Friday, October 31, 2003
Thursday, October 30, 2003
Wednesday, October 29, 2003
On whether it's morally permissible for a boss to fire an employee for performing a morally impermissible action when off-hours
Tuesday, October 28, 2003
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Monday, October 27, 2003
Although Terri's husband wants to let her die, her parents do not. They apparently hold the delusional belief that Terri is going to be just fine.Rule of law out the window.At a press conference, Bob and Mary Schindler repeated previous statements that they believe their daughter can respond to them when they visit. They dispute statements by doctors who say she is in a "persistent vegetative state," and they criticized media organizations for what they see as bias.It's really very sad. The parents also have a web site, with heartbreaking and pathetic captions to photographs like "Terri responds happily to her mother's affection."
Read the editorial I linked about the Florida House. Here it is again. The point of it is that the courts know best, and ought to be making the tough calls, and the legislature just strong-armed its way in because it didn't like what the courts were doing.Really bad arguments.
The following quotations are from an editorial by Judie Brown, president of the American Life League. The nonblockquoted observations, rebuttals, and sarcastic comments are from a blog entry by Jonathan Ichikawa, graduate student at Brown University.This story makes me sad, and the reactions to it I've discussed make me frustrated.In a court of law, the burden of proof rests with the prosecution. They must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused actually did commit a crime. In the case of a severely disabled woman whose starvation death was ordered by a Florida judge, the court of law has not determined her guilt or innocence, because she committed no crime. The court has preferred to arrogantly deem it compassionate to put her out of her alleged misery by sanctioning an act of murder.Congratulations, Ms. Brown, you've managed to correctly understand that this is not a criminal trial. I don't even have to explain why this wouldn't be murder.But in the case of Terri Schiavo, who is not terminally ill, and was not near death until the starvation process began, it has been ruled that her life is not worthy to be lived. Thus others were willing to impose on her a slow, agonizing death by starvation.On this one I have to admit that I haven't heard all the details, but my understanding is that in cases like this, suffering is not an issue. There will be no agonizing on Terri's part, either because she has no brain activity and therefore no conscious experience at all, or because they'll be treating her with pain kills. I'm disappointed in the media for not making it easier to find out what her exact physical status is -- anyone know more than I do?That is murder according to the natural law; but according to the Florida judicial system, it is an exercise in compassion. So much for human justice!One man's so much for human justice is another man's so much for "the natural law"!The sad reality is ... that Florida's Catholic bishops have been virtually silent. [They] said the Church could not make a decision regarding whether Terri Schiavo should be starved to death. These bishops urged that more time be given prior to Terri's imposed death by starvation so that "greater certainty as to her true condition" could be reached. How much more certainty does one need that a living, breathing human being will die if he or she is denied access to food and water?The bishops, one can only assume, have apparently made the genuinely enlighted realization that quality of life is a determining factor in a life's worth. Unlike you, Ms. Brown, the bishops recognize the possibility of subtle and complicated issues that go far beyond "life good, death bad".As the moments continued to pass, and the very life ebbed out of this lovely young woman at the center of this storm of controversy, one could only wonder what it really means to be innocent until proven guilty.Ok, maybe I was wrong. I might have exaggerated a little when I suggested that you understood that this was not a criminal trial.
Sunday, October 26, 2003
I am willing to do whatever it takes to be successful and for my team to win.This quotation, out of context, sounds like just the right thing to say -- the "team player" line, just wanting his Bucs to win, etc. It's funny, however, given the context: Michael Irving had just asked him whether he'd consider leaving Tampa Bay for another team where he would be used more effectively. So "my team" in Johnson's quotation apparently referenced not the Tampa Bay Bucaneers, but whatever team Keyshawn Johnson happens to be on. I'm not criticizing Johnson or his attitude -- I'm merely remarking that it was an amusing use of a relative article.
Thursday, October 23, 2003
Jesus actor struck by lightning Actor Jim Caviezel has been struck by lightning while playing Jesus in Mel Gibson's controversial film The Passion Of Christ. The lightning bolt hit Caviezel and the film's assistant director Jan Michelini while they were filming in a remote location a few hours from Rome. It was the second time Michelini had been hit by lightning during the shoot.The Onion couldn't have done better.
Wednesday, October 22, 2003
Sunday, October 19, 2003
Friday, October 17, 2003
Thursday, October 16, 2003
Defense Secretary Donald H . Rumsfeld and the chairman of the military Joint Chiefs of Staff publicly defended a new deputy undersecretary of defense of intelligence with a reported penchant for publicly casting the war on terrorism in religious terms. Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, whose promotion and appointment was confirmed by the Senate in June, has said publicly that he sees the war on terrorism as a clash between Judeo-Christian values and Satan, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday. Appearing in dress uniform before a religious group in Oregon in June, Boykin said Islamic extremists hate the United States "because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christians. ... And the enemy is a guy named Satan."Right now, I don't have time to go into this in detail. Or the stomach. I'm disgusted.
