Wednesday, March 31, 2004

The Ask-a-Philosopher web site

I discovered this web site a few months ago. In general, I think it's a neat idea -- people (mostly students, I think) write in with philosophical questions, and people who know some philosophy and read the questions submit answers. I've answered a few questions since discovering the site. But lately, I'm noticing a particularly high crap-to-good-question ratio. Here are a few samples from the current question posting, selected to demonstrate the good, the bad, and the absurdly bad: Sometimes, people submit interesting questions that are likely to benefit from answers by readers:
Teddy asked: Does Socrates believe that in order to be a human being one must reason and question? Where does he state this if this is true? Phil asked: If the behaviourist theory is accurate, if you lose the ability to speak, or express yourself in any other physical way, does the mind cease to exist?
Other times, people submit absurdly broad questions -- questions that define entire subsets of philosophy and have occupied generations of attention without any resolution:
Peter asked: What is meaning? Moustapha asked: What should we change in our today'society in order to live a good life?
Occasionally, I find what are obviously test questions or essay assignments:
Stephanie asked: Which of the following types of arguments are evaluated with the terms strong and weak? A) Deductive B) Inductive Which of the following types of arguments are evaluated with the terms valid and invalid A) Inductive B) Deductive
And my favorite of all are the questions that have nothing to do with philosophy whatsoever (that is, as much as anything can fail to have anything to do with philosophy):
Tobias asked: How did Kennedy's assassination affect the American Psyche? Jade asked: If you have said something about your boyfriend and then he breaks up with you but you still like him and you think he might just might still like what do you do? Especially when you think you might love him.
Apparently, you ask a philosopher, Jade.

Genital Piercing again.

Jacob Levy at the Volokh Conspiracy discusses the female genital piercing ban I mentioned last week.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The man who finds his conscience ache

I feel a need to confess: as far as I know, I've never actually dreamt that I was the emperor of Japan (see last post). I just needed an example. Now my conscience is clear, and I can enjoy some peace and lay upon a sleepful bed.

The Nature of Dreaming;

or, Maybe Ernie Isn't Crazy After All A few weeks ago in Epistemology seminar, Ernie Sosa suggested what sounded to me like an extremely counterintuitive idea about dreams. He contrasted what he called the "Orthodox Model" with the "Imagination Model." On the imagination model, when I dream that I believe that I am being chased by a tiger and feel afraid, I do not actually believe that I'm being chased by a tiger or actually afraid; instead, I'm merely imagining these mental states, much as I imagine hoping that Willow will cure Angel before Buffy has to kill him (this is only an imagined hope; if it were a real hope, it would be a hope that Joss wrote the episode differently -- and I don't hope that, since I think it's great as it is). In general, according to the imagination model, when I have X mental state inside the dream, I do not necessarily have it in real life. The orthodox model says just the opposite. (There are some surprising implications of the imagination model on Cartesian skeptical scenarios.) I used to think that the imagination model was just plain nuts, and was nothing close to being faithful to the phenomenology of dreaming. When I'm dreaming, it feels like I really am emperor of Japan -- imagining it or listening to a story about it feels completely different. But two mornings in a row now, I've had experiences that made me wary of dismissing the imagination model too quickly. I dream at night, and am doing something interesting in my dream (this morning, I was playing football, and there were two games occurring concurrently on the same field -- a men's game, and a woman's game. After deflecting a pass in my game, I helped my sister recover a fumble by throwing a key block). Suddenly, my alarm goes off, and I come out of my dream and wake up. My reaction to this is interesting -- I think to myself, "I don't want to get up yet, because I want to finish the dream. I want to know what happens." So I reset my alarm and close my eyes, and the dream starts up again, even as I realize I'm only dreaming it. And presumably, there is a smooth transition from this lucid dream to the deeper kind of dream in which I'm not aware that I'm only dreaming. If this is right, then dreams do seem quite a lot like stories, rather than experiences.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Bad slippery slopes again

If we permit homosexual marriage, then we'll permit polygamy, and polygamy is bad! Therefore we shouldn't permit homosexual marriage. That's been a cry of the Right for months now. And it's a terrible argument form, of which the Left is also very guilty of employing. There's some big controversy about a bill that's working its way through Washington right now that would make it an additional crime to hurt or kill a fetus on an attack on a pregnant woman. It's an interesting question, whether that law is appropriate or not. I don't have a strong opinion either way. But other people do, and it's not because they've thought it through more carefully. The Democrats are up in arms about this proposed law -- but not because they disapprove of double-counting for a single assault, or because they don't think that a fetus is a valuable thing that should be protected by law. Rather, they think that the law would lay the groundwork for the undermining of abortion rights. To match the above form: If we criminalize harming a fetus in an attack, then we might value the human fetus too much and overturn Roe v. Wade. And overturning Roe v. Wade is bad! Therefore, we shouldn't criminalize harming a fetus in an attack. More shocking still, the Democrats actually admit to this motive, and base their rhetoric on it:
But by giving new legal status to a fetus, it "will clearly place into federal law a definition of life that will chip away at the right to choose as outlined in Roe v. Wade," the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a woman's constitutional right to an abortion, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said.
I haven't read Roe v. Wade in a long time -- I don't remember whether it includes a stipulation as to whether a fetus is alive. If it did, and the bill contradicts it, then it's unconstitutional and someone should say so. If it doesn't, then Roe doesn't depend on such a definition. In general, slippery slope arguments are just plain bad. If there's something wrong with the *bill*, then say what it is. After all, if there's *nothing* wrong with the bill, and it's a just law that should be adopted, AND, as the Democrats are alleging, it would undermine Roe v. Wade, that's at least a prima facia case that Roe v. Wade ought to be undermined.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

A few links

  • German violinists are asking for a pay raise, since they play more notes than other musicians do.
  • Noam Chomsky has a blog. That's kind of exciting -- big name. Link chain: John via Brian via Nico Pitney.
  • How much link-crediting is appropriate/required? I think going all the way back to Pitney was probably a bit excessive... I'm tentatively suggesting that (1) referencing the blog where I got the tip is sufficient, unless (2) that blog credits another blog I already know. So in this case, I could reasonably have stopped the chain at Brian.
  • The Georgia House has banned female genital piercing by a no-debate 160-0 vote in an attempt to prevent genital mutilation. I quote: Amendment sponsor Rep. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, was slack-jawed when told after the vote that some adults seek the piercings. "What? I've never seen such a thing," Heath said. "I, uh, I wouldn't approve of anyone doing it. I don't think that's an appropriate thing to be doing." I'm dead serious.
  • Zach has a website! And Derek knows him! How cool is that?
Goodnight, everyone.

