Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Weather Be Wack

Today, in Milford, PA, it was 57 degrees. Three days from now, the predicted low is 8. How are all my plant children supposed to cope with this sort of nonsense?

You Know What I Hate?

Programs that display bogus progress bars. You know the kind I mean: a bar chart sort of graphic appears, showing you how "close to completion" is the process you have launched. But how often do you see these things go to 90% in a second or two, and then stall on the last "10%" for another minute? My iPhone does this all the time when sending text messages.

I know what the programmer did: from his point of view, sending the message involves, say, ten steps. So he advances the progress bar 1/10 of the way upon the completion of each step. The problem is that the first nine steps are all internal to his application, while the tenth one, "transmit the message over the network," is not under his direct control, but is likely to take far more time than the previous nine steps combined. Ok, that's not his fault, but it is his fault that he purports to be 90% done with the operation, when, in fact, 99% of the operation (in terms of user time) has yet to happen. Just drop the bar if you can't really predict how long something will take!


Or at least some preliminary thought on Aquinas's view of it. It seems to me it produces some counter-intuitive conclusions.

For instance, if sex is morally best (only morally acceptable?) when it aims at achieving all three of the goods that sex naturally aims at achieving (pleasure, bonding, and procreation), then what about a man whose wife has gone through menopause? Wouldn't it be Aquinally best for him to dump her and get a younger wife who can procreate? If one knows a man / woman is infertile, is it immoral to marry him / her?

I've been thinking about this topic a bit, and researching it, so more to come.

Plan on Being Hung Over Tomorrow?

Get ready now! Go get a pound of salt cod and get it soaking pronto. (You can significantly cut the soaking time from the 36 hours recommended below by changing the water often.)

Then tomorrow, when you struggle awake, bake yourself this wonderful salt cod and potato casserole. (I had it for breakfast this morning, as well as dinner last night.)

Humpty Dumpty

Hilary Putnam, in Renewing Philosophy, discusses the final arrival of esteemed analytical philosopher Nelson Goodman at a sort of radical relativism: "But if we choose to speak of worlds, where do these worlds come from? Goodman's answer is unequivocal: they are made by us. They are not made ex nihilo, but out of previous worlds... Springing full-blown within contemporary analytic philosophy, a form of idealism as extreme as Hegel's or Fichte's!" -- Renewing Philosophy, p. 111

Never mind that Putnam is almost certainly misreading Hegel and Fichte; his point is important nonetheless. I would not wish to suggest for a moment that Berkeley is the last word in metaphysics, or that he did not go too far in his reaction to Descartes and Locke. (Thinkers like Bosanquet and Whitehead seem to do better at staking out a middle ground here.) But he was surely correct in arguing that it was the posit of an unsensed pure matter, without color, texture, warmth, tone, feel, or character -- what Whitehead called, in denying its possibility, a "vacuous actuality" -- that pointed the way down the road to skepticism.

Once we accept the Cartesian radical divide between mind and matter, Humpty Dumpty has fallen from the wall and cracked in two, and all of the Anglosphere's analytical philosophers cannot put him back together again. What we ultimately get from efforts to patch the rift is either the absurdity of eliminative materialism, which is a theory suggesting that theories don't exist, or skepticism of the kind exhibited by Rorty and Goodman, although many philosophers who have accepted the Cartesian divide desperately attempt to hang on and avoid sliding into either abyss.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Praxeology: It's Not Just About Mises!

While posting yesterday about the praxeological nature of Paramahansa Yogananda's writing, I realized that many people associate praxeology solely with Mises and Rothbard and their followers. That is a misconception. The term simply means the study of action, and while the term itself has never been in widespread use, it dates back to the 1600s and was used by many people besides Misesians. But the discipline has existed at least since the writings of Aristotle, who, as Roderick Long has made clear in his work, engaged in the activity that Mises would later call praxeology. In more recent times, R.G. Collingwood famously gave an account of "philosophical economics" closely resembling Mises's, and, as I have argued in a paper that appeared in The Independent Review, Michael Oakeshott reflections on action closely resemble those of Mises. Even more recently, the noted analytical philosopher Donald Davidson has analyzed action in a way much like Mises did. And Long cites Ludwig Wittgenstein, J. L. Austin, and Elizabeth Anscombe as other prominent, recent philosophers working engaged in praxeological studies.

In short, there is nothing eccentric about praxeology. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for some praxeologists, such as those who have been having at the Wikipedia entry on the topic. Check out the gem with which the article opens:

"Praxeology is the study of human action. Praxeology rejects the empirical methods of the natural sciences for the study of human action..."

A subject is, of course, not capable of "rejecting" anything. ("Biology has rejected metallurgy, crushing the feelings of the latter.") And there is no reason for anyone engaged in praxeology to reject empirical methods; Mises certainly did not! (In fact, he headed an institute devoted to the empirical study of the Austrian economy.) That action can be analyzed philosophically certainly does not mean that it can't also be studied empirically.

We can also find this in the same entry:

"Another conclusion that von Mises reached was that decisions are made on an ordinal basis. That is, it is impossible to carry out more than one action at once, the conscious mind being capable of only one decision at a time—even if those decisions can be made in rapid order."

OK, I think what the writer was trying to get at in the first sentence is that Mises says our scale of values is ordinal. But what the hell that has to do with how many actions we can perform at once is completely beyond me. If we could perform multiple actions at once, would that make our value scale cardinal?!

Attention Bob Murphy: Your boy is being embarrassed on Wikipedia by someone invoking his name during a fit of glossolalia. Someone from LVMI should clean that up.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Who Is to Blame for the Disastrous After-Effects of Invading Iraq?

Some creepy prevaricator over at The Washington Examiner says the blame falls on... Obama!

"We've already seen signs that Obama's mismanaged pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq is having disastrous ramifications, with a wave of bombings last Thursday killing 60 people and wounding 200 others."

So, eight years of having Iraq as our puppet state just wasn't quite enough! Even though the Iraqi government, the very one we put in place, was demanding that we leave, and even though our (most recent) supposed aim in going into Iraq was to bring the people democracy, we should have ignored that democratically elected government, and just told them we were going to stay, probably forever.
And this was so predictable (if I predicted it, it must have been pretty obvious!): Nothing whatsoever would ever lead the neocon delusionaries to admit that they were wildly mistaken about Iraq. If we stayed for 100 years, and then left because the US Treasury hadn't a penny remaining to keep a single soldier in Mesopotamia, the grandkids of today's neocons would blame "appeasement" and not the invasion and occupation for the troubles that followed.

(Thank God Daniel Larison exists to keep up with these idiots, so we don't have to!)

Universal Religion

"It may be argued that particular stages of intellectual growth and special types of mentality belonging to certain nations... determine the origins of different religions, such as Hinduism, Mohammedanism, and Buddhism for Asiatics, Christianity for the Westerners, and so forth. If by religion we understand only practices, particular tenets, dogmas, customs, and conventions, then there may be grounds for the existence of many religions. But if religion means primarily God-consciousness, or the realization of God both within and without, and secondarily a body of beliefs, tenets, and dogmas, then, strictly speaking, there is but one religion in the world, for there is but one God." -- Paramahansa Yogananda, The Science of Religion, p. 4-

Interestingly, Yogananda's main arguments for a single religion undergirding what he calls "denominations" such as Hinduism, Christianity, and Buddhism, are praxeological:

"Why does [a man engage in a business]? Because money can be earned therein. Why should money be earned at all? Because it will satisfy personal and family wants. Why should wants be fulfilled? Because pain will thereby be removed and happiness gained." -- pg. 8

"So, if the motives for the actions of all men are traced farther and farther back, the ultimate motive will be found to be the same with all -- the removal of pain and the attainment of Bliss. This end being universal, it must be looked upon as the most necessary one." -- p. 10 [If you want to get the feeling that first sentence is lifted straight from Human Action, just substitute Eudaimonia for Bliss.]