Wednesday, October 15, 2003
['How to be Gay'] "legitimizes behavior that literally puts the lives of young people at risk," Glenn continued, adding that homosexuality was a lifestyle choice, as opposed to race, which was unchangeable. "There are no former African Americans," he said.Emphasis and clarificatory block-quote by me. Avoid the temptation to argue with the second claim, and focus on the first one. I've helped you by italicizing it. What's Glenn talking about? Is he worried that gay men might become the victims of hate crimes? And why would the BDH print a statement like that without giving it a little bit of background, or context, or justification, or refutation, or anything? Like the Patriot Act story, linked above, I haven't found any other news source reporting this feature of the story. This time, of course, the surprising statement is a quotation, and so I have to conclude it actually occurred. But seriously, folks: huh????
Tuesday, October 14, 2003
Monday, October 13, 2003
Saturday, October 11, 2003
Friday, October 10, 2003
Thursday, October 09, 2003
Wednesday, October 08, 2003
Opposition to the Patriot Act brought together Republicans, concerned residents and students alike last night at a public hearing in city hall. The Civil Liberties Resolution, a motion supported by Ward One Councilman David Segal, proposes to outlaw the Patriot Act within the city of Providence.I'm no expert on how the various levels of government interact with one another, but I'm pretty sure that somebody once wrote that a local or state government can't override a federal law. So what's going on? I can think of three possibilities:
- I'm confused about the Constitution of the United States.
- The author of the BDH article is confused about what the Providence City Council is trying to do.
- The Providence City Council is deliberately passing an unconstitutional law as a kind of protest.
"This resolution says to the federal government we don't think this is a good law and we think you should change it," Secretary of the Rhode Island Green Party Greg Gerritt told The Herald. "People are not happy with the policy coming out of Washington."Now this version sounds much more reasonable. I found what I think to be the text of the resolution at citizeninfo.org. There's a lot of whereases and indirect language in there, but at least most of the actual "resolved" text seems not to fall into the category of "making the Patriot Act illegal". But there is one interesting paragraph:
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the City Council of Providence urges the city administration and its citizens during the course of their daily life to be guided by the collective responsibility and obligation of safeguarding the constitutional protections afforded all people of our city. The Council recognizes that this is the paramount responsibility of local law enforcement personnel, appointed and elected government offices that are ultimately responsible for upholding the solemn oath they have taken to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and the State of Rhode Island...Does this mean to be read as "we urge government officials and citizens not to obey the Patriot Act because we think it's unconstitutional?" It is certainly interesting language, anyway... it's fun to hear a government encourage me to break the law. But I still don't see the "making the Patriot Act illegal". I'm curious as to how successful a strategy (3) would be likely to be. In case anyone's wondering, I give a "thumbs down" to the Patriot Act because I give a "thumbs up" to civil rights. My other question is, why is the Brown Daily Herald published weekly?
Tuesday, October 07, 2003
Monday, October 06, 2003
I'm curious as to how you defend your utilitarianism given that you seem to accept ethics itself has serious problems. If your starting intuition is that we all seem to want happiness, that's a far cry from saying happiness is \"good\". It is just saying it is desirable.jdsm is responding to my comment, recognizing that it's not easy to see why intuitions should be given any weight at all when forming (moral and other) theories. There are a few quick responses that I think are important: (1) I've never tried to "prove" utilitarianism using a universal desire for happiness as a first principle. Those arguments have been made throughout the history of ethics, and are correctly regarded by most as more or less garbage. (2) In my defenses of utilitarianism in my blog, I've been defending the theory against arguments that are based in moral intuition. I have not really been trying to argue against the person who doesn't believe in ethics (or in the use of intuitions in ethics). This is because the comments that got me started on utilitarianism in the first place assumed moral realism. (3) A parallel case will demonstrate that it's not absurd of me to continue thinking in terms of utilitarianism, even though I'm not entirely solid on the basis of moral realism. I believe that there are very old general skeptical concerns that have yet to be answered. Two excellent and famous examples will suffice -- Descartes's argument that we can't know anything about the external world, and Hume's argument that there is no justification for belief in the principle of induction. Both arguments, I think, have never been adequately refuted. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't do physics anyway. Likewise, I believe it is appropriate to work on a moral theory, even if one hasn't yet justified morality in general. If I eventually discover something about morality that is incompatable with what I've been assuming (such as, for example, that it doesn't exist), then obviously I'll take back everything I've said about utilitarianism being true. But I'm not going to wait around until I'm positive that ethics is justifiable before thinking any further, any more than I'd want science to come to a screeching halt until somebody figures out how to justify induction. If it'll make you feel better, think of all my moral theorizing as a giant conditional. "If moral realism is true and something like reflective equilibrium is an appropriate tool for the discovery of moral truths, then I hold the following beliefs and use the following arguments."
Harrington's first turnover occurred just two plays into the Lions first possession. Corner Ahmad Plummer stepped in front of Harrington's pass intended for Charles Rogers deep in Detroit territory at the 27-yard line and returned it to the Detroit 23. Six plays later San Francisco quarterback Jeff Garcia found his nemesis Terrell Owens from 6-yards out to give San Francisco a 7-0 lead.Nemesis? I know that things between my two favorite 49ers offensive stars have been less than great lately, but I can't help thinking that the media wants to make more out of it than there is. Maybe it's because they're not the same race.
