Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Ranking philosophers, cont'd

A sequel to the original.

Here I address issues about criteria for ranking philosophers.

Here are some characteristics of some of the most important, interesting, influential, etc. philosophers in history.  The more characteristics a philosopher has, the more likely the philosopher will have a higher ranking:

  • Addressing matters of philosophical method, preferably including an explicit treatment of the subject of dialectic.  Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, and Hegel are canonical instances.  Rand, mostly via her student Peikoff in lecture courses, addresses method as centrally important subject matter.  Marx addresses dialectic, although I would need to investigate further on his treatment of methodological issues generally.
  • Addressing matters of what Aristotle and Kant call categories, conceptually fundamental means of organizing our thoughts about the world.  Hegel is very big on this as well.
  • Addressing matters in aesthetics.  Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Rand are examples.
  • (Relates to first bullet-point) Addressing matters of metaphilosophy, i.e., defining philosophy and its place or role in the theoretical sciences and human life generally.  Authors who have "philosophy" in their book titles would be candidates.  Examples of this last qualification include Boethius, Hegel, Dewey, Wittgenstein, Rand, Rorty, Nozick, and Deleuze & Guattari.
  • (This would apply to more recent philosophers) Explicitly addressing the "meaning of life" subject at length.  Examples include Nozick and Metz (and figures listed in Metz's bibliography).
  • Addressing criteria for how to rank philosophers (heh heh) or teleological measurement generally
  • Addressing and rigorously adhering to principles of interpretive charity or steelmanning opposing positions.  Examples include Mill and Dennett.
  • Leading an exemplary life (opinions about instances/examples vary)
  • Expertise in non-philosophy fields is a plus - e.g., figures identifiable as polymaths (Aristotle, Leibniz), or contributors to the canon of economic theory (Smith and Mill; Marx's contribution to economic literacy is a matter of great controversy)
  • [Addendum: Signs of a supposedly controversial because substantive philosophical thesis, position, or even tendency or temperament - the more explicit and self-conscious the better - of perfectionism, and (preferably) more specifically intellectual perfectionism.  The leading figures here are Aristotle, Aquinas, and Rand, followed by Hegel and Nietzsche, then Plato, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Marx, Bradley, T. H. Green, Norton, Den Uyl and Rasmussen, Hurka.  Might a mapping of the intellectual landscape here aid most usefully in what I might term 'end of history'-ology (which would entail among other things a dialectical weighing and selecting partially or wholly from Kant's Kingdom of Ends, Nietzsche's Ubermensch, Hegel's Absolute Spirit (and/or end of history), Plato's Republic, etc.; the more (and more perfected) the intellectual and moral, and aesthetic attributes these notions point to that exist in a human being, the better, amiright?).]

How everyone needs philosophy: a proof

A standard hierarchy of needs. Where does philosophy fit in?

It seems like this may involve belaboring what is obvious (to some), but I can't say I've seen the case presented quite like this before.

Pictured above is a rendition of Maslow's famous hierarchy of needs (hereafter "the hierarchy").  I've indicated in a number of places that "Better Living" can be understood in these terms.  I've indicated in my book (see 'About Me') that a (hopefully careful and thorough) inductive grounding of the concept "good" - along with "right" the most important concept in the field of metaethics - points toward good being synonymous with (the fulfillment of) a need.  An overly reductionist and biologistic rendering of "need" or "good" based on some concept of a telos understood in terms of natural functions seems to wind up explaining many of the needs at or toward the bottom or middle of the Maslow-hierarchy but not so much those at and towards the top; while the explanation of our origins is usually rendered in terms of the concept of 'inclusive fitness' - we're genetic preservation and replication machines (crudely, "the four Fs") - it turns out that the distinctively human cognitive makeup comes with ends/goals/purposes like morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem-solving, aesthetic appreciation, etc.  Questions that arise: How does human appreciation of music arise within an evolutionary context?  How do we treat of (genuine) needs toward the top of the hierarchy that don't seem to have played nearly the role for prehistoric humans that they do for us moderns?

Additionally, thinkers like David L. Norton have noted the deep if not exact similarity between the hierarchy and the ancient concept of eudaimonia (rough synonyms are flourishing, well-being, happiness, living well, a complete life).  The terms "eudaimonia" and "self-actualization" appear to be synonymous here.  (Noted ethicist Alan Gewirth takes the idea a step further with his concept of self-fulfillment.)  (One really should do some mental integration and follow these links where they lead; the wikipedia entry for "self-fulfillment" prominently references Gewirth, for instance.)  Now, it may turn out that one partly fulfills needs at different levels of the hierarchy, but the ideal of perfection is a complete (teleios) fulfillment of needs.

I plan to have more to say in a future posting or book or more about the concept of ethical perfectionism as a complete fulfillment of the aspirations of common sense morality (inasmuch as we would say that there are inchoate or implicit aspirations in common sense morality).  Moral theories that involve revisions to common sense morality are dubbed revisionary (aha, Huemer now appears!); "revisionary" seems to be a charge leveled more toward utilitarianism than to competing theories since it involves such a revision or departure from how humans historically have thought about the good and the right-and-wrong.  (See, e.g.: trolley problems.)  That usually has been a charge against utilitarianism because of the apparently or genuinely counter-intuitive (roughly, counter-common-sense-morality) prescriptions, motivations, etc., that people would have to adopt to fit the demands of the theory.  I don't think ethical perfectionism - the most perfect version we can formulate, that is; I nominate an Aristotelian or intellectual perfectionism (as do Hurka, the Dougs, and others) - succumbs to this problem.

(Hopefully an intellectual perfectionism avoids problems of circularity, viz.: when we fill in the concept of intellectual perfection, does it lead to adoption of, say, utilitarianism (and then when we fill in the best version of utilitarianism or consequentialism more broadly speaking, in order to (e.g.) account for Mill's highly plausible distinction between higher and lower pleasures or goods, do we end up with intellectual perfectionism)?  Well, in line with what intellectual perfection involves, in a sense yes, at least in part, via the procedures of dialectic. (Blog tag for dialectic.)  Utilitarianism's appeal comes from having grains of truth, even if it ends up being a one-sided theory that excludes the grains of truth in other theories, e.g., Kantian-style deontology associated with (e.g.) rights-talk that is ethically foundational enough not to be reducible to utilitarian guidelines.  Or so I and numerous ethical theorists claim.)

Somehow all of the preceding is deeply relevant to the promised proof to which I now come, about the need for philosophy.  (I'm trying not to leave loose ends, you see.)

Two of the needs listed at the top of the hierarchy - morality and problem-solving - are centrally specific concerns to philosophy, and uniquely to the discipline of philosophy.  Problem-solving comes under the head of "epistemology" or theory of knowledge, and it's that issue which I seek to address here.

What is the main problem that epistemology is trying to solve?  Well, it's a rather obvious problem: while there isn't really any serious dispute about the general reliability of the deliverance of sense-perception, which humans all share in common (and with the other animals), humans come to many varied systems of belief.  (The Greek term for belief is endoxa.  Consider the relation to terms you already know such as "orthodox" or "paradox.")  Sometimes these systems of belief are wildly at variance with one another.  It's hard to see how (e.g.) socialism and capitalism are in any serious way reconcilable with one another.  And yet different humans, with access to the same sensory evidence, end up thinking very different things about these isms.

Since advocates of capitalism and of socialism can't both be right, we run into the very serious (indeed, life-and-death, if you look at the the 20th century) possibility of doxastic error.  And if one is in serious doxastic error, it's hard to reconcile this condition with being (completely) eudaimonic.  To put the issue into greater relief: what about the irreconcilability of theism and naturalism?  How does that affect how one ought to fashion one's life?  To live a good life do we need to prepare for an afterlife?  Do we need to attend church on Sundays?  Do we need to adhere strictly to what's in Scriptures?  Which set of Scriptures - the Koran, the Bible, the Upanishads?

