February 29, 2008

A short argument for political correctness

(1) One is being politically correct if one is deliberately avoiding using language that others find offensive or derogatory unless one has a good reason.
(2) In general, one should deliberately avoid using language that others find offensive or derogatory unless one has a good reason.
(3) Hence, in general, one should be politically correct.

Let's take a look at the good reason clause, since it's actually doing some important work here.

Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor said many things that others found offensive. I don't think they said many things that others found derogatory, but maybe that's just because I haven't listened to enough of them. But, without the good reason clause, one would come to the conclusion, from 2, that Bruce and Pryor did not act as they should have. And I don't think that sounds right.

We could fix this by dropping the offensiveness condition, so being politically correct amounts to only avoiding language that is derogatory. But not everything offensive is derogatory -- a crude comment about your coworker's breasts might be meant as a compliment, but would still be offensive, and would not be politically correct. Similarly, to talk about lynching a black person doesn't seem to be derogatory, but it's still offensive.

So leave the offensiveness condition in, and the good reason clause. Bruce and Pryor had good reason to be offensive, I think -- they were challenging a racist, classist, and sexually repressive social order. On the other hand, there doesn't seem to be any good reason to use (as opposed to mention) the phrase `nappy-headed hos'. There was no good reason for Imus' use of that phrase, in particular, so we can still say that he did not do what he should have.

One might try to claim that challenging the oppressive social order of political correctness itself is a good reason to use offensive or derogatory language. This seems to be the typical strategy when someone complains semicoherently about political correctness -- that liberals who insist on political correctness are being intolerant, or some such. This claim assumes that it's oppressive to say that one should deliberately avoid using language that others find offensive or derogatory unless one has a good reason. That is, it assumes that 2 is oppressive. If the opposite of `oppressive' is `liberting', then the claim assumes that there's something liberating about offending or derogating people without good reason. This sounds downright bizarre to me; at the very least, it can't be assumed.

Flag Pins

I don't have strong feelings on wearing flag pins. I mean, I don't think it's a particularly bad thing to do, but I also don't think it should be a big deal if someone opted not to. Indeed, I respect Obama for taking a stand on what is a relatively minor issue. What I love even more, however, is hand wringing by a republican Congressman about Obama's pin hating while not wearing a pin himself. Priceless. Link.

K(p) & -K(K(p))

A fascinating short piece in Salon about some neuroscience work on knowing -- from the `aha!' moment when we recognise that an explanation fits the data to the certainty attached to deeply cherished beliefs. What's tricky here is that this self-conscious experience of knowing isn't, the author thinks, a rational or truly conscious process.

In his bestselling "Blink," New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell describes gut feelings as "perfectly rational," as "thinking that moves a little faster and operates a little more mysteriously" than conscious thought. But he's flying in the face of present-day understanding of brain behavior. Gut feelings and intuitions, the Eureka moment and our sense of conviction, represent the conscious experiences of unconsciously derived feelings.

Look at the feeling of knowing in the light of evolution. It explains how we learn. Compare it with the body's various sensory systems. It is through sight and sound that we are in contact with the world around us. Similarly, we have extensive sensory functions for assessing our interior milieu. When our body needs food, we feel hunger. When we are dehydrated and require water, we feel thirsty. If we have sensory systems to connect us with the outside world, and sensory systems to notify us of our internal bodily needs, it seems reasonable that we would also have a sensory system to tell us what our minds are doing.

To be an effective, powerful reward, the feeling of conviction must feel like a conscious and deliberate conclusion. As a result, the brain has developed a constellation of mental sensations that feel like thoughts but aren't. These involuntary and uncontrollable feelings are the mind's sensations; as sensations they are subject to a wide variety of perceptual illusions common to all sensory systems. Understanding this couldn't be more important to our sense of ourselves and the world around us.

February 27, 2008

Garfield Minus Garfield

Garfield is a really popular punching bag these days. While I feel that most of the people hating on the strip are perhaps outside of its intended age group, I have to admit it doesn't make me chuckle like it did when I was 8. Taking the cat out of the strip, however, is hilarity itself. Link.

Thanks PA.

February 26, 2008

Formalising Moller Okin

In chapter 4 of Susan Moller Okin's Justice, gender, and the family, she gives a feminist argument against Nozick's Lockean/libertarian/free market account of property. Libertarians have tried to respond to this article, but often seem to fail to understand its structure. Formalising Moller Okin's argument will help us get a grasp on how, exactly, it presents a problem for libertarians.

