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Thursday, July 31, 2003

[Will, 11:19 PM]
Class Size:

Matthew Yglesias chides Jacob Levy for taking attendance in his Chicago lower-level classes. Jacob Levy chides the other elite universities for having classes of 100, 200, more... Brian Weatherson says teaching those huge classes is fun, though he allows as how it isn't great for the students. When one of my professors, John Mark Hansen, briefly left the U of C for Harvard, I remember asking another professor whether the move was a "good" one. He replied, "Will, there's no drug in the world like having 600 people all laugh at your jokes."

Are gigantic classes good? I don't have any first-hand knowledge because, well, I've never taken any gigantic classes. I think one of my econ classes had an enrollment of about 60, and so did one of my math classes, though I had plenty of inter-personal relationships with those teachers so I didn't feel like I was being "herded" rather than taught. The criticisms against immense classes are obvious, and are part of why I came to the U of C. All the same, there must be a good reason to have gigantic classes or else universities wouldn't do it.

My suspicion is that such classes exist either when the university doesn't want to farm out its teaching to grad students and lesser lectors (better a class of 500 before the great one than 20 classes of 25 before his minions, goes the theory) or else when there's a gross imbalance in the quality of the faculty in the department. If your big draw is Professor Thus-and-Such, well, you've got to give the students some Thus-and-Such.

All the same, I'm totally baffled by the phenomenon. Several of my co-workers this summer are students at an Ivy League School and while many to most of their classes have been seminars, I just can't imagine what it's like to receive a lecture in a class of 200, 300 people. A lot like reading a book, I presume. Vladimir Nabokov said that universities should dispense with the classroom altogether. Professors should record their lectures on tape and distribute them to the students, who would then listen to the lectures over and over again and then be given a rigorous 4-hour examination with stern proctors rapping them on the knuckles if they were errant. A little excessive (but wasn't VN always?) perhaps, but a good point. Has anybody had a class of 200+ people where they learned things they couldn't have learned by watching the lecture on tape? Should Harvard tape-record the lectures by its great professors for use after they die?

[Will, 10:54 AM]
Converts:

My brand of Non-Cognitivist-Logical-Positivist-Moral Relativism has made headway on the Ampersand Comment Boards. This is with thanks to Skapusniak's cogent reformulation of what I've been trying to say (a compressed version):

...the Logical Postivist says that 'valid'/'invalid' and moral 'right'/'wrong' have not a lot to do with each other. This is because they believe that moral systems cannot be constructed by pure reason out of thin air. You have to start with at least some premises, and asserting the relevant premises is an integral part of a moral system.... if your premises and my premises are incompatible, your having a wonderfully clean and logical argument from your premises for your moral system -- even if I only have a woolly and ill thought out argument for mine -- isn't going to make that system more morally 'right' from my point view, anymore than if I had the beautiful argument and you and the woolly one, it would make my system more morally 'right' from _your_ point of view.

If we don't share sufficiently similar moral premises then arguments based on logic about moral issues are simply futile exercises in talking past each other.

So where do these moral premises come from?

Well, all sorts of different places -- quite often different ones for different people -- Aunty Jane, little pink unicorns, Allah, the Bible, your mates in 8th grade, the precise neural structure of ones brain, whatever. Lots of possibilities. The one place the Logical Positivist is certain they don't come from is via rational logical reasoning. If you think they do that's because you've hidden or implied premises that you're actually doing the reasoning from.

Therefore, on the question 'are all moral systems equally valid?' A logical postivist would say that this is a nonsensical and pointless question since validity and invalidity aren't things that can apply to moral systems, only to the arguments within them; by thir very nature moral systems _have_ to assert some premises and 'validity' has no meaning for the premises only the arguments.

On moral questions, say 'Is genocide wrong? Should one try to stop genocide?

Suppose the logical positivist says 'Yes genocide is wrong. It is a moral good to try and stop genocide. If some commits to genocide I will attempt to stop them!'

You reply 'But you have no logically valid and objective reason for you say it's morally wrong or trying to stop me from committing this genocide! KILL THEM ALL!'

The Logical Positivist says 'I don't need such a reason, I just need the moral system I use to say I ought try to stop you. That subjective reason is plenty good enough.'

Then ditching further philosophical discourse as utterly pointless, they along with any others than can round up -- whether Logical Positivists or not -- who share a similar sense of the moral situation proceed to try to put a stop to your, in their eyes, evil scheme.

...

Trying to compress that as much as I can...

The Logical Positivist position is that a single Objective Moral System is quite impossible for various sound philosophical reasons. However, since you don't need one to possess and act upon moral sentiments, this isn't as much of a problem as everybody tries to makes it out to be.

The only point I would add is that while the premises that a moral system is based on aren't judged as "valid" or "invalid" they can still be judged on soft scales, like "persuasive" or "reasonable," and they often are. That is, people can be persuaded to accept moral premises like "it is good if it is good for human flourishing," or "if it is good for the worst members of society," or "if it promotes the cause of grapefruit," but it takes real persuasion. You've got to make them believe. This, of course, is sometimes derided as "faith" and in a sense it is. But principles like "that which promotes happiness and freedom" are a lot easier to convince people of than "that which falls in line with my contested interpetation of contested religious texts."

[Will, 10:26 AM]
Via Coates:

Via Coatesie's Journal:
Shortest opinion ever (by one of my favorite judges)
Denny v. Radar Industries, Inc.
Court of Appeals of Michigan
Dec. 2, 1970
184 N.W.2d 289

Gillis, J.:

The appellant has attempted to distinguish the factual situation in this case from that in Renfroe v. Higgins Rack Coating and Manufacturing Co., Inc. (1969), 17 Mich.App. 259, 169 N.W.2d 326. He didn't. We couldn't.

Affirmed. Costs to appellee.

[Will, 10:11 AM]
If it Doesn't Fit:

Small parts of the blogosphere are now roiling with discontent about Tyler Cowen's place in the Volokh Conspiracy. Though the complaints are not nearly as persistent or as loud as those about the erstwhile Clayton Cramer, I'm not sure that they're going to go away.

You have, for example, Unlearned Hand: "Say it with me. Tyler Must Go," and also his commenters. Crooked Timber has been relentless, though the complaints have centered around substantive posts rather than Cowen's position per se (Examples: 1, 2, 3, 4...). Or Prometheus 6: "With all I'd heard about The Volohk[sic] Conspiracy, I expected much better than this."

Of course, Cowen has his supporters too: "If I were to list the half dozen or so smartest people I know, Tyler Cowen would probably be one of them."

Anyway, I won't place a horse in this race. I like Mr. Cowen's posts a great deal more than I liked Clayton Cramer's, but I do think they have a noticeable difference in tone and style from the rest of the Conspiracy. Perhaps it's because Mr. Cowen is an economist rather than a lawyer, but he tends to write in a much less tentative and measured way-- more prone to sort of launching random ideas into the surf and letting them sink or swim. (But Jacob Levy's not a lawyer either, and his posts don't have the same style.--ed. Well, true. But c.f. Imperialist Dog telling Levy to manage his anger.) This style is what earns his arguments a lot of criticisms from his co-bloggers, and the Anti-Volokhs.

Still, I think there are a lot of reasons Cowen's style is nicer and a better fit than Clayton Cramer's. Cowen's style is more puckish than belligerent, more aloof than arrogant, etc. I'm still not positive he's better off at the Volokh Conspiracy than with a blog of his own, but you won't find me campaigning for his removal either. But then, I have a soft spot in my heart for economists, and a grudge against amateur historians.

But the real question is: will somebody start up a futures market in Volokh Conspirators? You could buy futures in whether or not Drezner or Bashman will ever be assimilated into the collective, and whether or not Cowen will last out the summer.

UPDATE: Balu's Mania has a good post on the subject, asking several interesting questions:
(1) do group blogs generally have charters or by-laws?; (2) who owns the IP in the blog and is this ever dealt with formally? (3) do group bloggers ever worry about not addressing these and other control issues?

I'm not really the proprietor of the blog, but I'll tale a stab at the answers anyway. (1): No. (2): The author, and no. (3) No.

I was thinking about this earlier today-- what's amazing about much of the blogosphere is how organic and rules-free the whole thing is. There are strong norms about plagiarism (c.f. The Agonist scandal) and an amazing number of other norms, but none of them are written down, and none have formal enforcement systems. If you want to start an intemperate blog full of foul language and short on argument, nobody will stop you. Part of this might be because *at the moment* the only serious gains to be had from blogging are recognition-- by other bloggers and readers in general.

I think B is right, that when blogging grows to the point that there are real financial gains to be had from blogging, there will be a lot more incentive to set up more formal rules. But as it stands, there isn't much fun in joining the blogosphere unless you want to be a part of the game, unspoken rules and all.

And as to Balu's other question, will Professors Volokh and Cowen bless their audience with a response? We can only stand and wait.

UPDATE REDUX: "Another Rice Grad" weighs in: "Tyler Cowen is a fantastic addition to the Volokh Conspiracy." The Grad also accuses us of navel-gazing. All I can say is you ain't seen nothing yet. Wait until Monday.

[Amy, 1:55 AM]
Dance-blogging:

Tobi Tobias invited readers to answer the question, "Some would say that dancing is the cruelest profession, all but guaranteeing grueling work, physical pain, poverty, and heartbreak. Yet the field has always been rich in aspirants willing to dedicate their lives to the art. Why?"

The responses are posted here. I'd say more, but other have already said it for me. (Link via Terry Teachout.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

[Will, 11:56 PM]
Pryor and Fairness:

The Curmudgeonly Clerk and Southern Appeal make grudging allowances for my question to William Pryor. "Given your position that abortion is murder and the requirements you would have to uphold a decision proclaiming it to be a protected constitutional right, why do you want to be a judge?"

