Thursday, November 27, 2003

If you're looking for something less bite-sized...

I've officially finished a draft of my ethics term paper. I plan for there to be quite a bit of revising in the next couple weeks, but it's now at the point where it can be digested and commented on. Much of the writing has been done late at night, so some sentences are suboptimally clear at this stage, but I think my ideas and arguments are pretty much where I want them to be. So if you're interested, check it out and let me know what you think. (For some reason, a direct link from here doesn't work... geocities doesn't like blogspot, perhaps... you'll have to copy and paste. Sorry about that. The title is "Utilitarianism and Second-Order Moral Judgments", and its thesis is that if we distinguish first-order moral judgment (that act is wrong) with second-order judgment (we should criticize that actor), standard act-utilitarianism gives us a very plausible account of our intuitions about the structure of morality. In particular, utilitarianism has no trouble dealing with supererogation, "tragic dilemmas", and problems from uncertainty of consequences.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

The world would be fun if I were God

One of the pleasures of being a philosopher is the construction of thought experiments. It's a powerful feeling, to be able to dictate every detail of every situation and participant. I've never written fiction, but my suspicion is that this particular thrill is greater for the philosopher -- a thought experiment is goal-driven, and I get to tweak each detail however I want, until my thought experiment is complete, and successful. In my less mature days, I was a champion smart-ass of what-if's. Today, I can turn that power against my own experiments and build in safeguards. I just wrote one that I think I'm rather proud of (it's late and I'm tired and I've been writing for a long time, so I reserve the right to not be proud of it the next time I read it). The point is to illustrate how a utilitarian can consistently hold that an act could be right but blameworthy. Here's the passage (from a very rough draft of an ethics term paper):
Remember, while first-order moral judgments depend only on the consequences of an action, second-order judgments take many more things into account -- they consider everything that bears on what the consequences of our second-order judgments would be. This includes some considerations which do not depend on the first-order moral status of the action at all. Consider the following thought experiment. In the spirit of debates about consequentialism, my story will involve a trolley, but against that spirit, it will not involve any harms so bad as death. William, who is wheel-chair-bound, is near a trolley track. He knows that the afternoon trolley contains a quantity of baked goods, intended for the enjoyment of a group of children this, their last afternoon of school for the year. However, just as he sees the trolley approaching, he notices that the track switch is in the wrong position; unless something is done immediately, several seconds from now, when the trolley reaches the juncture, it will follow the wrong path and fail to deliver the cookies and cake to the children. William happens to be sitting with Alisha, a ten-year-old girl. He considers quickly explaining the situation and instructing her to turn the switch, but he realizes that he doesn't have enough time to get the message across. (Alisha doesn't speak English.) So, William pushes Alisha toward the switch. He throws her with enough force to cover the distance to the switch and still have enough momentum to push the switch into the correct position, but with a small enough amount of force such that he was reasonably sure she wouldn't be seriously injured, although the whole ordeal was likely to be somewhat physically painful for her. (The switch is not near the track, so there's no danger Allisha's falling in front of the trolley.) William's plan succeeds, and the trolley delivers the sweets to the kids. Alisha does not suffer any serious injury, and five minutes later, no pain remains. If the happiness brought to the children by the sweets outweighed the pain suffered by Alisha (and that suffered by the over-sugared children's' parents), and there was no other way to solve the problem, then William's action satisfied the utilitarian formula and maximized happiness in the world. But it would probably not be praiseworthy -- William demonstrated a lack of a protective instinct against harm to children. We might criticize William, admonishing him for his ready willingness to hurt a child, even for the greater good. We could reason, what if everyone were as willing as William to hurt children? This would surely result in more hurting of children, which is first-order bad! Even if we were assured that William acted out of the best utilitarian intentions, calculating probabilities of variously-valued outcomes, and were careful to specifically praise his calm, moral deliberation, this would still be likely to have a bad result. Suppose that many others were encouraged by William's example, and were careful always to be ready to hurt children in situations were such that doing so would maximize utility. This would also be undesirable, because it would also inevitably lead to more child-harm than good. People are not reliable judges of when it's best to ignore rules of thumb. That's why utilitarians encourage character traits and dispositions in the first place.
Comments welcome -- particularly smart-ass ones. My favorite part of the thought experiment is the first parenthetical.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Soundness, Validity, and Gay Marriage