Libertarians, as a general rule, want to argue from a conception of individual liberty and autonomys as self-ownership to a fairly robust right to property. Let's start with two predicates, Person(x) and Owns(x,y). Person(x) means that x is a person -- as opposed to just a thing, like a hammer or a pizza -- while Owns(x,y) means that x owns y. The full depth of the property right involved is not so important here. But to get a feel of what libertarians want to show, here are two quotations that start to cash out the Owns relation:

`x is A's property' means `A has the right to determine the disposition of x'

Narveson suggests the following set as giving some sort of full ownership: (1) exclusive use, which includes the right to permit or refuse the right [sic; I think this is supposed to be `use'] by others; and (2) transfer in the form of sale, exchange, gift or bequeathal.

What's important is that, if x owns y, then no-one besides x (or another owner of y) can use y (presumably, in any way) without x's consent. We will also need a predicate for the relation of x gives y to z; Gives(x,y,z) will work nicely.

Of course, capitalism isn't just a system of free exchanges. It's also a system in which people make things. As part of the property system, libertarians want to say that, if something is made in the right way (with resources that are either unowned or acquired through fair exchange, and a few other so-called Lockean provisos that aren't important quite yet), then it is owned by the maker. So our last predicate is Makes(x,y), meaning x makes y in the right way.

The ultimate, fundamental principle on which libertarians attempt to ground their justification of private property is a right of maximal liberty:

(L) people have a non-overridable right to such liberties as do not interfere with those of others

This, they claim, can be read as a principle of self-ownership:

(S) one owns oneself

Formalise this as

(SO) (x)(y)(Person(x) -> (Owns(x,y) <-> x=y))

Moller Okin's argument focuses on the purported inference from this to a principle of original acquisition. And so shall we. Narveson states original acquisition in this way:

things acquired in ways that meet the initial (Lockean) conditions are indeed the property of those who acquire them, for precisely the same reasons that we have the general right of liberty, and as a straight implication thereof

Formalise the first clause of this as

(OA) (x)(y) ((Person(x) ^ Makes(x,y) ^ -(Ez)Gives(x,y,z)) -> Owns(x,y))

The final clause of the quotation from Narveson is the claim that SO implies OA. Formally, this is false -- Makes and Owns don't show up in SO, so it can't imply OA. However, presumably there is some set of definitions and/or axioms D that, Narveson thinks, will, when combined with S, imply OA. That is, Narveson's claim is

(1) SO + D |- OA

Moller Okin's argument is an attempt to show that 1 is false. Her counterexample is based on the fact that mothers make their children -- literally. She carefully works through Nozick's version of original acquisition, and describes a scenario in which all of the Lockean provisos have been satisfied: the mother was freely given the sperm, say, and procured all the resources necessary to maintain herself and (this bit varies from version to version) give birth to a healthy infant/raise a healthy child to adulthood according to free exchange and the principles of original acquisition. But then she doesn't give her child away -- either to another person or to himself. Instead, she keeps him as a slave. Hence the subtitle of Moller Okin's chapter: `Matriarchy, slavery, and dystopia'.

Let's formalise this counterexample as follows: there is a person, x, who makes another person, y, in the right way, and does not give y to any z.

(MOC) (Ex)(Ey) Person(x) ^ Person(y) ^ Makes(x,y) ^ -(Ez)Gives(x,y,z)

Moller Okin's criticism is that MOC, with OA, implies the negation of SO.

(2) MOC + OA |- -SO

Hence, either SO is inconsistent, or SO implies the negation of at least one of MOC and OA.

(3) SO is inconsistent
(4) SO |- -(MOC ^ OA)

Cashing out (4) gives two possibilities (which are not exclusive): either SO implies the negation of MOC, or SO implies the negation of OA.

(5) SO |- -MOC
(6) SO |- -OA

Of course, if SO implies the negation of OA, and is consistent, then it can't imply OA. And throwing in D won't help things, either.