But they also suggest that it's unfair for Senators to ask this question only of Pryor. The Clerk writes:
No doubt, every individual (even Pryor) has such a moral breaking point, a point at which their own moral values compel dissociation from an enterprise that runs afoul of said judgments. However, I do not think this fact is particularly useful in the confirmation process precisely because of its universality. That is, this is a facet of character that all nominees possess. It is only, perhaps, an issue if and when one can establish that a given nominee's breaking point lies at an unacceptably low threshold (i.e., that a given nominee will generally allow his personal moral judgments to outweigh legal considerations).

And Feddie writes:
...the dems appear to be singling Pryor out because of his strongly held religious beliefs.

I understand why it's important to criticize Senators for voting unfairly. If a Senator votes against a conservative Catholic but confirms another conservative with similar views, one is entitled to ask why the two merit different treatment. (I have heard William Pryor's name coupled with Judge Michael McConnell's in this way.) But is there any reason that Senate questioning should have to be fair?

That is, why shouldn't Liberal Senators ask tough but reasonable questions to those who they most mistrust, for whatever reason? If it's a legitimate question to ask, then the only complaint seems to be that some nominees have to answer these questions but others do not. But if that's the complaint, then the other Senators can just ask the same questions to the more liberal nominees. Which is to say I don't think we should be worried about biased application of unbiased questions. That's what the Senators on the other side are for. Turnabout will be fair play.

Note that this argument doesn't apply to questions like "will you overturn Roe v. Wade?" and "how will you rule on the constitutionality of BCRA?" but only to legitimate and non-trick questions, like "why do you want to be a judge?" If the only problem with a question is that it should be asked to everybody, then there's no problem at all. If you think somebody's getting off too easy, you're perfectly free to ask them yourself.

This argument also doesn't imply that a Pryor filibuster, if and when it happens, is justified, but I think Senators should get plenty of lattitude to ask questions, even if they save their hardest questions for their political enemies. That's the joy of an adversarial system.

[Will, 11:27 PM]
Rape:

(Via How Appealling): Dahlia Lithwick thinks American rape law is messed up. Her piece is very interesting and she makes a good argument that something is wrong with the system, but I'm a little unclear about what her proposed remedy is. From what I can tell she thinks the penalty for rape should be reduced, and maybe she also thinks we should focus more on the violent, jump-out-of-the-bushes-type-rapes rather than the messier and less discernable date-rape variants, but those don't seem to entirely resolve her own objections.

In the end she writes:
We have reformed, rewritten, and rejiggered rape law, but it is still fundamentally not "fair" in the sense of providing any real legal certainty. In the end—and unless Bryant's accuser has some shocking physical evidence—it is still her word against his. Unless we legislate mandatory threesomes, or start videotaping trysts the way some police departments now videotape criminal interrogations, what happens between two horizontal people in the dark is ultimately unknowable. While it is true that some women lie, and it is also true that some men are sexual monsters, it is not at all true that the hodgepodge that is modern rape law can discern which is which.

Ending on that pessimistic note makes me wonder-- what sort of rape law does Ms. Lithwick envision? As she points out, we'll never be able to dispense with the "her word against his" problem of consent so if modern rape law is the problem, how would Lithwick's rape law solve it?

[Will, 3:13 PM]
Pardon?:

I don't normally link to Ann Coulter. Indeed, I don't normally read her columns. But I'm posting this question in the hope that somebody can enlighten me. In her latest, Ms. Coulter writes:
Just because you defended Bill Clinton doesn't mean you have to defend every government official who is reliably reported to be a rapist.

Now, I was busy being a high school teenager when all of that Clinton stuff was going on, so I may have missed some of the finer details, but who was Clinton reported to have raped? And who reported it?

I would normally dismiss this as Coulterism but for the fact that I've just been talking to one of my co-workers, a very smart, rather conservative HLS student who was shocked that I had never heard that Clinton was a rapist. So now I'm wondering . . . did this meme somehow pass me by?

UPDATE: Google seems to suggest something about somebody named Juanita Broaddrick, but only on Fox News.

UPDATE Redux: Thanks to the many readers who have sent me information about Broaddrick.

UPDATE the third: The aforementioned co-worker says that it's a sure sign that I'm a right-winger that I call him "very smart, rather conservative" rather than "rather smart, very conservative." But he's modest.

[Will, 1:35 PM]
Quibbling, or why 6 is not equal to 100.:

This has been bothering me all week. The New York Times Magazine contained an article on manufactured memories, child abuse, and alien abduction. Said article contained this paragraph:
Some three million Americans believe they have had some kind of encounter with space aliens. If everyone who experienced sleep paralysis came to that conclusion, the number would be a hundred or so times as high....

This strikes me as odd. Three million times "a hundred or so" = Three hundred million, the population of the United States.

Well, I tell myself, maybe this is the reporter's roundabout way of claiming that everybody suffers from sleep paralysis. But why wouldn't the author simply say that? Then I come across this ABCNEWS report:
Sleep experts have long known about sleep paralysis, but research in the latest issue of the medical journal Neurology offers them a better idea of how common it is and what the risk factors might be. According to a new study, roughly 6 percent of all people have had at least one episode of sleep paralysis...While 6 percent of the population may sound small, Dr. Michael Thorpy of Montefiore Medical Center in New York City says that’s fairly sizable for a sleep disorder.

But wait. 6% of 300,000,000 is not 300,000,000 at all. It's 18,000,000. So if "everyone who experienced sleep paralysis came to th[e] conclusion" that they'd been abducted by aliens, the number would be 6 times as high. Not 100 or so.

Does this matter? Probably not. Does it bother me? Deeply.

[Matthew, 10:46 AM]
Natural Ethics Revisited:

Since Will's original post on moral relativism there has been a large amount of debate both supporting and condemming his views, a few of these he has pointed you to, but I am sure there are still more that have gone unmentioned. I agree with Brian Weatherson that he should not have said that "murder is wrong" means "I disapprove of murder", but rather "Boo for murder!" (perhaps he has an argument against using this formulation as well, but I did not see one). Most of the debate that I have seen sprouting, however, has not been a semantic one, but rather a debate on Natural Law and Ethics (one of the best and least presumptious of these I have seen is here). A large amount of the disagreement I see, though, has been caused by a misunderstanding of terms. The naturalist theory maintains that there is something within human nature that can dictate what is good. So far as I can tell, there is nothing within Humean philosophy or logical positivism that contradicts the possibility of this; nothing, that is, so long as we qualify that good. Kant and a number of other philosophers claim that morality is defined precisely by this unqualified good (We ought do X, rather than we ought do X if we want Y). This seems to me how Will wants to define morality, and if you think this sort is possible through a Natural Law theory, then there is indeed a conflict with Will, Hume, and the Logical Poistivists.

If, on the other hand, you believe that good must be qualified, then it is possible we can still all be friends. This does leave the question, however, as to how we are going to qualify that good. Good for human flourishing? This seems to be a predominantly common way of defining morality throughout the history of philosophy, though the interpretation of exactly what this enatails is what distinguishes one philosopher from another. Aristotle claims this is best accomplished when we promote those characteristics that are typically human, what he calls the virtues. Other Natural law theorists may sight commonalities most successful human societies have possessed, things such as property rights and universally applicable laws. Hobbes, Rousseau and numerous others look at characteristics and laws necessary to take us out of some sort of State of Nature. Hobbes may paint a less flattering picture of what he construes to be the innate qualities of humankind, but he still believes that these innate qualities can be used to determine the proper morality, that is, a code fo actions that allows human societies to fllourish, and perhaps even to exist at all. So long as these philosophers provide some method of determining what these innate qualities are, there should be no conflict with Humeans.

What made Hume unique for his time, though, was that he did not seek to formulate a prescriptive theory of ethics, but rather a descriptive one. Hume was a historian before a philosopher, and studied the ethical codes of numerous cultures and how they tended to change over time. His theories on this are what led many to label him a moral relativist, but Hume would be the first to admit that there is an apparent logic to that change of ethical codes, and in his chapter on Why Utility Pleases in an Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, in fact, does so. His claim is that societies apply praise to those actions which benefit society and the opposite for those that harm it. Additionally, one of Hume's closest friends (close enough to be with Hume at his death bed) literally wrote the book on one of the most successful theories on laws governing human behavior, that is, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. This is not something that Hume would oppose, but rather support whole-heartedly.

Perhaps that example of economics is a bad one, though. Mill, who as far as I can tell agrees with Hume's assumptions and rarely disagrees with his conclusions (at least by the time he wrote Utilitarianism), took things a step further and actually proposed a prescriptive ethical theory that acknlowledges the place of social convention. He believes that morals are taught, yet this by no means necessitates that he believe they do not spring from some aspect of human nature. In chapter 3 of Utilitarianism he writes:

"...if, as is my own belief, the moral feelings are not innate, but acquired, they are not for that reason the less natural. It is natural to man to speak, to reason, to build cities, to cultivate the ground, though these are acquired aculties. The moral feelings are not indeed a part of our nature, in the sense of being in any perceptible degree present in all of us; but this, unhappily, is a fact admitted by those who believe the most stenuously in their transcendental origin. Like the other acquired capacities above referred to, the moral faculty, if not a part of our nature, is a natural outgrowth from it; capable, like them, in a certain small degree, of springing up spontaneously; and susceptible of being brough by cultivation to a high degree of development. Unhappily it is also susceptible, by a sufficient use of external sanctions and the force of early impressions, of being cultivated in almost any direction; so that there is hardly anything so absurd or so mischievous that it may not, by means of these influences, be made to act on the human mind with all the authority of the conscience."