"Anybody who has several sexual partners in a year is committing spiritual suicide." Catchy first line, huh? It's funny when I read columns that start like that, and conclude with a controversial suggestion that I agree with. I'm obviously pretty slow to note this, but there's an interesting column in last Saturday's New York Times. The conclusion is that conservative Christian supporters of traditional family values ought to support legalization of homosexual marriage.
Marriage is in crisis because marriage, which relies on a culture of fidelity, is now asked to survive in a culture of contingency. ... Still, even in this time of crisis, every human being in the United States has the chance to move from the path of contingency to the path of marital fidelity — except homosexuals. ... We shouldn't just allow gay marriage. We should insist on gay marriage. We should regard it as scandalous that two people could claim to love each other and not want to sanctify their love with marriage and fidelity.
I found this interesting for two reasons. First, because it's a very different argument than I'm used to hearing from the right, and second, because it's a good object lesson for validity and soundness of arguments, which I discussed a few days ago. Here's an oversimplified version of the argument:
  1. Sex, including homosexual sex, outside of marriage is bad.
  2. The more marriage, including homosexual marriage, there is, the less sex outside of marriage there will be. Therefore,
  3. It is good to encourage homosexuals to marry.
The argument is valid -- if we accept (1) and (2), we must accept (3). Of course, it's only sound if (1) and (2) are both true. (2) is an empirical claim that seems likely. (1) is a value claim that I disagree with as a universal claim. So we have an unsound, valid argument, which also happens to have a true conclusion. Go team.

Think how we loved her!

The seventh and best Gilbert & Sullivan comic opera premiered 121 years ago today, both in London and New York. Happy Birthday, Iolanthe.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Where to find Jonathan

For any of you who may be wondering, the following is now part of my official plan: I will remain in Providence from now until December 18. Possible weekend road trip destinations are NYC and Toronto. I will fly to Midland, MI on December 18 to spend the holidays with my family. I also intend to spend quality time with high school friends. I will fly from Midland to Houston, TX on January 5, and spend my weekday days working for Jones McClure Publishing, and my evenings and weekends catching up with Rice people. I will return to Providence on January 28 for the start of my second semester here. I will return to Houston March 27 to catch the closing night for RLOS's Pirates and to audition for Houston G&S's Mikado. I don't yet have a return ticket yet, but I'll come back to Providence sometime between the 28th and April 5, when my Spring Break ends. I'm really very excited about what promise to be two excellent trips. Those of you friends in Midland or Houston, I hope to spend some good time with you. And now, I will continue to write a term paper.

Moral intuitions poll

Pretty basic questions, here, but I'd like to know how people feel about this. (1) Obviously, it's at least usually morally wrong to punch innocent people in the face. But what if the only way to prevent five innocent people from being punched in the face was for you to punch one innocent person in the face? Would it be permissible for you to punch him? Would it be required? (2) Obviously, it's at least usually morally wrong to intentionally hurt an innocent person's feelings. But what if the only way to prevent five innocent people having their feelings intentionally hurt was for you to intentionally hurt one innocent person's feelings? Would it be permissible for you to hurt his feelings? Would it be required? (3) Obviously, it's at least usually morally wrong to torture innocent people to death. But what if the only way to prevent five innocent people from being tortured to death was for you to torture one innocent person to death? Would it be permissible for you to torture him? Would it be required? Assume that in each case, there is no morally significant difference between any of the innocent people, and that you're positive that the only way to avoid the greater evil is to hurt the one person. If your answers to (1), (2), and (3) aren't all the same, what is the difference between them? Also, feel free to substitute the harm of your choice in the appropriate place.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Philosophical Buzzword: Modus Ponens