(7) SO+D |/- OA

So, to sum up, the libertarian wants to claim that self-ownership implies an account of property that includes original acquisition (1). Moller Okin's counterexample shows that at least one of three things must be true: (a) self-ownership is inconsistent (3); (b) self-ownership implies that mothers do not make their children in the right way (5, roughly); or (c) self-ownership does not imply an account of property that includes original acquisition (7). Clearly option a is a disaster for libertarianism. I don't think b is all that promising, either -- at the very least, a libertarian who chooses to take this route would have to work through Moller Okin's discussion of how mothers make their children in exactly the right way just as carefully as she worked her way through Nozick's account of original acquisition. A libertarian cannot, as Narveson does, simply dismiss Moller Okin's counterexample by asserting that `What parents do is initiate a process that eventuates in human organisms, which grow up' and concluding immediately that `We should ... deny that children are `made' by their parents'.

Note that libertarians also cannot simply dismiss Moller Okin's argument as `absurd' -- again, as Narveson does. Anyone who knows a little about formal validity will agree with the analysis I gave in two paragraphs ago. The only option for a libertarian, then, is c.

Denying 1 might seem like a serious blow to libertarians. But is it? What if libertarians don't want OA, but instead want some more sophisticated principle of original acquisition? Recall that OA, the property right, wasn't the original principle. Rather, S, a basic right of self-determination, was. And Nozick is quite clear that, when property conflicts with self-determination, property must yield. Hence he introduces `side constraints', that limit property rights. These can be nicely incorporated into my formalism. For example, suppose we want to replace OA with a qualified version: so long as the made thing y isn't a person, x owns anything she makes in the right way.

(OA') (x)(y) ((Person(x) ^ -Person(y) ^ Makes(x,y) ^ -(Ez)Gives(x,y,z)) -> Owns(x,y))

This can be generalised: if C(x,y) is a predicate formalising a side constraint (or conjunction thereof, etc.), then let

(OA/C) (x)(y) ((Person(x) ^ -C(x,y) ^ Makes(x,y) ^ -(Ez)Gives(x,y,z)) -> Owns(x,y))

We include the side constraint in the antecedent, and so it blocks an inference to ownership in bad cases. Indeed, it does so in Moller Okin's case: MOC and OA' do not imply the negation of SO.

MOC + OA' |/- -SO

Hence Moller Okin's counterexample does not cause problems with this argument.

But there are, I think, at least three problems with this side constraint strategy. First, Nozick (I'm not sure about Narveson) believes that there's nothing wrong with selling oneself into slavery. That is, a side constraint concerning personhood does not show up in the principle governing free exchange. But why should it show up in the principle governing original acquisition, but not in the principle governing free exchange? That seems ad hoc. But, since the idea that there's nothing wrong with selling oneself into slavery is kind of weird, perhaps this isn't a serious objection.

Second, adding qualifications to OA makes it trickier, in general, to derive from SO. We haven't looked at the set of definitions D that libertarians will use to bridge the formal gap, so perhaps SO does indeed imply OA'. But showing this will require more care than I have seen libertarians giving.

Third, and most importantly, adding side constraints seriously compromises the robust property rights that were supposed to be implied by self-ownership. Consider the following side constraint: there should not be a person z such that x's ownership of y interferes with z's self-determination (self-ownership). This seems to be a good way of capturing the non-interference on which libertarians want to base side constraints. We'll call it C*(x,y), and formalise it as

C*(x,y) =df (Ez)(Person(z) ^ (Owns(x,y) -> -Owns(z,z)))

Now we plug this into OA/C.

(OA*) (x)(y) ((Person(x) ^ -(Ez)(Person(z) ^ (Owns(x,y) -> -Owns(z,z))) ^ Makes(x,y) ^ -(Ez)Gives(x,y,z)) -> Owns(x,y))

Note that OA* does just as nice a job of avoiding Moller Okin's counterexample as OA'. It also applies more generally -- it blocks ownership in any case where this would interfere with the self-determination of anyone, not just the purported `owned thing'.

But what does it mean to interfere with someone's self-determination? Suppose Maria has just baked a loaf of bread, using ingredients and an oven that she procured using free exchanges, and Jorge, just outside the door to her bakery, is starving to death. Without Maria's bread, Jorge will surely die in the near future. It seems clear to me that her ownership of the bread -- in particular, her right to refuse to give it to Jorge -- would interfere with Jorge's self-determination, as he certainly cannot determine the course of his life if he is dead. If this seeming is right, then OA* does not imply that Maria owns the bread. (Note that it does not imply that Jorge owns the bread, either, as he did not make it and has not been given it.)

This thought experiment can be generalised. First, let's formalise. If there is a person x such that x owning (or, more generally, using or having) y is necessary for x's self-determination, then no-one but x can own y.