Perhaps Hume and Mill underestimate our innate qualities that determine morality. Perhaps during our millions of years of evolution we developed something more of an innate sense of right and wrong. Somewhere along the line we certainly developed something that allowed us to become the social creatures we are today. Perhaps this was just language, or perhaps it was an innate sort of empathy (or maybe one leads to the other?). Perhaps there is even more than this, perhaps we possess innate sympathy, not just the capacity for such (I doubt this). So what? Does it really hurt either of their theories? Neither of them had the advatage of writing after Darwin or modern genetics, but how would things change if they had? When Hume wrote of how moral sentiments change to accomodate utility and Mill wrote of how morality is taught to our young, they were essentially espousing a rudimentary model of idea progression. An interesting thing about the propogation of ideas is how similar its game theoretic model is to the one for gene selection in evolution. Could not Hume's theory easily be modified to include this?

I don't claim any special knowledge on how much of our moral development is the direct result of evolution and how much is only indirect via society, but I also don't see why, a priori, one should be more important than the other.

[Will, 10:32 AM]
A Pryori:

The Curmudgeonly Clerk gives a sound defense for why all judges have to defend laws and systems they think are wrong. All the same, I think those who are concerned about Pryor do have an argument of degree to make, and have a question that Pryor should be made to answer.

An example by anecdote-- last Spring, an interviewer asked me, "You write on your application that you want to be a Federal Judge, but as a Libertarian you must believe the drug war is immoral. So how would you be able to sentence non-violent drug-users to ten, fifteen- year minimum sentences?" I replied with an answer a lot like The Clerk's, about the interest of the rule of law and the fact that every judge had to put aside some of his beliefs. The interviewer shot back, "Well what if the penalty was death?" Immediately, I responded, "If the law imposed the death penalty for non-violent drug possession, it would be time to resign my judgeship."

I don't mean to say that those who think the death penalty is wrong should resign, or that those who think that abortion is murder should resign. Consider, for example, Bradley Smith of the Federal Election Commission, who thinks that the entire Federal Election Commission is unconstitutional and shouldn't exist, but serves on it and upholds his duties just the same. I just mean that lots of people understand that there are delicate differences in degree here, and almost all of us have our breaking points. If I felt as strongly as Pryor does that abortion is murder, I would certainly have to think twice about signing onto a system that granted constitutional protection to a million murders a year.

So the question that we should ask Pryor is not "Don't your views on abortion disqualify you from the bench?" Of course they don't, and we'll even take it as given that Pryor wouldn't act as some sort of rogue Appellate Judge, uselessly trying to convict the millions of womens who have abortions. The question to ask him is "Given your view that abortion is murder, and given that you will be required to hold that over one million murders a year in America are not murders, but Constitutional Rights, why do you want to have this job? Why doesn't the thought of it revolt you?"

There are legitimate answers Pryor could give. He could point out that if evil is to be done it's no worse for him to do than somebody else. Or he could point out that as an appellate judge who serves on a 3-judge panel subject to en banc and Supreme Court review, very few abortion decisions will ever actually rest in his hands. Or he could say that he takes for granted that his battle is a losing one, and wants to do some good on other fronts if he can't win the abortion fight. Or he could say that the thought of it does revolt him, but it is his duty to leader and country to serve when called. Or he could say that he intends to work within the system to try to change the system, to uphold the law as written but encourage the Supreme Court to change the law, to aspire to one day reach the Supreme Court where he can hear abortion cases himself.

There are lots of ways for Pryor to explain himself, but he should have to do it. These reasons are all deeply personal, and given his profound moral opinions on abortion, could offer deep insight into his character and all the rest. Pryor shouldn't be kept off the bench merely because he thinks some small part of existing law is profoundly wrong. I do, too (albeit a different part). So do most people. But he shouldn't be let on the bench until he explains why he thinks the system is worth upholding anyway. I'm sure he has some good reasons, and I, for one, would like to hear them.

UPDATE: Feddie of Southern Appeal retorts:
Given Bill Pryor's exemplary record of enforcing Roe and its progeny as a state attorney general, why should he have to convince anyone that he will continue to uphold the rule of law as a federal appellate judge? What is about Pryor, as opposed to say Judge Michael McConnell (who strongly criticized the Supreme Court's abortion jurisprudence as a law professor and scholar before being confirmed), that warrants heightened scrutiny on the part of the Senate dems? And if Pryor's strong Catholic faith isn't the problem, then what is?

1: I don't think Pryor should have to convince people he will uphold the law-- I'm casting no aspersions on that score. But I do think it's legitimate to ask a candidate for confirmation why he wants the post he's being confirmed for. And I also think that Pryor's beliefs make that question particularly intriguing. Does he hope to legitimately change abortion jurisprudence, to do good in other areas of the law, or something else entirely?

2: Now that Feddie mentions it, I wouldn't mind putting this question to all judicial nominees. It could replace that dumb question about whether or not you'd be able to put your personal beliefs aside and uphold the law. Every nominee says he can do that, and they probably all can. The better question, the more interesting question, maybe even the more revealing questions, is why do you want to put your personal beliefs aside in order to uphold the Constitution instead? So should this question have been asked of Judge McConnell? Sure. Why not?

3: In any case, my motivation for asking this question has nothing to do with his religion. Indeed, I'd completely forgotten Pryor was religious until Feddie mentioned it to me (which may not reflect well on my acuity but surely shows I'm not discriminating on the basis of religion).

4: Finally, note I'm not particularly advocating "heightened scrutiny." I think this question is a good question to ask anybody who disagrees with some of the laws he'd be required to uphold, regardless of whether he's a Catholic, a liberal law professor, both, or neither.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

[Will, 10:45 PM]
One last post...:

There's really nothing more to say. Sex in the City plus Mikhail Baryshnikov. This strikes me as profoundly funny. I think I'd better go to bed now.

[Will, 10:18 PM]
Stuart Buck:

If you haven't been reading The Buck Stops Here lately, you might want to start. I haven't linked to it much only because I find so little to disagree with the posts. See, for example, Mr. Buck correcting the New York Times editorial board here, or this post on naturalist ethics.

[Will, 9:59 PM]
Logan:

Brian Ulrich sends along a link to this post about the Logan Act, suggesting it's a really dumb law that only survived because nobody ever noticed it before/it's not enforced. For those (like me) who've heard of the thing but never read it, and for those who've never heard of it at all, the Logan Act reads:
Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

This section shall not abridge the right of a citizen to apply, himself or his agent, to any foreign government or the agents thereof for redress of any injury which he may have sustained from such government or any of its agents or subjects.

My intial response is, and this doesn't violate the First Amendment why? Oh, I suppose there's a justification about how the U.S. has a Constitutional power to engage in foreign policy, and that therefore one constitutional provision must give way to another. Maybe so. Leaving aside the question of whether the power to engage in foreign policy also includes the power to enforce a foreign policy monopoly, we arrive at the question of selective enforcement.

If this policy is uniformly enforced, it has some potential ground to stand on. But if it's rarely enforced, then those selective prosecutions seem suspect to me as viewpoint discrimination. If the government lets Jesse Jackson and Jimmy Carter go off and say what they wish, then turns its eye on Tom DeLay, isn't that the suppression of dangerous ideas?

Then of course I discover that the Head Heeb has thought of most of this and more. The contrarian in me would like to defend the Logan Act but I simply can't manage it. It might squeak by a constitutional test. It fails a "good idea" test hands-down.

[Will, 9:46 PM]
Brief Update:

For those not yet sick of hearing about Gay High School, interesting information can be had at this Twilight of the Idols post.

[Peter, 2:29 PM]
Two cheers for gay high schools:

Amanda, below asks parenthetically whether or not there are any private gay high schools. There are. Here we have a story about Walt Whitman High School in Dallas, TX, which is described as "the country's only exclusively gay private high school outside Los Angeles and Manhattan"--ergo, there are at least three gay private high schools in the country.

At any rate, the article details how MTV had filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato ("The Eyes of Tammy Faye", "101 Rent Boys") put together a documentary about life at the school to use as the April 17th episode of the network's "True Life" series. Now, I didn't see that episode, but it doesn't sound like WWHS came across looking so great; the article paints the principal as ineffective and the students as freaks, albeit sympathetic ones. And here we have a brief, positive sketch of WWHS and its principal, which focuses on the difficulties the school has had to face (it's still struggling to get accredited, apparently).

Should the knowledge that WWHS is not exactly a shining star of American education affect our opinions about gay high schools, one way or another? Probably not. First off, this is an MTV documentary, one whose creators wanted to stress the difficulties of growing up gay. More importantly, we shouldn't be comparing WWHS with your average Dallas-area private school; it might similarly be a mistake to characterize the proposed NYC school as an elitist institution to reward upper-middle class Manhattan gays. Based on these articles, both WWHS and the proposed NYC school are intended to provide a haven for kids who have experienced severe harassment at their local schools. We shouldn't be surprised, therefore, to see that WWHS students tend to have more than their share of emotional issues.

That said, how strong is the argument in favor of establishing schools like this? Let's look at some numbers. The total public high school enrollment in NYC is almost 300,000 kids. Urban high school kids probably tend to be more experimental than most, but let's use conservative numbers and say that around 3 1/3% of these kids are gay. That's 10,000 students. The proposed Harvey Milk High School will have an enrollment of 100. Do we really believe that there aren't one hundred gay high schoolers in NYC who have suffered and are now suffering intolerable persecution from their peers because of their sexuality? Are we really so optimistic that we think even the most abused one percent of gay high schoolers aren't suffering enough to need a safe space?

