Friday, 19 January 2007


Here is William Kristol’s column about Hillary Clinton. Do you think Hillary will make a good commander in chief?

Where’s Andrew?

I wonder why Andrew Sullivan wasn’t invited to the conservative summit sponsored by The National Review. Could it be that he’s not a conservative?

John Passmore (1914-2004) on Philosophy

The Greek word sophia is ordinarily translated into English as “wisdom,” and the compound philosophia, from which “philosophy” derives, is translated as “the love of wisdom.” But sophia had a much wider range of application than the modern English “wisdom.” Wherever intelligence can be exercised—in practical affairs, in the mechanical arts, in business—there is room for sophia; Homer used it to refer to the skill of a carpenter (Iliad XV, 412). Furthermore, whereas modern English draws a fairly sharp distinction between the search for wisdom and the attempt to satisfy intellectual curiosity, Herodotus used the verb philosophein in a context in which it means nothing more than the desire to find out (History I, 30). Briefly, then, philosophia etymologically connotes the love of exercising one’s curiosity and intelligence rather than the love of wisdom. Although philosophers have often sought to confine the word “philosophy” within narrower boundaries, in popular usage it has never entirely lost its original breadth of meaning.

According to a tradition deriving from Heraclides Ponticus (a disciple of Plato), Pythagoras was the first to describe himself as a philosopher. Three classes of people, he is alleged to have said, attend the festal games: those who seek fame by taking part in them; those who seek gain by playing their trade; and those (“the best people”) who are content to be spectators (Diogenes Laërtius, De Vita et Moribus Philosophorum I, 12). Philosophers resemble the third class: spurning both fame and profit, they seek to arrive at the truth by contemplation. Pythagoras distinguished the sophia sought by the philosopher (knowledge based on contemplation) from the practical shrewdness of the businessman and the trained skills of the athlete. Whether or not these distinctions date back to the historic Pythagoras, they can certainly be found in Plato, who was much preoccupied with the question of what philosophy is and how it differs from other forms of inquiry. Some of Plato’s contemporaries had thought of his master, Socrates, as a sage, some thought of him as a Sophist, and some thought of him as a cosmologist. In Plato’s eyes, Socrates was none of these; he was a philosopher.

(John Passmore, “Philosophy,” in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Paul Edwards [New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1967], 6:216-26, at 216)

Twenty Years Ago

1-19-87 This is a national holiday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr [1929-1968]. As a result, the postal service was closed. This made it feel like a dead day for me, which tells me how much I depend on mail. I still don’t know if [sic; should be “whether”] Bill Giles got my manuscript on the exclusionary rule. If not, he’ll get it tomorrow. In Arizona, Governor [Evan] Mecham rescinded the holiday in honor of King, but that didn’t deter some of the professors and teaching assistants from cancelling [sic; should be “canceling”] classes. Ann Levey cancelled [sic] her classes and so did Holly Smith. I held mine, however. We discussed the cluster of issues involved in the dispute over King’s holiday. To my surprise, several students agreed with me that we should not honor King. But the reasons vary quite widely. To me, King was not a good person because he preached nonviolence as a general social strategy. In doing so, he insured [sic; should be “ensured”] that the great entrenched evils of our day (our treatment of animals, women, and blacks, for example) would remain. King, in short, created a population of sheep when what we need are wolves.

I’m also opposed to King’s religion, but that didn’t come up in class. On the other side of the ledger, the students noted that King had done much to advance the cause of civil rights and change white attitudes toward blacks. Some students thought that while King was a good person, he was not of the stature of, say, George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. But this view is consistent with a full holiday for each of them. It’s an argument from equality. On the whole, the discussion was well-organized and interesting. We’ve moved the class down the hall to the seminar room, which permits me to sit at the table with the students instead of stand before them at a podium [sic; should be “lectern”]. I can tell already that the class will be a challenge. In fact, I have a hard time getting a word in edgewise when the students get talking. I’ll have to inject a dose of relevance during the course. One of the main philosophical abilities is distinguishing the relevant from the irrelevant on any given issue. I intend to emphasize (and teach) that ability.

After teaching, I waited around for Holly Smith’s seminar at 3:30 P.M. My intention was to read, but I kept getting sidetracked (willingly) by friends and former students. I had breakfast with Chuck Denk, discussed legal and moral theory with Bob Schopp, and spent at least three hours arguing about everything under the sun with Nick Simoglou and Ian Patterson in the Student Union Building. Both are highly intelligent and articulate, so I learned a lot. I ran my conception of philosophy by them, discussed Martin Luther King, Jr, and broached a new subject: marketing. Ian is taking a course on marketing. I asked whether he will be studying ethical issues in advertising. He said “No.” This led to a discussion of certain marketing practices, such as selling products to kids on Saturday morning television. Kids don’t have money, so the idea is to create a need or want in the kid and then have the kid pressure the parents for the product. This practice seems to me to raise serious ethical problems, not least of which is turning kids into consumers at an early age. I loved the discussion.