What's the proper ethical treatment of animals?  Are current industrial farming practices abominable?  (There is something approaching a philosophical consensus, if ever there was any, that indeed it is.  I can think of a lot of arguments in the literature that it is, but I can't think of a single argument in the literature that it isn't.  This has hardly affected social or government policy in the main, however.  This in itself is a philosophical problem.)  Are meat-eating practices of any kind wrong?  (The jury appears to be out on that one.)

Is healthcare a basic and universal human right?  (Note that quality healthcare is pricey, beyond the reach of many of the world's inhabitants.)  If so, how does that square with the right to liberty?  Doesn't the latter preclude being forced into service to provide for others' healthcare?  Isn't taxation of earnings on par with forced labor?  Isn't sending one's earnings to third-world relief funds akin to getting one's work clothing wet to save a baby from drowning in a shallow pond on one's way to work?  (You've never encountered that situation?  Is that relevant to the comparison?  What about trolley problems?)  If you should donate some of your earnings to third-world relief, just how much of your earnings?  What are proper procedures, if any, for quarantining individuals who are infected with a highly contagious virus?  These are life and death questions, and there's no broad agreement on them.

So isn't it really important, if we want to get things right about such questions, and we find that - based on the fact of disagreement alone - that not everyone is getting it right despite their sincerely-held beliefs (endoxa), that we would want to be really rigorous about our belief-formation processes?  Shouldn't we want to learn, rigorously, about the rules of formal logic?  (Should(n't) I present this whole proof of the need for philosophy in numbered-premise-and-conclusion format?  But what is the fun in that?  Have you ever seen me do such a thing in this blog?)  Shouldn't we all want to learn about bending over backwards to avoid committing informal fallacies, which are widespread if not rampant in at least some areas of discourse?  Shouldn't we all heed to the best of our abilities Mill's advice (there's Mill again...) about knowing the opinions of adversaries in their most plausible and persuasive form?  Wouldn't you prefer that your adversaries know your opinions as you actually hold them before they criticize them?

(Apparently tons of haters of Ayn Rand "know" from afar that Rand admirers such as myself are empathy-lacking assholes, and that all we have to talk about is politics and not things like aesthetics or philosophic method.  I was not aware that all that time pondering the implications of the issue of (e.g.) Rand as a dialectical thinker, or (which comes roughly to the same thing) the thinking that went into my Journal of Ayn Rand Studies article, was the equivalent of staring into blank space, my life is so empty and lacking in experiential-background context!  The things the haters know about me that I don't, it's just effing great, I tell ya.  So, is Ayn Rand a philosopher, much less a good or serious one?  As long as we're going to issue forth with endoxa or opinions about that, we should want to be pretty careful and thorough about getting it right, because who or what counts as a (good or serious) philosopher is really quite important to all this.  And isn't issuing forth opinions lazily and recklessly about others' opinions almost the very definition of being an empathy-lacking asshole as opposed to a noble soul?  Not to name names, but is the opinion of a Rand-bashing Nietzsche scholar who runs the most popular philosophy blog worth anything in this context?  What does popularity or even "credentials" count for when it comes to truth and honesty, BTW?  Who runs a philosophy blog as good, overall, as this one?  Are any of the others talking explicitly, specifically, and with aspirations to systematicity about the topic of better living through philosophy?  About philosophy for children?  Like, sometimes?  Ever?  Is that 'Aristotle' on twitter running a sprawling enough research program like the original Aristotle to have the lay of the philosophy-blog land?  I know about that 'Aristotle' figure, does he know about me?  Why is 'Aristotle' on a known intellectual cesspool like twitter rather than running a philosophy blog, publishing books, etc.?  How did I find out about that 'Aristotle' if I spend little time on twitter, anyway?  What does a perfectionistic research program involve?  Why isn't twitter-'Aristotle' talking incessantly about better living through philosophy for children?  What does twitter-'Aristotle' have to say about a culturally-influential-and-polarizing figure like Ayn Rand and/or her associate and leading Aristotle scholar Allan Gotthelf?  If somehow hypothetically revived to the present day, would Aristotle specialize in Aristotle studies?  Could someone in the present day only specialize given the growth of specialized knowledge required for expertise in any field nowadays?  Would specialization explain why next to zero politicians today, who specialize in the art of persuasion, are anything close to experts in philosophy?  Etc.  As far as I know, only one philosopher is asking questions at this overall level of perceptiveness nowadays.  And only I can anticipate what my next blog post will be, and it should be pretty darn good.  [Edit: and here you go.]  BTW, I need to perfect my research program more, by homing in on state-of-the-art journals/articles in my own 'areas of specialization' [ethics, political philosophy].  I have good reasons for doing so, given the nature of the integration and transmission of knowledge/research....)

Have I made my point yet?

But just to state the conclusion succinctly: You need philosophy because at least some of your opinions are probably wrong, and better living for a human involves advanced cognition about morality and problem-solving.

To tie up any loose ends: Aristotle is known as the fountainhead of dialectic.  Dialectic has been described in the Oxford Handbook of Aristotle as his philosophical method.  The fruits of that method are well known for their explanatory power.  (He had wrong things to say about women and slavery.  His theories in physics have been superseded - after only about 1800 years or so of other thinkers doing natural philosophy, that is.  He has to be assessed on his overall merits.  His ethics are as canonical as ever, even in the demanding confines of analytic philosophy.)  T.H. Irwin has a whole book - the largest single-author book on Aristotle's philosophy that I know of - titled Aristotle's First Principles (1988) in which he investigates Aristotle's application of the method of dialectic (what Irwin terms 'strong dialectic').  Aristotle recognized the major issue raised above, the problem of opposing opinion or endoxa despite uniformity in human sensory experience.  Surely everyone has hit upon some grain(s) of truth or other in their opinion-formation processes, but clearly (given the fact of disagreement) they need to perfect those processes to the best of their abilities.  One way of doing so is engaging in dialectic, the art of context-keeping in the most fundamental explanatory sense, but the art, more popularly understood, of seeking reconciliation among opposing ideas.  (That is the art of context-keeping applied, in the sense that we seek to establish the cognitive contexts within opposing belief-formation processes occur, so as to better understand how opposing opinions were arrived at, and therefore how to apply needed fixes.)  So dialectic and intellectual perfection(ism), which may well come to the same thing, are fundamental to philosophical activity.  Now, Aristotle didn't say that (strong) dialectic was merely about treating the contexts opposing opinions, since he was also a realist in the sense that an independent reality (the one we commonly access through sense-experience) is the ultimate arbiter of truth and falsity.  This explains the grain(s) of truth in opposing opinions even though, for all we know, opposing opinions taken on the whole are false.  Point being, it's not opinions all the way down.