Sunday, October 05, 2003
Friday, October 03, 2003
- Wonderful fortune to Elsie on the LSAT tomorrow. Elsie, may your pencils be sharp, your erasers true, your mind clear, and your luck good.
- Very good fortune to any other of my friends who are taking the exam tomorrow. Some of the JMP folks, maybe?
- Horrible misfortune to those people whom I don't know who are taking the LSAT tomorrow, who will be in competition with Elsie and my other 2004-law-school-applying friends. Nothing personal, but I hope you don't get enough sleep, misread the questions, and accidentally mark outside the bubbles. I hope that you find happiness in life, but are weak law school candidates.
- Exception: if you are reading my blog entry, I exempt you from my ill-wishes, and declare myself "neutral" on the issue of whether you do well tomorrow.
Thursday, October 02, 2003
More generally, the common line of reasoning in ethics is troubling. The arguments tend to be (1) X strikes one's moral intuition as immoral; (2) Let us make a line of reasoning leading to the incontrovertable conclusion that Y strikes one's moral intuition as moral; (3) See how Y is structurally identical to X, therefore (4) X is moral. By deferring to our moral intuitions in their arguments, the utilitarians have essentially conceded the point before the game has started. Yes, I believe Y is moral, but I simultaneously feel that logically indistinguishable X is immoral. And since morality is based on psychology and intuition, not on any great holistic theory, there is nothing wrong with that.This is a good lead-in to a Philosophy Buzzword post I've been meaning to write for a few days. In fact, reflective equilibrium was the concept I had in mind when I first decided to start a series like this. As a reminder, I mean to be writing generally for a non-philosophy audience, but I also mean to be reporting uncontroversial facts about how philosophy is done. If you know better than I, and I'm wrong, please tell me. In many realms of philosophy, intuition plays a central role. Ethics is a good example -- we construct ethical theories based on the idea that our intuitions are correct. But, as pathos point out, on the surface, that just doesn't look like a productive way to go about constructing a theory. We assume intuitions are right, and use that to prove that some of our intuitions are wrong? Philosophers do (at least claim to) have an answer. Reflective Equilibrium is, I think, the mainstream method for choosing a theory to account for intuitions. It's not unchallenged as a source of justification, but I think I can accurately describe it was a tool that most philosophers who deal with these issues use. I will stick to the ethics example here because ethics is both a good example and interesting, but reflective equilibrium can be used for many different kinds of questions as well. Very roughly speaking, here's the idea: you want to have a theory of ethics, and by the time you're done, you want it to be consistent with all your ethical beliefs. This may involve rejecting some of your intuitions, because some of your intuitions might not get along well together -- either because they directly contradict one another, or because no plausible theory could accommodate both. Here's the method: in order to come up with a theory of morality, you start with some "raw" moral intuitions. Raw moral intuitions are intuitions about actions in specific cases. "Yesterday when my mom said 'good morning', it would have been morally wrong to shoot her," etc. The next step is to come up with a possible theory to explain most or all of these intuitions. The point of a theory, of course, is to generalize beyond the specific intuitions you've already looked at. Maybe you come up with the following as a piece of your theory: "it's always morally wrong to kill people." But you're not done yet -- probably not by a long shot. Your theory covers cases that you haven't consulted your intuitions about yet. So now you want to think of possible problems with your theory -- can you think of any counterexamples? "Well, I think it'd be ok to kill someone if he were trying to kill me." Or maybe, "I think Buffy was morally justified in killing Angel, because that was the only way to stop the universe from being sucked into a hell dimension." Now you have a tension between your theory and your specific intuitions, and you have to decide which will give way to the other. At this point, I think that the odds are good that you'll choose to modify your theory, rather than conclude that it is actually morally wrong to kill in self-defense. So you might add in principled exceptions to your theory, or you might re-frame it altogether. What factors do we consider when weighing theory versus raw intuition? Here are a few suggestions:
- Strength of intuition (some intuitions are stronger than others, and will therefore weigh more heavily).
- Simplicity of theory.
- Perceived reliability of intuition (perhaps we should trust our intuitions less in some cases, such as when we have a particular emotional attachment to an issue).
- Consistency of intuition (if we have intuitions that contradict one another, that casts doubt on both, and we'd better reject at least one).
Terrell Owens huffed and he puffed and he threatened to blow his offensive coordinator's house in last Sunday. After watching the tape, Keyshawn Johnson wished his receiving buddy had done one more thing. "He should actually have punched the guy," Johnson said.Odd things make me laugh lately.
Wednesday, October 01, 2003
Since the ban is voluntary, the MPAA hasn’t laid down any penalties if any of the studios, or their subsidiaries, break ranks and start sending out screeners later in the season. “We’re counting on people’s integrity to keep their word,” Valenti said. “If they don’t, they have committed a mortal sin.”Fascinating.