. How would we know?

The zombie is someone who just has no internal feel whatsoever. The zombie experiences nothing, but we could never know. How do we know if anyone else even feels anything? They act the way we do when we experience things. They say things. They cry out in pain. They act overjoyed when things go really well for them. They talk about how great certain foods taste. But couldn't it be possible that they are just following a sort of programming? When their brain received certain input, it makes changes within the brain, and some of these affect what the body does as a response. Couldn't that occur without any actual sensation or experience?

Frank Jackson and Thomas Nagel believe both zombies and mutants are possible (though probably not actual). They hold this property dualist view. Their reasoning is that some things about our experience can't be explained in physical terms, so there must be some non-physical properties. They take this from Nagel's case of the impossibility of imagining a bat's experience and Jackson's case of someone knowing every physical fact but still not knowing what red looks like. There's something about the first-person perspective that can't be captured by any third-person understanding of what the world is like in physical terms. That leads them to a kind of dualism, though it doesn't require any soul-like mind. It wouldn't mean there isn't any such thing, but all it requires is mental properties.

One problem with the materialist views is that they seem to leave out an important aspect of mentality - the inner feel of conscious experience. Nagel focuses on the question of what it is like to be a bat - to experience life with such different perceptual input from what we've got. It's something we can never know. Similar, men can never know what it's like for a woman to give birth or to experience the social and biological influences that affect how women think about the possibility of being raped. A white man can never know what it's like to grow up as black in the United States. Someone who has never experienced an orgasm cannot imagine what such an experience is like. Someone who has never been drunk or high doesn't know what that is like. Try imagining seeing a color besides the ones we've experienced. If there is a God and some people have genuine relationships with God, nonbelievers don't know what that experience is like. We can't even imagine going beyond our experience. These are facts about our inner mental life that we simply can't capture in terms that we can communicate to someone else. Facts about the first-person perspective seem to be left out of all the materialist views. Nagel suggests that dualism can capture what's missing.

Jackson gave a formal argument for exactly that thesis. I'll discuss that argument in the next post.

June License Plates

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U.S. States: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming

other U.S.: District of Columbia, U.S. Government
Canada: Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec

Not seen since May 2009: Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky, Missouri, Nevada, Utah
Not seen since April 2009: Idaho, New Mexico
Not seen since March 2009: Alabama, Alaska, Montana, South Carolina, British Columbia
Not seen since Feb 2009: Arkansas, Louisiana
Not seen since Jan 2009: Nebraska, North Dakota
Not seen since Oct 2008: South Dakota
Not seen since Aug 2008: Nova Scotia
Not seen since Dec 2007: New Brunswick, Puerto Rico

I have to make mention that Wyoming enters the list after more than a year. I hadn't seen one of them since May 2008.


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