Happy Birthday, Alyson Hannigan

Sunil informs me that today is Alyson Hannigan's thirtieth birthday.
I will now relate a dream I had a couple of years ago. Those of you who've known me a while are rather likely to have heard it before. I dreamt that I met Alyson Hannigan at some kind of event where there were a lot of celebrities. I engaged in a conversation with her, and confessed to having a large crush on her Buffy character, Willow. Alyson smiled her adorable Willow-smile and leaned close to me and whispered in my ear that it was too bad that Willow was gay. If she weren't, Alyson thought she might've liked me. Happy Birthday, Alyson.

49ers positive spin

Nice optimistic take on the 2004 49ers.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

One way not to discriminate

Oregon county bans marriage. I love it.

NYT -- Mandatory public school theology

A New York Times columnists writes today about the importance of religion. He starts off discussing the civil rights movement:
Its leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., drew sustenance from a prophetic religious tradition, and took a much darker view of human nature. King wrote an important essay on Jeremiah, the "rebel prophet" who saw that his nation was in moral decline. ... Because the experiences of the Hebrew prophets had taught them to be pessimistic about humanity, the civil rights leaders knew they had to be spiritually aggressive if they wanted to get anything done. Chappell argues that the civil rights movement was not a political movement with a religious element. It was a religious movement with a political element. If you believe that the separation of church and state means that people should not bring their religious values into politics, then, if Chappell is right, you have to say goodbye to the civil rights movement. It would not have succeeded as a secular force.
I'm not sure how exactly to reconstruct the argument. It's a really bad argument if it looks like this: the leaders of the civil rights movement were religious, therefore it was a religious movement. A more likely and more charitable intended interpretation is this: insights from religious texts into human nature were vitally important to the civil rights movement, therefore it was a religious movement. It's a slightly better argument, but it's still invalid -- the (alleged) fact that reading the Bible helped people to understand human nature and more effectively change social policies doesn't make it a religious movement. I don't want to be arguing too much yet -- if the facts are right, which I'll assume they are, then this is an instance of religion affecting positive change in society. But the column continues:
Whether you believe in God or not, the Bible and commentaries on the Bible can be read as instructions about what human beings are like and how they are likely to behave. Moreover, this biblical wisdom is deeper and more accurate than the wisdom offered by the secular social sciences, which often treat human beings as soulless utility-maximizers, or as members of this or that demographic group or class. Whether the topic is welfare, education, the regulation of biotechnology or even the war on terrorism, biblical wisdom may offer something that secular thinking does not -- not pat answers, but a way to think about things. ... The lesson I draw from all this is that ... maybe theology should be mandatory [in public schools]. Students should be introduced to the prophets, to the Old and New Testaments, to the Koran, to a few of the commentators who argue about these texts.
Now this is just silly. Religious texts can provide valuable insights into human behavior, therefore they should be mandatory reading in public schools? LOTS of things can provide valuable insights into human behavior. Take away the religious claims and religious texts are (at best) good literature -- and there's lots of secular good literature too.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Carving up philosophy

While appreciating Brian's double-link to me (which I anticipate to result in my biggest hit day ever) my eye fell on a link to one of his old posts, which involves (among other things) the observation that "epistemology and metaphysics" is an often-used disjunctive category of the most non-natural kind. I think I'd read this there back in August and had since forgotten, but the same point came up in a discussion in the philosophy lounge last week (I was talking to Ben, prospective student Kevin, and maybe Jason). I think that a much more sensible carving up of philosophy would look like this: Normative:
  • Ethics
  • Metaethics
  • Epistemology
  • Science
  • Decision Theory
  • Rationality
  • Agency
  • Social & Political
  • Metaphysics
  • Language
  • Logic
  • Mind
  • Perception
Obviously, there'd be occasion for substantial overlap (questions in action theory turn on philosophy of mind or metaphysics of causation, the nature of perception bears heavily on epistemological questions, etc.), but I think this division makes more sense than the category of 'core analytic', which Brian and his commentors react to. On one interpretation of me, I've simply projected most of my philosophical interests into a category and attempted to rationalize a principled distinction. On my favored view, my interests are shaped by recognition of the natural kind that is normative philosophy.

I don't get it.

This t-shirt seems to be causing a controversy:
"It's all relative in West Virginia." From the AP story:
[West Virginia Governor Bob] Wise said the T-shirt depicts "an unfounded, negative stereotype of West Virginia." "I write to you today to demand that you immediately remove this item from your stores and your print and online catalogues," Wise wrote. "In addition, these shirts must be destroyed at once to avoid any possibility of resale and proof be given thereof."
I don't get it. Is the joke that the state's name merely relativizes it to another state, thereby undermining its integrity or completeness? That's a stereotype? (And if it is, it's surely a founded one.) I feel like I must be missing something.

This is a Brown philosophy graduate student's blog, and I am a Brown philosophy graduate student*

Saturday I noticed with disgust that I was nowhere to be found among the top 100 google hits for Brown philosophy student blog. This seemed to me like a gross injustice, so I added this text to the bottom of my blog page:
I'm ashamed to discover that I'm not even among the top 100 google hits for brown philosophy student blog. I feel like I'm entitled to that search, since this a blog of a Brown philosophy student. I hope to appear there soon.
This was two days ago. This morning I am the number three hit for that search. And Brian, you'd better look out -- I'm aiming for number one. (One must admit I deserve it more than he does -- after all, I actually am a Brown philosophy student.) *Or so you assume.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Oh yeah? Would an anti-Semite do THIS?

Has The Onion taken over the BBC?
Gibson to film Jewish 'Western'
Honestly, this story would make a perfectly good bit of satire.

Good News, Bad News

Isn't there an improv comedy game with that name? Warren Sapp said the following about his move to the Oakland Raiders:
"The bad news is I won't be back with the Bucs," Sapp said by telephone from Miami. "The good news is I'm a Raider."
Can we make sense of this? After all, there is an important sense in which Sapp's being a Raider is the same piece of news as Sapp's not being a Buc. This is to be distinguished from a mere entailment relation -- it's quite sensible to say, for instance, something like this:
"The good news is that I'm not in debt. The bad news is I'm bankrupt."
This seems to me to be acceptable, even though bankruptcy conceptually entails freedom from debt. It merely picks out different consequences of an action. Sapp's quotation does not seem to fit this model -- it's not just that being a non-Buc is a consequence of being a Raider -- being a non-Buc is constitutive of being a Raider. Also, Raiders suck.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

I now have a theater resume.

In case you were curious.

