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Showing posts from July, 2016

Atheism: Berkeley and Mach

A participant in Yahoo!Answers recently asked this:

In philosophy, how does an atheist idealist react to the criticisms faced, that Berkeley can only reply to using God?

It is a provocative question, and even knowing that I was probably being too helpful regarding someone's homework assignment I couldn't refrain from a reply:

I'll try to reconstruct what you mean here, then provide a three-point answer,

Berkeley said material substance does not exist, matter is only the perception thereof in some mind.

This raises the famous question about the tree in the Quad. Does it exist when no one is around?

Berkeley says that it does still exist, and for this purpose he brings in the always-perceiving Mind of God.

So what you mean to ask is: can an atheist coherently believe that Berkeley was right about the non-existence of material substance, and so the non-existence of unperceived matter, and what would THAT person have to say about the tree in the Quad?

The first point …

Why is Verizon buying Yahoo?

I have a yahoo! email box. I have other email addresses, too, but the yahoo box is the one I've had longest, its use is second nature to my personal friends, so it has long functioned as my default.

I don't believe that is about to change. Verizon is buying the core of yahoo, and it will presumably continue to be happy to allow me to get my mail in the old way.

But that isn't why Verizon is spending the $4.83 billion buying the venerable internet company's core operations. Verizon doesn't likely care about preserving the convenience of lil ole me. So what do they care about here?

Well, Verizon already owns AOL, another venerable internet brand, going back to the '90s of blessed memory. Presumably it can wrap the two companies together now, eliminate 'redundancies,' and look for 'synergy. All that business school stuff.

Beyond that, I suspect that there is some empire building at work. Somebody in executive ranks wants to be a somebody in roughly th…

Thomas Ruffin Gray

Much of what we know or think we know about Nat Turner, and the slave rebellion to which he gave his name, derives from a single written source, a pamphlet by Thomas Ruffin Gray.

 In a recent research paper for UC Berkeley, Christopher Tomlins has discussed "whether a hastily-written twenty page pamphlet rushed into print by an opportunistic white lawyer, down on his luck and hoping to cash in on Turner's notoriety, actually deserves to be treated as empirically reliable...."

 Tomlins starts with the basics: beginning very early in the morning on August 22, 1831. Turner led a group of blacks, most of them slaves (Billy Artis was the free man in the group) in massacring the whites in slave holding families that morning. The massacre occupied them for 12 hours, the rebellion after that consisted of repeated confrontations with militia.

By the afternoon of August 23, Turner was the only member of the group who had neither been killed nor captured. He eluded authorities un…

A Fair Use case from 31 years ago

I'm thinking about this decision today, though I'm not sure why.

That link takes you to Harper & Row v. Nation Enterprises, a 1985 Supreme Court decision about copyright and the limits of the "fair use" dissent.

So you won't have to follow that link to know what is on my mind, here's the syllabus, pasted.

In 1977, former President Ford contracted with petitioners to publish his as yet unwritten memoirs. The agreement gave petitioners the exclusive first serial right to license prepublication excerpts. Two years later, as the memoirs were nearing completion, petitioners, as the copyright holders, negotiated a prepublication licensing agreement with Time Magazine under which Time agreed to pay $25,000 ($12,500 in advance and the balance at publication) in exchange for the right to excerpt 7,500 words from Mr. Ford's account of his pardon of former President Nixon. Shortly before the Time …


It does seem that the Mugabe regime is running on empty.

If it is in fact in the midst of collapse, what will happen to Zimbabwe thereafter?

I don't know.

The usual discussion of such a question turns it into another question: "Who will govern after Robert Mugabe and his sycophants have vacated their seats?"

But of course that way of putting it implies that somebody has to govern, that those seats can't remain empty, and that is the premise that I for one would hope that the people of Zimbabwe would and will question, perhaps the assumption that thought leaders such as  Evan Mawarire are now questioning.

Mawarire turned himself in to the police upon hearing he was set to be arrested.  That is what is happening in the photo above. Another key agitator, younger and perhaps less committed to non-violence that Mawarire, is Acie Lumumba. Names worth knowing as events unfold.

Jonah Lehrer's new book

Jonah Lehrer has written a book about love.

In case the name of the author rings a bell, but you aren't quite sure why ... that is THIS fellow. Lehrer was a high-flying pop-science pundit over a five year period, from 2007 until 2012. He wrote a series of books with such titles as Proust Was A Neuroscientist with a lot of specific messages but with the over-arching meta-messages that Neuroscience is Wonderful and Explains Everything about Us.

The link I provided you above takes you to a blog entry I posted here in August 2012, amidst Lehrer's fall from grace. The specific cause was a lot of crap he wrote about Dylan. But, as is often the case in these scandals, once some blood is in the water other sharks arrive, and other chunks of flesh are torn away from the reputational body. In this case, the "sharks" weren't doing anything more predatory than fact checking, and source checking. Which turned out to be quite predatory indeed for Lehrer.

For example: Wired hi…

Immanuel Kant Wasn't a Deontologist After All?

The standard definition of "deontology," in moral philosophy, is the view that the morality of an action is to be judged by duty or rule independent of the consequences of the action.

Or, in the popular cliche, the view that "the end never justifies the means."

The standard example of a deontologist is Immanuel Kant.

The standard Philosophy 101 type example involves the serial killer looking for his next victim, and the honest man who knows where the potential victim is hiding, and wonders whether it is permissible to lie to save that life.

But in the 1990s Barbara Herman wrote a book apparently intended to overturn the way moral philosophy has been taught in survey courses for generations.

I've just learned of this book, because ... well ... news from academia reaches me slowly.

At any rate, the book is THE PRACTICE OF MORAL JUDGMENT (1993).  

That's a photo of her above.

Here's a link to the book, much of which can be read on line. 

The Notorious RBG

So Ginsburg has spoken out against Donald Trump.

"I can't imagine what this place would be -- I can't imagine what the country would be -- with Donald Trump as our President."

Yes, this is very unusual. By way of comparison, Justices Douglas and/or Black, not to mention Chief Justice Warren, spoke in no such way about Richard Nixon in 1968. Surely they despised him, and saw his then-still-hypothetical presidency as a threat to their judicial legacy. But they retained what is considered proper judicial decorum in such matters.

For a sober, professorial, discussion of why Ginsburg was in the wrong and why the defenses of her comments are also "mostly wrong," go to PrawfsBlawg.

But of course this is the Justice widely known as the "Notorious RBG." If she's not going to be the court's badass, who will be?

An Open Letter to a Vox Writer

To: David Roberts

I appreciate your recent two pieces on Vox concerning "rich jerks," which led you to a discussion of philosophical ethics, especially deontology versus teleology.

Allow me to add my own thoughts. At the bottom, I'll say a few words about sources but, for now, I'll ignore my sources to allow for a conversational flow akin to your own.

In meta-ethical terms, if I understand you, you seem to identify jerkiness with deontology, so non-jerkiness requires teleology. The classic example of means-regardless-of-ends deontology is of our alleged obligation to tell the truth even to a murderer about a potential victim in hiding. That particular example of supposed goodness would certainly seem jerky to the sorry fellow in hiding.

You also seem to identify teleology (non-jerkiness) with utilitarianism. Of course there is nothing inevitable about that. I'd like to bend your ear on that point for a few minutes.

The gist of my personal view is as follows: 1.…