Holly, as I say, did not conduct her seminar this afternoon. We met briefly to discuss the syllabus, then parted. It looks like Holly will be covering the same ground that she covered in the fall of 1983, when I was a new student. (Gosh. That’s three and a half years ago. It seems like yesterday.) She’s working on a book on moral theory—specifically, excuses, justifications, and other exculpating conditions. Much as I’d like to sit in, I’ll probably go with Ron Milo’s seminar on Wednesday afternoon (in addition to Joel [Feinberg]’s on Tuesday night). I’ve never taken a course or seminar from Ron and I know little about value theory. Earlier today, Holly approved my major [preliminary-exam] reading list with no changes. Great! Now everything is set. On to the books!


A few minutes ago, as I sat working/playing at the computer, I noticed that it was warmer than usual in my house. When I checked the thermostat, I saw that it was 10º warmer than it should have been. The heater was on, blowing warm air, but flipping the thermostat off had no effect. I had to break the circuit (in the garage) to get the heater to turn off. Does anybody know what’s going on? Is my thermostat bad?


There is a lot of good stuff in today’s Wall Street Journal—all of it free. Here is a column about conservatism on college campuses.


See here.


Here is Peggy Noonan’s latest column. Here is Peg Kaplan’s latest post.

Best of the Web Today



I keep hearing about (and seeing advertisements for) a television program called “24.” What’s it about? Is it any good? If so, in what way? Would I like it? Give me a reason to watch it.

What Progressivism Hath Wrought

You can kill your unborn child if you please, but you can’t expose your child to secondhand smoke. See here.

The Hottest Meme in the Land

A meme is a culturally transmissible bit of information. Some memes are successful; others aren’t. One of the hottest memes in the United States these days is that George W. Bush is the worst president. I chuckle whenever I hear it, because it’s far too early to be making such all-things-considered judgments. But what explains the meme’s popularity? I think it’s that progressives haven’t been able to defeat George W. Bush at the polls. This infuriates them. Twice now, they have had their asses kicked by Chimpy W. Hitler, a man of no particular intellectual or moral merit. They have to have some way to get back at him, so they (1) call him names (sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me) and (2) disparage his presidency. Worst president ever! Worst president ever! Worst president ever! Yes, it’s childish, but progressives are immature. Read any Paul Krugman lately? If we’re going to evaluate presidents, let’s be intellectually honest about it. Let’s state and defend our criteria; let’s apply those criteria consistently and accurately to all the presidents; and let’s render our verdict. Here is one person’s verdict about the worst ex-president. (Thanks to Bob Hessen for the link.)

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Equal Cheers for Boys and Girls Draw Some Boos” (front page, Jan. 14):

Some years ago when my daughter was a gymnast, she expressed interest in becoming a cheerleader. I told her I would not approve of her cheerleading until boy cheerleaders were cheering for the girls’ teams.

That may seem like a ridiculous idea, but so did the idea of a female surgeon or a female judge; or a female investment banker—which is what my daughter is now.

Times change, but we have to help them change in the right direction. A young, pretty girl in a short skirt prancing around to encourage the athletic performance of others (male or female) belongs to the same era as the housewife in pearls welcoming her husband to their sparkling clean house with pipe, slippers and a home-cooked meal.

Cheerleaders should be treated like other athletes, appearing only in meets where they are the competitors.

Nancy Lowenthal
Hicksville, N.Y., Jan. 15, 2007

Note from KBJ: The happiness of young people is being sacrificed at the altar of feminism. Feminists will say that it’s a false or low-quality happiness, one that is rooted in sexism. Maybe so, but it’s happiness nonetheless. Good work, feminists. By the way, what is wrong with a woman devoting herself to her husband and children? Isn’t feminism about giving women choices, and isn’t being a “housewife” a choice many women make (or would make, if they could)? Sometimes it sounds as though feminism is about denying women choices, or at least making them feel guilty about certain choices they make.

Dissecting Leftism

Dr John J. Ray, my polymathic friend Down Under, has his usual batch of interesting posts. The comic strip about Al Sharpton is hilarious. I’m hardly the first to notice this, but Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are no different from anyone else in this society. Their aim is to accumulate wealth and power. What they’re selling, however, is not a good or a service, but relief from white guilt. Guilt is an uncomfortable emotion, and it can be cultivated. There are many, many whites out there who feel guilty for being white, and who are willing to pay these men to alleviate or assuage their guilt. You have to admire Jackson, Sharpton, et al.: They’re astute enough to notice a need (and also to create it) and are busily filling it. Is this a great country, or what?

Hillary’s National Security Advisor?

Will Nehs sent a link to this essay about Sandy Berger, who should be strung up—for stealing documents from the National Archives. Is Berger in line to be Hillary Clinton’s National Security Advisor?

Addendum: Bryan Garner writes: “adviser is the standard spelling. Advisor is a variant form. Note, however, that the adjectival form is advisory.”  Bryan A. Garner, Garner’s Modern American Usage (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 25. Until recently, I spelled the word “advisor,” but now I follow Garner. The position currently held by Stephen Hadley is known as National Security Advisor, with an “o.” Confused? You won’t be after tonight’s episode of Soap.