I have trouble buying that.

Now, other commentators have made the argument that the new school is a bad idea because it's a mere Band-Aid solution, that it avoids getting at the root problems of intolerance and homophobia. My response is, "sure, it does avoid tackling the root problem. So what?" To make a more general point: since when did being a Band-Aid solution become a knock-down argument against an intentionally narrowly tailored policy? Would you like to live in a world without Band-Aids? Yes, we want to stop homophobia, save the world, all that stuff. But in the meantime, a lot of kids are suffering, and we have a limited budget with which to ameliorate--not cure--that suffering. Targeted policies, like establishing a school for the most-harassed one percent, sound like a reasonable ways to go about achieving this goal.

One final caveat. Can we really expect a school founded as a haven for troubled youth to stay that way? Might we not expect that affluent, politically energized constituents (and test-score obsessed administrators) will start pushing for HMHS to become a new gay magnet school, cream-skimming the best of the city's queer youth and neglecting its mission as a safe haven? I won't pretend this isn't a possibility. But I think the key is to be very clear, from the beginning, that this school exists as a refuge, not as a ticket to Harvard. That, and coordination effects, should do most of the work--if you're an ambitious, upper-class, gay Manhattanite, looking for an edge into the Ivies, are you really going to want to transfer into a school where a majority of the kids have serious emotional/disciplinary problems, where test scores are low, where your classmates' biggest priorities tend to be dealing with the demons in their pasts? I wouldn't be too worried. Bottom line: I don't think mission creep is inevitable, but it needs to be watched for.

[Will, 9:22 AM]
Fame:

Gosh. Two consecutive links from Ampersand and a Bashman-link. I'm honored.

[Will, 8:52 AM]
Outside the Lines:

Joel Foreman of the Southern Conservatives links to this story showing that gay rights are losing ground and then suggests that this is because "(w)hen you allow certain groups to operate outside of the rules established for everyone else it's only a matter of time before that favored group finds itself less liked."

But have homosexuals or gay-rights-advocates really been operating outside of rules that everybody else has to obey? I'm not quite sure what Mr. Foreman is alluding to, but I think it might be the victory in Lawrence v. Texas, where the Supreme Court struck down a homosexual sodomy law. Originalists and formalists are probably right to complain that this decision is "outside of the rules established . . ." but they're wrong to then presume that heterosexual rights advocates don't also work outside of these rules. Consider, for example, the famed rights to abortion or marital contraception protected in Roe v. Wade and Griswold v. Connecticut. It's hard to get much more hetero- than those, but it's precisely the same school of libertarian/substantive-due-process/privacy reasoning that got us there. On the judicial side, at least, homosexual rights advocates aren't playing by their own rules, they've just figured out how to beat the system the same way as everybody else.

It's also possible that Mr. Foreman is alluding to the proposed NYC Gay High School, but this isn't quite right either. After all, specialty schools exist for all sorts of groups-- musicians, mathematicians, farmers, the brilliant, and the slow. This school just lets homosexuals work within the same "rules established" for musicians, mathematicians, and the like.

But wait!, some people reply (including Mr. Foreman himself), we don't let racial groups separate themselves (or one another) in this way. This is true, but as conservatives are fond of reminding us, "race is different." Homosexuals receive no protection under the Civil Rights Act, can be discriminated against by the U.S. Military, and in some cases, the ability to discriminate against homosexuals is even a Constitutional Right (see Boy Scouts v. Dale). Sexual-orientation-minorities get almost none of the protections we afford to racial minorities in this country. I have begun to wonder if the Harvey Milk High School is really just a careful ploy to drive this point home. What bothers us about the Gay High School that doesn't bother us about the High School for rich kids, or smart kids?

I suspect for many of it's that sexual orientation actually seems more like race than it does like mathematics. But that would fly in the face of the defense that people give (gave) to laws against sodomy, the don't-ask-don't-tell policy in the military, and all the rest. In other words, maybe Harvey Milk is designed to remind people that they can't have it both ways; they can condemn "separate but equal" as if homosexuality were race, or they can discriminate against homosexuals as if homosexuality were conduct, but they can't do both.

Of course, none of this involves homosexuals operating "outside of the rules established for everyone else." As it stands, homosexuals operate very much within the normal set of rules. But if people like Mr. Foreman are so hot and bothered about segregation by sexual orientation, maybe they should be campaigning to treat sexual orientation as a protected class, even though that would mean making exceptions for sexual orientation in the same way we currently make them for race, putting that classification, "outside of the rules."



Monday, July 28, 2003

[Will, 9:15 PM]
Trust:

Matthew Yglesias thinks it's a bad idea to recall Gray Davis because he's faced many crises not entirely of his making. I think it's a good idea to recall him for almost precisely that reason. Executives are given a whole lot of power, much of which they can exercise in subtle and difficult-to-observe ways that are even more difficult to analyze. Figuring out precisely how much of the governor's errors are his own fault as opposed to bad luck is a process so thorny as to be nearly impossible. Because of that, it's important for voters to vote down any politician who screws up unless it's clear that it's not his fault. In other words, they should get the opposite of the benefit of the doubt.

In Game Theory this is called the "principal-agent" problem. I've blogged on it before here [If the link is broken, 1:59 A.M., June 26th].

[Will, 9:07 PM]
Quaffling redux::

A bit of reader mail on the Quaffle; Christian Waugh writes [book five SPOILER below]:
in Phoenix there's a game .... between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw I think (definitely Gryffindor was involved) where Ginny caught the snitch, which of course ended the game, but because Ravenclaw had so thoroughly exploited Ron at goalkeeper, it still allowed Ravenclaw the win. It was like 250 - 240 or something.

So then the question becomes:

Why didn't Ginny just wait to pick it up, as there was no use, until Gryffindor was in range to win it via quaffle? Well... because there's the possibility that thanks to Ron at the time, there was no hope.

I think the reader's question is a good one. If Gryffindor was only down ten points, couldn't Ginny at least have waited a few more goals, in case her sides seekers slipped in a quick one or something?

Not on quidditch, but still on Harry Potter, I was recently reminded of one of the arguments I didn't yet have a chance to criticize in A.S. Byatt's New York Times piece on HP. She writes:
In psychoanalytic terms, having projected his childish rage onto the caricature Dursleys, and retained his innocent goodness, Harry now experiences that rage as capable of spilling outward, imperiling his friends. But does this mean Harry is growing up? Not really. The perspective is still child's-eye. There are no insights that reflect someone on the verge of adulthood. Harry's first date with a female wizard is unbelievably limp, filled with an 8-year-old's conversational maneuvers.

Look. Harry Potter does make a fool of himself when talking to Cho, but it's not as if he resorts to the "Eww! A girl!" school of conversation. He really just hems and haws and acts confused a lot. I don't know if Byatt entered puberty fully-formed and able to trade sparkling prose with boys without any trouble. I do know that a lot of 15-year-olds, wizard or not, manage some pretty limp conversation with their first girl- or boy-friend. Byatt may find that unbelievable but I think it's more likely a sign of how out of touch she is with the book's very audience. Just wanted to get that off of my chest.

[Will, 8:49 PM]
More on Gay School:

The University of Chicago ACLU is also on top of the new planned Gay High School. They offer this link. I have to admit, I was a little confused when I got the email, since it doesn't say whether we are supposed to view this as a victory for Gay Rights or a defeat for Gay Equality. They do offer this link to the ACLUofC phorum to debate the matter.

My tentative thoughts (when are your thoughts NOT tentative?--ed. Hush, you.) are that this is a bad idea. I'm generally opposed to state-sponsored discrimination, even when that discrimination is based on sexual orientation rather than, say, race, and even when that discrimination is benign rather than harmful. Now, my school-choice-instincts tell me to support this. If people like it, great, and it might solve the problem of violence against homosexuals. But my worry is that the "separate but equal" phenomenon will strike here. If the school gets worse funding or deals or whatever than most schools in New York, then it will be seen as homophobia. If it gets better deals, it will be seen as homophilia.

That said, I've never been an out homosexual in New York public schools. It might well be that the reality of violence and lack of supervision are such that the strong visceral benefits of being able to safely receive an education will outweigh the usual negatives of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

UPDATE: Half the sins of mankind thinks this is a terrible idea, and also recounts some of the life of Harvey Milk, "the Martin Luther King Jr. of the gay equality movement."

UPDATE II: Hmm. My illustrious co-blogger makes a good case. I think I may tentatively have to favor them after all...

[Amanda Butler, 6:24 PM]
NYC to Open First Public Gay High School:

That's the headline of this article detailing just that.
"I think everybody feels that it's a good idea because some of the kids who are gays and lesbians have been constantly harassed and beaten in other schools," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday. "It lets them get an education without having to worry."
(First public gay high school? Are there private gay high schools?)

Although in general I like the idea of specialized high schools, I don't approve of this one. When I've supported such schools in the past, I've thought of more traditional specialties -- language immersion, liberal arts magnets, vo-tech -- that are academic sub-fields. This school does not seem to be motivated by such educational ends; instead, the short article implies, it's designed to avoid harrasment. It strikes me as a solution that dodges the issue without really targeting the root problem of homophobia.