(N) (x)(y)((Person(x) ^ (-Owns(x,y) -> -Owns(x,x))) -> (z)(z=/=x -> -Owns(z,y)))

Now, N is not implied by OA*. However, with the additional assumption that original acquisition and free trade are the only ways anyone can own anything, which libertarians all seem to endorse, N does follow.

Now consider Jamal, who is homeless. It is a bitterly cold night, and without the use of a small house nominally owned by Tasha, Jamal will surely die. It follows from N that Tasha does not own the house -- indeed, no-one except possibly Jamal owns the house. If Jaime nominally owns a course of treatment of a drug, and Lorenzo will surely die without taking it, then Jaime does not own the course of treatment of the drug.

Services are more difficult, because it does not seem like there is a thing that is owned or transferred in the case of, for example, a teacher teaching a student. It is also difficult to generalise to cases in which a suffering person needs any one of a variety of things. For example, Jorge will surely die if he doesn't get some food in the near future, but he would survive for at least a while if he had Maria's bread, or Michael's pizza, or Dana's apples, and so on. But, with the examples above, it is clear that OA* seriously compromises the libertarian's property rights: she does not own anything which is materially necessary to sustain the life of anyone nearby.

Economics is tricky II

Okay, let's talk about externalities. In a nutshell, an externality is something -- good or bad -- that you don't pay for. For good reason, the examples that always seem to get trotted out are instances of pollution. For example, without the EPA around to correct things, a factory that pollutes a river generally doesn't have to pay to clean up the river. Either the state, and hence the taxpayers, do, or no-one does, and the people living downstream `pay' for the pollution by getting cancer and dying.

The contemporary environmentalist's favourite examples of externalities are `cheap' fossil fuels and `cheap' beef. Both are `cheap' because the cost -- as in, dollars the oil baron/cattle baron pays -- to procure these goods (in the economist's sense, not the ethicist's sense) is much lower than the selling price -- what people will pay to consume them. But, in the quantities which we consume and produce, respectively, both fossil fuels and beef release horrendous quantities of greenhouse gases. Fossil fuels release carbon dioxide, as per Part I, and cows release methane as waste (as well as consuming even more fossil fuels, using up lots and lots of water, and so on).

And yet, because these costs are externalized, it is rational (again, in the economist's sense of maximising one's self-interest) for people who can produce fossil fuels and beef to do so. Which is where carbon taxes and cap-and-trade schemes come in. Since carbon taxes are simpler (cap-and-trade schemes amount to a market on carbon tax thresholds, and that means the analysis is an order of magnitude more complicated), I'll focus on those. From an economic point of view, the idea is quite elegant: if emitters of carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gas compounds, eg, methane) are required to pay at least a significant fraction of the externalized costs, they will generally shift production to processes and products that emit that much less carbon dioxide. It's no longer rational for (former) carbon-emitters to emit carbon.

I'd also like to argue that carbon taxes can be justified on libertarian grounds. This seems entirely straightforward to me: for every metric ton of carbon dioxide you release, you do US$12 of harm to everyone else. (IPCC report, summary for policymakers, 24) Rather than collecting these damages individually and retroactive to the damage suffered, it makes far more sense (in terms of avoiding the legal costs of everybody suing everybody else) for the state to collect them proactively, and hence use them as a deterrent.

February 24, 2008

Finally some sense! Or not

Clearly fashion designers are insane sexists:

As usual with this designer, there were things to admire: a lean clerical silhouette, the severity of a nearly monochrome palette, the way color and its absence were used to mark out the torso in floating zones. But when designers stop conceding to biological function, they move away from the realm of fashion and into that of social engineering.

The feminist imagination boggles at the monstrosity that made a fashion `journalist' for the Times sound like one Twisty Faster. What could be even more egregious than designing shoes that can only be worn by women with eight toes?

Your answer is below the fold.

Men's pants without a fly. I shit you not. Guy Trebay throws a fit because of a pair of pants that subject men to that most horrible of disgraces: having to use the bathroom like a girl.

It is one thing to nudge men toward exploring their girly sides and quite another to suggest they sit to urinate.

Other `humiliating' features of the line, designed by Miucca Prada, include `tutu belts' and `severe high-collar shirts that buttoned up the back'. Evidently, Trebay either (a) believes that all women -- unlike men -- are contortionists, or (b) is such a horrible fashion `journalist' that he doesn't know how to put on an evening dress.