(A note about Irwin: he's a good man, and thurrah.  I may have mentioned before that his massive, 3-volume The Development of Ethics (2007) contains the largest bibliography that I know of -  approximately 1600 references, even more than the 1300 or so of Sciabarra's Total Freedom (2000).  (While I haven't read it, I am aware that Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011) also has a massive bibliography, around 1100 references IIRC.  Any deep tie-in between the themes covered in these three books?  How much and against what odds should one bet that there is?)  Irwin is the main source of my awareness of discussions about an ethical theory being revisionary.  For point of reference, the 5 thinkers to whom Irwin devotes more than 100 pages of coverage each are Aristotle, Aquinas, Hume, Kant and Sidgwick (the revisionary utilitarian guy).  Now, while if you took only these 5 thinkers and 'dialecticized' them, you'd probably come up with an intellectual and ethical framework that, practiced by all humans, would lead to a really decent and enlightened society, despite differences about "the foundations."  Aristotle and Aquinas in particular are perfectionists - intellectual perfectionists to be exact - and the clear sense from Irwin's exhaustively comprehensive treatment of the history of ethics is that their 'Aristotelian naturalism' offers the strongest resources overall for ethical theory.  In fact, Irwin's coverage of Aquinas is the most extensive of any other figure in his Development, at over 200 pages.  I'm close to finishing the final, third volume of the series.  The last 300 densely-packed pages cover the 20th century from Moore onward.  Up until that point, Irwin's coverage was quite lucid, easy (enough) to follow.  But then 20th century ethics comes around, and it becomes almost excruciatingly technical and focused on the difficult subject matter of metaethics.  The likes of Ayn Rand had no time for this stuff, as she was focused on the life-and-death importance of ethics whereas the relevance for ethical practice of any number of the proliferating 20th-century isms (expressivism, cognitivism, emotivism, error theory, internalism, subjectivism, realism, quasi-realism, etc. etc.) is not exactly clear.  The frustration of non-academics/specialists about this situation is expressed in such articles as this one.  Still, you have a (the?) leading Aristotle scholar in W. D. Ross heavily involved in these discussions, so they're still in some way very important.  The question is, can their importance be conveyed to a lay-audience?  Or is the subject matter inherently too difficult?  I remember a claim to the effect that Heidegger's subject matter is inherently too difficult for lay-translation, although Irwin's chapter on Existentialist ethics, which is pretty much all about Heidegger, is easily the clearest of his 20th-century chapters so far, so I doubt such a claim in Heidegger's case.  Also, while Irwin's prose when it comes to 20th-century meteathics is difficult, the treatment of the metaethical subject matter in fellow Oxford scholar Derek Parfit's On What Matters (2011), volume 2, is actually quite accessible, breezy almost.  What's missing in On What Matters is coverage of the Aristotelian naturalist tradition so favorably treated by Irwin.  Is a (dialectical) synthesis of Irwin and Parfit possible, or does specialization preclude that, dammit?  [Edit: On the topic of good and thurrah men, Mortimer Adler's compilation, Great Treasury of Western Thought, is some 1770 pages, 1430 of which are the main textual extracts, in double columns, in tiny print.  I'm about halfway through it, and based on the pace of reading so far (roughly 12-14 pages an hour) I expect it will take over 100 hours, probably around 120 hours, to get all the way through.  Likewise, Irwin's Development is some 2800 large-size pages, with small print, and at my pace of reading of about 22-25 pages an hour, the time to completion would be over 100 hours as well.  Both good and thurrah men are Aristotelian researchers - and so is Sciabarra - so is there something more than a coinkydink there?  What other works from a single author/editor take over 100 hours to get through?  I want to know, dammit.  I don't remember Copleston's History, with its relatively short pages, taking nearly as long.])

[Addendum: the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary definition of "self-actualize" is "to reach one's full potential."  So now we have another conceptual tie-in, between goods, needs, and potentialities, yes?  (Actuality or energeia being synonymous with entelechy.... ain't making connections fun?)]

Monday, March 16, 2020

Democrats support sex discrimination

Groping for a running mate? (Imagine the Democrat reaction if Trump did this.)

One nice thing about philosophy is how it exposes bad ideas for what they are, irrespective of their popularity or trendiness.

At last night's Democratic debate, front-runner Joe Biden made explicit that he will only consider a woman for a running mate.  His opponent, Bernie Sanders, wouldn't commit outright to that position, but he's leaning heavily in that direction.

Proposition: The person most qualified for the job is the one who should get that job.

Democrats, the people who supposedly represent the progressive and enlightened mindset in America, now deny this Proposition.  (Or at least some trendily large majority now denies it.  How much stink are they raising about Biden denying the VP opportunity to any men?)

Now, common sense and justice say that to deny the Proposition, one should come up with a really compelling overriding reason, because otherwise the Proposition is eminently plausible, so much so that it should serve as a basis for social policy - the reason being that common sense and justice find (in application to employment policies) discrimination against people on the basis of characteristics other than their qualifications for the job, to be repugnant, the sort of thing that a country such as ours (the United States) is supposed to have gotten away from.  Only reactionaries or some such deplorables would favor non-merit-based employment discrimination.  Right?

Well, apparently, it is now the reactionary position (if you listen to Joe Biden and his supporters and enablers and fellow-travelers) to oppose the kind of sex discrimination that Biden & co. now explicitly support!  Apparently the default view is that opposing sex discrimination is now a sexist position itself, and that perhaps intellectual resources need to be marshaled to use misrepresentation and shaming tactics against such opposition.  I wish I weren't exaggerating the nature of the moral absurdity going on here.

You don't have to ask what I think about this.  Just ask what an established, high-reputation sage like Socrates or Aristotle would say about this.  At the very least they would (I think) say that there had damn well be really good reasons why employment discrimination on the basis of sex should be reintroduced after supposedly having been widely repudiated in the USA and other nations.

So what would those really compelling reasons be?

I can't think of a single one.

I can think of reasons that would weigh in the consideration of candidates for employment - the standard 'diversity'-based reasons pertaining to what can be gained from differences in perspectives and background or life experience.  But I can't think of any reason whatsoever that should be categorically overriding.  Biden has said that being a woman is, in itself, a categorically overriding reason.

He has categorically ruled out considering a man as a running mate.  This is equivalent to an employer saying "men need not apply."  (I was going to say, it's the equivalent of an employer tossing the applications from men into the trash bin immediately, but by the principle of interpretive charity we cannot assume that Biden is being that dishonest, deceptive, and dastardly.  He's openly advertising his sex discrimination so that no men need waste their time presenting their credentials to him for consideration.)  Does that seem reasonable, something possibly endorsed by justice and common sense?

Why on earth should anyone even have to spend their time asking these questions?  Philosopher's question: how much more of a departure from common sense and justice does this stuff have to be, before Democrats & co. raise a stink?  (As Dennett would say, better pump those intuitions, turn the intuition knobs up to 11 if you have to.  The Democrats/Biden are at a 10, it looks like.)

But again, don't consider what this here blogger has to say, because what the hell do I know.  Just imagine instead an Aristotle bringing all his analytical weight to bear on this kind of question, and/or use your conscience (which should come to the same thing).  I don't know what language an Aristotle would use, but I think it's fucking ridiculous, what the Demo-rats have become after decades of intellectual atrophy and hubris.  'Philosophers' in the academy should be all over this kind of thing, but I'm not expecting that to happen because they're mostly 'politically correct' Democrats and politics tends to compromise intellectual integrity (hence the boldfaced hypocrisy of the 'academic freedom' rationale for tenure).

[Addendum 3/17/20: Turley appears to be among the few within the commentariat with the integrity/honesty to call out Biden's blatantly discriminatory pledge for what it is.  Has the pandemic news been distracting the rest of them, or something?  Not likely.  Biden's moral offense here is red-flag obvious to anyone who pays attention to politics.  If this isn't a no-brainer, then what is?  How is this possibly anything other than Biden being caught dead to rights?  (Note that the most upvoted anti-Turley comments below his article offer nothing of substance.  So much for the credibility of "likes"/upvotes as a gauge of quality or honesty.)  I think intellectual dishonesty can take various forms.  I don't think it's rampant, but I don't think it's rare, either.  In politics especially, lots of people quite lazily (i.e., dishonestly) if not recklessly caricature and smear adversaries' positions (contrary to Mill's advice about knowing the opinions of adversaries in their most plausible and persuasive form), and they give their own side a pass for bad things, quite a lot.  (So, well, yeah, in politics, dishonesty is kinda rampant.)  And I think those who are readily in a position to call out Biden for his pledge, and yet fail to do so, are being dishonest.]

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Euthyphro Dilemma, revisited

(A follow-up to the earlier posting, Euthyphro Dilemma: metaphysical or epistemological?)

Below I reproduce an email I sent to Maverick Philosopher the other day after having seen his recent posting related to the topic.

