Sunday, 21 January 2007


If, when you hear the term “animal rights” or “animal liberation,” you think of progressivism, you need to read this.

Twenty Years Ago

1-21-87 My students and I discussed conceptual analysis this morning. I drew a cube on the board and called it “logical space.” Conceptual analysis, I said, consists in locating concepts in logical space. Belief, for instance, differs from knowledge, but they are closely related. Since they are not the same concept, they occupy different points in logical space. The philosopher’s task is to “map” logical space, just as the geographer’s task is to map physical space. A geographer (better yet, a geometer) defines a point in physical space by reference to other points. The philosopher does precisely the same thing. One understands negligence, for example, by understanding how it is related to other concepts, such as recklessness, inadvertence, and intentionality. I loved today’s lecture. I could talk all day about philosophy, conceptual analysis, and reasoning. The question is, were the students interested? Based on the number and quality of responses, they were. [I was drawing upon Alan R. White’s 1975 essay “Conceptual Analysis.”]

I spent the hours between 8:50 A.M. and 3:30 P.M. on campus, reading articles by Herbert Morris (“Persons and Punishment”) and Todd C. Moody (“Progress in Philosophy”). [Herbert Morris, “Persons and Punishment,” The Monist 52 (October 1968): 475-501; Todd C. Moody, “Progress in Philosophy,” American Philosophical Quarterly 23 (January 1986): 35-46.] I also registered for the spring semester ($120 out of my pocket), copied and mailed letters to Glenn and Mom, ate breakfast and later some doughnuts, went to the library to look for a book, and talked to friends. Ron Milo’s seminar met at 3:30. I’ve never taken one of his courses before, so I didn’t know what to expect. Frankly, I’m disappointed. His lecture was disjointed and some of the distinctions that he made seemed to me to be confusing rather than illuminating. The course will not be on value theory, as I expected, but rather moral justification. That’s fine with me, because I’ve long been interested in this subject. As of now, I plan to attend Ron’s seminar rather than Holly [Smith]’s. I hope Ron’s lectures get better in the next few weeks. He’s a bright man and a good writer, but perhaps not an inspiring lecturer.

One distinction that we made today was between epistemic and practical versions of moral justification. In one sense, to justify a moral judgment is to give reasons for believing it to be true (for example, the judgment that lying is wrong). This is a special case of epistemic justification. In another sense, to justify a moral judgment is to give reasons for acting in a certain way (for example, refraining from lying). This involves practical reasoning and perhaps, as Ron pointed out, a theory of rational choice. I’m most interested in the epistemic version of moral justification at this point, although I acknowledge the importance of the practical version. The first seems to be distinctively philosophical, while the second seems to be practical or theoretical. I guess I’m more interested in knowing what justifies a moral belief than in getting people to act upon it. Ultimately, though, I hope to merge knowledge and action. If the seminar clarifies some of the confusion that I presently have on these subjects, it will have been well worth my time and effort.

First Things

I subscribe to a dozen periodicals. It costs me an arm and a leg, but hey, I love reading. There’s only one periodical that I read from front to back, every month: First Things. Every letter to the editor, every opinion piece, every article, and every book review is riveting. I never fail to learn something. The final section of each issue, entitled “The Public Square,” is written by the editor in chief, Richard John Neuhaus. It’s a roundup of current events. First Things has a newly designed website. Please read the item on Roe v. Wade by Father Neuhaus. I think you’ll agree that he’s a wonderful, witty writer.

Addendum: I agree with Father Neuhaus that abortion is the central issue of our time. Given that the Democrat Party is beholden to abortionists, it is important that the Republican Party field a presidential candidate who believes that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and ought to be overruled at the earliest opportunity. Rudy Giuliani, who is pro-choice, would have an easier time becoming the Democrat candidate for president than the Republican candidate. That he doesn’t grasp this—that he thinks he can be a pro-choice Republican—is itself a disqualifying consideration.