Which leads me to the questions I often pose my female friends when I hear about this sort of spectacular douchebaggery from the fashion industry: Why the hell do you listen to these people? They are clearly misogynists and hate you. When is it ever rational to treat someone who hates you and wants you to suffer as a good source of advice?

Why I'm going to be a philosopher of science

This semester, I entered the orals stage of my Ph.D. programme. Sometime in the next 7-14 months, I will spend 90 minutes locked in a room with five faculty members, who will happily interrogate my understanding of a list of classical and recent works of philosophy. Should I pass, I move on, more or less immediately, to the final (and interminable) thesis-writing stage. Should I fail, I can try again before the end of my fourth year (next May); if I fail at that point, or don't manage to get a second try scheduled before the end of the year, I get kicked out of school.

Despite the immense pressure, what's nice is that I get to choose what's on the list. At least, to an extent. I pick the general area, and about 2/3 of the list is standard for that general area; I get to decide what goes on the remaining 1/3. So, roughly speaking, everything on the list are things I'm interested in. I don't have to read any metaphysics or Plato or Scotus if I don't want to.

But I've had some problems picking the general area. I enjoy both philosophy of math and philosophy of science immensely, and while I don't think that they should be seen as two distinct areas of philosophy, trying to fit them both into a single orals list has proven impossible. On Thursday I met with one of my professors to get some help with figuring out the list. She gave me an ultimatum: Within two weeks, I have to decide whether I will be a philosopher of science who knows a bit about philosophy of math, or a philosopher of math who knows a bit about philosophy of science. She recommended I think about potential thesis projects and look through the major philosophy of math and philosophy of science journals to decide.

While I had some thesis projects in mind, they were hopelessly vague, and this is part of the problem I was having putting together a list. (One thing that's especially great about this particular professor: she never, ever lets me get away with any sort of hand-waving.) So I went and looked through journals and spent an hour writing down rough versions of thesis projects. Most of the projects I came up with were either impossibly difficult or, upon closer inspection, would be incredibly boring to actually work on in detail. The philosophy of math projects that looked both feasible and interesting came in two distinct flavours:

  1. The relationship between mathematics and society, especially the relationship between ethico-political values and `good mathematics'.
  2. The epistemological significance of certain features of the community of mathematicians, such as the underrepresentation of women and racial and ethnic minorities.

Philosophers of science are interested in these two things. But -- critically, and counterintuitively -- philosophers of math generally aren't. Philosophers of math, almost uniformly in this country, work on formal logic, the metaphysics of math (do numbers exist?), and foundations. Furthermore, what I discovered in the journals was that, to the extent that someone works on such things, they're published in philosophy of science and history of mathematics journals, and not published in philosophy of math journals. So, to work on one of these projects, I would have to read a lot of philosophy of science literature, and most of the philosophy of math literature would be completely irrelevant.

So I've made my decision. Strictly speaking, I will be a philosopher of science. Like most philosophers of science, I'll have a certain amount of expertise and affection for one science in particular -- mathematics -- and this will be reflected in what I write and teach. But I won't, strictly speaking, be a philosopher of math. My interests and research projects simply aren't the sort of things philosophers of math work on, at least in the English-speaking part of the world.

February 22, 2008

A horrifying realisation

For those of you who don't know this, I was born in 1980. The earliest distinct memory I have of a major political event was the August Coup that destroyed the Soviet Union. So I became aware of the world outside my school and my house during the first Bush presidency and the first Gulf War, the democratisation (more or much, much less) of the former Warsaw Pact countries, and the end of apartheid in South Africa. It was a time in which the dynamic and rhetoric of the Cold War was replaced by the dynamic and rhetoric of decolonialisation, democratisation, and universal human rights.

So let's say 11 years old is the typical age at which children start to become aware of events happening on the world stage. (If anything, I think I was precocious in this respect. If 12, 13, or older is more accurate, this doesn't cause a problem for my argument.) My students (and my step-sister) were born in 1989-90. This means they were starting to become aware of events happening on the world after 2001 -- a time in which (and sense which) the dynamic and rhetoric was dominated by paranoid, defensive imperialism and the unitary executive.

I'm not sure why I find this so disturbing. There's certainly no direct causal link between the political climate in which one's identity as a citizen is formed and, say, one's political values. Perhaps my worry is this: If these ideas, in some sense, make up the basic conceptual framework with which they analyse politics, then how well can they understand the dangers of totalitarianism?

