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Showing posts from March, 2015

The World Since 1945

Random reading....

In the February issue of HARPER'S, Rebecca Solnit works to relate the Second World War to ... every environmental disaster since.

The following may be the money quote.

"In crucial, material ways, the technological modernization of World War II never ended. Pesticides, nuclear engineering, and plastics -- all developed during the militarization of industrial production -- are now part of a war by other means. All three industries sought profitable postwar applications and found them in agriculture, in energy production, and in the creation of untold disposable plastic items, the ubiquity of which was aided by he rise of advertising and marketing."

The reference to pesticides there brought me up short. Are pesticides the consequence of that war in the same  sense as nuclear engineering? Sulfur was used as a pesticide by the Chinese back around 1,000 BC. My understanding is that the modern and highly marketable nature of pesticides dates back to the days…

Shopping Malls and Consolidation

The business of owning and leasing out shopping malls ain't what it used to be.

I'm old enough to remember when malls themselves were the hot (and worrisome) new trend, popping up in the suburbs and decimating the business activity in the nearest city. Nobody would bother to go downtown to shop anymore, with such an inviting alternative. How unfair!

I remember the sometimes heated lawyerly discussions about the first amendment implications of the way that malls had become 'functionally' public property, i.e. town squares.

Of course, in the cycle of life one decade's up-and coming phenomenon becomes another decade's old and lagging loser.

Shopping malls are still good hang-outs for teenagers, I imagine, but they aren't such vital places for shopping as they used to be. Many of the once-prominent bookstores, record stores, cinemas, and video retailers that once gave people a reason to go have disappeared as people buy books, music, movies, online. Even cloth…

Remember to place an elephant in Cairo so the program will terminate

This is funny.

That is all I have to say for today.

A Quote from Parfit

Recently  I wrote a little about ethicist Derek Parfit.

I've been doing further research on him since, and will now describe his Big Picture as I've come to understand it.

Parfit believes that the western world only started taking ethical philosophy seriously (as a domain separate from theology) around the time Nietzsche declared that God was dead. There are only three possibilities, in terms of the God/morality issue:

1) You believe that God exists and that His commands define morality
2) You deny that God exists and, like Nietzsche, infer from this that in the absence of commands there is no right or wrong, or
3) You deny that God exists yet persist in believing and attempting to discern right and wrong.

From a certain point of view there could be a fourth category, for people who believe that God exists but that His existence is irrelevant to morality, He doesn't issue commands at all, etc.  Still, from DP's perspective that sort of God is equivalent to No-God, and…

Kant, Gewirth, and Prinz

In a 1994 essay, Alan Gewirth (pictured here) admitted that Kant's argument to the categorical imperative had flaws, and he attempted a patch-up job.

In a 2007 book, another philosopher Jesse Prinz, reconstructed Gewirth's reconstruction of what Kant might have meant. In Prinz' version it has an economical two premises, everything else is a conclusion. 
I present the Prinz version without further comment, except for one bracketed correction.
P1. I am an agent. P2. If I am an agent, I accept that freedom and well-being are necessary for me. C1. Therefore, I accept that I must have freedom and well-being. (From P1 and P2.) C2. Therefore, I accept that it is impermissible to not have freedom and well-being. (From C1, because its denial is the contradiction of that premise.) C3. Therefore, I accept that it is impermissible for others to remove or interfere with my freedom and well-being. (From C2.) C4. Therefore, I accept that others ought to refrain from removing or interfer…

Smith, McElroy, and gossip

George H. Smith is a well-known atheist and libertarian writer, born in Japan in 1949.
Smith is perhaps best known for Atheism: The Case Against God (1974) . I remember reading this long ago because it had a chapter combining and (unintelligently criticizing) two of the authors I most admire, Blaise Pascal and William James.
Smith has become part of a heated controversy in recent days that involves ideas about liberty and feminism, and quite personal accusations involving a thinker/writer who describes herself as working “within the individualist-anarchist tradition,” and a person with whom Smith once had an intimate and a professional relationship, Wendy McElroy.
McElroy, pictured here, has become very public in recent months as an opponent of the whole notion of a “rape culture” on campus, and the attendant notion that colleges as social micro-cosmos' have to ‘do something.’ Her advice to victims? “Rape is a criminal offense, go to the police.”Pending the development of anarchis…

Derek Parfit

I'm told that Derek Parfit is an influential and important contemporary philosopher with an interest in both ethics and meta-ethics.

He was born in 1942 and is still very much with us, so he qualifies as within the range of people who might satisfy my four-part test, announced here last month.