And  then, to top the Mises-deja-vu off: "[The above arguments are] an a priori plea for the conception of religion set forth in this book." -- p. 15

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

I Grant You, Loyal Reader, Three Wishes

In the Mahabharata, King Dhritharashtra offers Draupadi three wishes. First Draupadi asks for freedom for her husband and his brothers (who have just lost it in a dice game). Then she asks for the return of the goods they had lost in the game. She actually declines to use her third wish, because to do so would be greedy.

If you or I were offered such an opportunity, it would become very important to grasp the parameters of wish-formulation. Why is Draupadi allowed to combine the wish for five different peoples freedom into one? If she can make that one wish, why can't "I'd like their freedom as well as their possessions returned to them" count as one wish?

There must be some rules, otherwise one could just string together every wish one has ever had with a whole bunch of "ands." But what are they?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

It's Christmas Day

Time to cast away those fears forever:

Some they say see them walking up the street
They say we're going wrong to all the people we meet
But-a we won't worry, we won't shed no tears
We found a way to cast away the fears, Forever, yeah!
(We'll be forever loving Jah) We'll be forever! 
(We'll be forever loving Jah) Forever, yes, and forever!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Barzun on Weber

"Facts from the Protestant side itself refute [Weber's] thesis: both Luther and Calvin attacked profit-making and deplored 'the materialism of the age.'" -- From Dawn to Decadence, p. 37

Shocking, just shocking. Does a single critic of Weber even know what he said? Because Weber was very, very, explicit that he was not contending that either Luther or Calvin was trying to promote capitalism, and that it was an accidental by-product of their doctrines.

It's as though everyone has only heard "Weber said Protestantism promoted capitalism," didn't bother to read his book, and filled in their own idea of what he must have meant!

Is There a Person Who Can Lie with Quotes Better Than Tom DiLorenzo?

Here he says:

'William F. Buckley, Jr., the man who once said that black people in the South were "retarded"'

This certainly sounded extraordinary. But the fact that DiLorenzo quoted a single word and offered no link made me think that he was doing the same thing has done throughout his Lincoln-hating: selectively quoting so as to effectively lie about his target while using that target's own words. So I decided to find out what was actually said.

Well, first of all, it is an unsigned National Review editorial that the "quotation" comes from, which means it may or may not have been written by Buckley. And what a fuller says is this:

"In the Deep South the Negroes are, by comparison with Whites, retarded ('unadvanced,' the NAACP might put it)..."

In context, it is clear that National Review is claiming that blacks in the Deep South are not as culturally advanced as whites. One may object to that claim, but it is a far cry from what DiLorenzo tries to make it appear "Buckley" claimed, which is that blacks are mentally retarded.

That's called lying Tom, and it's not nice.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Doughtery Correctly Analyzes the Genesis of the Paul Newsletters


They were a cynical part of Rothbard's "reach-out-to-the-rednecks" strategy. That is exactly right. When that didn't work, that angle was dropped.

Rothbard would say or write whatever it took to forward the revolution. He was a Leninist turned inside-out.

All that being said, how important are the newsletters? They were bad, but I'd rather have the GOP nominate someone who cynically reached out to racists than someone who might kill 100,000 Iranians.

The Birthing of an Historical Fact

Jacques Barzun and Henry F. Graff, in their book The Modern Research, discuss how an historian determined whether John Stuart Mill was the author of an anonymous letter that appeared in Le Globe in 1832, on the doctrines of the Saint-Simonians. Here is the evidence Hill Shine marshalled to decide the question (I quote from the book):
  • First, research discloses two earlier allusion [by a Le Globe editor] to the effect that "one of the most powerful thinkers in London" intended to write a series of open letters on the new ideas [for the paper].
  • Second, there exists a letter to that same editor announcing the visit of a third party who would bring him... "the work of your young friend M."...
  • Third, it was within three days of receiving the piece of news just recorded that the newspaper published the open letter of "an Englishman" who signed himself "J."
  • Fourth, a letter of May 30 from Mill to his Saint-Simonian friends refers to "my letter which appeared in Le Globe."
  • Fifth, a footnote added to that private letter by the editor of Mill's correspondence, states that Mill's public letter appeared on April 18, 1832.
Barzun and Graff here write, "At this point, no further doubt is possible" (pp. 80-81, emphasis mine).

This is a great illustration of what I have been talking about re history:
  • The historian starts not with facts upon which he puts his subjective interpretation, but with evidence from which he must derive the facts.
  • The actual work of the historian qua historian consists in determining what actually occurred. The facts are the conclusion of his research, and not at all his starting point.
  • His conclusions are as reliable as anything in any of the "hard sciences": not immune to revision based on further evidence, but fairly definitive given the evidence we currently possess.
(In fact, as Collingwood notes, if history is not reliable, the "hard sciences" cannot possibly be so, since all that we know of all earlier experiments in the hard sciences is itself historical knowledge.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Averages Are Subjective, Ya Know

Just heard an announcer on CBS News Radio say, "The average annual salary in the US is $50,000 for most Americans."

For certain Americans, however, the average is apparently something else.

Calvinism and Sanctification

I’ve ben listening to a series of lectures by Phillip Cary on the history of Christian theology. When he comes to discuss John Wesley and Methodism, he makes an interesting statement that, I believe, bears some scrutiny. “Wesley,” he says (and I quote here from memory, since I only have his words in MP3 form, but I am fairly certain I am doing his claim justice in my paraphrase), “thought that Calvinism denied the importance of sanctification. But he was wrong here: Calvinists are very concerned with sanctification."

Now, Cary is a wonderfully learned man on the history of Christian theology, and I highly recommend his lectures if you are interested in better understanding this topic. (And note: One need not be a Christian or even be contemplating conversion to benefit greatly from studying these matters: one cannot be a serious student of Western history without a sound understanding of the theological disputes that often drove that history.) But I think he is mistaken in what he claims above: Calvinists may, in fact, in their lives be very concerned with sanctification, but, as I understand Wesley’s point (I do not claim this is how Wesley understood it), there is no logical reason, given their soteriology, for them to be so concerned.

Let us proceed with an analogy: Imagine that there exists a lottery with a huge payoff, and that, on the day you are born, you are bequeathed a ticket which may or may not entitle you to a share of the winnings of that lottery. However, this lottery proceeds in an odd way: the winning tickets were drawn at the time the lottery was established, and nothing can change the outcome of that initial drawing. Therefore, the ticket you are given at birth is already either a winning or a losing ticket, and nothing you can do will alter that.

The Supernatural

Many opponents of religion criticize the belief in “the supernatural” as an atavistic superstition on the part of believers. “We,” they claim, “stick to the empirical reality we can see around us. We believe in the earth, and the stars, and trees, and animals, and human existence as beginning when a human body is created by a sexual act, and ending when that body dies. To believe in anything else is to be anti-empirical, unscientific.”

But I wish to suggest that for many (most?) of these “naturalists,” they have ignored the beam in their own eye, for they, too, believe in the supernatural. (Later in this post, I will discuss the case of naturalists to whom this point may not apply.) How can this be?