Savannah said, in reference to my Curry paradox post: I think I need to know what modus ponens means, because I don't see how your argument goes from 3) to 4). It looks to me like since 3) is the same as 1), you might as well have gone from 1) to 4) and it would have made just as much (or little) sense. The argument in question was this:
C: If this sentence (C) is true, then Santa Claus exists. (1) If C is true, then If C is true, then Santa Claus exists. (1') If if C is true, then Santa Claus exists is true, then (if C is true, then Santa Claus exists). (2) If if C is true, then Santa Claus exists is true, then Santa Claus exists. (3) If C is true, then Santa Claus exists. (4) Santa Claus exists.
I said that to go from (3) to (4), we used modus ponens on (3) and (3). Modus ponens is one of the basic rules of logic. Basically, it says that any time you know A, and also know "if A, then B", you can conclude "B". Here's an example of valid use of modus ponens:
  1. If Jonathan is rich, I'm a monkey's uncle.
  2. Jonathan is rich.
  3. Therefore, by modus ponens on (1) and (2), I'm a monkey's uncle.
So how's this work in the Santa case? Let A be C, and let B be "Santa Clause exists". So sentence (3) above is equivalent to "if A, then B". But, because of the self-reference in C, sentence (3) is also equivalent to A. So we can invoke (3) as both antecedent and conditional (that is, as both "A" and "if A, then B"). This gets us to B by modus ponens. UPDATE: Thank you Alexis for catching a very bad error. It's now fixed.

Saturday, November 22, 2003


I'd like to officially state that I have forgiven the University of Michigan for denying me admittance to its philosophy program, and that it has my full support today. Go Blue.

Thursday, November 20, 2003


My Yahoo! Sports page has this headline: Kirkus Finally Getting Shot. Well, Dennis Weathersby's been doing well.

Yes, Virginia, there PROVABLY IS a Santa Claus

I learned a new paradox this morning in Brian Weatherson's logic class. (By "new", I mean a paradox I hadn't encountered before; in fact, I'm told it was first presented in 1942.) It's one of those fun paradoxes that arise out of fairly straight-forward self-referential ideas, along the lines of the Liar paradox ("this sentence is false" or Russell's paradox (the set consisting of all sets that are not members of themselves). I have an extraordinary number of college friends who are not strictly speaking philosophers but who are likely to be interested in the paradox (and other philosophical issues), so I'm happy to share. That's part of the reason this blog is fun. I'll present the Curry paradox here pretty much exactly as Brian did in class. It's based on this self-referential sentence: C: If this sentence (C) is true, then Santa Claus exists. Consider the following argument, where (1) is an obviously true premise:
(1) If C is true, then If C is true, then Santa Claus exists.
Or, to spell it out,
(1') If if C is true, then Santa Claus exists is true, then (if C is true, then Santa Claus exists).
Note that the parenthetical antecedent is true when C is true (after all, that's what C means), so (1) pretty clearly entails by modus ponens,
(2) If if C is true, then Santa Claus exists is true, then Santa Claus exists.
But since the italic claim in (2) above just is C, (2) is pretty clearly also equivalent to C. So let's sub it in:
(3) If C is true, then Santa Claus exists.
(3), of course, is equivalent to C. So it follows from modus ponens on (3) and (3),
(4) Santa Claus exists.
Of course, you should feel free to sub in your favorite implausible claim for "Santa Claus exists". This argument would be equally effective at proving that God exists, or that the St. Louis Rams are worthy of praise. There's a lot of big logic-y words in my explanation, but it's actually all very intuitive... if talk of modus ponens and equivalence and entailment makes your eyes glaze over, then just look at the numbered sentences -- you should be able to see that they follow logically from one another. UPDATE 11/21: I had no idea that "Santa Claus" didn't have an "e" in it. How very, very strange.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