Economics is tricky I

Some bad news about ethanol:

Researchers led by Timothy Searchinger at Princeton University said their study showed greenhouse-gas emissions will rise with ethanol demand. U.S. farmers will use more land for fuel, forcing poorer countries to cut down rainforests and use other undeveloped land for farms, the study said.

Searchinger's team determined that corn-based ethanol almost doubles greenhouse-gas output over 30 years when considering land-use changes. Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association in Washington, said the study used a flawed model and overestimated how much land will be needed.

The intuitive case for ethanol is based on the fact that the carbon you release in burning it was trapped in the corn just a few months ago.

Let's back up. The oxygen combustion of carbon fuels, no matter how efficient (ie, no matter how little particulate pollution is produced) produces carbon dioxide. Yearly averages of carbon dioxide levels are rising because we burn lots of fossil fuels -- essentially, highly compressed prehistoric swamps. This is carbon that was in the atmosphere millions of years ago, but has been out of the atmosphere since the beginning of human civilization. Hence we say that fossil fuels result in a net emission of carbon dioxide.

The intuitive case for ethanol is based on the fact that, rather releasing carbon that was trapped by plants while our shrewlike ancestors were trying to steal eggs from dinosaur nests, burning ethanol releases carbon that was trapped by corn a few months ago. So, over the scale of a couple years, ethanol results in zero net emissions of carbon dioxide.

However, you can't just magically find some unused tract of land and grow lots and lots of corn for use in producing ethanol. At least, the land that's not currently being used is in environments that are too hostile for corn to grow -- the middle of the Sahara, the tundra, etc. You have to take land that's currently in use -- namely, for growing corn or other crops for food -- and change its use -- to growing corn for ethanol.

This results in an increase in food prices -- nothing's changing the demand for food (if anything, it grows as the global population increases), and the supply's just dropped a few percentage points. And, because of globalisation, an increase in food prices in the US increases food prices in places like rural Brazil.

The people of rural Brazil are, generally speaking, already quite poor. So if food prices go up, there's now a (larger) gap between how much food they can afford to buy (it's not like they've gotten any less poor) and how much food they need to survive. It's a lot easier for them to clear-cut another X number of acres of rainforest and grow enough food to fill that gap than it is for them to scrounge together enough additional money to maintain their level of food consumption. But the X number of acres of rainforest would have absorbed a certain amount of carbon from the atmosphere. This counted against the net emission of carbon from burning all the fossil fuels (and, I might add, raising all the methane-producing cattle we do). Effectively, a mandate to switch a certain amount of US land from food production to ethanol production does actually increase net emissions of carbon.

The question is how big of an increase, and how that compares to the decrease in net emissions from burning ethanol instead of petroleum. And the answer, it appears, is enough to double the emission rate in 30 years.

Part II, on externalities, when I feel like writing it. Link from Paul Krugman.

February 20, 2008

Pope Benedict: Divine command theorist

From Charles Rice's latest nebulous attack on secular liberalism:

Benedict describes as "presumptuous and false," the idea that "[s]ince there is no God to create justice ... man himself is now called to establish justice." "It is no accident," he said, "that this idea has led to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice .... A world which has to create its own justice is a world without hope." No. 42. Justice will be whatever man decrees. Thus Kelsen [some legal positivst] said that Auschwitz and other Nazi exterminations were "valid law." In accord with his "philosophical relativism," he could not reasonably criticize them as unjust.

(Ellipses and brackets in Rice.)

That's right: Plato's Euthyphro caused Auschwitz. The fact that it took a couple millennia just shows that the Catholic Church is the only thing standing between a humanist ethics and genocide.

Frankly, I don't get it. Ratzinger was an academic theologian for 26 years. Presumably at some point during that time he encountered at least a few ethicists and moral philosophers who (a) are not divine command theorists and (b) also not anything-goes moral relativists. Now maybe he doesn't think that their positions are consistent or whatever. That's fine. But he should at least recognise the need for an argument that (a) implies (b). You can't have a reductio ad absurdum without the reductio.

Bonus egregious academic dereliction: Charles Rice, emeritus professor of law, displaying his complete lack of understanding of the difference between logical positivist ethics (which is an anything-goes moral relativism) and legal positivism (which, as I understand things, just distinguishes legality from justice).