[Will, 3:13 PM]
Googlewatch:

Whoever came here searching for "Age of Consent Bulgaria" went home emptyhanded. However, for any future googlers who type the same thing (from Age of Consent.com):
BULGARIA LAWS: 1. Has no sodomy laws, the age of sexual consent is 18 for homosexuals and 14 for heterosexuals. The Bulgarian Penal Code prohibits "scandalous homosexuality", homosexuality in public, and activities which may "lead to perversion" (whatever that is supposed to mean), violation of these laws can be punished with 1-5 years imprisonment and/or "social disgrace".

COURT:1. The Supreme Court (Superior Tribunal of Justice) ruled unanimously to allow a gay man to inherit half the estate of his deceased long-time partner.

[Amanda Butler, 1:37 PM]
Guns and Shooting:

So, does anyone know any places to go shooting that aren't too far from Chicago? I tried going to one this weekend, but it turned out to be a bring your own gun place. I prefer a ban on human targets; I'm staying away from the place in Highland, IL that advises "Beverages consumed on the grounds or in the clubhouse must be purchased in the club house. Bringing your own beer/soda will not be tolerated."

No, I haven't changed my attitudes on gun control (in support of) or on concealed carry (definately against). And I do like visiting a good hunting store. I just think that I should give it an open minded try before I continue to condemn it. But let's be honest about my tastes now. Objects connoting violence and death. Loud sudden noises. It doesn't seem like a fair role of the dice to even guess I'll come out with a changed opinion.

[Amanda Butler, 1:15 PM]
The BBC covers Mongolia:

This is a rather down report that focuses on the declining nomadic tradition that has been hit hard by Zuds in recent years (a Zud is a combination of a fiercely harsh winter with a dry summer).
Mongolia's changing climate is bearing down hard on the country's nomadic population, who are being forced to reconsider a way of life that has been with them for generations.
[Thanks to William for the pointer]

[Will, 11:06 AM]
1K Words:

Ever wondered what Howard Bashman looks like? Now you know.

[Will, 6:39 AM]
Quaffling:

Assprat Pretentia, blog of mimicry and mockery, has accidentally raised a very good question. Some time ago I asked Harry Potter fans why Quidditch teams wasted so much energy trying to score points with the quaffle, when the snitch is worth 15 times as much and somebody has to catch the snitch to win the game. Amy Lamboley emailed me with the suggestion that Quidditch season standings depend on point-margin as well as victory. But as Ms. Pretentia points out, this explanation doesn't hold in single-elimination tournaments, like the Quidditch cup (where the winning team, in fact, failed to catch the snitch). So why devote 6/7 of one's team to dealing with the points that are almost never going to matter while a luck-of-the-draw 7th chases the snitch and hopes for the best?

Sunday, July 27, 2003

[Will, 9:08 PM]
Federalism:

When I was in 8th grade, I remember learning that the Federalists were the people fought off the anti-Federalists to make a national bank, thus paving the way for our Federal government, even though loads of states rights advocates thought this move was unconstitutional. Of course, that same year I also learned that the Federalists were the people who opposed making Federal laws for things that could be done just as well or better by the states. This has always confused me.

Can somebody point me to the moment of history and/or the reason that "Federalist" became the term for those fighting Federal control rather than favoring it? Feddie?

[Will, 5:23 PM]
Listings:

I've asked this question in Crooked Timber's comments section but gotten no result thus far. does anybody know how to get a hold of the "do not call" list? That is, if I decided tomorrow that I wanted to get my Libertarian friends together and start selling subscriptions to our magazine or something, but we-- being good, law-abiding Libertarians and all of that-- didn't want to run afoul of the law, where would we find out who we could and could not call? Can I send off to the government for a copy of it? Is it online someplace? I'd be much less troubled by the do-not-call list if it were very public available.

[Will, 3:48 PM]
Streams:

Stuart Buck cleverly points out what's wrong with the claim that Roe is "outside of the political and legal mainstream." If that were the case, then it would seem logical not to care that much about the nomination of somebody like Pryor. If his views are really outside of the mainstream, then they aren't that big of a threat.

This leaves those opposed to abortion with several options. They can A: abandon the claim that anti-abortionism is "outside of the... mainstream," and declare instead that it is "intolerably wrong," but at that point they'll be preaching only to the choir. The can B: argue that many judges and politicians are also "outside of the mainstream," but they then are given the burden of explaining how those judges and politicians were selected by a democratic society. They can C: argue that while many people oppose abortion, few of them oppose it with Pryor's virulence; the trouble with this argument is that it isn't clear why it leads to the conclusion that Pryor should be opposed. If people pass moderate abortion restrictions, then Pryor won't be any stronger of a vote than those who believe in moderate abortion restrictions. If they pass hardcore restrictions, then the fact that such ideas are outside of the mainstream should still make them unlikely to succeed. C solves the initial problem, but just gives us the same dilemma one step down the road. Finally, they can D: agree that the overturn of Roe or the presence of abortion bans isn't much of a threat, but claim that he should be opposed anyway, out of principle (perhaps because those who have view outside of the mainstream risk bringing them back into the mainstream). Justice Scalia, after all, wasn't the first originalist on the court, but he was the first originalist in recent years and his many opinions, very intelligently and very well-written have contributed greatly to originalism's rebirth.

I don't particularly subscribe to any of these arguments, but I also don't think that opposition to abortion or to Roe are outside of the legal and political mainstream. I'm tentatively in favor of abortion for reasons I've described many times before, and fairly undecided about Roe, which combines shaky judicial reasoning and undesirable anti-federalism with a desirable result and serious considerations of stare decisis. Anyway, Buck shows why "outside of the mainstream" is a strange claim for anti-Pryorites to make, and I just wanted to offer them for ways out of it, even though none of those ways seem particularly satisfactory to me.

[Will, 2:17 PM]
A Path to Our Door:

Blog about Moral Relativism and the blogosphere blogs with you. Lawrence Solum (thanks) drops links to us and also to Timothy Sandefur at Freespace, whose latest moral and legal responses on the subject are here and here, continuing to disagree with me about the nature of the burden of proof-- Sandefur says that to prove that freedom is morally right it is sufficient to show that coercion and tyranny are not right, while I think one must also prove that "right" and "wrong" are terms that have any literal meaning at all. Brian Weatherson at Crooked Timber, on the other hand, rightly criticizes me on semantic grounds noting that the formulation "x is wrong" = "i disapprove of x" is sloppy. He suggests that I would still be wrong to return to Ayer's formulation that "x is wrong" = "Boo! X!" but doesn't explain precisely why this is so. Anyway, if you're interested in serious semantic and theoretical arguments about this stuff, be sure to read the debate which continues well on into the comments section.

Finally, if mimicy is the sincerest form of flattery, where does mockery stand? The excesses of this latest post (which I promise not to repeat in the near future) have spawned a parody blog, Assprat Pretentia (warning, the blog's inaugural post contains plenty of explicit language). Pretentia also very briefly turns her tongue to the Curmudgeonly Clerk (who she terms the Bludgeonly Jerk in a fit of rhyme). A taste:
Furthermore, you really creep me out with your predilection for equestrian implements and Paul does NOT like vanilla. Therefore, one need not mention John Lennon's supposed assassination (which would only have occurred if I had seen it, and even then I wouldn't have seen it) in order to point out the fact that there is no intrinsic logic in the intuition of the majority. Though one might argue that there is logic exhibited in a consensus of intuition, if not in the intuition itself, I will have no part of it. I intended to declare myself right and now I shall do so: there is no logic, there are no facts or ethics or morals, I am obviously right and I don't give a damn if I've just contradicted myself. In fact (wait a minute, there are no facts) -- in allegation, I find this whole intrusion of intellect into my realm of unbridled pretension to be quite unnerving and I accordingly ban any further discussion of the topic and leave you with a lengthy and wholly unrelated quote from Voltaire's "Zadig" which, with the exception of the quoted passage, I have yet to read.

Obviously these propositions aren't of the sort one can respond to or ought to take seriously, but certainly are amusing. Now, on to more interesting matters. I've added Ms. Pretentia to the blogroll, but feel it particularly important to reiterate my non-policy on the links I choose to add (and recall that as always I write only for myself, despite the pretentious first person plural I employ below). See my post on "Sleeping With the Enemy" from March.

UPDATE: Seems that the link doesn't work. Here:
[Will Baude, 12:06 PM]

Sleeping with the Enemy:

I've just added diotima to the links at the right-hand side of the page. Ordinarily, I agree with Eugene Volokh that one needn't comment on blogrolling or un-blogrolling somebody. Nonetheless, I'm going to do so this time. Partially this is because this may be the first time I've added a link of something that I rarely agree with....

At any rate, just wanted to make clear what should already be obvious. The webpages we include at the side are things we find interesting, or read fairly often. No endorsement is expressed or implied.

UPDATE TWO: Timothy Sandefur is not at all amused by Pretentia's antics, but I remain so. As Dennis Hutchinson said "Lots of skin isn't enough. It has to be thick."

Friday, July 25, 2003

[Will, 1:02 PM]
Ciao:

Two friends (one of whom blogs here) are coming in for the weekend, so my posting will be erratic, light, and/or non-existent. Go out and enjoy other blogs, or better yet, the real world.

[Will, 11:19 AM]
Hoosier Pride:

Oh dear. Am I really from this state? Howard Bashman has details on our representative John Hostettler's proposal to block all federal funds from enforcing recent rulings on the Ten Commandments or the Pledge of Allegiance.

[Will, 9:35 AM]
Redux:

This is going to be my only follow-up on moral relativism, because of the enveloping and all-consuming nature of the topic. Let me note that this epic scale is one of the reason I prefer to confine my studies to disciplines like linguistic philosophy, law, economics, and the like-- I personally find it easier to make headway when one has some common ground.