A post on the problem of evil

I've had very little exposure to philosophy of religion, but I have encountered a rather standard argument against the existence of a certain type of God. Here is the argument from the problem of evil: Suppose there is a God who is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good. Such a God would want to create the best possible world -- and because he is omnipotent, he therefore would create the best possible world. But the real world is not the best possible world -- people suffer, there are natural disasters, etc. Therefore, there is no God who is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good. Felicia Nimue Ackerman suggested a fascinating response to this argument in class today (i.e. yesterday, i.e. Wednesday). She said it's not original to her, but didn't know to whom it was. Maybe I'll look it up tomorrow. I'm curious, because it's really quite brilliant. Anyway, the argument: We need to be clear what it means to be omnipotent. The standard gloss of "able to do anything" is problematic -- it's reasonable to restrict it to "able to do anything that is logically possible." (This suggests an answer to the famous quip, "could God create a stone so heavy that even he couldn't lift it?" No, because such a thing is logically impossible.) I think this move is fairly universally agreed to. But now, consider this claim: Necessarily, there is no best possible world. It seems true to me. After all, given any possible world, we could make it better, perhaps by increasing the happiness of one person in it, or by adding a new perfectly happy person. But now, God has an excuse for the problem of evil: the reason he didn't create the best possible world is that to do so would be logically impossible! Something feels fishy, but I can't figure out what it is. I want to say, "well, fine, God, so you couldn't have made it the best possible world, but why didn't you at least make the world better?" But of course, I could say that in any possible world (assuming of course that I'm in it, and can talk). Can God really get off the hook that easily? This feels like a really devious, sneaky argument, but I can't see anything wrong with it. (Interestingly, it intellectually feels to me a lot like St. Anselm's ontological argument for the existence of God. Apparently, some theologians are very clever.) UPDATE: thanks to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, I learn that this response has been advocated particularly by George Schlesinger and Peter Forrest. There's actually a fascinating discussion there, with troublesome implications for consequentialists like me. Check it out.

Insomnia and vicious cycles

I had a hard time getting to sleep last night, which was a contributing factor to my failing to wake up early, like I meant to, this morning (fortunately I hadn't class). But since I slept until 11:30 today, it didn't work very well when I went to bed early, at 11:30 tonight. Two hours later, I give up for the time being, and will now write a post on the problem of evil.

Philosophical Buzzwords: Soundness and Validity

So I had a great idea forever ago, and got as far as one post, then stopped. Fortunately, history hasn't ended yet, so it's not too late for me to continue. A reminder for those of you who haven't been attentively reading this blog from the very beginning: philosophical buzzword posts are designed to explain philosophy concepts to smart people who don't already know them. I think that more philosophical experts read my blog now than did in September... those people will probably not find these posts very interesting, unless I make a mistake. Enough disclaimer. Here's my post. I mean to explain what it means for an argument to be "sound", "unsound", "valid", and "invalid". Arguments start with premises and end in conclusions. The premises in an argument are connected to the conclusion by a series of steps. The validity of an argument depends on whether each step follows logically from the ones before it. So an argument is valid if the statements in each step are logically required by the ones before it. Here are some examples of valid arguments:
  1. (premise)Jonathan has a blog.
  2. (premise)Anyone who has a blog uses the internet. Therefore,
  3. (conclusion) Jonathan uses the internet.
  1. (premise) Emily has a nephew.
  2. (premise) Anyone with a nephew must love children. Therefore,
  3. (conclusion) Emily loves children.
Here is an example of an invalid argument:
  1. (premise) Jonathan's name is "Jonathan". Therefore,
  2. (conclusion) Jonathan is male.
This argument is invalid because it's not a logical requirement that Jonathan be male, given only that Jonathan's name is "Jonathan". It would be valid if we added the premise, "All people named "Jonathan" are male." (That's not the only way we could make it valid. We could, for instance, instead add the premise, "Everyone is male", and the conclusion would follow.) So that's validity. An argument is sound if (1) it is valid and (2) its premises are true. (Intuitively, a sound argument is a good argument -- one that should definitely convince you of its conclusion.) So the blogging argument above is sound in addition to being valid, while the nephew example is valid but not sound. It should be evident from this discussion that soundness implies validity. So technically speaking, Dave's example in a comment to my last post is not valid, although it's pretty close: "We should not permit anyone who is a known terrorist to fly, because known terrorists are likely to try to kill people on the plane." This argument is not strictly valid because, like the naming case, it's missing a (very reasonable premise). If we add in, "We should not permit anything that is likely to cause an attempt to kill people on the plane," then the argument becomes valid. This suggests something else worth recognizing -- there are three conceptually distinct positive qualities an argument might have: (1) validity, (2) soundness, and (3) having a true conclusion. (2) logically implies both (1) and (3), and the other relationships are all logical independence. Now you know about soundness and validi-TEE. Next time won't you blog with me.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