To what's below I want to now add a summary/clarificatory note: I think that the metaphysical and epistemological issues hadn't been so clearly distinguished not just for the reasons I note below, but also because what both issues or aspects come down to is this: any grounding for moral knowledge must come from reason(s), meaning that any moral command, to be authoritative (not authoritarian), must be grounded in reason.  In the theistic tradition, God is (the ontological principle of sufficient) reason or logos, and must rule or command accordingly.  This is why the 'naturalism' vs. 'voluntarism' debate among (late) medieval ethical theorists as discussed in the Irwin (The Development of Ethics, vol. 1 [Socrates to the Reformation]) comes down so decisively in the naturalists' favor.  Which is to say, that whatever the ultimate source of morality's authority, the only means we have for discovering any such grounds is via our unaided reason (drawing on the evidence of the senses) - which is why moral philosophers have been at work without any substantive resources (that I can see) being provided by Divine Command theory qua such.  And isn't this a vindication of what many take to be Plato's original point - that "what's favored by the gods" doesn't give a useful answer, and that it is the task specifically of philosophy/reason to discover what merits the gods' favor?


[To Maverick Philosopher]

I made a blog post last month in which I indicate that one could approach the Dilemma in at least two ways, which I term the metaphysical and the epistemological.

The metaphysical: The question of the origin of morality and its authority.  Does morality('s authority) require the existence of God?  Does this authority depend on God's mere willing as in voluntarist interpretations, or is this authority constrained by the nature of what God created as in naturalist interpretations?  (I find this dispute covered at length in the 'medieval' section of T.H. Irwin's magisterial historical survey 'The Development of Ethics', and the debate seems to come down decidedly in favor of the naturalist view.)

The epistemological: how do we come to discover (the content of) moral truths, whether or not they are brought into existence by God?  Or: How do we come to know what a perfectly benevolent being would command, or what conscientiously virtuous agents would do?

It's not hard to see how these distinct ways of coming at the Dilemma could be conflated throughout the history of addressing it, since they both end up raising the question of the basis for moral authority or goodness.  

And the epistemological question seems like the one that we're actually most interested in, since we need to know how any putative truths have authority for us, and that leads us to inquire in the ways that moral philosophers have inquired (in meta-ethics and normative ethics).

And if the question is how we come to know moral truths via reason, then the metaphysical question drops out of the picture for all practical purposes, since whether or not we have good grounds for thinking there are moral truths (and for what those truths would be) doesn't seem to be settled by the metaphysical issues.  I don't see thinkers such as Aristotle and Kant directing their ethical inquiries in the metaphysical direction (except inasmuch as Kant treats God, freedom and immortality as postulates of practical reason, but these are matters ultimately of faith rather than knowledge; and it's not like he doesn't present some pretty good reasons for behaving morally regardless of these postulates; his argument for the possibility of libertarian freedom is seriously undercut by his phenomenal determinism in any case, when he could have quite readily, sensibly, and plausibly denied that all of nature has to be deterministic in order to be lawful, i.e., the laws applying to human actions would be of a special sort based on our unique organizationally complex makeup, a point about causation that I think Aristotle and Aquinas would accept).

(The Dilemma raises tougher challenges to those who appeal to Scripture as the source of authority, since Scripture appears to contain a lot of genuinely erroneous things that are putatively God's will[*], and at the same time does not to contain moral truths, or ones stated unambiguously, that have come to be widely acknowledged since Scripture appeared (e.g., Lockean natural rights).  I think that perhaps a work like Summa Theologica is better suited for philosophical purposes.)  [* - I had this in mind when writing this sentence.]

Anyway, I will look again/closer at your recent Euthyphro post to see if it covers these points.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

The academy: structurally dishonest?

The latest from the shitshow that the leftist-infested academy has been turning into more and more. (h/t Maverick Philosopher, additional related link there)  Aside from the obviously suspicious circumstances of this tenure-track person's firing, and the obviously credible depiction of all-too-familiar "woke" smear tactics involved, there is an entirely valid point the author raises:
I did not enjoy the protection of tenure (I was, however, tenure-track), but we should not rely upon tenure to uphold free inquiry. Academic health is not served by a message that tenure can only be secured by those prepared to embrace political orthodoxies. After all, if tenure is intended to protect people who challenge dogmas and orthodoxies, why would we support a system that punishes non-conformists and that sieves them out before they are capable of safely challenging prevailing views?
Gee, ya think?

The blatant hypocrisy of the tenure system, from an academic-freedom standpoint at any rate, is now laid bare.  Not just a system of tenure under the currently prevailing leftist-scum-infested shitshow, but any system of tenure whatsoever: from a intellectual-freedom-loving standpoint, what legitimate function does it serve?  Why in the everloving fuck should anyone, anywhere be made to feel afraid to speak their minds?

Not just in the academy, but corporations, or . . . anywhere.  It's an unphilosophical world where there are punishments for intellectual honesty.  I don't give a fuuuuuuuuuuuck if intellectual honesty makes someone annoying, unpopular, or "uncomfortable" for others to be around.  (Why can't these others fucking deal with it?  What the fuck is their problem?  [Note: this is not to say that other factors besides intellectual honesty can make someone annoying, unpopular, etc.  But that's not the issue here.  All too many people don't value intellectual honesty or intellectualism very highly, and they are annoyed or made uncomfortable in its presence, and that's a problem with them.])  Intellectual honesty is the one paramount value I embrace, and intellectual dishonesty (among the kinds of which is intellectual laziness) the one thing that really grinds my gears; it is the #1 cause of the world's avoidable problems.

What the fuck, is the idea of a free and fair marketplace of ideas utopian, or something?

Do I even need to ask what sages like Socrates (who was sentenced to death for being honest/"annoying", for godsakes...), Plato, Aristotle, et al, were they revived to speak authoritatively today, would say in response to such questions?

What a fucking joke.

[Addendum: Is social media structurally dishonest?  Consider: "likes" are what drive social media, but "likes" entail a popularity contest, not the encouragement of honesty and truth.  Of course social media is structurally dishonest, and that's the #1 cause of why social media is such a widely reviled toxic shitshow.  The old discussion formats - listservs, Usenet - didn't have this problem.  Fuckerberg, Dorsey, Huffman and the other war-profiteers of "likes" can stuff it.]

[Addendum #2 (3/11/2020): Leiter quotes Kathleen Stock on twitter: "The problem with academic feminist philosophy is that it’s run like a fiefdom, not like a normal open philosophical discussion. There are things you are just not allowed to say, and people you are not allowed to offend. Quality suffers, and to [the] rest of [the] world, it shows."  (Fucking twitter and its cognition-diminishing character limits, huh?)  Now, just replace "academic feminist philosophy" with "academia today," and definitely keep the "to the rest of the world" part, and you might see just what a fucking joke this all is.  This is sickness, folks.]

Better living through Big Government?


U.S. federal debt as percentage of GDP; from wikipedia

Now, I'm not going to say that GDP equates to better living, but it does contribute to higher living standards which, other things being equal, makes for greater opportunities for better living (more leisure time to study/think about philosophy, for example, or improved pharmaceutical technology under 'better living through chemistry' assumptions, for another).  But let's say we look at this from the standpoint of purely economic outcomes (i.e., GDP per capita, perhaps adjusted for levels of inequality assuming that's particularly important to do...).  And look at the two graphs above in combination, covering roughly the same period of United States history.  Assume standard data/knowledge that any informed citizen should know about, concerning the size of government in the USA (spending, regulatory burden) both before and after the mid-20th century.  (The first graph, GDP per capita, is on a logarithmic scale so that we don't get the J-curve effect from exponential growth, i.e., would show a straight line over time for a constant rate of growth.)

Do the graphs show that big government has produced better economic outcomes, without undue or deadweight cost?

I mean, I might understand how the debt incurred by World War II may have been necessary, and relative to the economy was being paid down in the subsequent decades, but since that time the welfare state has ballooned.  Non-military spending since the beginning of the Great Society programs in the 1960s has increased from roughly 19 percent to roughly 28 percent of GDP.  What are the benefits that have come about from these additional costs?  From the GDP-per-capita graph, it appears hardly any benefit has happened compared to what came before.  Meanwhile, the national debt relative to GDP has increased considerably and is projected to go yet higher.  (I can only assume, based on my inquiries over the years into this matter, that this is due to the actuarial deficits in the Social Security and Medicare "trust funds" that those in the know have heard and talked about - the figures running in the tens of trillions of dollars (present value terms) if not over $100 trillion - are beginning to materialize; turning Keynes on his head, as it were, the long run is now arriving.