Misplaced pharmaceutical Heroics

Déjà vu, anyone? An AP story, via the Miami Herald:
A [Wisconsin] state agency is accusing a pharmacist of blocking a woman's attempts to refill her birth control prescription because of his religious beliefs. ... Christopher Klein, spokesman for the Department of Regulation and Licensing, said pharmacists have the right to refuse to fill birth control prescriptions, as long as they transfer the prescriptions to another pharmacy if the patient asks. ...Mr. Noesen was the only pharmacist on duty on the weekend when a woman came in to refill her birth control prescription. He had told the managing pharmacist that he would not fill contraceptive prescriptions because he considered them in violation of his religious beliefs. The woman later went to another pharmacy, but Mr. Noesen allegedly refused to transfer the prescription when that pharmacy called. The woman even returned to the Kmart with two police officers, but Mr. Noesen still refused, and police took no action, authorities said. Finally, she got the prescription refilled when the managing pharmacist returned to work that Monday.
This story is more upsetting than the last one for the following several reasons:
  • One might think that these pharmacists would have learned their lessons by now.
  • The woman was just asking for her regular contraceptive -- not a morning-after emergency pill.
  • He wouldn't even transfer the prescription!
  • Someone official-sounding suggests that pharmacists have a right to refuse to fill prescriptions that they don't want to fill. That's ridiculous, if true.
What good does Mr. Noesen really think he's doing? Does he really think that the world will be a better place if this woman has a harder time getting her birth control? Does he think he's saving human lives? Thanks to his actions, kids will be born who would have otherwise been tragically not-conceived? Gah.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Money in religion

Tuesday's New York Times carried a story about the success of Mel Gilbson's Passion. Apparently, other studios and networks are considering attempts to duplicate its success. For instance:
And as publicity about "The Passion" grew in the weeks before its release, NBC ordered a pilot of an apocalyptic show called "Revelations," partly based on the Book of Revelation. One of its producers, Gavin Polone, described it as being along the lines of "The X-Files," but about a nun and a skeptical scientist who begin to believe in the Bible as the events of Armageddon begin to happen.
To this, I mostly raise a bemused eyebrow. But then I raise my other eyebrow and stop being bemused when I read:
In his pitch to the networks, he said, he cited polls in which 78 percent of Americans said they believed that the events of Revelation would occur and 39 percent said they believed that those events would happen in their lifetime.
Last month, I was shocked to read allegations that 60% of the American population believes that the events of Genesis are literally true. 78% for Revelations sounds just plain ridiculous -- especially since the BBC report I read last month said that "only" 74% of Americans believe in the afterlife. Even if we allow some pretty reasonable statistical error, I have to believe that a substantial number of, say, non-Christian religous people would believe in the afterlife but not the events of Revelations. (And since the events of Revelations directly logically imply the afterlife, no one can believe in the former without believing in the latter.) In conclusion, I want to see these so-called "polls". (Also, I find it more believable but just as ridiculous that half of the people who believe that the events of Revelations will occur believe that it will occur in their lifetimes. Why would they think that? The odds of that, even given that it will happen sometime, are astronomically small. Like, zero. Hmm... probability gets interesting when we're talking once-in-eternity...) UPDATE: When it comes to money, religion isn't everything.

New Blog Layout

I have a new look... aesthetic judgments are welcome, as are bug reports.

Ideal Agent Theories

The following is sometimes suggested as a normative ethical theory: "A ought to do x in situation S just in case B would do x in situation S, where B is a perfectly moral agent." The most obvious problem with a theory like that is a Euthyphro-type response: what makes B a perfectly moral agent? I'm interested in another problem with theories like this. First, another "theory like this". This is from Peter Railton, discussed yesterday in Jamie Dreier's metaethics class. Railton is looking to define a person's best interests. He suggests something like this: "It is in A's interest to do x in situation S just in case it would be in A+'s subjective interest to do x in situation S, where A+ is what A would be if he had unlimited cognitive and imaginative abilities." Although on a first pass, this suggestion seems intuitively plausible, there are some trivial-looking counterexamples which are very difficult to write out. The counterexamples focus on the difference between A+ and A. So, for instance, suppose I am A, and the situation I'm currently in is S. I'm considering whether to spend time talking about philosophical issues with my colleagues*. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that my philosophical insight and skill is not absolutely perfect. In this case, it might very well be in my best interest to spend time talking to others about philosophy, because it might help me to become a better philosopher, which is one of my goals. But it wouldn't be in A+'s subjective best interest to do that -- A+ would correctly reason, "I already have unlimited cognitive and imaginative abilities, which means I'm the best philosopher imaginable. So talking to other philosophers will not make me a better philosopher." So we attempt to patch up the account: "It is in A's interest to do x in situation S just in case it would be in A+'s subjective interest for A to do x in situation S." I'm not sure how to make sense of this formulation. The following looks like it might be a counterexample:
Bubba's IQ is 95. Bubba is confronted with the choice of whether or not to press the big red button. The big red button, if pressed, would have the following result: God will empty the bank account of every person whose IQ is higher than 100, and give the money to those whose IQ is lower than 100.
Clearly, it is in Bubba's interest to press the button. (Assume money is good.) I don't know how to evaluate the proposed biconditional, though. Is it the case that it would be in Bubba+'s subjective interest for Bubba to press the button? I don't know. Bubba+, who has an IQ much higher than 100 would, if he existed, be worse off if the button got pressed. Then again, Bubba+ doesn't exist -- we could think of him as a fictional character, but that won't help; fictional characters only have fictional interests, and there's no reason that Bubba+ should fictionally have an interest in the button being pressed (either in the real world or the fictional world). Jamie's response to this kind of suggestion was to push the idea that Bubba+ is the same person as Bubba. Well, ok... but he's still different in an important way. And it still seems like it would be in Bubba's interest to press the button, but not in Bubba+'s. So that looks like a problem. But I recognize that I'm pretty confused about the argument. *Do fellow graduate students count as colleagues? Or do I have to have a job before I can have colleagues?

'Should' versus 'Ought'

Does anyone know of any philosophical discussion of the difference between 'should' and 'ought'? I think there is an important one. I'd be very grateful to be pointed toward any discussion of the issue.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Is everybody else's sitemeter not-working too?

Mine hasn't recorded a hit since 3:12 p.m. yesterday. But I've (1) visited my blog since then and (2) received comments since then. The reasonable thing to believe, I think, is that sitemeter isn't working right, at least for me.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Philosophical Buzzwords: Sorites

About Philosophical Buzzwords posts. Todd asked for a definition of a sorites argument. I know what a sorites argument is, but I'm not entirely sure I can give an uncontroversial account. But I'll try. Luckily, I have a candidate handy, from my paper on the sorites paradox and the aggregation of harms. The following argument is prototypically a sorites paradox:
1. A single grain of wheat is not a heap. 2. For any number n, if n grains of wheat are not a heap, then neither are n+1 grains. 3. Therefore, there is no number n such that n grains is enough to make a heap.
An alternative formulation which would also count as a sorites paradox is this:
1. A single grain of wheat is not a heap. 2.1. If 1 grain of wheat is not a heap, then neither is 2 grains. 2.2. If 2 grains of wheat are not a heap, then neither are 3 grains. ... 2.999999. If 999,999 grains of wheat are not a heap, then neither are 1,000,000. 3. Therefore, by a million applications of modus ponens, 1,000,000 grains are not a heap.
What's notable is that the arguments appear valid, each premise is intuitively true, and the conclusion is intuitively false. I think this might be a good formal definition of a sorites:
An argument is soritical if and only if it meets all of the following conditions:
  • it is of this form, where F is the soritical predicate (‘is not a heap’, for instance):
    Fa1 If Fa1 then Fa2 If Fa2 then Fa3 … If Fai-1 then Fai Therefore, Fai (where i can be arbitrarily large)
  • {a1, ... ai} is initially ordered, with each adjacent pair indiscriminable with respect to F.
  • Fa1 is intuitively true.
  • Fai is intuitively false.
I think that a formulation very much like this might come from Barnes.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Taking one box is like voluntarily smacking oneself really hard in the head.

