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Showing posts from November, 2013

Disbelief and the Will to Believe

I'll here continue yesterday's discussion on William James' skepticism about  the argument from design, which was in turn continuing a discussion from the week before.

In my recent exchange in the comments section of this blog with Henry, I observed that there has been an alliance, in the development of the philosophy of religion, between fideists and unbelievers.
A fideist by standard definition is one who embraces a religious creed and who sees that embrace (Faith) as valuable in itself, and again who sees it as "in some sense independent of, if not outright adversarial toward, reason."

James's essay on the "will to believe" is a rather moderate expression of fideism. He is certainly not advocating an adversarial relationship with reason, but he does argue that there are matters reason doesn't decide, and that in these matters an intellectualized expression of human will -- Faith -- may and in fact must step in. It is good that Faith plays s…

More on the Argument from Design

Last week I wrote an entry about the "argument from design," and William James' negative view of it.

This week, prompted by a commenter there, I'll add some thoughts.

I quoted James writing thus:  "When one views the world with no definite theological bias one way or the other, one sees that order and disorder, as we now recognize them, are purely human inventions. We are interested in certain types of arrangement ... so interested that whenever we find them realized, the fact emphatically rivets our attention. The result is that we work over the contents of the world selectively."

Henry objected. He saw two arguments here, one on the assumption that order is an objective fact, the other on the denial of that assumption.

1) Assuming order is an objective fact, it is equally so that there is a lot of disorder too, which vitiates the proposed inference that there is an order-loving Creator.

2) But order isn't an objective fact, it is subjective, an inv…

A Review of The Hobbit

The Hobbit first appeared in 1937. Yes, that's getting to be a long time ago.

One of its more enthusiastic reviewers was famed medievalist, Christian apologist and science-fiction author C.S. Lewis. This was his take.

There and back again

Money quote, "But there are dwarfs and dwarfs, and no common recipe for children's stories will give you creatures so rooted in their own soil and history as those of Professor Tolkien -- who obviously knows much more about them than he needs for this tale."

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

The Argument from Design

Below is my response to the question "is the teleological argument strong enough to convince an atheist?" within Yahoo!Answers:

[The regular reader of the blog, or even someone who has just glimpsed at the title of this blog, will be unsurprised to see that the bulk of it consists of a quotation from the works of William James.]

Obviously, if someone is an atheist, it is because that person has not been convinced by such arguments (all adult atheists have heard such arguments). So in a sense the answer is trivially "no."

But you may want to know whether the argument has sufficient force to persuade an ideally rational atheist. I have to say that in its usual forms anyway, the argument seems to me rather week.

William James put his finger on one of the weaknesses of the argument when he wrote (in a footnote to lecture 18 of VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE), "When one views the world with no definite theological bias one way or the other, one sees that …

Jon Stewart on Obama

Gotta love it.

Or Maybe Not

But at least you've got to love the way Stewart plunged right into his This is Spinal Tap reference.

A Certain 50th Anniversary

I have nothing to add to what has been said about the significance of this day, 50 years ago, in U.S. history.

Yet on this day I can't imagine myself devoting my blog entry to some other subject, so let's see if I can scare up an unusual angle.

Well ... there's a striking fact involving the National Football League. One of the weird facets of the weekend following the murder of President Kennedy was that the NFL proceeded with its full schedule of games. Nothing else went on as normal that weekend, but football did.

Sports Illustrated magazine ran this on that subject on the 30th anniversary.

Of course, there was nothing normal about that Sunday. Less than an hour before kickoff of the early games., Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald. In Pittsburgh, the Bears and the Steelers played to a 17-17 tie. "Before the game you're usually talking about picking up blitzes," says former Pittsburgh running back Dick Hoak. "Instead, we were saying, 'Did you hear…

Unasked Questions for Yellen

Soon after Janet Yellen's confirmation hearing, Nouriel Roubini prepared a list of ten important questions nobody had asked her, and tweeted them.

Of course, given the nature of twitter, he had to offer these questions one by one. Given the nature of a blog, I can put them all together for him here.

1. Do you support optimal control, the notion that inflation sometimes has to be allowed to go above target?

2. You have written that inflation may have to go above target for awhile to reduce labor slack. Do you support this optimal control?

3. Do you agree with Governor [Jeremy C.] Stein that macro-pru will not be sufficient to control bubbles? Would you raise rates sooner to prick bubbles?