His latest work, ON WHAT MATTERS, was published in this millennium (2011), though apparently drafts of key parts had circulated for years before that.

So far as I can tell from quick googling and other superficial stuff, Parfit is a cognitivist, and is at least in part a teleologist, maybe even an intuitionist. The plank he seems most likely to reject of my four is pluralism. He seems to believe that all views worthy of consideration in ethical philosophy are reconciliable, as in his view are deontology, teleology, contractarianism. Thus, he doesn't have the  sense of inevitable loss, something-valuable-must-be-lost, I find and value in James' writings and Berlin's. THAT is crit…

The Inexplicables, Post 2

What I especially like about the passage I quoted is the use of indirection. When Zeke identifies by name two of the three men in the room, he adds a third name with a note of inflection in his voice.

We hear this from the PoV of Rector, as is the case throughout the novel. (This is in contrast to the earlier novel, in which the PoV swung back and forth between the two protagonists). Anyway, we draw the inference about Zeke's incomplete knowledge ourselves, and then read that Rector has done the same. So we our on the same page with our protagonist, so to speak.

Only after that do we learn that Rector isn't sure he understood Zeke properly. He isn't sure who is who yet even as to the two names which Zeke pronounced with confidence. Yet it tells us something about Rector's developing state of mind -- as someone trying to free himself from the influence of a powerful drug -- that he notes his own uncertainty. He knows what he does not know.

Finally, the brief passage adv…

The Inexplicables, Post 1

I've blogged a bit recently here about BONESHAKER, a steampunk-fantasy novel by Cherie Priest, set in an alternative-history late 19th century Seattle and its outskirts.

That novel set off her CLOCKWORK CENTURY series. Most of the other books in the series are only loosely related to BONESHAKER.

Causes of War (and of one in particular)

Without a lot of throat clearing, here are some thoughts.

1. In general, the causes of wars between nations states always involve competition for resources, and the breakdown of earlier means for mediating those conflicts non-violently. Look at it this way: A new war comes about at the end of a precious period of peace, or at least relative peace. Otherwise, it wouldn't be a new war at all, just a continuation of the everlasting one, right? Also, I think it safe to assume for simplicity's sake at least that resource conflicts are constant. Wants are infinite, resources are limited! So ... a war begins both because specific resource conflicts exist and because mediation mechanisms that until then had kept the peace have broken down.

2. In Europe, the First World War came about largely as a byproduct of the scramble for Africa. The major powers each wanted to gobble up large parts of Africa for their own use, for mining, for markets, for prestige, etc. This brought them in…

An Open Letter to Henry


You observe that I spoke in an earlier post of something not-this-worldly about us as humans. You want to know more about what I mean.

All definition is founded upon pointing. A dictionary will just send you around in circles if it is complete and you treat it as a closed system. You could learn what all the words in a language mean in relation to each other without learning what any of them really mean in extra-textual terms, unless someone (through illustrations or perhaps the use of an actual index finger) POINTS you to something extra-textual to which one or more of those words alludes.

I could try creating the appropriate definition for the not-this-worldly reality I have in mind. But I am wary of chasing words around in a circle. In this case more than others, I can only point toward the something I have in mind. Point toward it without trying to do anything as rigorous as defining it because, after all, if I could define it with my pragmatic this-worldly intellect, form…

Conspiracy Theory

The Illuminati are trying to get us to accept so-called measles vaccinations so the chemtrails will make us subservient to the lizard alien overlords in Area 51, or maybe Studio 54 [They're connected by a wormhole]. Of course the establishment doesn't want you to know this. Pass it on.

For youngsters who don't get the Studio 54 reference, here's a link:

Yes, my conspiracy theory involves time travel. That's why one periodically hears that 70s fashions are back, after all. It is always evidence of the 51/54 link.

The Supreme Court and Monopoly

The US Supreme Court has made its decision in the case, and a legally-enforced monopoly in the ability to clean other people's teeth for money has been eliminated. Yeah!


In the case, what one might call the 'originalist' bloc dissented in an opinion written by Justice Alito, joined y Scalia and Thomas.

The other six Justices all agreed on the court's opinion, written by Anthony Kennedy.

The issue was the extent of the state-action antitrust law immunity, as defined by PARKER v. BROWN (1943).

The majority seemed especially interested in the composition of the NC State Board of Dental Examiners. It has eight members, of whom only one is from the general public: six are licensed dentists, one a licensed hygienist. This is, in short, an obvious industry protection agency, and its animus against non-dentists who whiten teeth has to be understood in that context.

The decision is a continuation of …