Allan has a post on Newcomb's Paradox. So does Matt Weiner. And now, so do I. Here's the scenario:
An extremely reliable predictor of human behavior places two boxes -- a clear one and a black one -- on the table. He's going to give you the choice between taking (1) just the black one, or (2) both of them. But he's already predicted which choice you'll take. And if he predicted that you'll take just the black one, then he put a million dollars under it. If he predicted that you'll take both of them, then he put nothing under it. Either way, he also puts $1000 under the clear one. Which choice do you take?
I, who am a two-boxer, reason like this, which seems perfectly obvious to me: no matter what he's predicted, I'm better off, by $1000, taking both. That's because there either is a million dollars or there is not a million dollars in the black box, which means there is a total of either $1000 or $1,001,000 on the table, and I don't get to pick which. So I should take all of the money on the table. Allan, who is a one-boxer, offers this argument for one-boxism (Matt, who is also a one-boxer, has not told us why he is, but maybe it's for a reason like this):
P1: There is a strong probabilistic connection between taking one box and getting a million dollars (i.e. 99% of people who take one box get a million dollars). P2: There is a strong probabilistic connection between taking two boxes and getting a thousand dollars (i.e. 99% of people who take two boxes get a thousand dollars). C: I should take one box (if I want more money).
Even if the premises are correct, I think that the argument is invalid. Once the predictor has done his predicting, Allan just doesn't have any say in the matter of whether he gets that million. The "strong probabilistic connection" is not causal. I think that the underlying structure of the probabilistic connection actually looks like this:
  • There is a strong probabilistic connection between taking one box and being the kind of person who takes one box.
  • There is a strong probabilistic connection between being the kind of person who takes one box and being predicted by the predictor to take one box.
  • There is a (perfectly) strong probabilistic connection between being predicted by the predictor to take one box and getting more money.
Once we lay it out this way, we see that the second line, not the first one, is what makes one-boxers well-off. So it would be rational, perhaps, to try to become the kind of person who would take one box (if predictors routinely offered such incentives), but that doesn't mean it'd be rational to do it, once the prediction had already been made. Here is a case which I allege to be parallel: Suppose that the Friends of Lithuanian-Americans Society has decided it wants to do the following for the benefit of Lithuanian-Americans: representatives will go around town, and for each person they find, they will look up that person's name in the Lithuanian-American persons' registry. If the person is on the list, then the Society will give him a million dollars. If he isn't, then they won't. The following fact is true about Lithuanian-Americans: Lithuanian-Americans very often* have a rare mental disorder which causes them to smack themselves, very hard and very often, in the head. Almost* no one else has this mental disorder. You've heard the public service announcements in which the FLAS explained their program and the criterion for deciding whether to give the money. You've observed FLAS members going around town, and you've noticed the following interesting thing: every time the interviewee smacks himself really hard in the head, after the FLAS member finishes checking his book, he gives the interviewee a million dollars. And every time the interviewee does not smack himself really hard in the head, after he checks the book FLAS does not give the interviewee a million dollars. This, of course, is easily explained by the high correlation between Lithuanian-Americanism and head-smacking, of which you're aware. "Interesting," you might say to yourself. "There is a high statistical correlation between head-smacking and receiving a million dollars!" You'd be correct about that. But you'd be incorrect if you went on to reason, "when they come and interview me, I should smack myself really hard in the head!" Assuming that money is good and getting smacked in the head is bad, then insofar as you have a choice whether to smack yourself in the head, it is obviously not rational to smack yourself on the head. There is no causal connection from head-smacking to money-receiving, just as there isn't one from taking one box to receiving a million dollars. In general, arguments of the type "there is a high correlation between xing and something good" are insufficient to conclude that you have a reason to x. *The argument goes through even if we make all Lithuanian-Americans and no one else have the disorder.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Hey, did you guys know there might be a tenth planet?

I didn't, but apparently it might have a moon.

Follow-up on Vagueness

I've been wanting for a while now to follow-up on last week's post on vagueness and two-place predicates. In the comments, John gave a good example of a two-place candidate for a vague predicate in 'is a friend of', and Brian made a nice sorites out of it. Brian also suggested a sorites for 'is better than', but I don't think it was really a sorites, because the generating step is intuitively false. Here is his suggestion:
It's really easy to make a Sorites paradox out of 'is better than', although you have to use fictional objects. Here's how I'd do it. Start with some things that are relatively close in quality, say Joe Montana and Steve Young. (I'm assuming in the context 'better than' means 'better quarterback than over their careers'. And I'll assume Joe is better than Steve. That last assumption can obviously be amended depending on your view of recent history.) Now consider a string of quarterbacks each of them mostly like Joe Montana, but each one a teensy bit worse than the one before. For each n>0, Joen completed one fewer pass in some regular season game, or completed one pass for slightly fewer yards, than did Joen-1. I take for large enough n, Joen is not better than actual Steve. But it's vague where the crossover occurs.
There are two interesting things here. The first, which I already pointed to, is that I don't think this is a sorites argument. The implicit generating step seems to be, 'for any n, if Joe-n is better than Quarterback X, then so is Joe-n-1. But that's not just non-intuitive, it's obviously false -- let Quarterback X equal Joe-n-1. So I don't think this is a sorites, since the generating steps in sorites arguments are intuitively true. But the other noteworthy thing about Brian's argument is that it does tend to convince me of his conclusion, that 'is a better quarterback than' is vague. I talked to Brian briefly about this today. One interesting thing that I learned was that there is not a philosophical consensus as to whether all vague predicates can play the soritical role in sorites arguments. The quarterback story to me counts as evidence that not all of them can. (Although Brian hinted at an additional worry that I don't yet fully understand about the difference between vagueness and indeterminacy -- so I may want to end up saying that 'is a better quarterback than' isn't vague after all.) He recommended a paper which I've added near the top of my reading list and hope to get to in the next couple days:
Patrick Greenough, "Vagueness: A Minimal Theory", Mind, Vol. 112, 446, April 2003, pp. 236-281.
Since I respect Brian's opinion on such matters, I will go ahead and recommend the paper to you, based on his recommendation to me.

