Skip to main content


Showing posts from February, 2015

Amartya Sen

To resume discussion of the question I raised yesterday: is any living thinker with academic cred a cognitivist and intuitionist in meta-ethics, as well as a teleologist and  pluralist in substantive ethics.

I did receive one answer from my various postings of this question that deserves further inquiry: Amartya Sen (1933-).

I looked into it a bit further. Sen is the author of COMMODITIES AND CAPABILITIES (1985); ETHICS AND ECONOMICS (1987); DEVELOPMENT AS FREEDOM (1999).

In the first of these books, Sen looked at empirical evidence on gross national product per capita in various countries, and asked whether it correlates with other sensible-seeming measures of the well being of a country: life expectancy and infant mortality. Brazil and Mexico, he found, had more than SEVEN TIMES the per capita production of Sri Lanka, India, or China. But does that extra money buy them happiness? Sri Lanka does better than any of the other countries just listed by longevity and child mortality.

Wondering about meta-ethics today....

I've posted in various places lately an inquiry about contemporary ethical and meta-ethical inquiry. I'll post it again here.

Do my readers know of any scholar (preferably someone with academic cred, though not necessarily in a philosophy department) whose published positions enable us to describe him with each of the following four adjectives?

Cognitivist, intuitionist, consequentialist, pluralist.

It seems like a natural combination. As a cognitivist, our scholar would hold to a meta-ethics in which right and wrong, good and bad, are genuinely subjects for knowledge (not merely, say, for expressions of emotion).

As an intuitionist, he/she would believe that there exists some immediate , non-inferential, grasp of some datum at the base of our reasonings on the subject. I have in mind especially Moore's notion that the good is in some sense like the color yellow, a perception that neurologically normal folk can take for granted, so that we don't reason about whether y…

Chris McCandless

Who'd a thunk it?

Accepted wisdom, since the publication of Krakauer's book on the life and death of Chris McCandless, has been that the manner of his death was simple enough: starvation.

This now seems to have been revised. McCandless died because some of the seeds he ate as a result of the foraging aimed to stave off starvation were poisonous. Might he otherwise have survived until help (in the form of the hunters who used that school bus as a shelter in their spring hunt, the folks who found his body) might have arrived?

Martin Heidegger

My recent reading (although in this case it is more like a skimming) includes a work on Heidegger's philosophy, by Herman Philipse.

Philipse is concerned, among much else, with the differences between Heidegger and an important precursor, Friedrich Nietzsche. Heidegger criticized Nietzsche, and Philipse believes the criticisms were ill-founded, and that Nietzsche was the greater philosopher of the two.

Here's a link: Google Books. I merely "skim" works on, or within, the continental traditional of philosophy these days, because life is too short, and it is the Anglo-American tradition that deserves such time as I can give to more careful reading.

Still, for those of you who may judge differently, here is a sample of Philipse: "Heidegger's interpretation of Nietzsche aims at answering two questions: (1) What is Nietzsche's fundamental stance ... within the history of Western metaphysics? and (2) did Nietzsche ask the proper question of philosophy and, if…

Central Bank independence

It was my twitter feed that first alerted me last weekend to the news that Zambia's President had forced the central bank head in that country out of office and vowed lower interest rates.

Good for twitter! this is proof of its value -- the value of net based social media generally -- in tailoring news.

In old-fashioned dead-tree newspapers, whence most of my news used to come (until very recently) the goings-on in Zambia would have been tucked into a small item very deep in the paper, if it was deemed fir to print at all by the papers in the "developed" world.

But in fact, I deem it an important, perhaps the biggest one coming at us that day, and I'm glad to have received it when I did.

One of the significant facts about the story is that it dramatically demonstrates that central banks are only independent of the executive offices of a country when they are allowed to be independent by those executive offices. In other words, they aren't really all that independ…

"Truth and Politics," Hannah Arendt

"I form an opinion by considering a given issue from different viewpoints, by making present to my mind the standpoint of those who are absent; that is, I represent them. This process of representation does not blindly adopt the actual views of those who stand somewhere else, and hence look upon the world from a different perspective; this is a question neither of empathy ... nor of counting noses and joining a majority but of being and thinking in my own identity where I actually am not. The more people's standpoints I have present in my mind while I am pondering a given issue, and the better I can imagine how I would feel and think if I were in their place, the stronger will be my capacity for representative thinking and the more valid my final conclusions, my opinion."

"Truth and Politics," THE NEW YORKER (1967).

One of Those Things

I've often misheard the lyrics to the Cole Porter tune "One of those things."

It has been an odd misunderstanding, hardly worth calling a mondegren. I in fact developed an elaborate theory about how the words that I heard or THOUGHT I heard, words that didn't make a lot of sense, came to be.

I thought the lyrics, as least when sung by female vocalists such as Anita O'Day, included the phrase "Goodbye dear lay-men."

Why would she say "lay-men"? Because the song is addressed to non-professionals?? 

Why, indeed. The lyrics are addressed to a specific person of the opposite sex, so the term there shouldn't be plural in any event.

I had a goofy theory, which was that Porter had written it for a man to sing, and had written "Goodbye dear ladies." When a lady is singing, she turns it (according to this bad logic) into "goodbye dear lay-men."