4. While you say 'no bubble' today, what is the risk that slow QE exit and policy rate normalization over  4 years will cause bubbles down the line?

5. If the current approach to too-big-to-fail will not work would you down the line support breaking up big banks to deal with TBTF?

6. …

Reviewing Khan

I'm quite happy with the way my review of this book for The Federal Lawyer turned out.

Reviewing Khan

Regular readers of this blog may remember the book, which I discussed with you here, this spring.

I'll quote myself, only briefly:

"Riba is always a negative.  Whatever exactly riba is, it is bad. Thus, any devout Muslim who believes as an empirical matter that interest is a critical part of a successful financial system will have to have an understanding of riba that allows him to support the charging of interest while still condemning riba."


Terry Teachout on Shakespeare

The photo above is from the movie Shakespeare in Love (1998).

I have used it just to lure you cinephiles in. I have nothing to say about that movie at all. Or movies in general -- I'm thinking of live theatre this morning for some reason.

And I'll present without further comment the following, from a review by Terry Teachout in last Tuesday's Wall Street Journal.

"Broadway is one of the worst places in America to see Shakespeare done right -- not because nobody there knows how to mount his plays (though I sometimes have my doubts), but because virtually all of the theatres on the Great White Way are conventional proscenium-style houses in which the actors and audience are placed on opposite sides of a rectangular arch that frames the stage. Shakespeare's plays, by contrast, were written for a far more intimate kind of space, the closest contemporary counterpart of which is a thrust stage that allows the audience to sit on three sides of the actors."

Southwestern lawns and political theory

Writing as I did yesterday about Hoover dam and the hydraulic theory of history, I came to think also of the American institution of lawns.

In other countries, homeowners have plots and they do various things to garden and decorate their plots. But in America, everyone seems agreed on the proper way to decorate your plot: blade after blade of grass regularly mowed to keep all the blades to a uniform height, the congeries of blades as dense as possible to convey a sense of lushness, as much like your neighbor's as possible -- except a darker green -- to lull him with your conformity to type while also driving him mad with envy.

Michael Pollan wrote back in 1989 that the standard issue lawn was like the interstate highway system, or fast-food franchises. Together, these innovations make "the suburbs of Cleveland and Tucson, the streets of Eugene and Tampa, look more alike than not."

The love of lawns goes back a long time. Gatsby, in Fitzgerald's novel, sends a gard…

Hoover Dam

On a recent visit to Las Vegas I visited Hoover Dam. You can see one of the resulting photos above.

I'm told that I over-intellectualize things ,and I sometimes resent that observation. But in this case ... I have to report that I couldn't help but reflect on the theories of Karl Wittfogel when I looked at that sight.

Wittfogel, professor of Chinese history at the University of Washington from 1947 to 1966, developed the "hydraulic theory of state formation." This is the view that sovereigns and empires rise and fall based largely on their control of water, especially for flood control in wet regions and irrigation in dry regions. A state that organizes forced labor for these purposes will inevitably be despotic, but since the irrigation/flood-control projects will be so indispensable for the life and livelihood of much of the population it will be able to maintain its despotism over long periods of time.

Wittfogel began his academic career as a Marxist, and his h…

Rob Ford

Too easy.



Toronto's mayor says, "yes, I have smoked crack cocaine. Am I an addict? No. Have I tried it? Um, probably in one of my drunken stupors, probably approximately a year ago."

I'm a laissez-faire kind of guy. I don't have an issue with regard to his drug of choice. But this statement displays the pathology that makes the liberty-eviscerating War on Drugs possible.

He tries to mitigate the significance of his use of an illegal substance by referring to his abuse of a legal substance.

Further, he did this only after staunchly denying for months that he had smoked the stuff or that there could possibly exist a video showing that he did so. So, essentially, he acknowledges the badness of what he was doing by the denials and the excuses, and fuels the 'War on Drugs,' a brushfire of a war that desperately requires buckets of dousing water, not further fuel.

He has made this statement only after the Toronto police announced that they obtained the vid…

Todd Zywicki: Linkfarming

This name only recent came across my cognitive radar: Todd Zywicki.

He's a George Mason University Law school professor, with controversial views about insolvency and bankruptcy.

Let's just make this a link farm. Here is his GMU page.

Here's a page at Mercatus.

He's on Facebook.

But he came across my radar courtesy of CreditSlips.