What the data show, to me, is that Big Government has brought the USA a large cost, without an added economic benefit.  Am I missing something crucial here?  Is it that economic growth rates tend to slow as economies mature, and that Big Government and its associated deficits/debt have kept the growth rate roughly the same, and that perhaps the added costs of Big Government are worth this?    Is there a particularly compelling reason to believe this?  Is it that per capita GDP could manage to keep up its growth rate under the strains of Big Government (greater government spending and regulation as a share of GDP) only if the federal government went into structurally higher levels of debt (as a share of GDP)?  How do we tell?  And how does the dynamic of accelerated globalization in the past half-century affect this analysis?

Is the American layperson in a good epistemic position to decide whether trading off liberty for Big Government (and you'd have to bastardize the meaning of "liberty" to think it's anything other than this) is worth both the economic outcomes as well as the effects on the national ethos and character?  Do the decline and fall of empires throughout history have anything to warn us about here?  Better get that philosophical education going, or risk an intensified shitshow, huh?

Friday, February 28, 2020

A libertarian social safety net

For reasons the merits of which are not altogether clear to me, a great many people have been habituated into the thought that a social-welfare safety net has to be administered, coercively (at the point of a gun), by the state.  We're not even talking here about emergency measures that perhaps only a state-scale entity could take during a deep recession or depression, or during a deadly virus outbreak (there's one I have readily in mind at this very moment), but rather an ongoing, cradle-to-grave, offensive-to-liberty, welfare state.

Consider: the United States had, by today's standards, a very small federal government, outside of wartime, for the first century-plus of its existence.  Somehow the people managed to get by without all of today's largesse; somehow it managed to develop into a world power with a per-capita GDP growth rate not unlike what came after.  As for what has come since, non-military spending at all levels of government (federal, state, local) has steadily increased to over 30 percent of GDP today, even as GDP has expanded many-fold during that time.

On its face, this indicates that it's not some pressing, life-or-death need that feeds the welfare-state mentality, but rather a mentality reflecting a contempt for principles of liberty (to adopt a phrase used in the title of a Walter Williams book).

(As for pressing, life-or-death needs, there will be, for the foreseeable future given foreseeable technological and production frontiers, such pressing needs at the margins.  Even the "successful" (using a specifically statism-inflected moral standard) Nordic-style welfare states still have nonzero poverty rates, e.g., around 5% in "Denmawk!"  And the economically-advanced nations continue to hoard wealth out of the reach of the desperately needy peoples of Africa and elsewhere; part of the prevailing welfare-state mentality is that "universal healthcare as a matter of human rights" doesn't extend to such geographically less lucky peoples.  That is, the pressing-needs-at-the-margins argument that is the wedge in the door welfare-statists use to get us to the 30-percent-of-GDP level we have today, is selectively not expanded to cover the entire world.  The expenses would then supposedly be too unreasonably demanding of the wealth-producers' talents, energies, time, and lives, see - that is, the global top x% selfishly lives high while letting others die.  As for a sustainable, i.e., capital-intensive route to economic development for the geographically unlucky people, transfers of already-produced wealth from altruistic first-worlders, to thereby be consumed by the unlucky ones, won't cut it, however warm and fuzzy it makes the altruistic ones feel.  Only in the era of globalized capitalism has the global poverty rate been declining (dramatically).)

Human beings flourish as members of communities.  That's a point well-recognized by sages like Aristotle.  But it's a category error to lump "community" in with "state" or government.  A sine qua non of state institutions is physical force, i.e., compulsion or threat at the point of a gun.  Under the classic libertarian analysis, physical force must not be initiated or introduced into human affairs; its only proper use is to repel or redress initiated force.  ("But what about x, y, z, this that and the other thing, be it public goods, public health emergencies, depressions, etc.?"  Is it really that such pressing needs and concerns can't be addressed by non-state means, or is there a failure of imagination involved?  And is even a hardcore libertarian analysis not amenable in any way to libertarian interpretations of the invasiveness to human autonomy that is a public health threat?  Are we even really sure that economic depressions come from the operations of a fully free market under fair legal constraints?  Are the likes of David Friedman just out to lunch?)

Now, my vision for an ideal social order is something like this: Aristotelian-eudaimonist-perfectionist ethical norms, under some wide or universal recognition of the idea of better living through philosophy (including philosophy for children), combined with libertarian social-political norms.  (Are there such things as incorporated cities even in an 'anarcho-capitalist' framework envisioned by Friedman et al?  There are incorporated other things, so I don't see why not.  So there may be cities, but perhaps not city-states - presumably the form of polity of primary focus for an ancient Greek philosopher - cities being localized and more under direct control of the territorial participants.  So, would such cities have the (delegated) rights to regulate the size of soft drink you can purchase within the city limits?  More on that in just a moment.)  Under such a social framework, based on eudaimonist or flourishing norms alone, there would be a large private-sector-based social safety net, probably operating under the virtue-based norm of aid that Rand/Galt promulgated in Atlas Shrugged (and which Rand-bashers refuse to acknowledge, having lazily/recklessly caricatured her egoism in base, non-virtue-based terms).

So let's say I am posed the question, "If you could eliminate the ongoing cradle-to-grave welfare state right now, given all its offenses to human liberty, would you advocate for that?"  But under scrutiny, the terms of the question are a moot point.  Hypotheticals or counterfactuals should be treated with all the seriousness they deserve, which is to say, they need to consider not merely the consequent but the preconditions for the antecedent.  (That is to say, hypotheticals or counterfactuals are open to abuse in the absence of proper context-keeping.)  That is to say, there is no conceivable scenario, under proper constraints for conceiving things, in which the welfare state is going to be eliminated right now.  (Properly constrained conceiving - as distinct from, say, imagining - doesn't permit conceiving of pigs who can fly unaided, hence the saying.  No proper concept of "pig" allows for it; it would drop the context of how we came to form and maintain the concept.)  The prevailing norms of American society won't allow for it.  The people would have to be converted to the Aristotelian-etc. principles I note and link to above, or be moved considerably in such a direction, or some such widespread values-alteration.

Would cities or other territorial communities make laws or regulations about soft drink sizes, or sexual practices, or other matters of virtue?  Or is there something about the libertarian norm that reflects and informs how people ought to treat one another generally speaking?  Or more exactly, is it something about what explains, grounds, or informs the libertarian norm (linking again) that involves a perhaps-judgmental yet laissez-faire attitude toward how people conduct their lives?  I mean, let's say that rather than paternistically regulating soft drink purchases, people apply Rand/Galt's virtue-based approach and condition social aid on either past virtuous behavior or on education for future virtuous behavior?  I think that this eudaimonist-libertarian way of thinking, actually present but largely implicit or inchoate in a great number of American people, helps explain what they find so offensive about Mayor Bloomberg's paternalism (which flows over into the mentality behind his highly intrusive "stop-and-frisk" policies, a mentality I don't see being extricated from his worldview all that soon, the same as with the elitist hubris behind his comments about farming skills).  Anyway, eudaimonist-libertarian social norms would emphasize education toward people exercising their best judgment, and then leaving it up to them to exercise their judgment given their own context of knowledge and hierarchy of values.  Like, duh?

To sum up: Like perhaps quite a lot of libertarians, I'm all for a robust social-welfare safety net and other virtues of sociality and community, just not at the point of a gun.  And with enough imagination (fueled by an intellectual perfectionism and/or the kind or quality of thinking behind Nozick's appallingly neglected framework for utopia) as well as ample benevolence, wouldn't it be a better safety net than the one currently existing?

[Addendum: Under a broadly prevailing culture of Aristotelian intellectual perfectionism, would there be even nearly as much need for social safety net institutions, or would people be a lot more self-sufficient in that regard?  I urge much properly-constrained imaginative conceiving in this regard.  Much like Rand, and contrary to the usual lazy caricatures of her, I have a very high view of human potentialities even as regards the less talented; while I don't envision a repeal of the bell curve, I envision a marked 'rightward' shifting of it under culturally Aristotelian conditions.]