A post that probably would have been better off unconceived

I thought I'd just come up with an original argument against skepticism about other minds that did not depend on externalism. Excitedly, I began to explain it here. Turns out, I was just wrong. Or maybe not. Anyone have a conceptual analysis for argument handy? In particular, is it possible to have an argument for x with some combination of: (i) unsound, (ii) invalid, (iii) does not end in "x"? In happier news, I found a new toy. But in what sense could a computer program generate a "random prime number"? Time to go home, eat dinner, and read Reid.

Updated BlogList

I've removed Elenchus and Philosophical Thoughts from my list of links, because they don't seem to be active. I'll add them again if they become active again and I become aware of this fact.

More on utility, discounts, Pascal, etc.

So apparently I feel like following up on some of the issues from comments on my last post. Cool. Joe says: I remember in Temkin's PHIL101, in discussing Pascal's Wager, the counter example of worshiping Satan, or Zeus, or Wotan. You can't serve God and mammon, much less God and one of those other jokers. But if theirs is the true path, Brother Christian is hosed. This is another potential problem with Pascal's wager, but not, I think, a conclusively devastating one. It just complicates the picture. If Joe's right, and I think he is, then it just becomes harder to pick what to believe -- but Pascal's wager considerations still demonstrate that it's not a good idea to be an atheist. Basically, if each promises the same reward and is mutually exclusive, choose the one you judge to have the highest probability of being true. If you can't tell, pick one at random. Dave says: I think that, in order to make sense of this problem, we may have to discount future utility or disutility according to some scheme that diminishes its value depending on its remoteness in time. He points out that it's perfectly possible to deal with a monetary annuity version of the problem, because future money has a discounted value. I don't think that will help here, because we're already talking about utility. When dealing with money, we say that $10 ten years from now has x current value, while $10 today has, maybe, .8x current value. It's this value that is being extended indefinitely. Imagine Dave's scenario, but where every day, your evil banker steals the amount of money such that its discounted t=0 value is $10. Then we match the devil case, and are left with our puzzling situation. Another way to think about it: why do we discount future money? I think there are two reasons: (1) because inflation gives a given amount of money less happiness-giving power in the future, and (2) because we're not guaranteed to receive future money (for example, if we die). Neither consideration is relevant for our eternally tortured hell-denizen. Hmm... all this talk of eternal damnation is making me hungry.

Monday, November 17, 2003

...impossibly happy ever after.

