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Showing posts from April, 2017

Semantic Argument over the word "Emergence"

In contemporary metaphysical discussions the word "emergence" and its variants play a big part.

It often appears in the context of the mind-body problem. The mind (or intentionality, or consciousness, or whatever you may call the intangible subjective aspect of our reality) is said to have "emerged" at a certain moment in evolution, and to recapitulate this by "emerging" again at a certain moment in embryology.

I think there is an element of word magic involved. We lessen the mystery of something by having a good word for it.

IIRC, Samuel Alexander built an impressive metaphysical structure around this word magic. Matter, he said, emerged from space, then life from matter, then mind from life, like a growing ziggurat.

I bring this up because I came across an intriguing discussion of the ambiguity of the word in my recent web surfing. Here is a link.

It turns out that was written a year ago but, hey, that's an eyeblink for the chronology of the develo…

Default Choices

Whenever I order coffee from a restaurant, I order Splenda, or "the yellow one" if the proper name for it doesn't come to mind.

There's no particular reason for this. I know there's also a blue one and a pink one, and the newest entrant is a green one. I don't remember why I started using the one that I do, doubt it was rational or evidence-based, and have no confidence that I could pick the Splenda-sweetened coffee from alternatives by taste alone.

But it is useful I think to have a default option, and so long as there is no reason to adopt either of the others, I'll stick with my default.

What percentage of our choices are default choices, made on no better basis than my invocation of Splenda at such moments?


Bill Nye the Philosophy Guy

Good to have him on board.

Bill Nye, the "Mr Wizard" of '90s television, suggested last year that philosophy is wasted effort. In a YouTube video, he said "philosophy is important for a while," -- presumably adolescence -- but it isn't something serious people should persist in.

He ended his brief YouTube discussion with the odd line, "drop the hammer on your foot and see if you don't notice it." I'm not sure what philosophical view he thought he was refuting with that one. But it was presumably in the tradition of Dr. Johnson "refuting" Berkeley. Except that even Johnson (who was being a wise-ass himself) didn't think he was responding to philosophy as a discipline.

Anyway, critiques of Nye's comments appeared quickly, among them one by Olivia Goldhill that seems to have come to his attention and done some good. 

On April 15, 2017, Goldhill wrote on the subject of Nye-and-philosophy again, this time with a triumphant to…

A Book on the Philosophy of Time II

As I was saying last weekend, Valdi Ingthorsson, (portrayed here) of Sweden's Lund University, has written a book on the philosophy of time. Much of it is devoted to a reconsideration of McTaggart's argument to the effect that time is not real. 

To summarize ruthlessly, Ingthorsson says that if McTaggart's argument is taken as a stand-alone, it fails, because it begs the question. McTaggart is arguing that IF reality is a single block, THEN it can't be divided in any meaningful way into that which has happened already and that which hasn't. But that is just to say that if it is indivisible, then it is indivisible: which isn't informative.

If one is willing to contend with McTaggart's idealistic metaphysics as a whole, OTOH, then his argument serves a useful purpose. It draws out some of the implications of some parts of that whole. 

Ingthorsson also contends that the philosophical literature about McTaggart's paradox has been sharply split between those wh…

A Book on the Philosophy of Time I

Last summer, Valdi Ingthorsson, of Lund University in Sweden, released a book on the philosophy of time, with the title McTaggart's Paradox.

I will provide some background material on the subject he is discussing, in Part I of this two-part discussion. In the second,which I hope to have ready by this coming Thursday, I'll speak to what Ingthorsson brings to this table.

But let's start, as Ingthorsson does, with John M. E. McTaggart, a philosopher who flourished a century ago and who in 1908 published a landmark essay on the subject of time.

"McTaggart's paradox" is a key argument of his for the unreality of time.  If I understand it the gist is this: in order for time to be real, the past and future have to exist in parity with each other (and with the present). Yet that can only be the case if time is not real, that is, if events of the past, of the p…

Bruce Ackerman

Thank to a friend, I am in receipt of

Thanks to a friend, I am in receipt of Bruce Ackerman's book, THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE AMERICAN REPUBLIC (2010).

As the first decade of the new millennium was ending Ackerman predicted seven imminent developments based on his life's work, his understanding of the evolution of the US constitutional structure:

1) That we would see "an increasing number of charismatic outsider types who gain office by mobilizing activist support for extremist programs...."
2) Presidents, whether elected on such a platform or not, will become ever more reliant on media consultants, which will in turn generate a "politics of unreason."
3) They will govern around or in conflict with the executive departmental structure, cabinet officers and their subordinates, relying instead on "their White House staff of superloyalists."
4) They will increasingly politicize the military;
5) ... increasingly invoke emergencies and emergency p…

Revisionism about EX PARTE MERRYMAN

Chief Justice Taney's showdown with the new President in the opening stages of the civil war, over Lincoln's suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, is a much-discussed incident in US constitutional history (and in our military history, too).

An article last year in Military Law Review offered an important revisionist account of the MERRYMAN case. For a link, click here. 

It is a defense of Lincoln's behavior in this matter, an effort to undermine the common idea that Lincoln was running roughshod over the rule of law by ignoring a duly issued order.

