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The defeat of the Sasanian Empire

This is an important day in the history of the Middle East. It is the anniversary of the final day of the four day Battle of al-Qadisiyyah, in Iraq, in 636. 

The Sasanian Empire, centered in what we now call Iran, first came into existence in the middle of the third century AD, and became at once the great eastern rival of the Roman Empire.  

The fatal blows to the Sasanians in the 7th century came not from the west, from what by then was known as Byzantium, but from the growth of new Moslem Arab powers. Qadisiyyah was the decisive five-day battle that led to the defeat of the Sasanians, the loss immediately of Iraq and ultimately Persia/Iran itself, Sasanian homeland, to the new militantly Islamic wave in the region.

The battle was a ferocious enough struggle and story tellers began embellishing upon it immediately. In recent times, it is invoked within the Arab/Moslem world as a great victory over a people who were not "of the book." Saddam Hussein of Iraq invoked the memory …
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The Life or Death of Marion Wilson

It appears that the life or death of Marion Wilson Jr., pictured here,may turn on a dry-seeming point of appellate procedure, and an even more obscure seeming question in the interpretation of a precedent.

First: should a federal appellate court look through a "summary decision" to review the last REASONED judicial decision in the hierarchical chain?

Second, did the Supreme Court decision in HARRINGTON v. RICHTER implicitly answer that question "no," silently abrogating an earlier look-through rule?

Here's a link to a brief discussion of where the case of WILSON v. SELLERS now stands. 

Wilson's appellate attorney petitioned for a new trial on the basis of the alleged incompetence of his original trial attorney. There were other arguments too, which I'll ignore for the moment. The superior court denied that petition, and the attorney then appealed to the state Supreme Court. The state high court issued a one sent…

The Error Theory of Metaethics II

Relying on yesterday's prelude, let's dive right in.

If I understand it correctly, the error theory holds that (1) cognitivism is right about what ethical statements try to do but, (2) cognitivism is wrong in that ethical statements ALWAYS fail to do it, to convey knowledge.

Error theorists rather boldly refuse to re-interpret such errors in non-cognitivist fashion to turn them into anything that could be non-erroneous.

An ethical statement in the pertinent sense says that some normative predicate is true of some subject.

The classic text for error theory is J.L. Mackie, ETHICS: INVENTING RIGHT AND WRONG (1977). It contends that there are no true statements with normative predicates -- that is, of the form "X is just" or "X is a breach of trust."

In arguing for this view, Mackie coined the phrase, "the argument from queerness." He contended that ethical statements could possibly be right only if ethical facts somehow "supervene" over na…

Adam Smith on economy of explanation

"By running up all the different virtues to this one species of propriety, Epicurus indulged a propensity, which is natural to all men, but which philosophers in particular are apt to cultivate with a peculiar fondness, as the great means of displaying their ingenuity, the propensity to account for all appearances from as few principles as possible. And he, no doubt, indulged the propensity still further, when he referred all the primary objects of natural desire and aversion to the pleasures and pains of the body."


The one "species of propriety" of Epicurus is temperance, the ability to refrain from the pursuit of particular pleasures out of a reasonable concern that they will cause harm later. For example, temperance is the ability to refrain from drinking so as to avoid a hangover. That, to Epicurus, WAS virtue.

Smith is here criticizing the drive toward monism. After all, his book's title says "sentiments&q…

Catalonian bonds

Some politics, some finance, and yes some philosophy here. Would you buy a bond for your portfolio that had been issued by the Spanish province of Catalonia?

Would you do so in the expectation that the local government, which issued the bond and which now considers itself to be the leadership of a sovereign state, would be ready, willing, and able to continue to make payments? Or, in the expectation that Spain, which has now asserted direct control of the province, would be making the payments?

The worry, of course, is that neither will happen -- that the situation will continue to be unsettled, that the government in Madrid won't make these payments as a way of undermining the legitimacy of the folks who issued these bonds, that those folks won't be able to make payments either, and thus that the buyers will be left holding the bag.

The website CREDIT SLIPS has noticed something odd about these bonds:…

The Double Slit Experiment

I simply want this to be expounded once in this blog.

I've alluded to the double slit experiment in some of my recent remarks on quantum theory and its philosophical overlay, and I even pasted an image of one hypothetical result of the experiment onto my most recent such discussion. But for this once I'll be explicit.

Imagine that electrons, or photons, are little tiny particles, as Democritus might have imagined. Imagine shooting them (in Chicago-movie machine-gun fashion) at a wall that had two parallel slits in it, and that there is a screen behind the wall, such that each particle that gets through the slit leaves a mark on the screen.

What would you expect to see on the other side of that wall? You'd likely expect to see marks directly behind each slit, corresponding top the shape and size of the split. Some portion of the screen that lay between the two slits would presumably be left unmarked.

That's not what happens. Consider light first. Thomas Young did this …