A couple of weeks ago, Chris Bertram on Crooked Timber presented a very interesting thought experiment about rational choice and utility theory:
You are in hell and facing an eternity of torment, but the devil offers you a way out, which you can take once and only once at any time from now on. Today, if you ask him to, the devil will toss a fair coin once and if it comes up heads you are free (but if tails then you face eternal torment with no possibility of reprieve). You don't have to play today, though, because tomorrow the devil will make the deal slightly more favourable to you (and you know this): he'll toss the coin twice but just one head will free you. The day after, the offer will improve further: 3 tosses with just one head needed. And so on (4 tosses, 5 tosses, ... 1000 tosses ...) for the rest of time if needed. So, given that the devil will give you better odds on every day after this one, but that you want to escape from hell some time, when should accept his offer?
I recognized that this was a fascinating problem, and presented the following in a comment:
Following is what is surely a bad argument for the conclusion that if I'm a rational agent, for any day, it's not soon enough. Unfortunately, I can't see what's wrong with the argument. Suppose it's now day k. I could take the chance now, or wait until tomorrow. By choosing to wait until tomorrow, I incur the disutility of an additional day of torture -- but I also gain some finite probability of an infinite utility -- to leave hell. Therefore, this probability should carry greater weight in a judgmentl judgement than the finite day of torture, and I should wait another day. Of course, if this is right, it suggests that we should NEVER take the devil's offer -- and that's pretty clearly just dumb. I'm not sure what this tells us, other than that this is an interesting question.
In the undergrad course for which I'm grading this semester, we talked last week about Pascal's Wager -- in a nutshell, Pascal argued that a rational self-interested agent should believe in God, because in so doing, he has everything to gain, and very little to lose. Here is a possible more formal reconstruction: Let A be the world in which I believe in God, and B be that in which I do not believe in God. Suppose God exists. Then A leads to everlasting bliss, and B leads to eternal damnation. So A is better for me by an infinite amount. Suppose God doesn't exist. Then there is no afterlife, so B is preferable to A by the cost of believing in God (after all, it's not fun to be virtuous) -- maybe 25 hedon-hours. Then for any non-zero probability of God's existence, the expected utility from A is greater than that from B -- because it's infinite. So the prudentially rational person will believe in God. But surely this isn't right. This example is from Felicia Nimue Ackerman, given in class: suppose I'm offered a highly experimental drug, which has a 99% chance of torturing me to death (finite disutility), and a 1% chance of eternal bliss (infinite utility). I wouldn't take the drug, and I'm not inclined to think I'm therefore being irrational. The drug case, Pascal's Wager, and the bargain with the devil all have in common that they involve comparisons of infinite utility with finite utility. So one possible conclusion is just that infinite numbers just aren't allowed into the expected utility game -- this is rather unsatisfying, though, because I want there to be a correct answer to each of these cases. Another, more drastic, possible solution is that there is no fact of the matter what a rational person would do in general -- personal risk-affinity should be a factor... but this doesn't seem right to me, either. Alas. I'm going to go read Jerry Fodor on acquired perception now.

On the correct interpretation of what I'm wearing today

I am wearing a Jeff Garcia jersey today. This should be read as a statement of support for the San Francisco 49ers. It should not be read as taking part in any real or imagined quarterback controversy. Tim Rattay has my full support as the starter tonight, because Jeff is injured. Jeff has my full support as the starter when he's healthy, because Tim's the backup. That is all.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Latest on Terri Schiavo

Here is the latest news. Here is a link to the last time I talked about the issue. Here is what some of the comments to that post, and further reflection, made me realize: although many people seem to have recognized that quality of life judgments are relevant to the positive duty to keep a person alive, everyone still seems to be subscribing to some weird views about positive versus negative action -- the real argument, as everyone knows, is about whether to keep this woman alive. That question has manifested itself into a question about whether it's ok to remove her feeding tube. This brings up complications about causing undue suffering; it's at least plausible that she'd suffer as a result before dying of starvation, and it's certainly an unsavory mental picture. If the decision is that Terri Schiavo ought not to continue to be alive, then I suggest that her life be terminated, as painlessly as possible. More people ought to realize that there is no morally significant difference between killing and letting die.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Moody and Sad

Here is a picture of me appearing as Sir Despard in the MIT Gilbert & Sullivan Players production of Ruddigore. We close tomorrow. More pictures here. I believe they're going away after a couple weeks. Odd are in favor of me being more active online after this weekend, when I no longer have to wear a fake moustache.

"Pepper my Ragu"?

I've decided that I'm curious enough to ask. Anyone know what this means? Thank you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Speaking of headlines on the front page of today's NYT...

The front page of the New York Times today also included a story with headline "Iraqi Tribes GIs Ask for Help Say They Can't". That's a terrible headline. And that's all I have to say about that.

Some questions are easy

The front page of the New York Times today included a story with headline "U.S. Tariffs on Steel Are Illegal, World Trade Organization Says". We all should remember this simple maxim: "Tariffs bad, free trade good." I'm completely serious. This should be an easy question.