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Does Bezos exploit Bezos?

(A sequel to the original.)

The enemies of capitalism have a perverse (mis)understanding both of its basic moral principles and of the workings of the free market, which - in light of Rand's integration of the two points in Atlas Shrugged (and in "What is Capitalism?") under the theme of "the role of the mind in man's existence" - come to the same thing.  The way they typically employ the phrase "means of production" indicates their failure and/or refusal to grasp Rand's point that the mind/intellect/reason is the prime mover of the production process, i.e., the source of value-added over and above both technologically primitive means (natural resources excluding the most economically pivotal natural resource, the human mind) and the prevailing economic and technological infrastructure at any given point in time.  (Considerably more than anyone else, there's one man's vision behind

The anticapitalist ignorance/fallacies involved are well represented by Bernie Sanders' statement to Bloomberg at the Feb. 19 debate: "You know what Mr. Bloomberg? It wasn’t you who made all that money. Maybe your workers played some role in that as well. And it is important that those workers are able to share the benefits also."  No one said that Bloomberg created the entire value of his company; what economics experts would say, however, is that the people involved in the running of his business were each paid roughly proportional to their marginal value-added contribution.  Bernie's language would indicate that he thinks there's some kind of (exploitative) zero-sum rather than win-win thing going on here; this kind of language/tendency is pretty widespread among socialists, notwithstanding the dramatic rise in both population and living standards in the era of modern capitalism.

(Sanders followed the above statement with the following, also a familiar one from enemies of capitalism; we'll call it the "alienation argument": "When we have so many people go to work every day and they feel not good about their jobs, they feel like cogs in a machine. I want workers to be able to sit on corporate boards as well, so they can have some say of what happens to their lives."  The arguments involved here can't be covered in a brief paragraph of post.  But the gist of this problem, as best as I understand it, is that Bernie and socialists are talking here about a human problem, not a capitalism one, and it's not a problem I see being solved by the traditional socialist solutions about "seizing the means of production (sic)" or other forcible measures of putting "the workers" more in charge of decisions about the running of firms.  That being said, I'm all for voluntary 'worker'-empowerment arrangements that even a Randian 'left-libertarian' like Roderick Long gets behind.  And in any event, how do the rare, entrepreneurial skills of a Bezos get put to their optimal use under socialistic proposals?)

Sanders' statement about the "workers" creating much of the money is standard for socialist-talk and an ingrained tendency toward thinking in terms of a labor theory of value (LTV) under some guise or other.  The most (in)famous proponent of LTV, Karl Marx, had to qualify the LTV in such ways as to make it a truism.  To make a long story short, a CEO of a company qua such (i.e., not qua shareholder in the firm, which I address in a moment) is in the category of highly skilled labor, which represents a multiple of simple or unskilled labor.  And CEOs are known to often make many multiples of the lesser-skilled laborers under his or her command.  But the real villain in the Marxian/socialist framework, the source of alienation and exploitation, is the category of capital (in its privately-owned version, that is).  It's not the CEO that exploits, it's the shareholders (the capitalists) who are in the position to exploit the labor of the CEO and everyone else working in the firm.

Now, Bezos' salary as CEO is a mere $81K.  The vast bulk of his compensation comes from the value of the shares in the company he founded and runs.  IOW, in the Marxist/socialist "understanding," the shareholder-value part of the equation represents exploitation.  And Bezos is only a roughly 1/6 shareholder in Amazon, meaning to the tune of 5/6 of the company's value, Bezos the skilled-laborer-CEO is beholden to shareholder-capitalists.  It's so unfair and alienating.  (Ludwig von Mises among others went through considerable pains to make the point that entrepreneurs and capitalists are beholden to customers.  Is that what's unfair and alienating, in the final analysis?  Is the Marxist/socialist objection really about the inequalities in wealth and income arising from differences in ability to satisfy market demand?)

But the whole Marxian/socialist analysis runs into a problem that Rand solves, when we think through how Bezos qua capitalist/shareholder supposedly exploits the workers (including Bezos qua CEO)?  The question that Marx/socialists fail to answer but Rand does answer, is whether and how Bezos' shareholder-based net worth is a more or less accurate reflection of the value-added he generated as prime mover behind Amazon's success.  Never mind whether or how the net worth of other shareholders in Amazon and other companies reflect how they generated value-added through their skills, savings-and-investing, and savings-and-investing skills or vision.  (Warren Buffett - net worth of roughly $90B or 5th largest in the world - made his fortune through pure investing/finance skills an vision.  What role for a Buffett's finance skills in a socialist-style economy?  And if a highly-and rarely-skilled person holds out not merely for the minimal level of compensation that would bring forth performance, but rather holds out for what the market will bear, is that especially objectionable?)

Anyway, in 2019, Jeff Bezos divorced from his wife, Mackenzie, and as a consequence of the divorce settlement she became currently the 23rd wealthiest person in the world, with a net worth of roughly $44B.  She's not the CEO; she's not usually credited with being the prime mover behind Amazon's success.  From 2019 onward, she draws returns from Amazon's productive capacity qua pure capitalist.

So, using Marx/Sanders/socialist logic, does Mackenzie exploit Jeff?

Saturday, February 22, 2020

What does Putin want for the USA?

If I had to guess, Putin wants to sow internal division, discord, and distrust.  If I had to say, Putin is a grandmaster of misinformation and misdirection.  See his non-answer answers to Chris Wallace's probing interview questions.  So, he sees how Trump's presidency sows discord, and Trump's opposition plays right along, probably much to his delight.  (This includes their obsessing for years about Trump/Putin-collusion conspiracy theories.)  He most likely seeded the claims made in the so-called Steele dossier (actually the Clinton/PerkinsCoie/FusionGPS/Simpson/Steele dossier), and the anti-Trump-biased intelligence (sic) community played right along, further sowing distrust of its honor and capabilities.

Now we hear that he might also like to see Sanders be president (consider the ring to that phrase - "President Sanders" - and in light of this) if he can't have Trump; for that, too, would sow much division for obvious reasons.  He sees Sanders' quasi-rabid supporters, and parallels to Trump's True Believers, and figures they'll be adequate to the division-sowing job.  Then again, maybe it's just another piece of misinformation from him that he wants Sanders elected, maybe just to see how Americans react to that notion.

We just don't really know for sure what's a trial balloon from him, and what's for real.  'Reality' for Vladimir Putin seems like a rather fluid notion, in a political context anyway, since the norms of rationality touted (and practiced to varying degrees of imperfection) by philosophers and scientists are not the norms (if they can even be called that) of political discourse (warring by less violent means).  His state-TV apparatus is self-serving propaganda/lies, after all.  He learned it at the KGB, ffs.

Knowing all this, why on earth should anyone pay serious attention to who Putin supposedly wants to win in the USA, or whether he even thinks discord and distrust in the USA serves his own political interests or not, and focus instead on the merits of each candidacy?  It's just a distraction, which for all we know is what he wants.  I mean, does he want more attention/scrutiny focused on him and his fundamentally dishonest and gangsterish nature, or not?

But what should really humble Trump's opponents is the thought that they may very well be willing if not eager dupes of Putin's puppet-mastery.  But I don't expect such a level of thoughtfulness from them, at this point, they are that pathetic and dishonest themselves.  Also, Trump as a matter of basic honesty and accountability/transparency should make clear to Putin that he wants him to stay away from election-meddling efforts.  But Trump likes to troll his domestic opponents too much (and they're pathetic enough to go right along with that, as well), so I don't expect that from him, either.

Did I mention there's an antidote to this shitshow?