Now firstly, my mortified apologies to Freespace's Timothy Sandefur, to whom I erroneously referred as "Tim" in the post below. Blogging etiquette is remarkably tricky on the question of reference, partially because blogging is sufficiently impersonal that bloggers rarely extend offers to "call me Will" but also because so many blog only under their first names or under semi-anonymous names. With a number of the bloggers on our blogroll, ironically, it's much more of a sign of intimacy to know their last name than their first. And this blog is faces with the particularly thorny problem of trying to refer both to our own Amanda Butler and to Diotima's Ms. Butler, especially when the two of them are arguing about the same topic. Before Amanda joined us here I usually referred to them both as Ms. Butler, since then I've switched to Sara and Amanda, but only with their permission. Anyway, none of this applies to Mr. Sandefur, to whom I again tender my apologies; there is nothing haughty about requesting the respectful form of address. And by the way, for all blogging purposes I give all of you blanket permission to call me Will, Baude, Will Baude, Mr. Baude, or any other relatively reasonable combination that strikes you.

Now, on to the heavy lifting. Firstly, let me respond to Mr. Sandefur's suggestion that because I (and The Clerk (an interesting side-question; I have always referred to The Curmudgeonly Clerk as "The Clerk," but I ought I call him "Mr. Clerk?" To blogging intimates will he eventually write, "Oh, call me Curmudgeon?")... oh I've gotten distracted, I'll start over again.

Mr. Sandefur suggests that because I bother to engage him in logical argument at all, I am implicitly recognizing that moral topics are something that can be reasoned about. Not quite so. Note that I only began engaging in logical argument in order to respond to his logical argument; this is logical self-defense, as they say. I am engaging in logical argument in order to prove (logically) that moral conclusions are not arrived at by the process of reason.

Next let me pick out a few sentences of Mr. Sandefur's latest post with which I emphatically disagree.
"I’m asking somebody to prove that freedom is ‘right’ from first principles.” Why must we prove it? Why give reasons? Why not simply assert it and order him to comply?

I appear to have been unclear; there is no moral reason one must prove freedom from first principles. Indeed, I hope to display that it's impossible to do so. So it is foolish to demand logical proof where it cannot logically be obtained. Rather, this is a restatement of my argument that freedom can't be proved from reason. It may be a "good" thing to do nonetheless, but a logical judgment sprung from a priori reasoning, it ain't.
The fact that he asks the question proves the point: he is a reasoning being, and in the end, his continued survival depends on his ability to exercise his reason.

For what it's worth, plenty of reasoning beings survive without exercising their reason. I have no particular interest in becoming one of those, but no matter.
The burden is on the person who asserts the right to rule over others, not on the person who denies the existence of such a right.

I agree entirely! But the fact that Mr. Sandefur offers this as argument against me shows that I have been grieviously unclear. There is no logical "right" to rule over others. The burden of proof lies on he who suggests there is. But nor is there a logical "right" not to be ruled. As in the above case, the burden of proof lies on he who asserts such a right. Rather, both of these "rights" are not logically inferred from anything at all; they come into being as they are. If you believe them, you believe them. If your society believes them, you are a free man. But if nobody else believes you, it will take something more than formal logic to get them to.
Baude piles a lot of words on to try to hide his relativism, but he is really saying that there is nothing really wrong about slavery and tyranny—it’s just a preference.

It's the word "just" in that sentence gets to me. There is something really wrong about slavery and tyranny, but it's not something logically wrong, it's something morally wrong. The wide world condemns slavery nowadays. What if they didn't? We could try to argue that they should not keep slaves, but how would we do it? Perhaps by arguing that slavery deprives people of dignity, or their inherent human-ness, or whatnot. But suppose they denied that they were interested in those things too. If one's opponent is resolutely committed to his moral principles, no logical step can dissuade him from them unless he has some other contradictory principle to which he is also committed.

That is, yes morals are "only" a preference, but they are a really important preference, and they can still be judged, just not by pure reason.
Slavery’s only wrong ‘cause he thinks it’s icky; it fills him with moral disgust. But if there were someone who was not filled with moral disgust by slavery—like, say, the master—then slavery would be right for him, and, well, who are we to criticize?

This is again a misunderstanding. Who are we to criticize? We are us, and therefore can criticize whomever we feel like. And we should stop slavery, and fight oppression, and free slaves. But we have to do it by some means other than showing "humans are rational (they aren't); therefore humans are equal (they aren't); therefore coercion is irrational (it isn't)." We can show that coercion is not a logical right, but we cannot show that it is logically wrong, and Mr. Sandefur hasn't done so.

But the fact that my approbation is "mere" preference doesn't make it any the weaker. It just means that I know what my necessary battleground must be.
Well, the slave might criticize; it fills him with moral disgust. Who is to judge between these two positions, then? On one side stands the master, who says that there is nothing wrong with slavery; justice is the interest of the stronger. On the other is the slave, filled with disgust by slavery. And now who is to judge between these two positions? Will Baude. He arrives on the scene, and what does he say? He says, “I’m asking somebody to prove that freedom is ‘right’ from first principles.” In other words, he appeals to rationality to decide the question.

An unfortunate conflation. Were I to arrive on the scene of slave and master, I wouldn't ask somebody to prove that freedom is 'right' from first principles, because I know that it simply can't be done. The latter is simply my challenge to those philosophers who think moral judgments follow logically from nothingness. If I were to arrive on the scene, I'd whup the master upside the head, take the whip, and lead the two away from another after extracting appropriate restitution.

Why? Because we are human beings, and rationality is our means of survival; that is how we answer questions like this. Very well, the three of them shall reason out the question. The slave lays down his burden, and the master lays down his whip, and the three of them sit under a tree to talk the matter over—and there we have our answer, don’t we? Because we have just demolished the master’s claim to a right to rule over others. By appealing to reason to solve this dilemma, we must lay aside the whip. And that is all that I’m saying.

Yes, for the duration of the time that we are arguing about this thing, we can't be whupping one another upside the head. But that doesn't show that these questions can be rationally resolved. And these questions can be rationally resolved, if and only if we agree on some common ground in the first place. Mr. Sandefur and I have plenty of common ground ourselves-- coercion is wrong, the internet is good, pain is bad, pleasure is good, etc.-- but what if we didn't? No logic could force us to.

Baude seems to believe that he has avoided plunging full force into subjectivism, but I still don’t see how.

I don't remember denying that this was full force subjectivism. It is. But the key thing to remember is that just because morals are subjective judgment doesn't mean that we shouldn't act on them, shouldn't try to persuade or coerce people into believing that our moral system is the proper one. But it does mean that we should use persuasion or coercion or arguments from shared auxiliary assumptions, and not simply try to get something out of nothing.
all girls who are under sixteen years of age are now over sixteen years of age.” Why would that be wrong, in Baude’s world? You say, “Because you can’t change the laws of mathematics.” Why not? Why are the rules of logic any different? Why are there no other logics? You say “Because it’s just not true that a thirteen year old girl is sixteen.” But what matters truth to me? If a man asserts that an underage girl is of age, who is Baude to enforce upon him the alleged “fact” that he is wrong about that? He does not choose to acknowledge Baude’s facts, or to acknowledge that there is anything wrong with rejecting the facts. You say, “That’s silly, counting is no different from one society to another.” And yet many nations choose to issue, say, reams of paper currency, and declare that the new Somthingerother is now worth two dollars each! And we’ll shoot anyone who says otherwise! Does that make the Somethingerother worth two dollars? Of course not. But why not? Isn’t money just a social construct? It’s property, after all…. On this point, Baude seems to have misunderstood my point about Venezuela. Yes, I’m sure his subjectivist refusal to acknowledge anything real about morality would extend to a South American coup as well, but my point was, why do the South American coups result in shortages and inflation? If property and its attendant laws are just social constructs, they ought not experience economic collapse as a result of their bad economic policies. Is it just that they don’t have enough faith in the Glorious Leader’s policies?

Huh? This is a misunderstanding not of my argument, but of the implications of subjectivism. Take, for example, the argument that all girls under the age of sixteen are now over the age of sixteen. Then note that this statement is actually quite unclear. Does it mean that one is changing the definition of girl, age, over or sixteen in a way to make it true? (By, say, defining the new numbers as the old numbers +20, or by defining over as under, or something equivalent?) If so, then it's obviously true, but also completely useless-- one doesn't change the physical facts of the world by calling them something else. It is still the case that the girl has or hasn't gone through puberty, does or doesn't have certain attendant mental faculties, and will or won't die in about 61 years on the average. Or does it mean that one is claiming the ability to alter physical reality by mere decree? This is ridiculous. As I just said, the empirical facts one could test about the girl in question will remain precisely the same. So the statement is either true and useless, or completely false, depending on what it means.

But I have no idea why Mr. Sandefur thinks my subjectivist morality requires me to believe that people will not be angry about theft, will not refuse to accept arbitrary declarations, and all the rest. All that my subjectivist morality means is that one cannot logically force somebody else to believe that what you think is right is right, unless he already accepts some assumption (which is not a priori) which will get you there.

Governments engage in tyranny and terrible things happen. This is proof that tyranny is a terrible thing. But if one thought that looting and unrest were good? No principle would require you to believe that tyranny is bad. Of course, the marines might.