Pretty dumb, as I say.

Only recently did I check on any of this. The line reads,…

Eaglevale Partners

Eaglevale Partners, a hedge fund founded by three veterans of Goldman Sachs, acknowledged in a recent letter to its investors that it has made "incorrect" calls on Greece, and Eaglevale's main fund has taken hits as a consequence. A smaller fund within the firm's stable, one aimed specifically at Greek opportunities, has taken something more than a mere 'hit.' It has taken a clobbering, losing half its value last year.

This would not be news, outside of the hedge fund world anyway, except that one of the three founders of Eaglevale is Marc Mezvinsky, the husband of Chelsea Clinton, and thus the son-in-law of a formidable power couple. His partners are Bennett Grau (whose previous experience is in the commodities trading world chiefly) and Mark Mallon.

One of the investors in the dedicated Greek fund is Marc Lasry, a billionaire who has been a donor to Clinton family political campaigns.

I haven't said anything new here. The facts I've just stated have…

Fox and the voting shares discount

When does the right to vote have a negative value, and why?

Shares in one of Rupert Murdoch's concerns, Twenty-First Century Fox Inc., are divided into voting and non-voting classes. Both represent an equity interest, so both are inferior to debt in the event of a restructuring or litigation.

The reason for the division is that Murdoch and his family want to maintain control, yet they don't want to have to own as large an equity share as they would need in order to do so. The two class share structure allows him effective control of the company, with 39.7% of the voting rights, even though he (and his family) have a total of only 12% of the equity. Twelve percent is still a large chunk of a corporation, but dissidents could conceivably challenge Murdochian control if both classes of stock were equity, challenges that are cut short since he controls almost 40% of the shares that count for purposes thereof.

My curiosity is piqued, though, by the fact (a recent turn of events) t…

Two Different Benchleys

"Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn't the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment." ~Robert Benchley

[And no, that isn't the novelist who wrote JAWS. That would be Peter Benchley.]

The Introduction (to my next book)

Finance studies the way in which liquid resources, cash and cash-like stuff, moves about in a broader economy, and – if all works well – gets to where it is needed.

Finance is a branch of economics, and so as you might suspect is concerned with “supply” and “demand.” But it is concerned with a very particular branch of each. Consider the cash that some people have saved. We’ll call them the Jones’. They’ve put cash away somewhere – in a safe, let us imagine, or in a pillow case – where it is immediately available to them should they want it. Consider also that there are other people and institutions who very much want the use of that cash. These others may have a very restaurant and a distinctive brand, but may need a new infusion of cash in order to expand the restaurant, perhaps making it a chain.

In this case, the idea naturally arises that the Jones’ money might be lent to the restauranteurs, as equity (in which case the Jones’ expect a share of profit) or as debt (in which case t…

Cherie Priest, BONESHAKER

My reading list lately includes Cherie Priest's 2009 steampunk novel BONESHAKER. It is "steampunk" in that it has sci-fi elements and a Victorian setting. It is also an alternative-history novel (Stonewall Jackson survived his wound at Chancellorsville, and due to his tactical brilliance in subsequent campaigns the Union was incapable of bringing the civil war to a satisfactory conclusion -- it was still underway in the late 1870s.) There are zombies in this novel, (called "rotters"), there are humans who manage a wary co-existence with the rotters ("doorknobs"), there are dirigibles, a mysterious dead grandfather and an even more mysterious (probably dead) father: all good stuff.

The son/grandson of these two mysterious men is Ezekiel Blue, or Ezekiel Wilkes, [depending on point of view] or just Zeke. He goes in search of evidence that his father wasn't the evil man that he is generally held to be, or to have been, amongst the residents of the o…

Super Bowl Observations

This year the New England Patriots returned to the Super Bowl, led by coach Bill Belichick and dogged (for at least the second time in Belichick's time with the Patriots) by a cheating scandal coming in. Heck, even Bill Nye the science guy got into the act, demonstrating for his fans that a certain temperature change cannot deflate footballs.

The Patriots were there to take the title away from the defending champions, the Seattle Seahawks. Never mind the stylized "seahawk" of the team's logo, I've posted a photo of an actual seahawk here for my discerning readers to admire.

The game took place this year in Glendale, Arizona, University of Phoenix Stadium. The air in Arizona was dry (as always) and windless; the temperature got up to a high of 69 degrees that afternoon. This contrasted with both the northwest and northeast corners of the country, where the two contending teams come from. Super Bowl Sunday was a rainy day in Seattle, with a high of 48. and a snow…

Rights, Courts, etc.


Authors: Jeb Barnes and Thomas F. Burke.

Barnes is an associate professor of political science at USC, with a focus on the politics of health policy.

Burke is a professor of political science at Wellesley.

The title of this book is embarrassingly generic. Of course policy shapes politics. A former poli sci professor of mine used to characterize policy as the "output" of the political system, but with the understanding that of course there is a "feedback loop," with the results of the output continuing to the next day's political debates.

That was at Marist College, not USC or Wellesley, but I doubt the title here means much more than is implied in that observation.

The subtitle, though, states in a more sensible manner what this book is about.