I find CreditSlips a valuable source of ideas for blogging and for more lucrative writing as well. Some of my work on Argentina was more-or-less directly inspired by Creditslips' coverageof that particular insolvency. So I'm inclined to pay attention when they kvetch.

And here they are, kvetching about Zywicki.

That is their latest Zywicki-jab. But as you'll see if you follow that link, CS and Z have a history. Here's a bit more of it.

If you follow that, you'll see that it concerns a dispute over "interchange regulation" (regulation of the fees charged for the use of a credit or debt card.)  For Zywicki'…

Rebehak Brooks

Rebekah Brooks -- the lass who looks like Hermione after she magically borrows Ron's hair -- was once the head of The Sun, whence she moved in June 2009 to News International, and in both capacities was considered a right-hand woman of Rupert Murdoch. She resigned that latter job two years and one month after she took it, under pressure of the phone-hacking scandal that has brought her to this.

Now, she's on trial.

An Aussie friend of mine calls it the trial of the century.

Well ... only one-seventh of this century has thus far passed us by. But we are seeing the trailing end of a news story that has been appalling and amusing in turns, and both in epic proportions.

Here's a link to the curtain-opening piece from The Guardian.

Harre and Prinz on Loneliness

In 1986 a fellow named Rom Harre wrote a defense of the "social constructivist" view of emotions and discussed loneliness in this connection. Loneliness, in his view, has no somatic component, it is a cognitive emotion, and thus illustrates how emotions are relative to the society in which the individual lives and breathes (and, in this case, sighs) and has his being. Prinz, in the book I've discussed here before, replies that, first, he isn't sure loneliness should be classified as an emotion at all. It may be a mood, which he treats as subtly different. But he doesn't seem sure of that point, so for the sake of argument he  regards it as an emotion. Second, though, it isn't necessarily the case that it lacks physical symptoms. "It is hard to imagine feeling lonely while one's heart is racing, for example."  Third, and cutting to the heart of Harre's point, we don't have any good reason to believe that we need cognition to feel lone…

Ponzi Schemes of Passion

I'm sure I've mentioned in earlier posts the notorious Bernie Madoff, who ran Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC from the day he started it up in 1960 until the day he surrendered to authorities in December 2008.
Madoff’s crime, in common parlance, is that he was running a “Ponzi scheme.” This is a fraud in which early depositors are told their money has been invested in some wonderfully productive/reliable way, and they are receiving a share of the profits, when in fact what they are  receiving are phony paper returns, from the deposits of other suckers. In Madoff’s case, the Ponzi scheme seems to have been adopted in a very cold-blooded way and operated for decades before it finally became unsustainable.

I mention him here because I've been giving some thought to the fact that sometimes the development of a Ponzi scheme is not quite so cold-blooded. Sometimes an asset manager will bumble into running a Ponzi scheme by degrees. [I am not, by the way, offering this…

Patent Law, some random buzzwords

Patent law in the United States bestows statutory rights upon a person who "invents or discovers any new and useful process...." Parties who challenge a patent may do so by denying that the process is in fact "new."

This creates a lot of jargon. For today, I'll limit myself to throwing some of the legalese around, because I'm lazy. Lawyers often pursue a challenge by looking for "prior art," that is, publications that will establish that the process or device was already known before the filing.

Courts in the US interpret the novelty requirement so that a claim will fail if a single publication can be produced that has already described within its "four corners ... every element of the claimed invention."  This is also known as "anticipation." The "four corners" requirement means that the party asserting anticipation cannot allege that it exists but only within the combination of two or more documents: somebody must…

Real Clothes, No Emperor

There is a dispute among economists that seems at first a mere superficial matter of prose style and presentation, but that may have a greater significance.
The dispute is this: should economists use the paraphernalia of the quantitative sciences? Should they use formulae with lots of Greek letters, and graphs with clearly defined curves?
One body of thought – found amongst self-identified Austrian school economists especially though not uniquely – suggests that such paraphernalia are inherently misleading. P.T. Bauer has phrased it well. Econometrics, he said, has “contributed to the disregard or neglect of evident reality” because the use of highly quantitative methods leads to unwarranted concentration on the variables that fit most readily into a formal analysis, and leads to “the neglect of influences which, even when highly pertinent, are not amenable to such treatment.”
 Bauer, the distinguished-looking fellow above, wrote this in 1987. He said formulae used for their own sake …