Acausality in Newtonian Physics

Today I read an interesting philosophy of science paper by John Norton. I have some brief (and frankly not very interesting) comments on it in my reading blog. But I wanted to share what was to me a fascinatingly surprising example that Norton gave. Norton's thesis is that philosophers of science are mistaken to understand causality as fundamental to science. He introduces this example, in his own words:
While exotic theories like quantum mechanics and general relativity violate our common expectations of causation and determinism, one routinely assumes that ordinary Newtonian mechanics will violate these expectations only in extreme circumstances if at all. That is not so. Even quite simple Newtonian systems can harbor uncaused events and ones for which the theory cannot even supply probabilities. ... Here is an example of such a system fully in accord with Newtonian mechanics. It is a mass that remains at rest in a physical environment that is completely unchanging for an arbitrary amount of time—a day, a month, an eon. Then, without any external intervention or any change in the physical environment, the mass spontaneously moves off in an arbitrary direction, with the theory supplying no probabilities for the time or direction of the motion.
If you're not excited and shocked by this point, then you're not me. Norton goes on to set up the system, in which a mass rests frictionlessly on top of a dome. He gives mathematical definitions of the dome and the force of gravity. He observes that Newton's first and second laws can be trivially solved for the mass' location at all times t, in r(t) = 0, the apex. But he also identifies a second solution class in which the mass starts moving in any radial direction after any arbitrary time T! Unfortunately, my calculus is too rusty to check the math, but I have every confidence that he's right. Again, I have nothing to say other than that I find this surprising and interesting. If you do too, check it out... he explains this system in detail in §3 of his paper, starting on page 8. There's a good diagram, too. The paper is available online as pdf or gif images of each page. If you understand the science (or the philosophy) better than I do, I'd appreciate enlightening.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Canadian Hate Crimes, Totalitarianism, and Democracy

There's an interesting exchange going on between Henry Farell at Crooked Timber and David Berstein at the Volokh Conspiracy regarding free speech restrictions in Canada. David's suggestion is that government restrictions on free speech, as in cases of hate crime legislation, are the first step toward the goal "to have the government enforce PCism throughout society." He suggests that this is happening in Canada, and mentions the case of a professor who has been accused of hate crime in response to anti-American political speech. Henry thinks that David is exaggerating to the point of absurdity. He says:
Now I'm all for occasional doses of overheated language to enliven our political discourse, but Bernstein’s rhetoric verges on the bizarre. Canada has adopted some (relatively moderate) free speech restrictions in its Charter, but by most reasonable definitions of the word, it isn't an authoritarian society. Nor is it likely to become one anytime soon. There’s a rhetorical slippage in Bernstein’s argument, between government-enforced restrictions on free speech and political authoritarianism/totalitarianism. They’re rather different things. States can have some restriction on free speech and remain democratic. France and Germany have done it for fifty-odd years.
In general, I find this kind of development more alarming then Henry does, but that's not my point here. What I'd like to address is the confusion of the logical relationship between authoritarianism/totalitarianism and democracy. People make this mistake very often, and I've always been a bit puzzled by it. I'm no political theorist (although I was a poli sci. major for a few semesters), but I was under the impression that democracy and authoritarianism were completely different things, and not conceptually inconsistent. Democracy refers to the sources of political legitimacy and power, and totalitarianism is concerned with how much the government interferes in private life. Therefore, when David says that a country can restrict free speech and still be a democracy, of course that's true -- but it doesn't mean it's therefore not totalitarian. Suppose that the large Christian majority in a country voted to forbid the practice of minority religions -- this law would be both democratic and totalitarian. Of course "totalitarian" is vague, and I'm pretty sure that Henry's right to claim that describing Canada as a "totalitarian theocracy" is an exaggeration. But I don't think David is outside the realm of reason to suggest that a case like the one he links constitutes becoming a little bit more totalitarian. Democracy is just not the issue.


Ravi provides me with this link, describing it as "a nice geopolitical model".

I hate it when that happens.

I'd written a most of fairly long post on the moral status of the actions of the bad baronets of Ruddigore when I realized that what I was saying was just false. Unfortunately, the true version isn't very interesting. How annoying.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Opening, show, etc.

Ruddigore opens tonight. Wish me well, if you're so inclined. Odds are against me doing a lot of posting this weekend.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

In Rudy it was ok.