Well, consider the first definition of ‘supernatural’ offered by the Merriam-Webster dictionary: “of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe.” (Didn’t they want a comma between ‘visible’ and ‘observable’?) Given the above definition, I claim that many so-called naturalists, in fact, believe in the supernatural themselves

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Well, Glad That All Worked Out for the Best

Well, it took an entire day after US troops pulled out of Iraq for the coalition government we installed there to begin collapsing. That certainly was worth over 100,000 lives and a trillion dollars.

What will be amazing will be to watch as the neocons spin this as Obama's fault for pulling out too early. If only we had stayed twenty years, the Sunnis and the Shiites would have learned to love each other! (And, of course, Obama didn't really want to go, anyway: he was honoring the agreement Bush signed with the Iraqi government.)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

An Inflation Index Bob Murphy Will Love

Ideology as the Rejection of Tragedy

Or, prudence is not the vice of abandoning principles, but the virtue of weighing one principle carefully against others.

One way of understanding what ideology is to understand it as the rejection of tragedy. First consider the conflict in Aeschylus's play The Suppliants. The Danaids come to King Pelasgus of Argos, fleeing a forced marriage to their Egyptian cousins. The king must balance two responsibilities:

1) He has the responsibility to protect suppliants, given that they have a genuine grievance, and have turned to him for protection.
2) He has the responsibility of defending his people, who will likely incur the wrath of the Egyptians should they offer the Danaids refuge. (It is important here that he is not just thinking of his own safety; he is responsible for the safety of an entire city-state.)

The key thing here is that this tragedy is not a matter of being forced to choose between a principle and one's own material well-being. This would be an entirely different play if the Pelasgus was worried that the Danaids might be too expensive to house, and so considered denying them refuge. But that is the way ideologues always try to frame the case for prudence: "Oh, you mean we should compromise our principles because it might be too painful or costly to follow them." That's not what this tragedy turns on at all: the king is weighing the force of two moral principles, which pull in different directions.

Ideologues try to deny this is possible by attempting to turn morality into an axiomatic-deductive system. Rothbard expressed this attitude perfectly:
Anyone who believes in the existence of a natural law discoverable through right reason (as Mr. Meyer and myself both do), must also believe that this natural law is self-consistent. Outside of the irrational world of the Hegelian dialectic, there can be no conflicting truths, nor contradictory but true propositions. And since the rights of man are deducible from natural law, these rights cannot conflict with one another. If one discovers a contradiction, one has also discovered an error in one’s process of reasoning. 
Notice the stunningly unjustified move Rothbard makes here*: Because moral propositions, if we wish to speak coherently, ought not contradict each other, he tries to assert that it follows that they cannot conflict with each other, in practical applications. This is absurd. Consider some normative rules for translation:

1) One should translate the words of the source text to their closest possible equivalent in the target language.
2) One should strive to produce an idiomatic work in the target language.
3) In that the source text has certain metrical or rhyming schemes, one should re-produce them in the target language.
4) In that there are certain symbolic or metaphorical uses of languages in the source text, one should attempt to re-produce them in the target language.

There are probably more valid principles I could list, but the above are enough for our purposes.It should be clear that none of these principles contradict any of the others. It certainly would be irrational if our principles of translation included, for example:

1) One should translate the words of the source text to their closest possible equivalent in the target language.
2) One should translate the words of the source text to a word as far away as conceivable in the target language.

Obviously, that would be nonsense, but the principles we listed do not harbor any such contradictions. On the other hand, they quite obviously can conflict in application. Just look at the multitude of translations of any classic work: they all differ because the translators have given different weights to each of the principles listed above (and others I have failed to list). Sometimes one is faced with a choice where one can, say, preserve a rhyme scheme, or use idiomatic English, or convey the author's metaphorical sense well, but simply cannot see a way to do all three well, or even two of the three well. One has not fallen prey to irrationalism in acknowledging this; one is just squarely facing the messy nature of reality.

Let us close by returning to morality simpliciter for a final example. I belive in the principle, "One should not support a government engaged in wars of aggression." But I also believe in principles such as, "One should be loyal to one's friends and family," and, "One has a default loyalty to the land of one's birth."

I would suggest that anyone who sincerely believes my first principle, but has not left the US, probably is weighing the force of that first principle against the force of the latter two, or some similar principles. And I praise them for doing so: that is what ethical deliberation is like: there are many principles we embrace, but they often come into conflict with each other, requiring us to weigh them in the balance. Recognizing that is not being unprincipled; it is being realistic.

* And, by the way, I think Rothbard was an extremely bright guy, plenty bright enough to know that the above paragraph was nonsense. He is an example of what Voegelin termed Marx: "an intellectual swindler." He wrote whatever he thought would advance the revolution, even if he knew it made no sense, was historically false, whatever: so long as he thought it would collect him devoted followers, he would put it down on paper.

Friday, December 16, 2011

When Thoughts Collide

Inside my little skull.

Someone today linked to this song:

While I was listening, I thought of my son telling me that people are always surprised to find out that his mother is Filipino, because he doesn't look like she would be. And suddenly it came to me; so in honor of my son, I give you:

There's a man who lives a life Caucasian
No one ever guesses that he's Asian
With every test he takes
Another 100 he makes
I guess that he won't have to pay for Harvard

Secret Asian man
Secret Asian man
You're very good with numbers
So what's with that last name?

Beware of round-eyed faces that you find
They might not like to meet an inscrutable mind
Be careful what you eat
Whites don't like chicken feet
Sea urchin eggs are gonna bring you sorrow

Secret Asian man
Secret Asian man
You're very good with numbers
So what's with that last name?

"Tomatoes Are Not Vegetables" Snowclone

Here is a snowclone almost as popular as "the Eskimos have 50 words for snow":

"Botanically, a tomato is a fruit: a seed-bearing structure that grows from the flowering part of a plant. In 1893, however, the highest court in the land ruled in the case of Nix v. Hedden that the tomato was a vegetable, subject to vegetable import tariffs. Unfortunately, the vegetal confusion did not end in 1893."

Well, yes, the confusion is apparent in the above remark. As noted here before, "vegetable" is a culinary, not a botanical, category. Something can be botanically a fruit, but culinarily a vegetable. Such as tomatoes. Or peppers. Or squash. Or eggplants. Or okra. Or green beans.

Query: Why every single time you see this snowclone, the tomato plays the role of the fruit "mistaken" for a vegetable? You never see anyone trying to look smart by saying "The green bean is not a vegetable, it's a fruit!"

Bright sparks weather gala night power cut to party on

Or so read a headline of a paper in East Sussex. But what does it mean?

Need a Course So That You Don't Molest Kids?

My daughter swims for a CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) team. (One needn't be a practicing Catholic to join such teams.) We just received a safety letter saying that, amongst other things, my wife cannot go fetch my daughter from the locker room unless she has received Virtus training, which deals with sexual molestation. ( I assume I am not allowed in the girls' locker room under any circumstances except extreme emergency.)

Well, my wife has no intention of molesting any of my daughter's teammates. What purpose is a course telling her not to do so going to serve? Look, she might be a serial killer -- does she need a "don't be a serial killer" course before she enters the locker room as well? A course in not going through the girls' lockers looking for spare change? Should she take an anti-arson course, so that she won't burn the locker room down?

And just who is going to be willing to spend the time to take this course? Is it worth taking it to run in the locker room the one or two times a season when your daughter is dawdling? Of course not. But you know what sort of person would be happy to spend the time taking such a course, in order to gain access to locker rooms where adolescents are naked? Think about it.*

Look, I'm not trying to downplay the seriousness of child molestation. And Lord knows the Catholic Church has a particular need to address this issue. But it seems to me the best way to prevent such abuse is to minimize the opportunities for it. A rule that keeps most parents out of a locker room, and ensures that the only one's who can get in are the ones willing to take a course for the privilege of entering it, is a very, very bad idea.