And nothing about this assertion that morals aren't real implies that facts aren't real. Quite the contrary. Anything that can be examined through some empirical process is very real. A girl's age is an assertion about how long she has existed extranatally, it takes a slow process to test it, to be sure, but if you were to watch a girl go from womb to present and keep a very accurate timepiece, you would be able to test her age. Similarly, the "monetary worth" of an object is an assertion about how much people will pay for it. If the government declared tomorrow that my desk was worth $1000, it would be true only if they or somebody else were willing to give me $1000 for it, or perhaps if $1000 were what it would take for me to sell it. These are empirical, real, questions about real things and thus emphatically real. There is no such empirical test to show whether an act is moral or not. When I say "you acted wrongly in wearing a blue hat today!" and you say "I did not!" we have nothing to disagree about. This is especially the case if I assert that the wearing of blue hats is simply part of a fundamental moral principle, like freedom or equality, that you are morally bankrupt not to accept.

He can either rule or be ruled, but he cannot have government by consent, because he can have no rational discussion over morals.

Huh? I agree that one can have rational discussion over morals only if one accepts some moral common ground as unprovable assumption-- but of course, that is precisely what governments by consent generally do. It is only when they are faced with somebody not in on the game that they must abandon the principle of reason and resort to coercion. If, say, a perfecly rational computer tried to take over the world, us moral philosophers would have nothing to do about it. We would have to unplug the computer or beat back its forces, but it is only because most of us share similar governing intuitions that we can get anywhere with one another.

All of this brings us to the Cumudgeonly Clerk, who also feels that I have not carried my burden.
Let us suppose that Baude asserts the virtues of vanilla, Sandefur sings the praises of chocolate, and I trumpet the taste of feces. No, you didn’t read that wrong. Suppose solely for purposes of this very hypothetical scenario that yours truly is a coprophiliac. Is my preference equal to those of Baude and Sandefur? The mind bridles at such an assertion does it not? Can we truly say that there is no real difference between these three assertions? Doesn’t such a highly counterintuitive proposition require some sort of overriding rationale? That is, when a contention runs afoul of our instincts, much as when a reform runs counter to received custom, isn’t the burden of explanation that much heavier? I do not think that Baude has carried this burden.

Yes, my mind bridles at the assertion that feces is as logically valid as vanilla ice cream. But let us consider what I might do to convince the Hypothetical Clerk (whose mind does not bridle at the assertion) that his view is logically inferior to mind. I point out that vanilla tastes good. He disagrees, and says that feces taste better. I point out that feces are unhealthy, and he responds that so is ice cream. I argue that feces are more unhealthy, and he says it doesn't matter anyway, he has no particular problem with the unhealthiness, and just as I prefer ice cream to carrots, so he shall prefer feces to ice cream. I point out that the rest of the world disagrees with him and thinks him a loon. He points out that if the rest of the world liked feces, I wouldn't change my own mind about the taste of ice cream.

Our mind runs counter to the idea that feces is as good as ice cream, just as it runs counter to the idea that slavery is as good as freedom. And this is good, because feces is not as good as ice cream, nor is slavery as good as freedom. As it happens, everybody agrees with me and all is well. But if somebody did not, no logical principle could obligate him to, as I have just shown. In fact, if everybody though slavery were preferable to freedom I would not join them; I would become a coprophile among ice-cream-eaters, but my belief in this are not up for democratic vote.

In other words, on topics like this it's very important to think very carefully about what our instinct actually is. Our instinct is that we would much rather eat ice cream than feces, and that any human being without a mental disorder that we know would also rather eat ice cream than feces. We would not like to live in a society that treated feces on a par with ice cream, and we know of no such society to have succeeded. But very few of us have the instinct, I think, that there would be something logically wrong with somebody who preferred feces to ice cream. We would abhor his taste, perhaps, and we certainly wouldn't go to his house for dinner, but we couldn't sit him down, and say, "Look Mac. You're a human being, aren't you? Therefore A. Therefore B. Therefore C. Therefore you've got to put this shit down and have some ice cream." If anybody thinks they can actually fill in the therefores, drop me an email. (Don't try "therefore you are running counter to the general human instinct..." if the general human instinct were to eat feces, us ice-cream eaters would not relent).

But none of this shows that feces-eating or slavery are as "valid" as ice-cream-eating or freedom. They aren't, because things like taste and morality aren't judged by logic. (For the precise reason that, as I have said, they aren't things that are logically true or false.) I don't know who else had those weird worksheets in middle school where they'd give a list of statements and say "fact or opinion?" but that is the game we are playing now. Opinions can still be judged, and some opinions are worse and better than other opinions. We can all evaluate moral statements; that moral compass is what makes us human. But if somebody else has a genuinely different moral compass from our own, we cannot logically commit him to our compass rather than his. All we can do is use persuasion and poetry to attempt to change his values, or get the hell away.

A taste for feces ranks below a taste for David Mamet which in turn ranks below a taste for Tom Stoppard. Similarly, a taste for murder is worse than a taste for theft which is worse than a taste for leaving other people alone. These value-systems are both personally constructed and socially constructed, but they are constructed nonetheless. If human beings were to cease to exist, items and objects wouldn't wander around with metaphysical moral tags marking them as good and bad; these are words we use to argue amongst outselves, words which no outsider, with different preferences and different moral intuitions, could understand.

These posts are long and will only get longer, and I don't think they're terribly important. On a daily basis, The Clerk, Mr. Sandefur, and I all go about arguing the fine points of legal philosophy without it ever really mattering that some of us think that human freedom is a logical and necessary consequence of human existence, and others of us think it to be a very great and immensely important social construction. I'll probably respond to email on the topic, but no more posts. Those seriously interested in understanding or refuting my side of the fence are advised to turn to Language, Truth, and Logic by A.J. Ayer (which is quite short or the complete works of David Hume (which are not). Finally, let me close in a note of slight self-mockery about us logical positivists:
George: A remarkable number of apparently intelligent people are baffled by the fact that a different group of apparently intelligent people profess to a knowledge of God when common sense tells them—the first group of apparently intelligent people—that knowledge is only a possibility in matters that can be demonstrated to be true or false, such as that the Bristol train leaves from Paddington. And yet these same apparently intelligent people, who in extreme cases will not even admit that the Bristol train left from Paddington yesterday—which might be a malicious report or a collective trick of memory—nor that it will leave from there tomorrow—for nothing is certain—and will only agree that it did so today if they were actually there when it left—and even then only on the understanding that all the observable phenomena associated with the train leaving Paddington could equally well be accounted for by Paddington leaving the train—these same people will, nevertheless, and without any sense of inconsistency, claim to know that life is better than death, that love is better than hate, and that the light shining through the east window of their bloody gymnasium is more beautiful than a rotting corpse!
Tom Stoppard—Jumpers

ADDENDUM:

Simon Blackburn clarifies:
...we considered the relativist's challenge. We may not seem to have done all that well in answering it. We have not found authoritative ethical prescriptions built into the order of things. No god wrote the laws of good behaviour into the cosmos. Nature has no concern for good or bad, right or wrong.

At our best, or so I have argued, we do have these concerns. Not all principle is hypocrisy. In any event, we cannot get behind ethics. We need standards of behaviour, in our own eyes, and we need recognition in the eyes of tohers. So our concern is not to "answer" the relativist by some cunning intellectual or metaphysical trick. Our concern can only be to answer the challenge from with a set of standards which we uphold.

From within our self-understanding, we can admit that those standards are ours-- just ours. We legislate them for ourselves, and also for others, when we demand respect or civility or forbearance for them. They give us reasons, not Reasons. But this understanding of what we have done does not have to be corrosive or sceptical. On the contrary, it can energize us to defend ourselves when those standards are belittled and threatened.

So is there such a thing as moral knowledge? Is there moral progress? These questions are not answered by science, or religion, or metaphysics, or logic. They have to be answered from within our own moral perspective. Then, fortunately, there are countless small, unpretentious things that we know with perfect certainty. Happiness is preferable to miser, and dignity is better than humiliations. It is bad that people suffer, and worse if a culture turns a blind eye to their suffering. Death is worse than life; the attempt to find a common point of view is better than manipulative contempt for it.

The answer to the question of progress once more, is given from within the values we can deploy. . . And we can certainly be on the alert for traces of complacency in ourselves. . . If we are careful, and mature, and imaginative, and fair, and nice, and lucky, the moral mirror in which we gaze at ourselves may not show us saints. But it need not show us monsters, either.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

[Will, 9:40 PM]
A Magnum Opus on Moral Relativism: Or, how morals can be relative and ironclad simultaneously...:

Back when I started my first, albeit shortlived, blog, my first project was to defend Logical Positivism from the unjust ravaging hordes of philosophy. Logical Positivism is a philosophy derived from the teachings of David Hume that holds, in a nutshell, that propositions are either: empirical statements about the world, tautological statements whose truth or falsity depends entirely on the definitions of the words involved, or nonsense. One consequence of this system of belief is that it holds that moral statements, while very important, are not "true" or "false" in the same empirical sense that "my apple is red" or "Sir Walter Scott wrote Waverly" are. Rather, moral statements fall into the category of "persuasive defintions." When I say that slavery is wrong, I'm not making a testable claim. There's no way you can go out and look at and poke some slaves looking for their wrongness or rightness; you have to bring your own sense of rightness and wrongness to the table. As Simon Blackburn would say, you can't get ethics from somewhere; you start with it or you don't have it at all.

A warning to all-- the following post is very long on philosophy and trivial points. It is to intriguing political philosophy what legal process is to legal substance.

Now, Timothy Sandefur understandably disagrees with me that moral judgments, while very important, are also a form of hogwash (though he is not sure he understands what I am saying). Firstly, let me note that nobody has yet risen to my challege, which Tim misunderstands-- I'm asking somebody to prove that freedom is "right" from first principles. You can't do this simply by proving that coercion is "not necessarily right." It could very well be that neither "rightness" nor "wrongness" have any meaning that can sensibly applied, or at least that whatever the answer is, you can't get there without auxiliary assumptions.