Sunday, March 14, 2004


While out running fifteen or twenty minutes ago, I had an interesting and promising philosophical insight. Then I forgot it.

Zut alors, I have missed one!

Suddenly-live lobsters.

Arguing from disbelieved premises

Sasha Volokh defends the practice of arguing with premises that the arguer doesn't believe. I agree both with his conclusion and his arguments, but I think he insufficiently focuses on the most important thing to recognize about the practice. He says:
There's no ethical obligation to be "honest" in argumentation in this sense. Arguments exist in the abstract; people are just argument delivery devices. If there exists an argument that shows that my philosophy is inconsistent so that I have to adjust the philosophy or change a position or even consciously choose to live with an inconsistency, I should deal with that argument, regardless of whether the guy presenting the argument is self-serving or a creep or Hitler.
I think that this is right, but I think it's so obviously right that it barely needed to be said. Consider: the following form of argument is utterly uncontroversial:
Suppose A. [Reasoning from A to B] Therefore, if A then B.
The supposition there is not an affirmation. It is a 'pretend this is true, and we'll see where it would take us'. So if I were to argue, for instance, that the principles of Christianity implied that we should legalize homosexual marriage, the fact that I don't believe the principles of Christianity in no way impugns my argument. In particular, "you don't even believe the principles of Christianity" is nothing at all like a rebuttal of my argument, and the Christian who opposes homosexual marriage still has an argument for his inconsistency staring him in the face. To suggest otherwise is to tell me that I have no way, even in theory, to offer an argument to someone who disagrees with me.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Escher's Best

I often forget the name of my favorite Escher piece. Here it is, for my and your reference: "Mosaic II". And here's a picture:
I am just amazed at how brilliantly it fits together. And while I'm posting Escher images, I may as well add my other favorite, "Three Worlds":
I love this stuff.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Not up to the intellectual pressure...

I will be both impressed with and obliged to the first person who can explain to me what is meant by 'Post-Cartesian Multivariate Co-Directionality,' and how each term applies.

I'm confused about terrorism.

This confused me in 2001, and it confuses me now. I'd always kind of operated under the assumption that terrorists have some kind of agenda, and that they commit acts of terrorism in order to further it. "Abandon policy X, or else we'll continue to kill your civilians." Reprehensible, likely ineffective, but comprehensible. But giant terrorist attacks without any claims of responsibility suggest that this model is incorrect. Unless the agenda is merely to cause another group to suffer, no one's interests are furthered by such terrorist acts. Why would a terrorist group not want to claim responsibility for a terrorist attack? I'd be inclined to expect that multiple terrorist groups would try to claim responsibility for the recent attack in Spain -- if terrorism is an attempt to gain political leverage, then an unclaimed terrorist attack is political capital just sitting there. What should we conclude? I see three options: (1) terrorists have the ultimate goal of causing suffering. (2) terrorists are shockingly bad at acting in their own best interests. (3) I have no idea what I'm talking about. Sadly, (1) and (2) seem pretty implausible to me..

Naughty Words, Gilbert & Sullivan, and Prohibition in England

My music randomizer just gave me Henry Lytton's "Little List" song from the 1926 D'Oyly Carte Mikado. Two things stuck out in my mind (besides his terrible voice). One was no surprise, but still jarring -- the 1926 DOC did not choose to take the 'banjo serenader' alternative that we almost always here these days, and gave us the original 'nigger' version:
There's the nigger serenader and the others of his race... I'm sure he won't be missed!
This made me wonder when 'banjo serenader' became standard. I found the answer: from Martyn Green's Treasury, quoted here:
It was not until 1947 that any form of criticism was leveled at the use of this word, yet the D'Oyly Carte had played in the United States many times from 1934 on. However, serious objections were expressed in 1947. Rupert D'Oyly Carte approached Sir Alan P. Herbert, a contemporary lyricist, to provide alternatives to the word, both in this song and in the Mikado's song. There was no difficulty over this one -- the word was simply changed to "banjo player," basing the change on Gilbert's meaning of the word when he wrote it, viz., the itinerant street singer who, in imitation of the Negro minstrel, a craze that had come over from the United States, was using burnt cork and twanging away on a banjo at virtually every street corner.
The other thing I found notable and surprising in the 1926 recording was a lyric change that I had not encountered before: a reference to 'that singular anomaly, the prohibitionist' as something that never would be missed. Prohibition lasted from 1920 to 1933 in the United States. I'm woefully ignorant about the history of the rest of the world (product of American public schools...) -- was there a British or English equivalent?

Anarchy in San Francisco!

From a story in today's New York Times about the California Supreme Court's order to halt homosexual marriages in San Francisco:
"It is an overdue day, but a good day," said State Senator William J. Knight, a Palmdale Republican who was the author of a successful ballot measure in 2000 opposing same-sex marriages. "Finally the courts have taken action to put an end to the anarchy in San Francisco."
A good rule of thumb for Senator Knight: in general, if a practice can be halted by a court order, 'anarchy' is not a good description of it.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Moral Intuitions Poll

A deadly poison has been administered two two people, Person-1 and Person-2. If nothing is done, they will both die in five minutes. You have enough antidote to save only one of them. You know the following about the two people: Person-1 is a healthy (except for the poison) sixteen-year-old. Person-2 is ninty-five years old and has been diagnosed with a fatal disease -- if the poison does not kill him, he will die within the next week. You know nothing else about either person. I believe there are four choices:
  1. Save Person-1.
  2. Save Person-2.
  3. Flip a coin to determine whom to save.
  4. Don't save either one.
Which choice is morally right?

New (to me) Philosophy Student Blog

I've added Anders Schoubye to my sidebar. He is a philosophy graduate student at the University of Copenhagen. His blog looks to have some good philosophy in it, and you should check it out.

Profiting from body parts

Interesting op-ed in the New York Times today about selling body parts for science. In general, I have a lot of sympathy with the view: "I won't need my body after I'm dead, so I might as well let something useful come of it." But I was kind of surprised at the importance of this bold part (emphasized by me):
What's more, being carved into bits and chunks and shipped to a dozen different universities and institutions seems no more distasteful than decomposing in the dark underground or being burned to char in a crematory retort. There's nothing wrong with a post-mortem adventure. (I'm told that if you donate your brain to the Harvard Brain Bank, for instance, it rides up front in the cockpit on the plane to Boston.) I'm happy to donate my body to science as long as no one profits off my parts.
I really just don't understand why that should be an issue -- why shouldn't I want people to profit off my body parts? I think the best case scenario would involve *many* people profiting *a lot* from my body parts. The author goes on to make the perfectly reasonable point that the system might work better if there could be some assurance that I or my loved ones could be guaranteed some of the profit. But I still think the bold claim is weird.

