Philosophy: April 2004 Archives


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I'm excited to announce that my first published work is now out. I just received my two complimentary copies (with my paid subscription copy still to come) of the latest issue of Faith and Philosophy, which includes my book review of the IVP Four Views book on God and time, edited by Greg Ganssle. It's only four pages, but it makes some substantial philosophical points, a little unusual for a book review (which is why they allowed it to be a little longer than the usual review for that journal, too). Even though the journal isn't available online (though it should be in most good university libraries), you can read the Word file I posted to my website a while back. Is that legal now that it's published? Philosophers do it all the time, but I know that's no good sign of its legality.

Forgiveness and Justice

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Forgiveness is not a substitute for justice. Forgiveness is no mere discharge of a victim's angry resentment and no mere assuaging of a perpetrator's remorseful anguish, one that demands no change of the perpetrator and no rightings of wrongs. On the contrary: every act of forgiveness enthrones justice; it draws attention to its violation precisely by offering to forego [sic] its claims. -- Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, p.123.

Volf doesn't connect this with deeper theological issues (at least not here), but this seems to me to have something to say about two issues. First, it would give an explanation for how God's forgiveness doesn't violate principles of justice. Second, it seems to undermine one explanation for why God couldn't just forgive everyone, as universalists think. Any thoughts, either on Volf's statement or on how it affects these other issues?

What Is Race?

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Some have argued recently that there's no such thing as race. Anthony Appiah's In My Father's House and Color Conscious are probably the two most notable discussions. Scientists often take this view without realizing all the philosophical leaps in reasoning they've made to get to the view (see, for example, this article, registration required). Others think it's merely a social category (most philosophers who write on the topic, usually on the same basis as the scientists above but with more sensitivity to issues about human language and social catgegorizations. There are also two possible positions according to which it's a genuine biological category, one of which I think is easily refuted by the data. The other seems to me to be a legitimate view that hasn't been discussed by philosophers or scientists to my knowledge (though I think economist Thomas Sowell may have suggested such a view -- I'm not quite sure yet). Below are the arguments for developing and sorting out these various views.

Before you read this it might be helpful to look at my first two posts in this (sort of) series. First is a set of cases to test your intuitions on racial classification, with the followup giving the data from my students' answers to those same questions.

Lockean Essentialism?

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John Locke is often seen as the father of anti-essentialism [fixed from earlier typo]. Essentially, the view is that nothing has properties necessarily in themselves or contingently in themselves. When you think of me as a human, being rational is essential, but when you think of me as an animal it isn't. When you think of me as a husband, being married is essential. When you think of me as a human being, it isn't. Locke's way of putting this is that my properties are only essential to my being me insofar as you're thinking of me under a particular sortal term.

Locke's reasoning on this is fallacious, as Saul Kripke showed in his famous Naming and Necessity (which didn't really say much more than Leibniz had already said in his preface to his commentary on Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding, the New Essays on Human Understanding).

I had a conversation this morning that made me wonder if Locke was really the anti-essentialist [fixed from earlier typo] he's usually portrayed as. It seems to me that the general point Locke was making isn't so far removed from something Aristotle and Aquinas make in their unmoved mover arguments. The unmoved mover argument gets commonly misunderstood as a mere causal argument. If A is caused by B, then we ask what caused B. Then we turn to C, which in turn was caused by D. Hume rightly objects to this argument for an unmoved mover by pointing out that each bit is explained if there's an infinite series of such moved movers. If that's all the argument is, then there's no reason to conclude that there's an unmoved mover unless you can show a problem with an infinite past, which mathematics can make sense of since Leibniz and Newton.

Electric Venom noticed a recent story about three heterosexual couples who got kicked out of a hotel for being straight. She raises some worthwhile questions. First of all, this was in fact illegal in a town that has laws against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. It makes me wonder what kinds of parallels can be drawn between this and affirmative action, which quite obviously discriminates on the basis of race, which we amended our Constitution to make illegal. (As my forthcoming post on affirmative action will explain, I don't think it's immoral to discriminate on the basis of race when you have a good reason to do so, and affirmative action in some cases might be a good reason, but it is in fact unconstitutional, as three Supreme Court justices realize).