* I certainly don't mean to imply that every person who takes a Virtus course has evil designs on children. The coaches, for instance, are probably required to take this course. And people who sincerely want to help out in some other way may also find themselves forced through the course because of Church regulations. What I am noting is what having a high barrier to entry does to the population mix of those entering the locker room.

UPDATE: As I continue to fume about this dumb, counter-productive rule, I realize what is going on: the CYO is doing a CYA. In future cases of child molestation in a locker room, the CYO can look shocked and say, "We made them take a course! What else were we supposed to do?"

Experiential Philosophy Versus Argumentative Philosophy

There is a tree in the garden outside my window. How do I know this? Well, I see it, I hear the wind rustling its branches, I have walked out into the garden and felt its limbs. Let's say I encounter a clever modern philospher who has an argument purporting to prove that there really is no tree in my garden. If, at the moment I am confronted with his argument, I am unable to say precisely why he is wrong, should I stop believing there is a tree in my garden? Of course not. I should recognize that I have encountered a sophist, who can put forward very clever arguments for an absurd position.

It may be worth my while to spend some time figuring out how to defease the sophist's case, perhaps so that those more gullible than me are not thrown into confusion as to whether the trees they perceive are really there. But experience has priority over argumentation; after all, as Lewis Carroll so brilliantly demonstrated, even the most logical of arguments cannot persuade someone who refuses to experience the rationality of the move from some set of premises to their logical conclusion.

This point has contemporary relevance to modern philosophical arguments about the existence of God. The first philosophers who posited the God of philosophical theism, the Greek mystical philosophers, Parmenides, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, and so on, had not arrived at the conception of such a being by argument. Instead, they had disciplined their passions until they could directly perceive this divine ground of reality, which they talked about in terms of the agathon or the nous. Then, and only then, they devised arguments for its existence... but those arguments were not intended as "proofs" of that ground, but as persuasive devices, designed to convince others to undertake the periagoge, the turning around of the soul, for themselves, so that the audience of those philosophers could themselves personally experience the divine ground at which those philosophers were pointing. This is made especially clear in Plato's myth of the cave dwellers. Of course, no mere argumentation could possibly convince those fixated on the shadows appearing on the cave wall that they were missing the most essential thing, the light source casting those shadows. If they are adamant that only the shadows exist, then any argument framed in any other terms than those of the shadow world will utterly fail to move them. That is why Plato devised a myth here, rather than an argument. A myth offers the possibility of bypassing the the rigidity of notions derived only from the play of shadows, of penetrating past the illusion, and moving the listener or reader to question his assumptions, thus opening the possibility of the periagoge.

Today, philosophy is again under the hegemony of argumentation, just as it was in the sophistic time in Athens during which Socrates evoked his direct experiences in opposition to the sophists, and was martyred as a result. The mere ability to devise a tricky argument that overturns what everyone seems to understand in their gut, for instance, the absurdities advanced by Peter Singer under the cover of the name "ethics," is supposed to make us stop and consider reducing our own families to paupers in order to conform to his abstract arguments about what is ethical. But experientially, anyone with common sense knows that "charity begins at home." Of course, those who understand this should make an effort to refute Singer's arguments qua arguments, particularly in that his arguments might persuade those who have a less than firm grasp on common-sense morality. But the position taken by many contemporary analytical philosophers, which seems to be that, whatever argument most recently appears to trump all previous ones ought to move us to accept the position implied by that argument, reverses the proper roles of experience and argumentation. Of course, we may have misinterpreted our experiences, and arguments may persuade us that we should revisit them. But when a sophist tells us there really is no tree in our garden, with an argument that, for the moment, we do not see how to refute, and we have massive experiential evidence that says the argument must be wrong, the proper response is not to suspend our belief in the tree until we find the proper counter-argument, but to acknowledge that we have encountered a very clever, if sophistical, argument, and that surely, given time, we will find its flaws. In the meantime, we can continue to find shade under the tree's branches, and allow our children to climb it without fear that they will plunge to earth because they are scaling an illusion.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

How to Create an Ideology

Let's say you and I coach a football team. Over the years, you have developed a number of ideas about football, ideas like "Try to avoid third-and-10 by gaining at least a couple of yards on your first two downs. Don't give up big plays on defense. Fundamentals like tackling and blocking are the most crucial aspects of the game." These ideas are rules-of-thumb that have worked out pretty well in the past. Of course, we have been flexible applying them: if they give us the long ball on first down, we'll take it. If an outstanding, fast receiver comes along who can't block, well, we figure we have ten other guys who can, and his big gains more than make up for his weakness.

But we are not happy with the situation. We have heard that many theorists of football strategy find our approach an incoherent muddle, and tell us what we really need is a sound, rationally based football ideology. So, to answer a question suggested by our friend Marris*, how can we go about turning our grab bag of ideas into an ideology?

To begin with, we will stop considering these to be rules of thumb, and cease to balance what following them might achieve against other, competing goods (as Aristotle would refer to them, the "admitted goods"). Instead, we must turn them into "truths," which cannot possibly be in any tension with other such "truths," as though we were doing geometry exercises instead of playing football. To prudentially take anything other than these truths into consideration, to balance them against anything, we declare to be both irrational and immoral. So if the other team keeps gaining four yards by running the ball up the middle every time, and thus scores on every possession, we don't even consider paying a little less attention to stopping big plays and a little more to runs up the middle. No, that would be a "fatal weakening of principle with the base alloy of 'prudential' heresy." Let them score every time! At least we stuck to our principles! Should the defense pile up at the line of scrimmage, knowing we always go for short gains on first and second down, so what? We don't want to become prudential heretics and throw a long pass on first-and-10.

Next, it will be very helpful, in order to set up our truths in some sort of hierarchy, and shut out rules of thumb that might compete with them, to declare some idea to be a self-evident axiom, or a principle of historical necessity, or something of the sort. It really doesn't matter what we choose, so long as it has an air of plausibility about it. Let's try "Success in football should only come if earned by hard work." This allows us to name our ideology: Effortarianism! Then, we will pretend to "derive" the ideas we already had from this "axiom," e.g., "Blocking and tackling should always take precedence over speed and size, since they stem from hard work." When picking players, we will choose hard-working, lame midgets over lazy, 6'5" speedsters. Principle, you know!

A really helpful idea will be to label anyone who doesn't buy into our system, in a way that makes it clear they are morally inferior to those of us who are Effortarians. Words like "reactionary" or "natural-talentist" might do the trick here. "Oh, you 'natural-talentists'! You think just because you keep beating us 150-0 that makes you right! I suppose you think that if you steal and get away with it, that makes it OK, too?"

A good way to keep up the spirits of those sold on our ideology, despite our repeated drubbings, is to point to the aforementioned historical necessity, and proclaim that these defeats are only potholes on the road to our ultimate triumph. Sure, over the last ten years, since we turned our rules-of-thumb into an ideology, we are 0-125, and have lost by an average of 138 points, but don't despair: The Old Order of football is dead or moribund; and the reactionary attempts to run a modern football team by various throwbacks to the Old Order are doomed to total failure (just not right yet). And if anyone uses some of our ideas, but prudentially, so that they occasionally win a game, we deride them as "sell-outs," and perhaps give them a pejorative label, such as "inside-the-20-yard-line Effortarians" (since they sometimes actually get the ball inside the other team's 20).

And if we are really high on the rarefied air of our ideology, we may even attempt a maneuver such as declaring that anyone who ever so much as touches a football, but does not accept our system, is guilty of self-contradiction: "He risked giving up a big play to stop his opponent on 3rd-and-1: he's irrational!"