Seth Barrett Tillman argues in essence that Taney never ordered Merryman released, although he did issue an opinion that seems to advise the President to do so. Further, Taney was acting out of line there, because judicial advisory opinions are not contemplated in the US constitution, and are inconsistent with "separation of powers norms."

"In short, Lincoln had every reason to believe that there was no obliga…

Moral Intuitionism versus Traditional Theism

Back in 2010, the fellow portrayed here, Ken Pulliam, made a fascinating point.

Pulliam was the proprietor of a blog with the autobiographical title, "Why I De-Converted from Evangelical Christianity." Presumably he stopped adding new posts when he came to believe that he had said all he needed to say about that de-conversion.

One of the posts of this blog in particular intrigues me. It is dated June 18th of that year. I'll provide a summary in a second but if you'd like to read the whole thing, here's a link:


Pulliam ceased to believe in the existence of the God of evangelical Christianity because he came to believe that the God depicted by that tradition would be a highly unethical being, if He existed. And that inference takes most of the point out of postulating His existence.

In order to reach such a conclusion, one needs an Archimedean "place to stand," a …

Holocaust Denying Asshats II

Both Sean Spicer and Marine Le Pen have in recent days uttered claims that might well fit under the capacious tent of "Holocaust revisionism." Spicer has walked it back, and one can generously attribute his comments to gross maladroitness in the performance of ... well ... his job.

Still: such events do give us the opportunity to observe that much of the crap that passes itself off these days as "Holocaust revisionism" traces itself back to Harry Elmer Barnes, a paid apologist and propagandist for Nazi Germany in real time.

Barnes may have been atoning for his own war guilt. During the "Great War," 1914-18, Barnes was an enthusiast for the crusade against the Huns.

When peace came, Barnes (like many at the time) wondered what it all had been about. He concluded not just that he had been overly enthusiastic, not just that he had been wrong in seeing the war as a matter of white hats versus black hats, but that in fact he had had the 'hats' the wr…

The Mongols and Legal History

The Legal History Blog has alerted its readers to the existence of a journal on Buddhism, Law & Society. In its inaugural issue, a professor at the University of Bern delves into the law in 18th century Mongolia. 

Mongolia was part of the vast Qing Empire at this time, the Manchu based empire that would last until the early 20th century and the rise of the Republic of China. But Mongolia was given relative autonomy, so it makes sense to speak and wrote of its legal system as a separate entity. 

The abstract of the article in question reads thus: 

"For 18th-century Mongols living under Qing rule, the imperial state was not the only source of law. Among the rules acknowledged to have binding character were Buddhist legal traditions, customary legal practices as well as rights and duties emanating from dependencies and prerogatives. Yet, the existence of these different legal practices and codes raises many questions about the specific way these different realms of law were interwo…

Back to the Quill Case: The Unpleasantness of Gray-Area Cases

On April 2, I very briefly discussed the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Vacco v. Quill (1997).  I promised more. So here, at least, is a bit more.

To resume where I left off: the court's opinion, by Chief Justice Rehnquist, said this:

"[W]e disagree with respondents' claim that the distinction between refusing lifesaving medical treatment and assisted suicide is 'arbitrary' and 'irrational.' ... Granted, in some cases, the line between the two may not be clear, but certainty is not required, even were it possible. Logic and contemporary practice support New York's judgment that the two acts are different, and New York may therefore, consistent with the Constitution, treat them differently."

It had by then become customary for some patients to carry the "do not resuscitate" tag with them. The decision to so label a patient was NOT treated as murder. Providing the patient (a mature, rational patient in a lot of pain) with a pill than woul…

A Mystery in the 'Tea for Two' Lyrics

The Song "Tea for Two" has been around for a long time. More than 90 years in fact.

It was composed for the Broadway musical No No Nanette, which premiered on Broadway in 1925 after a run in Chicago the previous year (the traditional pre-Broadway shakedown cruise).

"Tea for Two" is a second act song, sung by Tom and Nanette, a couple that quarreled and broke up in Act I, but that has now reconciled. And as you surely know, since anybody who could possibly be reading this knows the lyrics to the song, Tom and Nanette are dreamily contemplating their future.

"We will raise a family
A boy for you a girl for me
Can't you see how happy we would be? 
We three..."

That is how it is often sung, anyway: in the Anita O'Day recording for example.

But, much as I love O'Day, this always pulls me up short. Surely the natural way to hear the second of those lines is for an "AND" to be implied. Nanette is dreaming of having two children with Tom. 

So, why…

The Supreme Court decides JEVIC

I wrote here in December about some philosophically weighty litigation, the Jevic Holding case.

Now the Supreme Court of the United States has weighed in, so it is time for an update. This is a 6 to 2 judgment, with an opinion for the court by Justice Breyer, and a dissent written by Justice Thomas, for himself and Alito.

The gist of the case is the conflict in bankruptcy law between the absolute priority rule (APR) and a practice known as the structured dismissal.

The bankruptcy court in this case issued a structured dismissal even though it  meant stiffing the possessors of a judgment debt, which would normally have priority over some of the debts the structure does pay.  That debt came about due to a class action of 1,800 truck drivers over Jevic's violations of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN).

Jevic was a New Jersey based trucking company, the object of a leveraged buy-out by Sun Partners in 2006. The 'leveraging' thing was excessive, as i…