She mentions that some will simply take delight in seeing this as the shoe now being on the other foot for these straight couples. I can testify that this kind of thinking is extremely common among groups who perceive themselves to be oppressed or discriminated against (whether correctly or incorrectly -- what matters for this psychological phenomenon is that they perceive themselves to be a certain way). It shows a weird sort of delight in a second wrong like the one done to oneself. Isn't that suprising? After all, doesn't the person who really knows what it's like to be oppressed or discriminated against know enough to know that they wouldn't wish it on anyone? That suggests to me that people who make such claims don't know real discrimination or oppression, not the kind that really did take place against black people in this country only half a century ago. This at least raises questions about how much of the complaining about kinds of discrimination today is mere victimology and not a serious charge of victimhood. (This isn't to say that there isn't real victimhood. It's just that people crying out about victimhood who would be prone to take delight in the situation being reversed probably aren't real victims.)

Hot Chicks

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Two barely related matters:

1. Hot Abercrombie Chick is a freshman in college planning, probably, to be a philosophy major. That deserves encouragement. She's just posted a great presentation of the considerations given by Malebranche and Leibniz (two of my favorite philosophers) on the problem of evil.

2. Check out this Hot Non-Abercrombie Chick. It might take a bit to load up, but it's worth it.

The previous post lists the questions that are prerequisites for this post. Don't read further if you don't want the exercise spoiled. The first post contains a number of cases and asks questions about the race of the person involved in each case. The idea is to draw out what people's first thoughts on classifying people racially who might not easily fit the most obvious ways we classify people. Once you've gone through the cases without looking at what others have said, you can see how my students answered these questions.

I'll repeat each question and then list how the student responses went before moving on to the next question.

I did some conceptual analysis of racial classification with my students this semester, and I've finally compiled the results. In this post I'll list the questions and in the next post go through how my students answered them. If you'd like to do this yourself to see what you would have answered, don't read that post until you're done. The cases come from Charles Mills, "But Who Are You Really?: The Metaphysics of Race" in Blackness Visible: Essays on Philosophy and Race.

Case 1: Someone with some black ancestry and a white appearance decides to live in two worlds, so to speak. When in public, he never draws attention to race, and people assume he�s white. No one knows of his ancestry. When he�s with his family and their friends, he acts as part of the black culture and considers himself black. Is he black, as he claims? Is he white? Is he both? Is he something else instead?

Case 2: Someone with some black ancestry and a white appearance decides to live in two worlds, so to speak. He considers himself white, and people believe him. No one knows of his ancestry. Is he white, as he claims? Is he black? Is he both? Is he something else instead?

Case 3: Someone with some black ancestry and a white appearance was adopted by a white family at a very young age. He considers himself white. No one, even him and his family, have knowledge of his ancestry. Is he white, as he claims? Is he black? Is he both? Is he something else instead?

Case 4: Mr. Oreo has black ancestry and appearance and knows of it but considers himself white, has adopted white culture, and has experiences more in line with the average white person, though he also has experienced some racism because of his appearance. He considers himself white. Is he white, as he claims? Is he black? Is he both? Is he something else instead?

I tend to think of dumb things to write about when I have a huge stack of grading to do, and here's yet another one (actually I think about them all the time, but I write about them when I have stuff to put off doing). Arianna Huffington was on NPR today. One thing she said caught my attention. It's a common enough saying, but it struck me today how odd it is. She was describing President Bush's response to the dead and very slowly rising economy after 9-11 by cutting taxes. She said that this response is the very definition of insanity. Leaving aside the tendentious nature of the proposition she was trying to express with this sentence, let's consider how the sentence is supposed to express that proposition to begin with. After all, how can his action be the very definition of anything? My first thought was simply that she must not be thinking about what a definition is. It's not an action. An action can illustrate a definition as a clear case, but it's not itself a definition.

Sony's Qualia

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Someone at Sony has been reading philosophy. They have a new site called Qualia. I haven't investigated it too much due to not having a working sound card (I assume there's a significant amount of sound involved). I just thought it was interesting that they would rely on a technical term in philosophy for something that somehow must be intended to market their products. I wonder if I could use this site in presenting Frank Jackson's argument for property dualism (the only place I've used the term in my teaching) the next time I teach philosophy of mind.

Thanks to Enoch at medmusings for the link.

It seems I've been too long since last I read Keith Burgess-Jackson's blog. He quotes from the introduction of John Hare's recent book about how historians of early modern philosophy ignore and minimize the Christian roots of these philosophers' thoughts. (And yes, this is the son of atheist Richard Hare, a complete disgrace to the meta-ethical lack of moorings his father raised him with.)

