Thursday, September 17, 2009


"Like many much-conquered countries, not least Italy, Iran loves artifice, the dressing-up of truth in elaborate layers. It will always favor ambiguity over clarity."

What does that even mean?!


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Thursday Deutsch Blogging

Ergreifen Realität mit beiden Händen.

Das ist alles.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Wilson and King

It is the sign of a diseased political culture when people like Peter King, Joe Wilson, and all their wild-eyed brethren are given a public platform. I keep waiting for the American people to realize how reckless and dangerous the Republican's and their allies in the news media are. It really looks like there is nothing you can say, no lie you can pass along, no calumny you can spit, that will get you banned from official discourse. Democracy and freedom of expression cannot work unless those who lie, who demagogue, who deceive, are punished for their deceit. Liars and rabble-rousers are rewarded for their efforts, because people enjoy the drama, and drama drives the ratings and fills the coffers of the corporate entities that run our media outlets.

Protecting freedom of speech means not just guarding against censorship; it also means responding vigorously to those who would seek to undermine freedom of speech by divorcing it from intellectual honesty and good reasoning.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

For the love of God

Stop quoting William Butler Yeats's "Second Coming."

Social Insurance


(h/t Mark Thoma)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Read Read Read Read

And then read some more. I'm going to have to change the name of the blog if all my posts keep coming from DeLong, like this one.

Striking Clarity


(h/t Brad DeLong)

Read Newspapers to Learn Clarity of Exposition?

This person has obviously not had much experience with the state of our newspapers.

Making Something One's Own

In philosophy, there is a curious problem that occurs when one encounters an argument whose conclusion one does not like, but one nonetheless cannot seem to defeat. One is presented with a dilemma: Do I accept the results of this argument, or do I reject them? The curious problem that results is that people often refuse to accept the argument, even with no apparently good reason to do so. Let me explain this scenario a little further, for those who are not familiar with the way argument works in philosophy (it actually works this way in all disciplines, but it is not often as explicitly laid out as it almost always is in an academic philosophy setting). Philosophers are very proud of their mastery of logic, the discipline that investigates valid argument and reasoning, and are likely to appeal to two facts about logic when presenting or critiquing an argument: (1) There are two ways you can defeat an argument: a) you can question the validity of the form of the argument, or b) you can question the truth of one or more of the premises; (2) If you cannot do either of the things mentioned in (1), then you must accept the conclusion of the argument (I am tempted to use "ought," instead of "must," to demonstrate the normative aspect of the rationality criterion. However, I imagine for most readers the difference will be elided, so I won't bother. But keep in mind that the sense in which one "must" accept the conclusion of an argument is more of a moral duty than an example of strict causal necessity. This will be important later.). Let's call (1) Logic 101 and (2) the Criterion of Rationality.

Logic 101 is basically accepted by everyone. If you can show that an argument doesn't have a valid argument form (i.e. Modus Ponens, Modus Tollens, among other classics), then you don't have to take the argument seriously. Additionally, if you can reasonably object to the truth of one or more of the premises, you have additional reason to reject the argument. There does not seem to be much room to argue with the principles of Logic 101.

(2), the Criterion of Rationality, is additionally almost universally accepted. However, I think it is far more questionable. I should perhaps attenuate my statement that it is universally accepted. In Anglo-American Analytic philosophy, there is almost no controversy as to the truth of the Criterion of Rationality (Those in other disciplines and/or styles of philosophy might not be so willing to embrace this idea.). Let's think, first of all, about what a logically valid argument entails. For a argument to be logically valid, it must be the case that if the premises are true, it is not possible for the conclusion to be false. The truth of the premises guarantees the truth of the conclusion. Notice that nothing in here says anything about accepting the results of such an argument. Most philosophers take the implication of this fact about logically valid arguments to say that one must accept the results of a sound argument (a sound argument is an argument that has a valid argument form, and all true premises). But does this follow?

