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Showing posts from 2017

You Can't Really Punt on Abduction, Stef: Part I

Stefan Molyneux has gone all Trumpet on us.

I've written about Molyneux before, most recently a two-post discussion early this year, keyed to his now-decade-old book, UNIVERSALLY PREFERRED BEHAVIOR (2007) in which he claimed to have figured out what are the rules of behavior all rational beings should follow, and to have inferred from them that the right social system is anarcho-capitalism.

That book wasn't a great one, frankly, and Molyneux at his best is a pale shadow of Murray Rothbard as an anarcho-cap figure. Still, he was on the good guy's side, as I keep score anyway.

Molyneux, though, has progressively defected.  He is now entirely in the MAGA camp. The nation-state may never be legitimate, but it can be legitimate enough! at least if Donald Trump is its CEO.

Or ... something.

The news about Molyneux is that he is out with another book, THE ART OF THE ARGUMENT (2017).  The is some copy from the amazon page: "'The Art of the Argument' shocks the dying …

Steve Bannon

Slate recently featured a fine brief take-down of Steve Bannon's reputation as a policy intellectual, written by Jamelle Bouie.

Of course, Bannon no longer darkens the doors of the White House. He is back at Breitbart, but he has made it clear he isn't going away.

And coverage of him by press organs he does not control does often have a certain grudging-respect quality. Sort of like what Newt Gingrich got in the 1990s, back when he was relevant and not yet a caricature of himself.

Here's a link to the Bouie piece:

Early on, Bouie provides a couple of fine examples of this grudging-respect tone, one from Glenn Thrush of The New York Times. Bannon, Thrush says, "is a deep if narrow reader who is trying to create an ideological/intellectual foundation for Trumpism."

The following has little to do with Bouie's argume…

Swimming Pools

Staying at a hotel recently, I went to its swimming pool. Not an unusual thing for a hotel guest to do, but an unusual thing for me to do, as I may be about to prove.

The large swimming pool was not very deep. It was 3 and a half feet deep, from lip to bottom. And the top foot or so was dry air, so it was actually just 2 and a half feet from water surface to bottom.

What surprised me was not that it was that depth but that this pool, apparently of recent construction, was of a uniform depth throughout. There was no "shallow end" nor any "deep end."

When did those features of a hotel pool cease to be standard?

For all I know, this is an anomaly and most of the world's hotel pools still have deep ends.

Or, maybe this has been a characteristic for a long time, and I am merely remembering fondly the deep ends of pools of my childhood, a period vanishing in the rear view mirror.

Tort lawyers? Is a pool of constant depth easier to defend in a lawsuit? I don't kn…

Standing in the Storm

It is a venerable television trope: a reporter (invariably a man) standing in the midst of a storm, while a camera guy presumably films him from inside a van. We see the force of the wind because our intrepid reporter is either leaning with it or leaning into it at an ever-sharpening angle. We see from his wary glances about that projectiles are a danger in a hurricane (who would've thought).

Is this entertainment, public service, actual news, or something else?

My own impression is that our intrepid reporter in such footage is there to  put a "human face" on the news. The faces of the victims of the damage it does will be on the front pages in following days -- the newly homeless, shocked to discover that standard homeowners' insurance is not generally hurricane or flood insurance, along with photos of people grieving for their dead, or suffering from injuries. We'll see all of them in due course. But for that moment, our intrepid reporter is still the human fa…

The Neuroscience of Morality

S. Matthew Liao has edited a new book on this subject. Amazon page here:

The various authors of the articles in this collection brief us on recent neurological advances on The Moral Brain, that is, on the neural correlates of moral judgments, and/or they cogitate on the philosophical significance of this work.

I haven't read it and have nothing to say about it today but I think I've done my good deed by informing you of a new book on a subject that will likely interest anyone who shares my interest in a lot of the stuff I discuss in this blog.

So ... read and enjoy!


In its root meaning, to say that something is "authentic" is simply to say that it is what it is purported to be. In a sentence like, "This violin is an authentic Stradivarius" the word is redundant. To claim that it is a Stradivarius at all is to claim that it is authentically one. It is a bit like saying, "This violin is really and  truly a Stradivarius."

"Authenticity" acquires a different, a greater, significance when it is coming from someone else, a third party to a transaction, for example. If I'm trying to sell you a violin, and tell you it's a Strad, then you may very well decline to take my word for it, and call in an expert on the instrument to determine its authenticity. This means: you want to know whether I'm telling you the truth.

This is straightforward. But the more extended uses of the word aren't necessarily so straightforward. A literary critic, meaning to praise my novel, my call it "an authentic expres…

Would You Like to Carry Moonbeams Home in a Jar?