Friday, February 21, 2020

Ranking some philosophers

Ranking is, using Rand's terminology, teleological measurement.  It helps keep one's mind limber.  One ranking I've spent maybe too much time thinking about is the following:

Babe Ruth
Willie Mays
Ted Williams
Ty Cobb
Honus Wagner
Mickey Mantle
Hank Aaron
Barry Bonds (pre-1999)
Mike Schmidt
Lou Gehrig
Rogers Hornsby
Stan Musial
Rickey Henderson
Joe DiMaggio
Yogi Berra
Johnny Bench
Joe Morgan
Albert Pujols
Ken Griffey, Jr.
Pete Rose

(Where Mike Trout fits in here yet is not yet determined, but I assume it is probably in the top five.  And pitchers seem to require a separate ranking.)

Or there's this ranking:

Ludwig van Beethoven
Johann Sebastian Bach
Wolfy Mozart
Gustav Mahler
Dmitri Shostakovich
Franz Schubert
Anton Bruckner
Jean Sibelius
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Joseph Haydn
Johannes Brahms
Bela Bartok
Igor Stravinsky
Pyotr Tchaikovsky
Frederic Chopin
Claude Debussy
G. F. Handel
Robert Schumann
Gyorgy Ligeti

(I don't know where to rank opera composers (e.g., Wagner) or atonal composers (e.g. Schoenberg.))

But a (teleologically) more important ranking would be one like this (more or less aggregated from numerous sources):

Immanuel Kant
David Hume
Rene Descartes
G. W. F. Hegel
Ludwig Wittgenstein
G. W. Leibniz
Baruch Spinoza
Friedrich Nietzsche
John Locke
Thomas Aquinas
Gottlob Frege
Karl Marx
Thomas Hobbes
J. S. Mill
Bertrand Russell
Martin Heidegger
Michel Foucault
Soren Kierkegaard
Arthur Schopenhauer
Edmund Husserl
C. S. Peirce
John Dewey
W. V. O. Quine

(For the above aggregation-based ranking I'm not including Ayn Rand, and although I gather that Chrysippus might very well be top-3 material, there are almost no extant works by him.  (A parallel case might be Negro Leaguer Oscar Charleston, for whom no good stats/records are available.)  Also what about Socrates?)

So, I've studied the ideas of Rand for quite some time, enough to be an expert I'd say.  That includes all of the original materials.  For the other figures I've relied a bunch (or in the case of Hegel, entirely) on secondary materials.  Among the secondary materials on some of the highest-ranked philosophers above, the ones I've found really helpful are the Oxford Handbooks series.  I've gone through a half dozen Handbooks so far, and have another half dozen or so in the reading queue somewhere.  For the top dozen listed above, there are two (Kant and Locke) for whom Handbooks have not been published yet.  I'm just over 3/4 through the Nietzsche one; I put the Leibniz one on pause about 30% of the way through; in the queue are Wittgenstein, 'Descartes and Cartesianism', and Aquinas.  That leaves the following which I've gone through, and for which I provide a ranking based on my overall impression of each philosopher's merits (to be explained in due course):


Some inchoate remarks: I liken Aristotle to Babe Ruth; he's like the god-status figure of philosophy. [Note: adjustments need to be made for era (as per baseball historian Bill James) in which a philosopher/player flourished.]  Plato was the first systematizer and recognized the inherent dignity of philosophical activity over and above mere drives, pleasures, inclinations, opinions, or the 'mundane.'  Hegel is something like an abstruse version of a modern-period Aristotle in matters of pure philosophy.  (More context/details.)  Nietzsche's career was cut tragically short at age 44; how might the world have turned out differently otherwise?  (After enough time how would he have avoided a reckoning with Aristotle?)  Leibniz is a serious metaphysician (conversant with Aristotle) whose range of learning/expertise might be compared to Aristotle's.  Hume is a philosopher of 'common sense' and 'mitigated skepticism' with no pretense to metaphysical speculations.  (Blackburn's essay in the Hume Handbook was most useful and one I'd go back to.)  Spinoza requires you to accept his definitions if you're going to accept the system he purports to spin from them; his career was also cut too short.

I'd put Rand at least on the level of (shortened-career-)Nietzsche or Hegel; her mostly-lousy polemics only bolster the proposition that she developed so many common sense positions on the strength of first-hand inductions independent of the 'canon/tradition.'  Her key strengths are in method, aesthetics, political philosophy, and ethics.  She's a plainspoken 'popular philosopher' and as such performs an extremely valuable service to a philosophy-starved public or a newcomer seeking a springboard into the world of 'advanced, technical' philosophy with the aid of her/Peikoff's methodological strictures.  It's hard to imagine a more unjustly smeared or dismissed figure in the history of ideas (on the basis of motivations that IMO are quite nakedly political and therefore highly toxic).  I see no excuse for the professional (sic) neglect of her aesthetic theory much less her theory of method.  She's probably unsurpassed as a political thinker and it's really hard to overstate her contribution to the strongest variants of contemporary libertarian thought (see here for some details).  She also had a fine grasp of the importance of philosophy to the flourishing (or lack thereof) of a culture, and as such she (and Peikoff) should be taken seriously as a metaphilosopher.  (I can only assume that based on the now-available inductive evidence of the viability of philosophy for children, that she'd be all over that at least as much as anyone else - with, I am sure, some qualifications, e.g., that philosophical activity (even of the most 'speculative' variety) should proceed on an inductive/concretizing and context-keeping basis, and consciously and explicitly so.)

Now, if I were to include in the ranking the other top-half-dozen philosophers for whom I've yet to read an Oxford Handbook, as well as Rand and Socrates, my current impression is that the ranking might turn out roughly as follows:

Locke (probably Rand's equal as a political philosopher?)

You might tell that I'm not exactly a fan of rationalism as methodology; almost surely that dislike was effectively beaten into me by many hours of Peikoff-course listening.  (Also, I'd like to raise the distinct possibility of Hume's being a methodological rationalist while not being a substantive empiricist.  He sure seems to be doing some dubious deducing about 'sense impressions' as definitive of all we have access to.  As for Cartesian mind-body dualism as I understand it, it reflects a destructive methodology, quite explicitly in reaction to Aristotelian dialectic and (therefore) hylemorphism.  Dualisms like mind/body and is/ought seem to suppose that if you can't eliminatively 'reduce' one to the other, they have to be kept separate.  But what about mind as, say, supervening on sufficiently complex natural/physical stuff?  Or in the case of is/ought, the ought as supervening on sufficiently complex natural facts?  (Or suppose that the 'ought' supervening on an 'is' is a species of potentiality supervening on actuality?  We wouldn't, after all, have trouble with the 'is' lining up nice and neat with actuality; this leaves us with whether we should conceptualize 'ought' in terms of potentiality, and whether what is and what ought to be are one and the same - that they reach a sort of 'dialectical unity' as it were, instead of some unbridgeable duality or dichotomy - when some species of potentiality is being actualized....) That's a prospect that Parfit quite disappointingly doesn't investigate in On What Matters (well, I still need to get to Volume Three...), instead pursuing some line about non-natural truths that might not even exist in "an ontological sense," whatever that's supposed to mean.  I think Aristotle might very well go for a supervenience sort of explanation on such things; incidentally, Hurley mentions supervenience early in Natural Reasons, but she loses me pretty quickly after that.  I mean, would you look just at those sentence constructions, much less what's in them?  I'm not worthy, I guess.)  Also, very high up in my reading queue is the Handbook for Marx, although higher still and to be read very soon is the Handbook on Virtue.  Speaking of which, how thoroughly/completely/perfectly will it cover the place of perfectionism in the virtue-ethics tradition?  I really, really want ethical philosophers to get this one right.  After all, how does one possibly improve upon perfectionism, and Aristotelian/intellectualist perfectionism in particular?  I glean an explicitly intellectual-perfectionist strand from Aristotle, Aquinas and Rand, but not so much from all that many of the others ranked above, however much they were pretty much all putting the principle into practice....

(BTW, there's a chapter on order of rank in the Nietzsche Handbook, but the chapter I'd rank the most highly among the book's first 26 chapters is almost surely the one by Jacob Golomb about what Nietzsche meant by 'will to power.'  (Oooh, there's an article by him about Nietzsche contra Trump in search results.)   Also, I just so happen to have my eye on the newly-published Handbook on Expertise.  1300 pages, eh?)