He says Kant, Leibniz, Descartes, and even Hobbes are victims of this disgust for theological reasoning behind philosophical views. I must say that I've experienced this firsthand. I took Jonathan Bennett's last class at Syracuse on Locke and Leibniz, co-taught with William Alston for the Locke portion. John Hawthorne sat in on the Leibniz portion. The class I remember had all three there. Bennett made some ridiculous comment about something that supposedly followed from what Leibniz said, and I remember recoiling with surprise. My first thought was "only if you assume God is in time!" When I raised my hand to say that, Bennett responded derisively that I was bringing in an issue within philosophical theology best left to theologians. Yet Alston had been nodding as I said it, and I asked John Hawthorne afterward if he thought I was right, and he also seemed to agree with me. Even my Mormon classmate, who very much opposes divine atemporality, agreed with me.

I enjoyed and benefited greatly from Bennett's teaching in that class, and I'm grateful that he allowed me in given a highly selective process for admissions into his last class ever. Still, I get the sense that he's one of many historians of philosophy who want to pull these philosophers from their theological base. I have to say that Nicholas Jolley (who later confirmed to me that Leibniz did indeed think God to be atemporal) and Bonnie Kent, two other historians of philosophy whose teaching I experienced during my coursework here (but now both at U.C. Irvine, curse the place!), don't do this, and Alston and Hawthorne also don't (although it's less notable for them, since they're both theists). It's not surprising that someone wanting to see if philosophical ideas can be kept without theism will try to get the arguments or views going without such a basis, but it's unfair to the thinker to take the views out of context when the context is crucial to the view as that philosopher intended it.

Jonathan Ichikawa quotes an email from someone arguing that the consistent pro-choice position is to support the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. I think this is right. The pro-choice position is, officially, that women should have the legal right to make a decision whether to kill their fetus or refrain from doing so. There's no presumption that killing the fetus is a good or bad thing. It could be a very bad thing that women have a right to do, as far as the official pro-choice view is concerned. What no one has a right to do, however, even according to the pro-choice view, is to kill someone else's fetus, at least without their permission (or else abortion itself wouldn't be allowed). So this would be a kind of violence every pro-choice person should oppose.

That makes me wonder what's driving this opposition to the act. Some of it is just inconsistency or stupidity, not realizing what follows from their own views. Some just don't realize that pro-choice arguments can be concocted without assuming a fetus to be a non-person without rights (as Judith Jarvis Thomson famously tried to do) and therefore that personhood and giving rights to fetuses isn't automatically going to make every abortion morally wrong. Other premises need to enter in for that conclusion (though I happen to think they're by and large true premises). Others may just not be realizing what really does follow from the official pro-choice position, which for some could just be a mark of inconsistency, but for some it may well be a sign that they aren't really pro-choice to begin with but rather (gasp!) pro-abortion, as pro-lifers often unfortunately assert of everyone holding a pro-choice view (usually out of ignorance of the pro-choice position). I have to wonder if some leaders of the pro-choice movement, such as many in Planned Parenthood and others with a financial interest vested in continued fetus-killing, really do have such a base motive for opposing this bill. Moloch worship!

Update: Keith Burgess-Jackson posts more of the letter than Jonathan posted. It seems the author of the letter drew the same conclusion I did (or rather the same conclusion about a larger group of people than I'd insist on applying it to).

This is a new test (and isn't the ethics one I posted a few months ago that I don't want to bother finding -- if you're interested, type "ethics test" into my search engine). [via Jollyblogger]

My results:

Li>My #1 result for the selector, Which famous philosopher do you most agree with?, is Aquinas

  • My #2 result for the selector, Which famous philosopher do you most agree with?, is Augustine

  • My #3 result for the selector, Which famous philosopher do you most agree with?, is Aristotle

  • My #4 result for the selector, Which famous philosopher do you most agree with?, is Plato

  • My #5 result for the selector, Which famous philosopher do you most agree with?, is Kant

    Read on for who I'm less like and my brief thoughts on the results.

  • I ran across the following strange set of instructions on IRS Schedule EIC. They had a column for each child. Line 3 says:

    If the child was born before 1985 --

    a. Was the child under age 24 at the end of 2003 and a student?
    Yes (Go to line 4.) No (Continue)

    b. Was the child permanently and totally disabled during any part of 2003?
    Yes (Continue) No (The child is not a qualifying child.)