Marris, we may never win a game by doing the above, but I bet you we could get a few thousand rabid fans on the Internet, who will donate to us to help "spread the glorious ideas of Effortarianism." What do you say? Up for some easy cash?

* He whose comments are exalted and become like unto posts themselves.

Look What's Happenin' on the Streets...

Gotta revolution

"How a revolution erupts from a commonplace event -- tidal wave from a ripple -- is cause for endless astonishment. Neither Luther in 1517 nor the men who gathered at Versailles in 1789 intended at first what they produced at last. Even less did the Russian Liberals who made the revolution of 1917 foresee what followed. All were as ignorant as everybody else of how much was about to be destroyed. Nor could they guess what feverish feelings, what strange behavior ensue when revolution, great or short-lived, is in the air." -- Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence, p. 7

You may intend your revolution to bring about the brotherhood of man, or a society free of coercion. But your revolution will take its own course, and only one thing is certain: what you wanted will not be what emerges at the other end.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sounds Only, Please!

Is This Anyway to Fall Asleep?

Not only hopping up to blog every five minutes, but watching this s%^t (and I say that last word in the spirit of Gordon Ramsay):

Those things she is stuffing in her mouth and her eyes are Assamese chilies that are 200 times hotter than jalepeños!

Chef Gordon Ramsay, No Kantian

Kant famously told us to will only what we could conceive as positing as a universal moral law. A famous example of someone violating this precept is the thief: He wants to be able to grab others' property as he wishes, but only because he then hopes to be secure in his possession of it. If everyone behaved as he did, there would be no property to grab!

It occurred to me tonight, while watching my bedtime program, which is about Chef Ramsay traveling in India, cooking and eating, that he violates Kant's dictum in the same way as the thief does: He tries to make himself appear... what? Macho? Transgressive? Cool?... by making either "f*&k" or "s^%t" be about every fifth word he says.

Of course, if everyone did that (and everyone young is damned well near starting to!), then those words would entirely lose the effect he wants them to have. Their impact entirely depends upon their not becoming commonplace. Once everyone inserts "f@#k" between every other syllable, it will be no different than a Valley girl peppering every sentence with three or four "like"s: it will be just a meaningless noise every English speaker makes as he talks.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Flying by Flapping One's Arms

If someone says, "Attempting to fly by vigorously flapping one's arms is doomed to fail," people are unlikely to respond, "Ah, so, if you think my method of doing this fails, then just how would you fly by flapping your arms?"

But when you point out that ideologies are inapt guides to political action, you are very likely to get asked, "So, what system do you propose, then?" Or, even more remarkably, you will be assured that your statement is itself an ideology! (The latter is like being told, "Your criticism of attempting to fly by flapping one's arms is itself a form of attempting to fly by flapping one's arms.")

Our Greatest Mental Acrobat?

In the Introduction of his book, Renewing Philosophy, Hilary Putnam reports that, for some time, he was simultaneously an atheist philosopher, and a practicing, believing Jew. He said he simply kept the two attitudes in separate compartments.

(By the way, since when he wrote that he was still a practicing Jew, it seems that is the position that won out.)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Financial Reporting

Back when I worked with a bunch of traders, the lads used to crack up at the "explanations" the media would give for the movements of the stock averages.* I thought of this the other day, when I heard on the radio, "The Dow is down twelve points, on worries that a deal to solve the Euro crisis may fall through."

Twelve points! That is a .1% change in an index of thirty stocks. It is just a little, random wiggle. Half-an-hour later, the Dow was up one point. The business reported did not offer an opinion as to whether those worries had disappeared.

* Sometimes there are sensible explanations, like when the Dow sinks 500 points because Greece just went bankrupt, or something like that. What was funny was that the media attempted to explain every little wiggle as if there was an equally obvious cause.

Those Peaceful Libertarians

Like Becky Akers over at First, you de-humanize your opponents by turning them into "goons" instead of fathers and mothers with kids and dreams, just like the rest of us. This paves the way for the "second American revolution" that Akers wants. After which... well, Akers' job is not to make recipes for the cook shops of the future, now, is it?

This Will Trick Them

I sometimes watch some really terrible movies. I tend to have trouble falling asleep without something to distract me: I lie awake thinking of blog posts for you, my faithful readers. One good solution is to put on a movie, the more mindless the better, and knock off while watching it. To that end, I found myself watching the awful made-for-TV movie, The Return of Alex Kelly. Now, this movie held more interest for me than would otherwise have been the case, because the crimes Kelly committed took place in the town next to the one where I grew up*, and my father supervised the prosecution of his case. (Statism runs deep in my blood: besides my father's position, my uncle was Chief Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court, and my great-grandfather has a highway named after him for his work as New York City Housing Commissioner.)

But here is something that really puzzled me: the makers of the film used the real name of Kelly's town, "Darien," and the real state name, "Connecticut." But when it came to the county, they had the events take place in "Marsden" county! Why in the world would they use a fake county name, when they used the real town and state names?

* This begs the question of whether I have, in fact, ever grown up.

Those Paul Haters!

Over at it is well known that Reason Magazine hates Ron Paul. Well, the case is closed: Nick Gillespie has just written yet another Reason-sponsored attack piece on Paul for The Washington Post. Will you just look at the hatred poring out of Gillespie's pen? Gives me the willies!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Eric Voegelin on Max Weber

"I should stress that one important... influence of Max Weber was the range his comparative knowledge. So far as I am concerned, Weber established once and for all that one cannot be a successful scholar in the field of social and political science unless one knows what one is talking about. And that means acquiring the comparative civilizational knowledge not only of modern civilization but also of medieval and ancient civilization, and not only of Western civilization, but also of Near Eastern and Far Eastern civilizations. That also means keeping that knowledge up to date through contact with the specialist sciences in the various fields. Anybody who does not do that has no claim to call himself an empiricist and certainly is defective in competence as a scholar in this field." -- Autobiographical Reflections, p. 40-41.

Today, we have declined to the point that a prominent economist can ask me "Who was Alexander the Great?" and "Who came first, the Greeks of the Romans?" Can anyone imagine Marx or Menger, Mises or Schumpeter, Keynes or Hayek asking such questions? They all would have known these things since grade school.

A Brief Case for Universalism

I've just started thinking about this, so it's very rough at this point, but here goes:

1) Christ died to save everyone.

2) But if he didn't save everyone, he failed.

3) God cannot attempt something and fail.

4) Therefore, Christ did save everyone.

5) But how can this be just? Mother Teresa acted good and suffered, while I know a bastard who has done nothing but enjoy himself. If they both are immediately saved, that is unjust, isn't it? And God is just.

6) Therefore, it is not the case that both are immediately saved. The sinner must continue to suffer until he repents. So, if he hasn't repented at death...

7) To reconcile universalism and justice, we require something like purgatory or reincarnation.

8) Hey, not so fast! What about "eternal damnation"? That one is easy: "Eternity" is not a long stretch of time, it is removed from time. Every instant that one is damned is an eternity of damnation!

9) Conclusion: Everyone will be saved. However, for some, it may require millions of years of wallowing in sin before they are ready to repent. This is perfect justice: At every moment, the possibility is open to every sinner to fully repent and accept God. But, so long as they fail to do so, they will continue to suffer the pain imposed upon them by their own sinfulness.

Vebeln Explains the Popularity of Rough-Hewed Wood

Rough-hewed, rustic pieces of furniture, log houses, and so forth have been increasingly popular of late. Let us turn to Thorstein Veblen for an explanation.