It certainly seems crazy to deny it, or at least irrational. Indeed, this is often how philosophers explain what is going on when someone is presented with an indefeasibly sound argument, yet they refuse to accept the consequences of said argument. The person in this situation is behaving irrationally.

But are they? While I don't have a fully developed response to this claim, it seems to me that there is a sense in which one must own an argument before it can reach that level of acceptance. One cannot be compelled purely by the formal majesty of logic, and it seems incorrect to accuse those not so compelled of "irrationality." There is something deeply rational, in its positive normative sense, in delaying judgment, even in the face of such apparently inescapable evidence. The type of acceptance the philosopher thinks logical argument imposes is supposed to be relatively simple, the acceptance of a proposition. Before you heard this argument, you believed that p; now you believe that not-p. Or maybe you had a void which p now fills. Sounds straightforward enough, right? This is a ludicrous symbolization of how beliefs work, however. Our beliefs are not atomistic in this sense, unattached to other beliefs (this is controversial in philosophy, but let's just go with it for now). To borrow a phrase from Quine, they exist in an interlocking web with all our other beliefs (I have some qualms about belief talk, but it's really not worth making this any more complicated than it already is, so let's just press onward.). A change in belief is a traumatic episode, especially if one's belief is central in one's web of beliefs. Is it really "rational" to rip apart one's web of beliefs in the face of such uncompelling evidence as a sound argument? Doesn't the conclusion have to seize one in a manner more meaningful that the inexorability of logical necessity? Philosophers need to think about this problem far more seriously than they have to date, and not just accuse those who fall prey to it of irrationality. It is far more pervasive and important as a phenomenon, I think, than has been heretofore acknowledged.

I will stop at this point, having taken this as far as I can at the moment. For those who care, I was inspired by an essay by James Conant in this collection entitled "Nietzsche's Perfectionism: A Reading of Schopenhauer as Educator." While not explicitly about this problem, I think Nietzsche's idea of "becoming what one is" as a centrally moral concept, a becoming that occurs only with extreme difficulty, and after much denial of what one is, is a useful place to begin illuminating the question of why it is that "logic" is not enough for rationality. Or maybe rationality isn't enough for being human?

UPDATE: I just wanted to include a quotation from Heinrich von Kleist, who Nietzsche approvingly cites in Schopenhauer as Educator: "Not long ago I became acquainted with the Kantian philosophy...I have no reason to fear it will shatter you so profoundly and painfully as it has me...If the point of this thought does not penetrate your heart, do not smile at one who feels wounded by it in the deepest and most sacred part of his being."

Koan II

"The education of a scholar is an extremely difficult problem, if his humanity is not to be sacrificed in the process."

--Friedrich Nietzsche, Schopenhauer as Educator

Saturday, September 5, 2009


"One can only become a philosopher, not be one. As soon as one thinks one is a philosopher, one stops becoming one."

--Friedrich Schlegel, Athenaeum Fragments

Friday, September 4, 2009

I have an idea

How about pointing out how insane these people are? How about not just uncritically repeating every crazy thing they say? Urging kids to stay in school and study hard? Since when is working hard socialism? The danger in this speech is clearly the possible formation of an Obamajugend, trained to spy on their parents and share their crayons with other kids. Oh, the horror!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

This is why I study philosophy

"These definitions coincide with the terms which, since Greek antiquity, have been used to define the forms of government as the rule of man over man—of one or the few in monarchy and oligarchy, of the best or the many in aristocracy and democracy, to which today we ought to add the latest and perhaps most formidable form of such dominion, bureaucracy, or the rule by an intricate system of bureaux in which no men, neither one nor the best, neither the few nor the many, can be held responsible, and which could be properly called the rule by Nobody. Indeed, if we identify tyranny as the government that is not held to give account of itself, rule by Nobody is clearly the most tyrannical of all, since there is no one left who could even be asked to answer for what is being done. It is this state of affairs which is among the most potent causes for the current world-wide rebellious unrest."

(h/t Glenn Greenwald)