Vagueness and Two-Place Predicates

Allan and I were talking last night about what kinds of things can be vague. "Big" is definitely vague. So are "is a heap" and "is not bald." We know they're vague because we can construct sorites arguments, using them as soritical predicates. Interestingly, these, and all other examples that quickly come to mind, are all one-place predicates. The discussion started when I asked about the two-place predicate "is better than". My instinct says that there's no way that could be vague, but I'm not able to produce an argument about it. (I'm also not able to produce a sorites about it, which counts in favor of my instinct.) I'm fairly certain that "is larger than" is not vague -- the corresponding sorites has an obviously false generating step ("if A is larger than B, then A is larger than something that is only a tiny bit larger than B.") Early in the discussion, we briefly considered the possibility that there are no vague two-place predicates. But then we realized that there are -- quite a lot of them. For instance, "is a lot bigger than" is vague. But this morning I realized that this looks like a less basic kind of vagueness -- "is a lot bigger than" seems to inherit the vagueness of the myriad one-place vague predicates "is a lot bigger than x". Working hypothesis: vagueness fundamentally belongs to one-place predicates. Crazy? Interesting? Offensive? Speak!

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Paper: Aggregation of Harms, Sorites Paradox

I wrote another paper today... not for a class or anything... this arose out of an argument with one of my professors, and I thought the most convincing way to make my point was to put it on paper. If you're interested in reading, download it here. Comments appreciated, of course.
“Heaps v. Headaches and Human Lives” Abstract: Alastair Norcross has argued for a principle of aggregation of harms. On his view, relatively minor harms to a number of individuals 'add up' and can in principle outweigh much greater individual harms. So, for instance, there is some finite number n of mild headaches such that n mild headaches would be worse than one person being tortured to death. I will present Norcross’s argument and defend it from the objection that it is merely an instance of the sorites paradox. In so doing, I offer a kind of response to a potentially broad range of attempts assimilate arguments to the sorites paradox.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Conceptual Analysis: "Directing"

Joe White sent me this email yesterday:
Howdy all! I'll be directing the Rice Light Opera Society in their production of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance, March 18-27, at Will Rice College, Rice University. Shows are Thursday-Saturday at 8pm (except Friday 3/26, which is at 10pm). Tickets are $5 for Rice students, $10 others. For reservations, directions, and more info, please go to Hope you can make it! Joe
I expect the show will be good, and if you're in Houston (or will be one of those weekends), I think you should see it. I'll be there the 27th. But what I wanted to focus on in my blog was this sentence: "I'll be directing ... The Pirates of Penzance, March 18-27." Directing is certainly "time-apt" -- it's something that people do, and the event of the directing does exist in time. So, for instance, there's nothing at all odd about my saying that I directed a show last spring, or that Wolfgang Petersen will direct Ender's Game in 2006. But when exactly does directing occur? It sounds odd to me for Joe to say that he will direct Pirates March 18, since, presumably, his work as director will by then be finished. Then again, it does seem possible, at least in principle, for a director to 'quit' a show very, very late in the process -- maybe even after performances have begun. So what do we think? What are the (non-deflationary, please) truth conditions for "Joe directing the show at time t."? A few pieces of intuitive data to keep in mind:
  • Joe can be directing a show when rehearsals are not taking place -- say, at noon, when everyone is doing something un-show-related.
  • There must be a starting and ending point, since directing is tensed -- I will direct next year, I am directing, I directed last year. These are mutually exclusive.
  • One would think that the earliest point at which we could describe the director as having directed the show is significant.
  • Auditions sometimes happen considerably before the first rehearsals.

49ers, Salary Cap, dumb writers

Mark Kreidler at ESPN doesn't agree with my optimism about the 49ers. He makes two or three good points and a ton of bad ones. Here we go:
The 49ers? They're all set to embrace Tim Rattay, who is 26-years young, cheap and unproven after two solid starts and one hideous breakdown in Green Bay last season.
14/30, 142 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT. This compares to an average of 212 passing yards per game allowed by Green Bay last year. I can't find numbers for the other statistics. Not good, but not a horrible breakdown. Tim'll be alright.
Garcia: Gone. Terrell Owens: Presumed gone for months, now in trade-grievance limbo, but most assuredly never to play another down for the 49ers despite their crying need for a game-breaking receiver. Garrison Hearst: One-way ticket out of town.
...after he asked for it, when we signed Barlow to a long contract and clearly intended him to the be starter.
The offensive line: In "transition," a word you'll hear a lot this summer around the 49ers' Santa Clara training facility, after the team declined for financial reasons to retain three-time Pro Bowler Ron Stone and versatile Derrick Deese.
Yeah, I know. Good point. Very understandable 'financial reasons', though... it's called NFL regulations and the salary cap.
For years, during the fat-cat days of Eddie DeBartolo and his bottomless money pit, San Francisco was the franchise that didn't mind paying for the top two players at every position -- one to start for them, and the other one so he couldn't start for any other NFL team. Steve Young stood on the sideline holding Joe Montana's clipboard for three years. End of story. But that was long ago, long ago. The 49ers of today are the 49ers of John York, who announced he intended to run the club more like a "business" and has gone about doing so, right down to the point of going 7-9 and then stripping away much of the playmaking talent from even that club.
Again I say, salary cap. The 49ers can't spend that much any more, BECAUSE THEY'RE NOT ALLOWED TO. There is no indication in the article that salary cap considerations had anything to do with any of the 49ers moves. I can understand a disgruntled fan thinking this way... but a sports writer? Give me a break.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Ten thousand visitors, blog stats

I got my 10,000th visit today (Monday). It might've been you. If anyone's curious, as of right now I'm averaging 113 visits and 153 hits per day.