Veblen's theory of conspicuous consumption says that,for some goods, part of the utility gained from the good is that gained by showing off the fact that you can consume goods that are that costly. (Nothing in his theory contradicts the findings of the marginal utility school; it only posits a special source of utility sometimes in operation.) Now, in the old days, to enjoy conspicuous consumption in your furniture meant having exquisitely detailed pieces in your home or office, hand-made by highly skilled artisans. Peasants had rough-hewed furniture that they made themselves, or that was built for them by a poor craftsmen.

But today, a factory can turn out finely detailed pieces which only a trained eye can distinguish from a handmade piece. Therefore, if you want to show off how much you can afford to pay for your furniture, it helps if it is obviously hand-made, in other words, you are mysteriously find yourself "into" rustic-looking pieces, rather than wanting a reproduction Queen Anne.

So there you have it.

Does the Bible Tell Us to Take Everything in the Bible as LIterally Inerrant?

"Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything..." -- Thessalonians 5:20-21

I'd say that is a "no."

Friday, December 09, 2011


So it turns out that Jon Corzine just plain lost track of $1.2 billion. It's bad enough having to explain that to Congress, but imagine the day he had to tell his wife:

"I had it in my overcoat pocket, honey, and then I took everything out and stuck it on top of the top dresser. I mean, there were a couple of business cards, some receipts, my lighter, a comb... and I think the $1.2 billion was in with those other things. But when I looked in the morning... it wasn't there! You didn't see the maid in the bedroom, did you?"

Thursday, December 08, 2011

What Made the Print?

It's in the asphalt of the parking lot at Milford Beach. It's about twice as big as my hand. It sure doesn't look like a bear track. ( -- sorry no link, I'm blogging from my phone.) A gorilla?

Who Needs a Clothes Dryer?

When a clothes line does the job just fine?

Does This Aggression Call for an Intervention?

There is a couple at the next table at the cafe, having lunch together. The guy has been going on about how the president of Iran has called for "exterminating the Israelis." Of course, this has shown to be a lie many times, and it's a dangerous lie, since it is a pretext for a war with Iran that might kill millions of people.

So, what would you do? Do you interrupt these strangers' lunch to stop the spread of this vicious rumor? Or let them eat in peace, and figure correcting the error with just this one person is only a drop in the bucket, and not worth the breach of etiquette involved in intervening?

Magical Super-People

I know, this is old, but I thought of it again in the car yesterday, and it still cracks me up, so I thought I should post it.

Here's Roderick Long on magical super-people:
While Robicheaux recognizes that government is “made up of people just like us,” she writes as though it is really made up instead of magical super-people, since she implies that ordinary people would be unable to perform tasks like road maintenance, food inspection, college instruction, and police protection without rulers giving orders.
 Other magical super-people that some folks believe in:

Architects: Some folks think ordinary people would be unable to design houses without them.
Brain surgeons: Some folks think ordinary people would be unable to hack away at a brain tumor without them.
Philosophers: Some folks think ordinary people would be unable to come up with crazy schemes like anarcho-capitalism without them. (Oh, wait, this last one is correct.)

Of course, no one thinks that any of these people are "magical super-people." They just think the best way to get brain surgery done is to go to a brain surgeon, and the best way to get police protection is to have a government provide it. You may disagree about the latter, but it is absurd to posit that the reason someone believes it is that she thinks government employees are "magical super-people."

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

First Things First

Has always been my policy. And second things second. But sometimes, when I'm feeling especially fey, I do third things fourth, and the fourth things third!

Don't tell.

Ancient Times

"Now we must consider that some of the blessed philosophers of ancient times have found out the truth..." -- Plotinus

The way we study history, we usually get a block called "Ancient History" that we cover in the first month of "World History" in high school or "Western Civ" in college. After being rushed through a whole mess of material, most students probably have a view of what happened in "ancient times" something like, "After building the pyramids and leading the Jews out of Egypt, Julius Caesar studied for a time with Aristotle, and then conquered the Gauls. But when Caesar crucified Jesus, in revenge Brutus stabbed him to death (as documented by Brutus's friend Shakespeare). This caused the downfall of the Roman Empire, and led to the Dark Ages, when the Church would burn at the stake anyone whom it suspected of thinking, people believed the earth rested upon a giant flea on God's back, and everyone died of the black plague."

But even those of us who spend more time than that in the past can easily forget just how big a stretch of time "ancient history" was. I had that experience when encountering the Plotinus quote above. Plotinus himself is an "ancient philosopher," so who could these "philosophers of ancient times" be? Well, Plotinus meant Socrates, and Plato, and Aristotle, who for him were as far back in his past as the Middle Ages are in our own.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Historical Idealism

"Historical idealism is thus opposed in principle to what we may call atomic realism. When the latter view is consistent with itself, it is forced to the conclusion that all relations are external, and that all significance and meaning are secondary and derivative, imposed upon the universe by subjective mind. For it is obvious that if the objective world is simply an aggregation of existences, in themselves devoid of meaning, the value and significance that is popularly ascribed to things when experienced really cannot belong to the things themselves, but must be taken as indicating the way in which they affect the mind through their influence upon the bodily organism.

"In opposition, then, to types of thought which may be denominated 'realistic,' and which seek to exhibit the construction of the concrete world from certain hypothetical elements, speculative idealism may be said to be characterized by the conscious effort to understand things as they are: to see together things and their relations, reality in its concrete significance, without feeling the need of going behind this insight to explain, as it were, how reality is made." -- J.E. Creighton, "Two Types of Idealism," The Philosophical Review, Vol. 26, No. 5 (Sep., 1917), pp. 514-536.

An Austrian Lost to the History of Thought...

for a time.

Daniel Kuehn is right and wrong: Hayek has not been a key figure in the history of macroeconomic thought. But Kuehn goes astray in thinking that "has not been" means "is not."

Let us recall another Austrian scientist who was absolutely nobody in the history of his science. Well, until his work was revisited, and he is now seen as a giant in the field.

I'm not claiming this will happen with Hayek. Rather, my point is to note something about history: all real historical work is "revisionist history": if you aren't revising something we previously thought about the past, you haven't done anything original, have you? Historians of economic thought are no different: look at Sowell's great work in rehabilitating Sismondi. So, it could very well be the case that Hayek has not been important in the history of macroeconomic thought, but from now on he will be.


Thoreau already had a go at this, but I have to note one more piece of idiocy:

"The theory of relativity is a mathematical system that allows no exceptions. It is heavily promoted by liberals who like its encouragement of relativism and its tendency to mislead people in how they view the world.

Oh boy.

1) Do they even realize that the classical physics which they like has its own theories of relativity?

2) How much time does, say, Paul Krugman, E.J. Dionne, or Maureen Dowd spend "heavily promoting" the theory of relativity? Has anyone ever seen any prominent liberal who does this?

3) But yes, a few nitwits have, on occasion, linked Einstein's theory of relativity to moral or cultural relativism. The right thing to do, in that case, is note they are being nitwits, and point out that Einstein's theory of relativity, in fact, posits universal and determinate physical laws holding for everyone, and has nothing to do with any notion like, "It all depends on how you see things, man."

4) "its tendency to mislead people in how they view the world."
Huh? First of all, this kind of begs the question, doesn't it? After all, if the theory is correct, then it is correcting a mistaken way people saw things. But what's more, with so many possible bad theories out there, if liberals, for some reason, did have the goal of "misleading people in how they view the world" then why focus on relativity? Teach phlogiston theory, or tell people that Hussein really did have weapons of mass destruction! (Oh, wait, the latter is the way Conservapedia tries to mislead people!)

In Space, No One Can Hear You...