Last night, while stuck in horrible traffic on my way to dress rehearsal, I heard an interesting story (link, with audio) on NPR's All Things Considered. Nate Haasis, a high school quarterback from Illinois, became his school's conference's all-time passing leader with a thirty-something touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter of the last game of the season. He's asking to be removed from the record books, because he says he didn't earn it. Apparently what happened (he wasn't very talkative in his interview) was that his team had clearly lost the game, and the opponents were in possession, ready to run out the clock. But instead, in a move apparently designed by both head coaches, Haasis's defense intentionally let the opponents score, in order to give Haasis another chance (he was some 20 yards short of the record at the time. Haasis dumped off a short pass, and the opposing defense let the receiver run all the way for the score. Haasis says that wasn't fair to the previous record-holder, and he doesn't want a record he doesn't think he earned. His motives aren't entirely transparent, but he sounds like a cool guy. I have no idea whether he's being recruited to play in college, but he has a conference record, and recent publicity. (Michael Strahan could take a lesson.) I've been posting about football a lot lately. *shrug*

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Fantasy Football advice?

My fantasy team isn't looking great this week... the 49ers have a bye, which means I'm without my #1 wide receiver, Terrell Owens, so my receiving corps is a little sad. Right now I have Chad Johnson, Darrell Jackson, and Peerless Price. Anyone have any hunches for wide receivers poised for a breakout game? All the usual suspects are unavailable in my league, of course. I could also use some help at running back... I have Corey Dillon and Dominick Davis, and also Marcel Shipp on the bench. I'm tied for first in my league right now, and I'm going up against a pretty scary lineup... a win would be huge, so good advice would be appreciated.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Chad Johnson, take note.

The following is from the Modesto Bee, regarding the very fun and very impressive 30-10 win of the San Francisco 49ers over the St. Louis Rams last weekend.
49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora had never drawn an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty until Sunday, when he became unhinged over a holding call that preceded a San Francisco goal-line stand. Mora, who was smiling during post-game interviews, claimed he thought carefully about his actions before line judge Mark Steinkerchner pulled out his yellow flag and threw it in front of the 49ers' bench. "You know, I figured that was a good time to get my first NFL penalty," Mora said, "because it was only going to be a one-yard penalty. It was either going to be first-and-goal from the 2 or first-and-goal from the 1, so I just told (the official) how I felt about it. ... Mora said 49ers coach Dennis Erickson told him to calm down when the argument with Steinkerchner began. But when Mora explained the penalty wouldn't be expensive yardage-wise, he said, "Dennis went after him, too."
Here's to football.

Monday, November 03, 2003

I have a new blog.

Here's a new personal resolution. We'll see how it goes. I resolve to read, think about, and respond briefly in writing to one philosophy paper per day (generally, beyond what I'm reading for my classes). I'll be posting my thoughts and comments in my new blog. My new blog, unlike this one, will be written primarily with no audience other than myself in mind. Feel free to read it, comment on it, etc., but I don't plan to worry as much there as I do here about making my comments and positions clear, especially for non-philosophers. That said, if I say something there you find surprising and/or wrong, I'd love to hear about it. For those of you who might also be inclined to read philosophy papers, my new blog might point you to some new ones you'd find interesting. For those of you who are curious about my philosophical leanings and interests, you might catch a glimpse of my philosophical soul in my new blog. For those of you who just love to read my text, regardless of what I'm talking about, you can almost definitely find some of it in my new blog. For the rest of you, check it out if and only if you feel like it. I do not expect my new blog to substantially change my posting pattern to this blog.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Moral Intuitions Qnline Quiz

Brian Leiter provides this link to a site designed to measure and quantify moral intuitions, and provide some interesting analysis of them. Check it out if you're interested. I just wanted to share one of the questions, because it amused me:
A man goes to his local grocery store once a week and buys a frozen chicken. But before cooking and eating the chicken, he has sexual intercourse with it. Then he cooks it and eats it. He never tells anyone about what he does, never regrets it and never shows any ill effects from behaving this way. He remains an upstanding member of his community. a) Is anyone harmed by this man's sexual activities with a chicken (assume there are no ethical problems with meat eating)?
Philosophy is fun. Anyway, go check out the quiz. You want a bonus picture? Ok.