Incentives and the Presidency

Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber links to the "surreal rantings" of Adam Yoshida, who starts off yesterday's surreal rant with a genuinely interesting question:
I've always wondered if it were possible for someone to get elected President with a truly secret agenda in the back of their mind. Could a sufficiently determined individual mouth the right platitudes, do the right things, get to know the right people, and then take hold of the greatest office in the land and use it for some strange purpose? Such things are hardly unknown. Our recent history is filled with examples of covert agents how managed to remain under cover for years or even decades. Look at how high the Cambridge Spies rose in Britain before their fall. Or look at Robert Hansen and Aldrich Ames. They managed to pull off their deceptions for years without being detected. And this, I might add, they managed despite the fact that, to do their work, they needed to be known to Soviet (or Russian) intelligence and actively cooperate with them, thereby opening up any number of chances for exposure. But what if someone was a really deep sleeper agent? Or simply a rogue individual with a private agenda? How could they be detected? How could they be stopped?
Yoshida goes on to say some pretty silly things about John Kerry and George Bush. I don't know if the guy is 'for real' or not. But I think the quoted introduction is interesting to think about. I guess what I really want to turn out to be the correct solution is that any person who sufficiently advances in American politics to become President would benefit more from the nation's prosperity than from fulfilling what alternative agenda he might have had coming in. Unfortunately, that's just not plausible, the way the status quo is set up. A U.S. President just doesn't have all that much to gain from U.S. prosperity. Maybe it's time for a change. In the business world, executives and board members are required to own shares of their corporation -- this guarantees an incentive to look out for the corporation's best interest. Maybe we should do something like that for the Presidency. Here's my idea. We'll hook up the President's body to a sophisticated machine that takes as input economic performance data, crime rates, poverty rates, war casualties and injuries, corporate scandals, light-rail crashes, and Nielson ratings for reality TV shows. Whenever something bad happens to the nation, the machine would respond by causing physical pain to the President's body. A hundred soldiers die in Iraq? The machine breaks George Bush's left pinky. It could work.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Tall. Too tall.

James Bond is too tall to be a spy.


A couple of months ago, I bought the DVD set of Season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I bought it (brand new, still in plastic wrapping) from an ebay seller. Today I discovered that one of the disks has some problems. It skips around, goes fuzzy, etc. Maybe it's scratched? I don't really know anything about DVDs. What I want to know is, is there anything to be done about this? Can I call the manufacturer or something for a replacement disk? It was definitely defective when I got it -- yesterday was the first time I ever touched the thing. Anyone have useful advice?

Friday, March 05, 2004

49ers Off-Season Update

It's been an even busier off-season than I'd expected so far. So far, considering the lousy prospects going in, things have gone pretty well for the 49ers. They managed today to sign Ahmed Plummer to a long-term contract. He and Mike Rumph will make fine starting corners. Linebacker Julian Petersen got the franchise tag and will be back for next year. In other words, the defense is looking great. Last year's dominant 49ers defense is pretty much coming back. And then there's the offense. Here's where we're looking at big changes. Owens is gone, but not the way we expected. Thanks to a paperwork snafu, we get a second-round pick out of the deal. That's just a free player -- we were expecting to get nothing. More surprisingly, Jeff Garcia was released as a salary cap casualty. Garrison Hearst asked to be released when it became clear that Kevan Barlow is the starter (we've got a nice long-term deal with him now). The 49ers (dubiously, I think) gutted the O-line by releasing both Ron Stone and Derrick Deese. Tai Streets's fate is still undetermined, but it seems likely that he'll leave. So the Niners lose six of eleven starters on offense. But now the good news about the offense: Barlow is more than capable as running back. Fred Beasley's staying, and we shouldn't miss a beat with the running game. I liked Garrison Hearst a lot, but the 49ers shouldn't miss him too much. Barlow can get it done. At quarterback, Tim Rattay looked good the three games he started last year. Very good. I'm cautiously optimistic. I'm a huge Jeff Garcia fan, but Rattay has been a patient backup a long time. I'm sure he's picked up a thing or two. I'm more worried at wide receiver -- we need starters. Maybe young badasses like Brandon Lloyd and Cedric Wilson can step up, or maybe we'll bring in a veteran or two. It'll be ok. The big question mark is O-Line. And the other good news: the Niners have turned themselves, pretty much in the past two weeks, into a very cap-healthy team. They're young, they're good, and they're getting rid of the dead money. This is good news. And we're poised for a *great* draft -- with the bonus T.O. pick, we can do some great things in this year's very deep draft. There's a lot of room for optimism right now in 49er-land.

Hume's Law -- Let me know if you want to read my paper.

I posted last week on Hume's Law -- since then, I've completed a draft of a short (10-page) paper on the topic. If anyone is interested in reading it, please email me or leave a note with your email address. I'd very much appreciate comments. If they come in the next few days, I may incorporate them into my paper before turning it in. If they come afterward, they will enrich my intellectual experience and may be incorporated into any future work I do on the topic. Either way's good. In my paper, I consider three puzzles that arise from Hume's Law. Hume's Law seems intuitively right, but it's difficult to say why and how. The first puzzle is, "Why does Hume introduce the principle? What work does it do for him?" The second is, "Can we formalize Hume's Law in a way that avoids trivial counterexamples?" The third is, "Does the principle of 'ought implies can' pose an insuperable threat to Hume's Law?" I attempt to solve all three puzzles by limiting the scope of Hume's Law to motivational morality.


From Reuters via Yahoo:
A Los Angeles Times music critic who wrote that a Richard Strauss opera was "pro-life" -- meaning a celebration of life -- was stunned to pick up the paper and find his review changed by a literal-minded copy editor to read "anti-abortion." Music critic Mark Swed said the copy editor was adhering to a strict Times policy banning the phrase "pro-life" as offensive to people who support abortion, and didn't seem to realize that the epic Strauss opera "Die Frau Ohne Schatten" had nothing to do with that politically charged issue.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Aggregation of Harms and the Sorites Paradox

Today in Malory Seminar (don't ask), for some reason, discussion turned to aggregation of harms, something I discussed quite a lot in the early days of this blog. I presented the argument from Alastair Norcross's paper, which I fully agree with. Briefly, here is the argument:
It is possible to construct a list of slightly-increasing harms, from 'having a mild headache' to 'being tortured to death'. For any two consecutive items on that list, H1 and H2, where H2 is slightly worse than H1, there is some finite number of instances of H1 such that that number would outweigh one instance of H2. So, for instance, a billion bad headaches is worse than one REALLY bad headache. But, given the transitivity of 'worse than', this means that there is some (astronomical) finite number of headaches that is worse than one instance of being tortured to death.
Many people find this conclusion counterintuitive. I do too, but I'm convinced by the argument. My professor (like many of my readers last time around) was not. I found her response very puzzling, though. She said roughly the following. "The argument you're giving is just an instance of the Sorites paradox. Therefore, it is unconvincing, because either: (1) the Sorites paradox has a solution, in which case that solution will also apply to your argument, or (2) the Sorites paradox has no solution, in which case we shouldn't worry about instances of it." I was blown away at the psychological ease with which she discussed especially the second possibility. "If the sorites paradox has no solution"! Surely she's not asking us to accept that some contradictions might be true! All paradoxes must have solutions! If not, the world is seriously gone to hell. I also have doubts about the plausibility with which we can describe this as an instance of the Sorites Paradox, but my thoughts there aren't yet developed enough even for web publishing. They have something to do with what might be the impossibility of vagueness about 'better than'.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Jonathan on Stage March 12-13

My life just got busier. The following may mean less blogging for the next couple weeks. It also may not. It certainly means less free time for me. But it also means you can see me perform if you're inclined to and in Providence March 12 or 13. 8:00, March 12 and 13 I'll be performing in a staged reading of Dreams and Fires -- and updated version of the ancient epic, Gilgamesh. Performances are open to the public and free and in the McCormack theater. That's somewhere on the Brown campus -- that's all I know as of now. The show intersperses the epic with a modern-day narrative set in New York, with the same actors performing in both storylines. There is some singing involved. I'm reading/singing/performing Gilgamesh. It'll be weird, and maybe cool. You should come if you want to and can.