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Berkeley Was Not Anti-Realist! Idealists Do Not Reject an Objective World!

Reading a nice history of idealism called Idealism: The History of a Philosophy (Dunham, Grant, Watson). The authors spend some time refuting the very common notions that:

1) Berkeley was an anti-realist; and
2) Idealism "denies physical reality" (or the external world, or something of the sort).

The authors note "that idealism is the position that reality is mind-dependent has proved extraordinarily resilient to correction... As with the anti-realism charge, [idealism's] deep claim about universal-mindedness is not destructive, but rather constitutive of reality..." (p. 4)

Another false claim about idealists is that "philosophers committed to the mind-dependent existence of entities cannot maintain, it is held, the existence of physical reality." To the contrary, the authors assert, "We know of no idealist for whom this is true." (p. 5)

Moore famously contended that "Idealism is certainly meant to assert (1) that the universe is very different from what it seems." But, as they note, Berkeley "construed the appearance of ordinary sense experience -- the purple skies, 'wild but sweet notes of the birds,' fragrant blooms, and warm sunshine -- as the real world" (p. 201, quoting Wilson). Berkeley "is in fact a common-sense realist who follows this common-sense realism as far as it will go" (p. 203).

Idealism and History

Now, to understand that history is a real, self-contained discipline, one must not, like Fukuyama, pretend to see the world as a heap of disconnected "brute facts." (No one really sees the world that way, or they couldn't walk down the street. But they may adopt a philosophical stance pretending that they do. Remember, as Collingwood wrote, ‘A person may think he is a poached egg; that will not make him one: but it will affect his conduct, and for the worse.’) It is because the world is intelligible, and facts are not atomic by internally related, that we can follow a narrative and understand how one concrete event leads to another. And the philosophy that says the world is that way is Idealism.

Of course, admitting that the world is inherently intelligible is something most modern philosophers have been loathe to do. Because once you start thinking that way, you might start to wonder if there is a reason it is inherently intelligible. And you know where thinking like that could lead!

We Are What We Think We Are?

Even though it can (sort of) perch, it still can't fly.

OK, I Was Wrong

If Newt Gingrich is leading the GOP presidential race, Ron Paul can win. I think Richard Nixon might even be able to win.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Fukuyama Does Not Understand That Historical Thought Exists

"A lot of historical writing has been characterized as ODTAA -- 'one damn thing after another' -- without and effort to extract general rules or causal theories that can be applied to other circumstances." -- The Origins of Political Order, p. 22

Here, Fukuyama's positivism blinds him to the existence of historical thinking in toto. If one has not drawn a causal theory or general rule from some series of incidents, all one has is a heap of uncollected facts. In fact, starting with such a heap, it would be impossible to ever get to a general rule or causal theory: one would have no idea whatsoever what facts to even start trying to bring under such groupings. No, events are first understood in their concreteness, as bearing internal relations to each other, before anyone could possibly abstract from them. Only once there is a coherent narrative can the construction of general, abstract theories begin.

Fukuyama is stuck in the 1920s in the philosophy of science, when it was thought there were such things as "atomic facts" which somehow, if only piled high enough, could reach the theoretical sky.

Friday, December 02, 2011

The Things We Assume

The hardest parts of our own belief systems for us to realize are there are the things we unconsciously assume. For instance, look at this comment from another post (and I don't mean to pick on the commentator here -- we all have such unwitting assumptions!):

"Do you think Feser is saying that (1) the agency choices in a libertarian society permit people to purse vulgar choices, (2) it is unjust to support a system in which many people are making vulgar choices, and (3) we *should* [since we should pursue justice], override property rights to close off some of those vulgar choices?"

Note well point three -- it assumes that there is a right to, say, distribute pornography, but Feser thinks that there is something else important that allows him (or the government he wishes to have, the proper authorities, etc.) to override this right in the interest of this other good.

Well, I will boldly speak for Feser here, and bet you 100-to-1 that that isn't the way he looks at the situation at all. He doesn't think he is advocating a rights violation in the interest of something more important. No, he would argue (and again, I'm guessing, but with high confidence that I'm guessing rightly) that no one should have any such right in the first place. Rights, in his view, are created by a political community in order to advance human flourishing. No one has the right to do things destructive of such flourishing. (And that doesn't mean that every such destructive thing need be banned: the standard Thomistic take on such matters is that the effects of the ban can easily be worse than the vice, marijuana prohibition being an obvious example.)

Merely phrasing it the way the commentator did above obviously tilts the argument in favor of a libertarian conclusion: the pornographer is having his rights violated!

Viva la Revolucion!

I have taken these bushes as hostages. If my demands are not met by the end of this week... Well, let's just say it will involve hedge shears, and it won't be pretty.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Division of Labour Is Limited by the Extent of the Market

I am looking for a vendor of jewelry-making supplies. (Shh, don't tell Bob M., but I'm making him a little something special for under his tree!) I'm currently in Milford, PA, and I can't find anything within about a 30-mile radius around my house. I called my wife and asked her if she knew of anything like that in Brooklyn. Of course, there is just such a shop about ten blocks from my house.

Now That the Villain, Government, Has Appeared on the Scene

"As an Auyana man living in New Guinea under the Pax Australiana put it, 'Life was better since the government came' because 'a man could now eat without looking over his should and could leave his house in the morning to urinate without fear of being shot.'" -- Stephen Pinker

(Hat tip to Ryan Murphy.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

When Did Human Violence Start Falling?


"Human violence started dropping thousands of years ago with the formation of the first states, Dr. Pinker argues. For evidence, he points to archaeological studies and observations of stateless societies today. With the birth of the first states, rates of violence began to fall, and they have dropped in fits and starts ever since."

(H/t to Pete Booetke.)

Comment Backlog

Well, comments have been moving through the moderation system here as slowly as Murphy passes his Thanksgiving dinner. For some reason, only a few are showing up in my mailbox, while the rest sit, unannounced, inside the Blogger system. My apologies.

Spot the Logical Fallacy

What logical fallacy is committed in the following passage? Pedro? Bueller? Bueller?
It is, however, tediously easy for people who write columns, ministers who preach sermons, or those who are generally comfortable with their jobs or finances to look down on the rushing mobs grabbing electronics from Wal-Mart shelves. When it comes to consumerism, there exists a tendency to blame the customers for bad behavior and greed.

Of course, they are greedy people everywhere, those who will do anything to gain advantage for themselves at the expense of others—people who live in a soulless world of material possessions. But the oddest thing about the folks in lines at those discount stores: They are mostly poor, working class, or marginally middle class. These are the very people who attend church regularly, express higher levels of belief in God, and are more likely to give a higher percentage of their income to those in need. Indeed, nearly every survey in religion shows that the poorer the American, the more likely they are to be both faithful and generous.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

So, Where Is The Surge?

People like Bob Murphy keep saying things like, 'It’s funny how the various objections to Ron Paul as a “serious” candidate keep falling away.' Oddly, though, the basic facts that make me think Paul has no chance of winning the GOP nomination look exactly like what they looked like eight months ago. Check out Real Clear Politics, which compiles lots of good political data. There you can see that Paul's campaign cannot get him lastingly above 10% in the national polls. He loses to Obama worse than does Romney. Paul is running fourth in Iowa, third in New Hampshire, and fifth in South Carolina, with only about 5% of the vote.