Now let's consider Tim's syllogism:
)1) all men are created equal, 2) they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; 3) that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

While Tim gets points for rhetoric, he loses them for logic. This isn't a syllogism. He also writes:
Human freedom can indeed be deduced from human thought; it is a self-evident truth. All human beings are equally human beings; they all possess the quality (rationality) which makes them human. That quality is incompatible with coercion, and, more importantly, that equality means that no human being is naturally entitled to dominate over other human beings.

Firstly, let me note that I agree with the last bit-- clearly no human being is entitled to dominate over other human beings. Of course, that doesn't mean that human beings are obligated to not dominate over other human beings, it merely means that I have no idea what Tim means by "natural entitlement" in the first place.

Anyway, note that not all human beings are rational. Some human beings are comatose vegetables, some human beings are criminally insane, and some human beings, though sane for all every day purposes, nonetheless do things that make them unhappy, in full knowledge that they will do so. One can try to shade rationality so that it covers these things (I'm not quite sure how one would do it) but in the end one is either making an empirical case, that all human beings happen to be rational (in which case I'll bet you somebody can come up with a counter example; there are a lot of human beings and they happen to do a lot of things) or else one is simply defining rationality in a way that all human beings must be it. (Economists who hold that rationality means attempting to achieve the things we want, and then hold that our wants can be measured by what we attempt to achieve fall into this latter category).

But even were we to assume that all human beings were rational, I don't see any reason why rationality would be what made us human, unless, of course, one simply defines humanity that way. Even once we were to decide that all human beings were rational (which they aren't) we must conclude from that that all human beings are "equally human." I'm not sure what it means to be equally human. Since being human is a binary choice-- one is human or one is not human-- surely all human beings are "equally human" in that sense. But why does it follow from that that coercion is "incompatible" with equality/rationality? Further, what does it mean to say coercion is "incompatible"? Does that mean it is irrational for human beings to coerce other human beings?-- surely not, because human beings do coerce other human beings and we have already declared that all human beings possess rationality. Does it mean that human beings shouldn't coerce other human beings? I can't see why it would-- in any case, what if a rational human being harbors the rational desire to coerce another human? Doesn't the rationality hypothesis require him to coerce? This isn't a syllogism either.

Now Tim is also mightily confused by my brief musings on slavery. I don't blame him. My musings were awfully confusing. Here's what I mean. When I say "such and such is (morally) wrong," I don't mean to be attributing an empirical quality to it, like when I say "such and such is French." I also don't mean to be defining such and such or wrongness, as when I say "a bachelor is an unmarried man." Because of this, moral statements occupy an unusual realm. Sometimes, when people say "Such and such is wrong," they mean "such and such is contrary to the moral authority to which i subscribe." This might translate as "such and such is against the teachings of the bible as I understand them," or "such and such is against the teachings of John Stuart Mill as I understand them," or "such and such is against the teachings of my great aunt Kelly, as I understand them." Very well. But I don't particularly mean any of those things when I use moral phrases. There's nothing wrong with importing arbitrary premises into ones ethics, but one should be clear that that's what one's doing.

Slavery is wrong. What do I mean? I mean all that this statement really could mean-- I will harbor a disrespect that I call "moral approbation" to those who engage in slavery. I would be very unhappy if I were to engage in slavery. I call upon those whose judgments and values I respect to also condemn those who engage in slavery. I intend to make people stop engaging in slavery. By themselves, the words "right" and "wrong" don't mean anything at all. Used in context, they mean everything it is possible for them to mean.

Thus, when I say Slavery is wrong, I'm implicitly saying "It is my personal feeling that slavery is wrong." I couldn't mean anything else; there's no neutral test or definition for determining a thing's wrongness, so wrongness must be based on a personal assessment, and it's incoherent to say "Slavery is wrong but I don't think so," for all of the reasons Wittgenstein describes. So slavery is wrong because it fills me with moral disgust. (Note, incidentally, that when Tim says "slavery is wrong" he doesn't mean the same thing by it as I do. He means either that is contrary to some principle which he has chosen to designate "a moral principle" or that it fills him with moral disgust).

Finally, let's consider psychology and property. Tim points out that no property-less society has succeeded (where succeeded is used to mean "lasted until now,") and therefore argues that ethics cannot be socially constructed. This doesn't follow either. Surely he acknowledges that property is a social construction-- the very words and concepts of "ownership" could not exist without a society, and did not exist prior to society, and are therefore created (which is to say "constructed") by the existence of a society. But why on earth should it hold that just because property is a social construction, some society should exist someplace (now) that didn't construct property? Indeed, Tim makes the very point himself-- it's entirely likely that our tendency to propertize springs from our particular mental construction (though I won't get into the debate about whether anger causes property or the other way round). It's the very fact that we all share similar moral emotions (a similar sense of justice, a tendency to get angry about arbitrary inequality and cruel and needless coercion, injustice, etc.) that allows us to form a society in the first place. These emotions are the very stuff out of which morals are constructed! But just because most of us happen to feel similar impulses doesn't mean that there's something inherently "moral" about those impulses (unless, again, one holds we ought to do what most of us have the general impulse to do; this is an interesting proposition but has some generally unagreeable consequences).

Now, as it happens Tim's effort to take aim at those who are against private property and the like is needless so far as I am concerned. I believe in private property and a large number of other things, but I acknowledge that these beliefs are just that-- beliefs. I can try to persuade other people to believe as I believe, and I can try to force them or pay them or coax them into doing the things that I believe that they ought to do, but there's no way I can "prove" to them that they ought to do the things I think they ought to do unless they first agree to accept some other premise or principle, which I in turn have to try to persuade, force, pay, or coax them into accepting. In philosophy, you can't get somewhere from nowhere.

To reiterate a point: because morality is subjective, one has to be careful when using statements like "theft is wrong." If all of the people of Venezuela decided theft was no longer wrong, it would still be wrong from my point of view. If the entire population of Venezuela came over in a democratic mass to try to take my umbrella, I would still nurse a "moral approbation" toward them, I would be angry at them, and I would try to stop them (most likely by running away). But I also acknowledge that if the entire population of Venezueal decided that "theft is not wrong," there's no way I could prove otherwise. I could try to persuade them that they would be happier if they didn't steal my umbrella, or even try to persuade them that they would be happier if they accepted the broad moral principle that "one ought not steal." I could hire men with blue hats and badges to try to shoot them if they tried to steal my umbrella. But I couldn't say "Look. You're in error; it's obvious that theft is wrong, because the wrongness of theft follows inherently from some a priori principle." There is no such a priori principle. I showed above why "rationality" (hardly an a priori principle anyway, but no matter) didn't get us there.

In other words, if people in the 1800s thought that slavery was not wrong, well then to them, slavery was not wrong. But that doesn't matter, because I judge morality by my moral standards (which I hope to convince y'all to adopt as your moral standards), and slavery is categorically wrong in my book.

One final note. If I recall "Utilitarianism" correctly (and Matt will correct me if I'm wrong), John Stuart Mill defines morality as "what we teach to our children." I find this a persuasive definition, but I ask all present to note that it is the essence of social construction.

Appendix for the masochistically committed: The devoted and persnickety reader will note that I've actually been giving a subjectivist definition of morality rather than a logical positivist definition of morality. This is true, and I haven't though very carefully about which definition I prefer. The logical positivist claims not only that moral words are devoid of objective content, but that they are devoid of all factual content whatsoever-- that they are not even claims about the state of my mind. I'm not sure if this is the case, but A.J. Ayer makes the argument in Language, Truth, and Logic:
The presence of an ethical symbol in a proposition adds nothing to its factual content. Thus if I say to someone, "You acted wrongly in stealing that money," I am not stating anything more than if I had simply said, "You stole that money," in a peculiar tone of horror, or written with the addition of some special exclamation marks. The tone, or the exclamation marks, adds nothing to the literal meaning of the sentence. It merely serves to show that the expression of it is attended by certain feelings of the speaker....

Another man may disagree with me about the wrongness of stealing, in the sense that he may not have the same feelings about stealing as I have, and he may quarrel with me on account of my moral sentiments. But he cannot, strictly speaking, contradict me. For in saying that a certain type of action is right or wrong, I am not making any factual statement, not even a statement about my own state of mind. I am merely expressing certain moral sentiments. And the man who is ostensibly contradicting me is merely expressing his moral sentiments. So that there is plainly no sense in asking which of us is in the right...

This may seem, at first sight, to be a very paradoxical assertion. For we certainly do engage in disputes which are ordinarily regarded as disputes about questions of value. But, in all such cases, we find, if we consider the matter closely, that the dispute is not really about a question of value, but about a question of fact....we attempt to show that he is mistaken about the facts of the case. We argue that he has misconceived the agent's motive: or that he has misjudged the effects of the action, or its probable effects in view of the agent's knkowledge... or else we employ more general arguments about the effects which actions of a certain type tend to produce, or the qualities which are usually manifested in their performance. We do this in the hope that we have only to get our opponent to agree with us about the nature of the empirical facts for him to adopt the same moral attitude towards them as we do. And as the people with whom we argue have generally received the same moral education as ourselves, and live in the same social order, our expectation is usually justified. But if our opponent happens to have undergone a different process of moral "conditioning" from ourselves, so that, even when he acknowledges all the facts, he still disagrees with us about the moral value of the actions under discussion, then we abandon the attempt to convince him by argument. We say that it is impossible to argue with him because he has a distorted or underdeveloped moral sense. . . in short, we find that argument is possible on moral questions only if some system of values is presupposed.


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