(slightly) more on Hume's Law

Brian linked a couple days ago to my post from last week on Hume's Law and mentioned a relevant Gillian Russell paper. I've now read the paper and recommend it to others interested in the issue. I discuss it (very briefly) in my readings blog.

Monday, March 01, 2004

What sorts of things are reasons?

Rain. It is raining. Furthermore, I have formed (through a good epistemic process) the belief that it is raining. I am about to go outside, and I take my umbrella, because I don’t want to get wet. What is my reason for taking the umbrella? Possibilities: (i) My belief that it is raining. (ii) The fact that it is raining. Here is an argument motivating (ii), which I've recently heard independently in lectures by Jaegwon Kim, Jamie Dreier, and John Broome: Suppose I am deliberating on the question of whether to take my umbrella. It would certainly not be rational of me to merely sit and introspect my beliefs in order to discover whether I believed it was raining – my belief at the time of my deliberation begins is irrelevant. If I want to know whether to take my umbrella, I ought to try to determine whether it is in fact raining, not whether I believe it to be raining. So I should look out the window, not into my head. But I think it's hasty to conclude that reasons are facts. Consider: New Age CD. Suppose that I am preparing to go outside and deliberating on whether to take my umbrella. I hear a heavy patter on the roof and occasional booming thunder-like sounds and form the belief that it is raining. I take my umbrella outside and surprised to find the skies sunny and clear – the sounds I heard were from a New Age CD being played loudly upstairs. It seems somewhat plausible to say that my reason for taking my umbrella outside was my belief that it was raining. It does not seem at all plausible to suppose that the reason was the fact that it was raining, for there is no such fact. And surely my action was not irrational – I certainly carried my umbrella outside for some reason. The defender of reasons-as-facts might reply that there is indeed a fact which provided my reason for action -- the fact that my neighbor was playing a CD which sounded like heavy rain. In one sense, this is satisfying -- in many contexts, it would provide a good answer to the question, "why did you bring your umbrella outside?". But in another, it is not. It seems odd to claim that my action was both rational and for a reason which I grossly misidentified. I didn’t believe that my neighbor was playing a CD. I believed that it was raining. This points to a criterion for reason-status. In agency-ideal circumstances (by which I mean circumstances where good, self-aware, non-akratic agency occurs) like Rain and New Age CD (which is agency-ideal but not epistemically-ideal), reasons must be internally accessible. This seems at least prima facia to be a case against the idea that facts in the world can be reasons for action. How can an external fact be cognitively accessible? It is not at all clear that I have access to the fact that it is raining in question in Rain, and in New Age CD, I certainly do not have access to either the fact that it is raining (which does not exist) or the fact that my neighbor is playing a rain-like CD (which I am completely unaware of). So both beliefs and actions seem to have serious problems. Could reasons be something else? We want our reasons to be internally accessible, yet also constitute good sensitivity to our environment. Here's a crazy idea: appearances. Appearances meet all the criteria I’ve discussed here for reasons. They are internally accessible. And if I am deliberating whether to take my umbrella with me when I go outside, it does not at all sound ridiculous for me to consider whether it appears to me that it’s raining (after all, this is the best that we can do when we wish to consider whether it’s raining). Furthermore, appearances as reasons easily account for deviant sources of belief: in New Age CD, I do take my umbrella for a reason – it sounded to me like it was raining. I know there's a ton of literature on this stuff, and what I'm saying is pretty simple. That suggests to me that it's either been discussed before or is obviously wrong. Probably the latter. It's not obvious yet to me, though, what's wrong with this view. Suggestions?

Gay Marriage

Lisa Schiffren, the author of an editorial in yesterday's New York Times, would have done well to take a look at Ted Barlow's CT post from last week -- particularly some of the (long) comments section. Schiffren defends President Bush's new War on Homosexuals with her editorial, "How the Judges Forced the President's Hand". The first claim is that Bush didn't want to make a big issue out of gay marriage, but he was forced to throw his weight into the new culture war that was started by a bunch of mean judges in Massachusetts. Let's go to the line-by-line. (I'm going to liberally excerpt passages. I won't use ellipses to show that I'm cutting sentences or paragraphs. As usual, I'm being honest and fair in my clippings, but you should check the context if you want to be sure what she has to say. Emphasis is added by me.)
George W. Bush is not a culture warrior by inclination. And he clearly did not seek this fight over gay marriage. I'd guess that he, like most Americans, wishes it would go away.
I won't pretend to know the man's private desires, but it strikes me as possible to think that President Bush saw that his polls were dropping, and that a lot of big voting block is on his side of -- and feels strongly about -- this issue.
More ominously, four Massachusetts judges, looking to bring about radical social change from the bench, decided that their commonwealth must begin performing same-sex marriages this spring.
I guess in a sense this is true, but I love the use of 'must' here -- it makes me think that the judges started telling people they had to marry others of the same gender, whether they like it or not! It's cute.
Whether you favor gay marriage or not, it should be a concern when judges and officials decide to circumvent the democratic process on a core issue.
Yeah, don't you hate when the judicial branch does anything?
Marriage, defined as one man and one woman, has been a foundation of our culture for millenniums [sic]. It is society's basic institution for raising children. It expresses the unique relationship between men and women, an ideal based on love and care that is harnessed to the future: the next generation. It is how we protect children from the pain and frequent poverty of fatherlessness and family breakdown. Like private property and the rule of law, marriage is one of a few institution [sic] that hold up democracy.
If there's supposed to be a connection between the last line and the rest of the paragraph -- or any justification for the last line whatsoever -- I have no idea what it is.
The virtue of the amendment process is that it requires the consent of the governed. It forces nationwide debate and examination. Why are so many liberals now trying to keep that debate from happening?
I'm genuinely not sure what she's talking about here (and not in a smug, superior way). Liberals are trying to stop the debate from happening? Who? How? And if she's right about this claim, I join her in asking Why? I agree with the others who've commented that this is a historic opportunity for any group to get on the right side of an important issue. There are dividends to be earned once now is history. Update: Oh, now I get it! I think this is her 'argument':
1. If the amendment goes through, there will be discussion. 2. Liberals oppose the amendment. 3. Therefore, liberals oppose the discussion.
No wonder she didn't spell the argument out clearly. What was it Roderic said? "Humph! These arguments sound very well, but I can't help thinking that, if they were reduced to syllogistic form, they wouldn't hold water."