February 17, 2008

The Future Of Video Games

N'Gai Croal has an interesting piece up about the cultural acceptance of video games as an art form. He discusses a blogged wager between two video game designers where one asserts that video games will forever be dismissed as a juvenile media, like comic books. The other designer is a bit more optimistic about the chances of video games. Link 1 and Link 2.

February 16, 2008

Indy 4 Trailer

Ok, I've said for years now that I wouldn't believe a fourth Indiana Jones movie was happening until I saw it with my own eyes. Well, I'm going to count the newly released trailer as proof enough. I've heard rumors that this movie might be a jumping off point for a revitalized franchise with Shia LeBouf (or however that's spelled) as the new, young Indy. Personally, I'm always interested in some new Jones adventuring, but I wonder whether the new films would have some of the traits that made Harrison Ford's character so appealing. 1) First and foremost Indy is an academic. He may not worry about getting his hands a little dirty/bloody, but he's really a nerd at heart. Would a 20 something Jones just be an action seeking thief or would he be doing it all for the museum like our good Doctor Jones? 2) Indy was always so world weary. Everything that happened seemed to frustrate, annoy, or tire him. Ford really managed to capture the "Oh what now" face and I loved that about the character. Link.

Future Rock Band DLC?

Some intrepid young haX0r took a look-see into a recent Rock Band downloadable content file and found a list of previously unconfirmed songs for the game. The Harmonix response?
"This list of Rock Band DLC that was discovered within the files of a recent DLC pack is unconfirmed and subject to change. Please stay tuned for confirmation of Rock Band DLC closer to their release."
Doesn't sound like a denial to me. There are definitely some songs to get excited about in there, but I'm still waiting for my prog pack. Link.

February 11, 2008

Vaginas: Kryptonite for bishops

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has been run off-campus by the spectre of The vagina monologues:

A two-day seminar for bishops hosted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the University will start today at a convent in Mishawaka, instead of Notre Dame, because organizers wanted to avoid connections to the likely presentation of 'The Vagina Monologues' in March.

Now, the play isn't being performed for five or six weeks. Apparently, John D'Arcy believes that the public discussion of vaginas is so soul-corrupting that its vile power can actually work backwards in time and on people who will not in any way participate in that discussion.

Beware the evil time-travelling vaginas!

February 10, 2008

Two Things

1. In all the hype about McCain basically securing the Republican nomination people are all kinds of worked up about how scary he's going to be in the general. Being prepared for a good fight is never a bad idea, but let's also try not to forget just how much some sectors of the party hate him. His VP candidate is going to have a huge effect on the trajectory of his campaign, and I haven't heard any names mentioned that really make the ticket unstoppable, or even widely appealing.

2. Ezra has been teasing folk about his secret kung pao recipe for months now, but it's finally released. I might or might not sub in some chicken for the tofu (depends on if I'm cooking for the lady friend), but it certainly sounds like a good meal. I'll probably need to head into Chinatown in Philly for ingredients though...

February 07, 2008

Not just about `choice' or `life'

At the last vegan potluck we had, a month or so ago, my friend Sarah said something about how she didn't like basing abortion rights just on the notion of choice, nor the idea that opposition to abortion is based on the notion of life.

Reproductive Health's Reality Check's factsheet on immigration and reproductive justice gives an excellent summary of reproductive justice, which I think might be a far superior feminist framework for analysing these issues:

Reproductive justice involves more than the right to end a pregnancy. Safeguarding an individual's right to determine her or his own reproductive future is an integral part of an overall agenda to promote social justice. That vision includes the ability of all people, whether American-born or immigrant, to:

1. Become a parent and parent with dignity.
2. Determine whether or when to have children.
3. Have a healthy pregnancy.
4. Have healthy and safe families and relationships.

Note first that this notion incorporates both choice -- in point 2 -- and life -- in 1 and 3 -- subsuming them under the more general notion of justice. Second, in addition, this notion straddles the liberal (that is, individualist)/communitarian divide. There is a recognition of both the irreducible value of the individual's life on her or his own terms and the necessity of living that life as a part of a flourishing community.

February 05, 2008

For Sure

Yes, it's Super Tuesday (I refuse to call it Tsunami Tuesday both because I find it to be dumb and just a bit offensive), and everyone should be out there voting today. Still, when you find a minute or two to yourself, I have a link for anyone that has trouble understanding rap lyrics but loves graphs. Link.

Thanks Andy.