#1 antidote to cultural and political shitshow

Little Big Minds: Sharing Philosophy with Kids

I don't really have anything new to blog at the moment after realizing that I'm out of my element trying to read S. L. Hurley's Natural Reasons (the back-cover praise notwithstanding, etc. - although I was able to keep up well enough with one of the praisers' recent masterwork, On What Matters).  (In a discussion a while back with a philosopher friend, on the subject of who might compare to Robert Nozick in smarts, depth and breadth of philosophical learning, Hurley's name came up, and Natural Reasons specifically.)

But I do know enough to know that many, many human ills can be cured by what is, by far, the biggest no-brainer in human history, about which I provide a reminder:

(The book shown above is the one book I've read on the P4C subject, and it proves its case beyond a shadow of a doubt.  And that's just one of the approximately 100 references - books, articles, and periodicals - at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy page for P4C.)

I wonder if maybe I should go "on strike" from blogging again, until such time as this monumental no-brainer is adopted and implemented?  After all, what value-added is a philosophy blog - any philosophy blog - going to have compared to this monumental no-brainer?  (I mean, I can't even master Natural Reasons yet ffs.  (I've been spending too much research-time on things like reddit threads, see.  Could there be some kind of dialectical coming-together of themes about humanity one might glean both from reddit threads and from Natural Reasons?  How about Hurley's discussion of evidential akrasia, for starters?  Also, I've spent considerable amounts of research-into-the-human-condition time on things like the Howard Stern show.  Those poor/philosophy-needing wack-packers, huh?))  Or . . . is a definitive P4C book and/or blog the ultimate solution?

(But what, then, about P4E - Philosophy for Everyone?  As I've said before, it stands to reason that if kids can study philosophy, so can adults.  But we know for a fact that kids have plenty of free time that the adults may not have, and return-on-investment seems perhaps a lot more promising when you start 'em young.  A goddamn shame this isn't happening all over the place already.  What's the holdup?  Where's the weight of the philosophy profession and educational establishment on this monumental no-brainer?  Just think: if a critical mass of the starting-young philosophy students could also compose a work at the level of sophistication of Natural Reasons by age 34 as Hurley did, then . . . ?)

[Addendum: And just to ensure with a high degree of confidence that the child-philosophers don't end up as the dialectic-destroying monstrosities we see in politics and (horrifically) on campuses nowadays, they should be introduced right from the get-go to the Rapoport/Dennett Rules for honest criticism, in whatever age-appropriate fashion (but you might be surprised just how well they grasp the Rules just as presented).  Isn't it high time that all credible standpoints get a fair hearing in the free and open marketplace of ideas?  Anyone else grown sick and tired of all the blatant flouting of the no-brainer Rules?]

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Impeachment and philosophy: addenda

Following up the earlier post.

[Addendum 2/2: NOTE that my treatment both of the facts of Trump's case and of the Dershowitz Argument is provisional - I am fallible af especially on matters such as legal theory that are outside my area of expertise - and I'm still taking in the for-and-against arguments [e.g.] as they keep emerging.   I will likely have more to say on this in coming posts.  I'm wary about exactly how much leeway, short of the "committing a crime like Nixon did" standard, the Dershowitz Argument gives to a president who - of course? - believes his political interests are aligned with the nation's.  So this Argument and other facets of this case don't altogether sit well with me.  (Note that the just-linked argument links to this pro-impeachment letter signed by over 800 legal scholars.  Now, this passage doesn't sit well with me: "[Trump acted] for his personal and political benefit, at the direct expense of national security interests as determined by Congress."  Except that there's a separation of powers in which Congress and the President can differ about what is in the national security interests.  My (fallible) ring-of-truth detector tells me that this passage isn't worthy of politically impartial legal scholars and I'm pretty sure a Dershowitz would also pick right up on this point immediately.)  I'd like to add that one of my favorite moments of the Senate proceedings was when John Rawls was mentioned in connection with Dershowitz's "shoe on the other foot" test.  Would that there were a lot more such moments in politics.  (Why only Rawls, and not also Plato, Aristotle, et al?  In a Fox interview in the last day or so, Sen. Cruz mentions one of his classes at Harvard taught by Dershowitz, someone else [not Michael Sandel, though (surprisingly?)], and "world famous philosopher" Robert Nozick.  I liked that moment, as well.)  The Rawls & shoe-test point was about (justice-as-)fairness, and the complaints from both sides about the unfair processes in the houses the other party controlled, speaks volumes.  Let's say that the House Democrats were to say to the House Republicans, "Okay, put your fairness demands on a list, we'll make every effort to meet them, and when we do, you sign your names to the list so that you have no complaints about process going forward."  And then imagine the same scenario with the opposing Senate parties.  The thing is, the demands of "fairness" would mean - in both cases - a more long, drawn-out process that in this political context both parties seem to want to avoid.  (Elections are fast approaching, see.  An avowed socialist candidate leading in the nomination betting markets, whom the DNC would rather not see nominated and (conversely) the GOP would probably prefer to see nominated, has had to sit through these proceedings in D.C. as the Iowa caucus approaches, see.  [Don't think for a second that Nancy Peloser's motivations for the month-long delay in sending the impeachment articles to the Senate, or the Senate 'rats demands for prolonged process notwithstanding a very predictable outcome, have nothing to do with this.  BTW, Peloser & Co. showed their unserious hand when she used and gave out many souvenir pens at the signing ceremony.])  Hence the "rushed" process in both instances.  Applying a fairness test, do they really have a basis for complaint for what the other side was doing in the respective houses they controlled?  Will they come clean that maybe the proclaimed fairness considerations and the political considerations can't be reconciled here?]

[Addendum 2/12: Note that the second impeachment article - "obstruction of Congress" - is so obviously bullshit that even Mitt Romney dismissed it while voting to convict on the first one (which is what anyone really cares about).]

[Addendum #2, 2/12: Good discussion going on here, in the linked argument signed by legal scholars, and in the comments section, coming from both Trump's opponents and defenders.  One thing I think is for sure: the vast majority of the American people just aren't in an epistemic position to understand with full and clear finality that Trump should be removed from office for his Ukraine-related actions.  I still don't know how Dershowitz's example of Lincoln is answered, by the signed letter or elsewhere.  I still don't see how his actions are in a fundamentally different category than a number of other things other presidents have done without raising an impeachment stink.  I do know that the Demo-rats spent 3 years squandering all credibility and good will, for which they arguably deserved, as a political matter, to lose the impeachment case.  I'm still not clear on whether just any verifiable abuse of power is impeachable, or if it is best left for the most obvious and severe abuses and that this should be left up to the (obviously partisan, obviously politically-motivated) discretion of the members of Congress.  Anyway, the lesson Demo-rats should but won't learn from all this is that their best shot at beating Trump is not to be so loathsome, dishonest, etc. themselves; their sense of desperation and panic in the current primary nominating process is palpable, but they and their allies/enablers/ilk in academia, media, and elsewhere brought this on themselves through years upon years of dishonesty and hubris.  Had they ever shown the remotest amount of decency and good will in their attacks on Rand, I might feel the least bit sorry for them.  Their complaints related to lack of justice, fairness, honesty, etc. of Trump and his defenders ring all too hollow and hypocritical.  BTW, this year's census should help to highlight further that the Demo-rats' efforts to benefit politically from illegal immigration need not happen through the ballot box directly such as by getting these immigrants registered and voting, but through population-based apportionment of House seats.  (They also hope to capitalize on illegal immigration, not just by refusing to create much if anything in the way of disincentives against it - if anything, it's just the opposite - but by smearing people who oppose it, like Trump, as racists. That includes Peloser crying that the border wall - which would only prevent illegal border crossings, mind you - is "an immorality" and is "about making America white again."  You might get a sense from this alone about what I mean by 'rats spending years squandering credibility and good will.)  Not that this House-seat-stealing scheme - also an electoral-vote-stealing scheme - helps them with the Senate, thank goodness.]