And in the national polls, he is just sitting there: no movement at all for months. He is now better known, but the plain fact is, most GOP voters don't like what they see! They think Obama is too soft on Iran and is selling out Israel, which are big reasons why they want a Republican president, and they see Paul as even worse on both issues. (And I say this as someone who thinks Paul is better on both issues than Obama.) Eight or ten percent of GOP voters love him, while ninety percent will vote for pretty much anyone else.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Creative "Translation" of the Day

"lo villanello... si leva, e guarda, e vede la campagnia biancheggiar tutta..." -- Dante, Divine Comedy, Canto XXIV

"the peasant... gets up, looks around outdoors, and sees the countryside all white..." -- Stanley Applebaum

So "guarda" apparently means "looks around outdoors"! Or perhaps, Dr. Applebaum, Dante felt it was unnecessary to mention that the peasant was looking outdoors, given that what he sees is the friggin' countryside, something he wouldn't have seen if he had been looking in his cupboard or basement, or into the bottom of a glass.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Can You Say Non Sequitur?

Anne McCaffrey is dead. Her NY Times obituary contains the following sentence:

"But the immense commercial success of Dragonriders of Pern more than outweighed any criticism."

Hmm, so what exactly is the equation that balances the errors critics spot (one critic accused her of "awkward similes" and "formulaic descriptions") against sales? One thousand copies sold negates one awkward simile?

Libertarian Neutrality

is an illusion:

"And it is very difficult to believe that [laissez faire] best promotes happiness in Aristotle’s sense of the term.  For the market maximizes the satisfaction, not of all preferences, but rather of those backed by the most spending power.  It is bound, then, to cater to the most vulgar tastes and passions – which are, by definition, the most common and thus the ones most people will pay to satisfy – rather than to more refined sensibilities.  And since on an Aristotelian conception an individual’s moral character – his characteristic habits and sensibilities – is inevitably deeply influenced by the character types and sensibilities prevailing in the society around him, it follows that a commercial society is one in which the sort of refined moral character that most fully manifests the realization of human potentialities, and thus most fully guarantees human happiness, is bound to be very rare and difficult to achieve.  But then, since on a classical Aristotelian or natural law view, a society cannot be just unless it makes the attainment of virtue a realistic possibility, a libertarian society would seem to be deeply unjust.  It certainly isn’t neutral between an Aristotelian or classical natural law conception of justice and other conceptions." -- Ed Feser

What Has Government Ever Done for Us?

"All right, but apart from sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?"

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Libertarian Slogans That Are False: II

So, in part I of our series, we established that the proposition "Involuntary exchange always makes at least one participant worse off," is only true with certainty ex ante. Ex post, we can only say, "Well, it seems likely that the proposition is true, but we can have no certainty about it -- there surely will be exceptions." (If you recall, I got the libertarian trifecta agreeing with me here: Mises, Rothbard, and Murphy all concur that this statement is only apodictically true ex ante.)

This is an important initial result to establish along the way to debunking a second libertarian slogan as demonstrably false:

"The government doesn’t create resources or wealth, it simply redistributes them." (Now, don't tell me this slogan is a straw man!) What can this mean?

The Wonder of Monteleone's Bakery

The day before Thanksgiving:

But... Aren't Sattelites Supposed to Be in Space?

From an article on seasteading:

"but the duo envisions the top platform holding buildings, gardens, solar panels, wind turbines and (of course) satellites for internet access."

Holistic Blather

Although I have been critical of methodological individualism, if I thought the only alternative were social holism, I'd be down with MI! Bruce Caldwell, in fact, explains Hayek's early adherence to MI in just that way: the alternative was much worse!

Consider, if you dare, this example from David Brooks:

"At this moment of crisis, it is obvious how little moral solidarity undergirds the European pseudostate. Americans in Oregon are barely aware when their tax dollars go to Americans in Arizona. We are one people with one shared destiny."

Say what? How is it, exactly, that the American people have a "shared destiny"? Are we all destined to be saved or damned together? To become rich or poor together? If you hit the lottery, do I win too? If I get a Nobel Prize, will I split the credit 300 million ways? Other than "Let me think of something rousing and pro-American sounding to shove in here," was Brooks thinking anything at all?

I Just Love Authority!

Now that I am an evil statist.

In any case, I continue to get a kick out of, while simultaneously being annoyed by, people from the trollosphere who post comments like this:

ME: Well, Heisenberg said quantum mechanics does have such implications.
TROLL: Ah, the old appeal to authority fallacy!

These people have never even bothered to understand what constitutes this fallacy. They simply have taken it on authority that there is such a fallacy, and, given its name, they think they must know what it means.

But the real name of the fallacy should be something like "Appeal to Illegitimate Authority." To quote an authority:

"This fallacy is committed when the person in question is not a legitimate authority on the subject."

Well, Well

Because It's So Much Better to Be Stuck...

waiting for someone to back out of a parking space.

Ramanujan's Formula for π

He was such an oddity. All of the earlier formulas for calculating π involved mostly simple numbers. But look at Ramanujan's:

 \frac{1}{\pi} = \frac{2\sqrt{2}}{9801} \sum^\infty_{k=0} \frac{(4k)!(1103+26390k)}{(k!)^4 396^{4k}}

It makes sense that someone who instantly could see what a special number 1729 is could come up with a formula like the above.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Dinner-Table Conversation

At my house:

ME: Eamon, did you wash the stainless steel pan?
EAMON: Well, Dad, I sure gave it the old Byzantine rubdown.

The Obvious Objection

Ed Feser provides it, to those who object to, say, me, when my God is not the God of the man on the street:

"It is no good replying that lots of ordinary religious people conceive of God in all sorts of crude ways at odds with the sophisticated philosophical theology developed by classical theists – ways that make of God something like a glorified Thor or Zeus. The 'man on the street' also believes all sorts of silly things about science – that Darwinism claims that monkeys gave birth to human beings, say, or that molecules are made up of little balls and sticks. But it would be preposterous for someone to pretend he had landed a blow against Darwinism or modern chemistry by attacking these silly straw men. Similarly, what matters in evaluating classical theism is not what your Grandpa or your Pastor Bob have to say about it, but rather what serious thinkers like Aristotle, Plotinus, Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Avicenna, Averroes, Maimonides, and countless others have to say."

Libertarian Slogans That Are False: I

"Involuntary exchange always makes at least one participant worse off." Well, this is only half nonsense. Of course, ex ante, it is true: if both parties believed the exchange would make them better off, it could be done voluntarily. (Query: But what about the case where I stealthily perform the exact exchange with you that you would have voluntarily made?) But ex post? Then it certainly is nonsense. A simple example: When my children were young, I made them brush their teeth. There was nothing voluntary about it. Now, years later, they have good teeth and have established a good habit. They are much better off because of this involuntary exchange. I could generates hundreds of examples like this quite easily, but you get the point.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, the brightest libertarians (generally) get this right. Mises certainly would not have demurred from my conclusion -- as he liked to say, "Many a slip twixt cup and lip," meaning, like they say in the mutual fund ads, your ex post results may vary. And Bob notes that Rothbard only claims we can say that it's likely in the ex post situation that the involuntary transaction made at least one person worse off. (Although this undermines his conclusion in his famous welfare paper.) But the naive version I am attacking, that holds it is apodictic both ex ante and ex post that at least one party to an involuntary transaction is worse off is something I encounter all the time on discussion threads. But that is not my main thrust in establishing this result: rather, it is to have at hand an important conclusion that we can bring to our next level of the discussion.

UPDATE II: I have changed the post title to be more accurate. Since Mises and Rothbard would not agree with the strong version of the claim I critique, it won't do to call it libertarian dogma; it is, however, a slogan that gets wheeled out as a conversation-finisher in many debates.

Old-fashioned excuse: "The dog ate my homework."

Modern excuse: "Dual-factor authentication ate my ability to do my homework."