    It seems to me that the proper answers for both and a and b for our children are no, taking the questions in isolation from the antecedent above. Yet they don't intend us to answer that way. They intend us to skip those questions. If we take it as a material conditional, we get this result. Any material conditional with a false antecedent will be true. So should I check Yes for both questions? If I do, they'll look above and see that our kids were born in 2001 and 2002 and investigate me for tax fraud. They don't want me checking Yes. They also don't want me checking No. Otherwise, I wouldn't be able to continue past 3b. They want me to skip it, as if they think the conditional has no truth value.

    This is good evidence that ordinary conditionals in English don't always function logically the way material conditionals do (though sometimes they do -- e.g. 'if that story is true, then the Pope's Italian' where the speaker clearly believes the story is false). Most philosophers who work on conditionals already believe this, so this isn't anything new. I just thought it was an interesting place to see evidence for this.

    Divine Command Theory

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    The University of Rochester philosophy grad students' blog has a name finally: My Ontology is Bigger Than Yours.

    Brown has one now also, Fake Barn Country. So we've started a trend. Just remember: OrangePhilosophy was first. (Some people have argued that Philosophy from the 617 was the first, but that was a group blog from people who at the time were in Boston, not tied to one institution.)

    Andrew Cullison has some worthwhile reading on Divine Command Theory at the Rochester blog. I've said stuff about this before, but my primary audience was for introductory philosophy students. This is a much more detailed discussion and includes some more sophisticated arguments (though some, I think, are poor arguments nonetheless).

    Update: It was too good to last. They've taken on a new non-name (at a new location): This is Not the Name of This Blog. That's creative and interesting philosophically, but it's not as fun as My Ontology is Bigger Than Your Ontology. I'm not changing my link's name.

    I found a passage in Lucretius that anticipates Galileo's famous thought experiment about falling objects of different weight falling at the same speed:

    And if by chance someone thinks that heavier atoms, in virtue of their more rapid motion straight through the void, could fall from above on the lighter atoms, and that in this way the blows which generate the productive motions could be produced, he has strayed very far from the true account. For everything which falls through water or light air must fall at a speed proportional to their weights, simply because the bulk of the water and the fine nature of the air can hardly delay each other equally, but yield more quickly to the heavier bodies being overwhelmed by them. But by contrast, at no time and in no place can the empty void resist any thing, but it must, as its nature demands, go on yielding to it. Therefore, everything must move at equal speed through the inactive void, though they are not given by equal weights. (On the Nature of Things 225, in Brad Inwood and L.P. Gerson, ed., Hellenistic Philosophy: Introductory Readings, p.64.

    He's wrong on a number of details here, but it's amazing how close to the truth he is, even on some things Galileo didn't even get right. Lucretius lived in the first half of the first century before Christ. Galileo lived in the 17th century after Christ. There was something like 1650 years between them. Philosophers who say they don't need to bother reading the philosophers of history and just focus on contemporary stuff are opening themselves to missing something that's already been said on their topic, as Galileo did. Of course, ignoring philosophy in other traditions has the same problem, and I don't know much about African or Asian philosophy, but I don't really know where to begin. I've been looking for a good textbook looking at those traditions from an analytic perspective, but I don't know if anything like that exists.

    Update: I posted this over at OrangePhilosophy, and it's started to get comments there.

    Shortly before David Lewis died, he was at the Metaphysical Mayhem conference that we were at the time holding in Syracuse. In a talk by Kit Fine about something like coincident entities views, Lewis made a comment about allowing talk of impossible worlds. Of course these things don't exist in the way that all possible worlds do, according to Lewis, but somehow we need to be able to talk about them for a complete view of modality. These were just suggestions, but I found it intriguing.

    Yesterday morning I happened upon a passage in Aristotle's Eudemian Ethics that seems to rely on exactly the thing Lewis said we need. He was talking about humans need to be the starting-point of their own action for moral responsibility in a way similar to how modern libertarians talk (though Aristotle was probably more like a compatibilist, and the common compatibilist description of the line of causation running through the agent may be closer to what he had in mind here). Here's the stuff about impossible worlds:

    The time has arrived once again when I have too many things to blog about and not enough time to do it, so before some of this stuff gets too old I'll at least link them and say something about them.

    Discoshaman comments on the scientists on the verge of creating life in a laboratory to the effect that someone's going to start denying that it's happened on the grounds that only God can create life. Read the first comment, the one about the dirt. It's hilarious and exactly the right to say here.

    This one's been old for a while, but I just found it. Philosopher Keith Burgess-Jackson has been a gradual convert to conservative thought over the course of his life. He wrote this before the big brouhaha over liberal professors in academia of the last few months, but it looks at why so many liberal thinkers think conservatives are stupid in a way that's neither insulting to liberals nor favorable to the position that conservatives tend to be stupid.