The preservation of the inherently evanescent. That is the old dream behind sound recording, photography, etc, and it's the dream that put the idea of carrying moonbeams home in a jar  on a level with swinging on a star in a 1944 Bing Crosby recording.

But of course it must be the SAME MOONBEAM, or you're not really carrying "it" in a jar. You're using a jar to simulate a moonbeam, a different feat, right?  For decades after the invention of the phonograph, fidelity was the central goal of audio recording. The same moonbeam. Edison had sung “Mary had a little lamb,” and listen!You could hear him doing so! The general attitude was that the more faithful the sound you heard was to the sound he had originally made, the more successful the recording. 

But beginning at the time of the Second World War, and with increasing technical sophistication in the 1950s and 1960s, the goal was not merely fidelity, but something that may seem contrary -- successful artifice.

The sin…

The Chase

Recently saw a 1966 movie called THE CHASE, with amazingly young actors and actresses with famous names -- Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Angie Dickinson, Robert Duvall, and Marlon Brando were all there. With such a cast, I left the movie a little surprised that it isn't better remembered.

The plot was nothing special -- it involved a man who escapes from a Texas prison, and we see him making his way back to his hometown. For the first half of the movie the story of his voyage across Texas countryside is regularly interrupted by the story of the lives of the people who lived in that hometown, and knew the truth about why this fellow had gone to prison in the first place.

At the midpoint, the convict (Robert Redford) gets back to the town, and the storylines converge.

It isn't really a movie about a "chase" in any conventional sense, even when we see Redford on the lam in the first half we don't really get a sense of watching a chase. But much metaphorical chasing i…

The Gospel of the Self

I write today in the line of my Jamesian interest in the varieties of religious experience. 

Terry Heaton, once executive producer at the Christian Broadcasting Network, the man responsible for getting Pat Robertson's The 700 Club on the air throughout the 1980s and early '90s, has a new book out. I haven't read it (and don't plan to) so I speak here only from mediating sources. But the book seems to be a memoir, a reflection, and at least in some part a recantation. 

It is called The Gospel of the Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP.

There's an interview of Heaton on Vox. After discussing one of the editing decisions on which Robertson overruled him, Heaton says:

"I knew that Pat’s rationale for all of this is that you don’t want to do anything on TV that will interfere with anybody’s faith. But I think you can take that to an extreme — and that’s what we did. We always showed people getting healed, overcoming the odds. The strong impression that the viewer would get …

Encountering a new name

Grant John Rawls a lot of assumptions. Grant his moral epistemology of "reflective equilibrium," to start. Grant that justice consists of the broad institutional features of a society, and grant that THESE should be what hypothetical negotiators would cook up behind a "veil of ignorance."

All those concessions still won't lead us to the conclusions that Rawls is set upon, unless we also agree with him about whether the negotiators would adopt the conclusion that Rawls thinks they will adopt? Would they adopt the equal liberty principle and difference principle, and would they do so in a lexical ordering?

The decades since Rawls' elaboration of his views in A Theory of Justice have given people plenty of opportunities to spill out alternative outcomes of those negotiations.

But James Mirrlees (pictured above) didn't need a lot of time. He did so almost instantly. I haven't read Mirrlees' paper, but a secondary source describes him as saying the …

Nature and the Preservation Thereof

Why do we have natural parks and forests? What are the philosophical implications of the practice? Today I will farm out my philosophizing to Simon James.

I have no idea whether Simon James is of any relation to the James family, or for that matter to the outlaw Jesse James or any other of the planet's many James'.

This James is a professor at Durham University, and a member of something called CELLS (the Center for Ethics and Law in the Life Sciences).

Without further ado then....

Tracking Theory of Knowledge, Part III

Last week, in two posts on the "tracking theory of knowledge," we reached the following point:

1) The tracking theory seems to capture many of our intuitions about what it means to know something,

2) It resolves the Gettier problems,

3) But it creates a glitch of its own -- it isn't epistemically closed. It generates circumstances in which I know p, and I know that p implies q, but I can't be said to know that q.

Nozick, though, thought of the non-closure as a good thing: a feature, not a bug, because it allowed him to address global skepticism hypotheses.

Suppose we concede that I don't know that I am not a brain in a vat, or that I don't know that I am not the victim of a joke by a malicious demon. Should this bother us? Specifically, should we infer from ignorance on this point that we don't know anything at all?

Well, we would have to if we thought knowledge was epistemically closed. I know (we want to say) that I am now sitting in a green chair.  If…