    Speaking of philosophers discussing important issues, Jeremy Chong gives a near-formal deductive argument for the conclusion that soy milk is indeed milk. I would have argued on the same basis but in a very different way, focusing more on philosophy of language but really for the same reasons and based on the same intuitions.

    Volokh: A 15-year-old girl is up for child pornography charges for taking pictures of herself and sending them to people through the internet. Get a load of what they're charging her with.

    Also at Volokh, Jacob Levy, from my alma mater Brown, mentions two things of note in one post. First is his reference to Buddy Cianci, former mayor of Providence who was convicted of a felony and then later re-elected mayor for multiple terms while still not serving any terms. It's as if he's a cartoon character. What Jacob says about him is precious. Then he goes on to tell a great story of the new attorney general of RI calling Marvel Comics to get Stan Lee's permission to use a quote from the first appearance of Spiderman.

    Yet again at Volokh: Anyone up for a vampire slaying? This one wasn't posted on April Fool's Day. At least the guy was already dead.

    Last but not least, you have to see the latest two comments on my post from January about the racist Condoleeza Rice poster that had been circulating at the time. It would be ideal if you go and look at the family pictures on my old blog site first to appreciate the full humor of what these two guys (assuming they're two people -- I haven't checked the IPs yet) think they can get away with saying. Update: Sam weighs in. I like the MTV comment. It's too bad I didn't catch that. It's insulting enough to assume that I don't know my wife. To assume that I watch MTV may even be worse.

    I've got a couple more, including another from Volokh, but I'll hold off on them in the hopes that I might be able to say a little more about them.

    Or at least from someone relatively equivalent. Is there anyone more qualified to represent the views of the average American than Laura Ingalls of Little House fame? I witnessed her statement of something that, at least on the surface grammar, seems to involve an ontological commitment to non-present times. [For those unfamiliar with the philosophy of time, eternalism is the view that all times (and things existing at those times, which for convenience I'll not worry about here) equally exist, just not at once. Some people deny it by saying that past times no longer exist and future times don't yet exist, but that begs the question by assuming not existing now entails not existing at all, whereas existing in the past and existing in the future to do seem to involve existing, just not existing now.]

    The A&E Biography of Melissa Gilbert was on last night. Sam was always a huge Little House fan, but Gilbert's husband Bruce Boxleitner played John Sheridan on the best TV show ever made, Babylon 5, and Melissa made an appearance for a couple episodes as someone I shouldn't mention since I want all my friends to watch the series from beginning to end once I get it all on DVD, and I don't want to spoil anything. Sure enough, he made an appearance last night as well, and they did mention the show that I expected wouldn't even get a nod.

    Now Melissa seems to be an eternalist. She probably hasn't been educated with a lot of philosophy of time, and she was America's little sweetheart for such a long time, that I think we can take her views as indicative of the general public. She made a very interesting comment about the day her father figure Michael Landon died (unless it was the day she found out he was having an affair -- I'm not 100% sure which it was). She said, "It was a very bad day. It still is."

    Sam somehow thought she was talking about how the anniversary of that day is still a very bad day, but she gave no contextual indication that that was what she meant. It seemed to me that she was saying that the very day he died is still bad. Even if she meant the anniversaries are still bad, she was talking about them as if they exist, and they don't exist according to presentism, which says only the present time exists. My way of reading it doesn't require eternalism (all times exist) but only at bare minimum a growing block view (the past and the present exist but not the future). Saying the anniversaries are still bad, when not all of them have occurred yet, and when you're not talking about any particular anniversary but ones as they come up, which has a sense of potentiality, signaling you're including future ones, seems to move to the full eternalist view. So even on Sam's reading of her statement, which I thought less likely, her surface grammar gives reason to think she has eternalism as an assumed framework.

    Now I'm aware that there are ways to try to reduce any of this talk to presentist or other non-eternalist claims. I think such reductionism will fail, but that's not the issue. The issue is whether people assume eternalism, presentism, or any other view. I've seen many presentists and growing block theorists claiming that their view is the common sense view. I just don't think that's true. The only reason it seems true is because of the fallacious argument I mentioned above (that because something doesn't exist now it must not exist at all at any time). Once you see the fallacy there, the reasons for thinking presentism is commonsensical are undermined. Once you look at statements like Gilbert's, it's clear that at least some of what we say assumes the existence of other times (and the existence of things at other times).



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