Why am I not surprised by this? (Thanks to Mylan Engel for the link.)


Peyton Manning is the Alex Rodriguez of football. Each puts up gaudy regular-season numbers. Each is a postseason bust.

Preliminary-Exam Reading List

One of the readers of this blog asked for a copy of my preliminary-exam reading list. Here it is. The preliminary examination at the University of Arizona was the final step—i.e., the last “preliminary”—before being allowed to write a dissertation. The dissertation itself had to be defended, not merely accepted. I defended mine on 1 August 1989, just days before teaching my first course at the University of Texas at Arlington. Some departments call the preliminary exam the “comprehensive exam.” The preliminary exam at Arizona had two components: written and oral. To pass, I had to master all the readings on the list, for questions could be drawn from any of them. By the way, notice the change in technology. I wrote my graduate-school term papers and everything else (journals, letters, student handouts, exams) on a Kaypro II computer. I printed them on a C.Itoh dot-matrix printer. Remember those? I loved my Kaypro. I remember wondering how I got through law school with just a typewriter. Now I wonder how I got through graduate school with a slow, clunky (but ever so reliable) Kaypro. Things sure have changed—for the better!—in 20 years. I wonder how things will be 20 years from today. Any guesses?

Addendum: Just minutes after posting this item, I received an e-mail notification that someone had commented on it. But it’s not a person who commented; it’s a website. See here. This isn’t the first time it’s happened. Whenever I mention the University of Arizona in this blog, I get a notification. What’s going on? Is it innocent, or is someone making money at my expense?

Social Networking

I understand blogs, but I don’t understand “social networking” sites like MySpace. Somebody explain them to me.


Senator Hillary Clinton begins her announcement of a presidential candidacy as follows: “I’m in. And I’m in to win.” Why the second sentence? Could she be in without intending to win?

Addendum: Here is a New York Times story about Clinton’s candidacy. I expect her to get kid-glove treatment from the Times, which has long since ceased to be a distinterested purveyor of news. In fact, I expect the Times to be her cheerleader-in-chief during the campaign. Mark my words.

Keith Walker on Academia

When I first went to work in Oxbridge I at least expected academics with left-wing sympathies to have some kind of intellectually well-reasoned world view that they could express in good English. What I had not expected was to be confronted by a group of wealthy self-obsessed socialist geriatrics (some of whom are only in their early 20’s, they just have weirder haircuts and they swear a lot more) intent on some sort of liberal neo-Marxist global domination. Otherwise hyper-intelligent people have retreated into some sort of fantasy left-wing mental theme planet. The remaining ideological framework is not a form of Marxism that I remember, and seems to consist of a mixture of a total hatred of the British working classes (the masses), relentless anti-American hysteria, and the total disregard of reality and history when it does not fit their own prejudices. Character assassination and bad language are used relentlessly to try and cover a total misunderstanding of how the vast majority of earth’s population actually lives.

(Keith Walker, “A Week on Planet Academia,” The Salisbury Review 25 [winter 2006]: 13-6, at 13)

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Sure, we can buy “cheap” hamburgers ground from animals raised in inhumane conditions in government-subsidized factories, fed on subsidized grain, grown with subsidized irrigation.

As Dan Barber points out, we are paying for it with our tax dollars while sacrificing flavor, local business, healthy soils and diversity.

He did not mention the alarming and growing health costs of obesity, directly traceable to “cheap” calories produced by bloated factory farms.

How much foreign oil would we save by eating locally grown foods? How much would we influence global climate change by not trucking carrots cross-country?

This is not only tasteless food that government policies offer us; it is also very expensive.

Martine Donofrio
Short Hills, N.J., Jan. 14, 2007

A Year Ago


From the Mailbag

Hockey is explosively dynamic, physical, and full of finesse and skill. It takes genuine interaction between the players on a team, with continuous feedback and coordination between the players.

But if you like slow, repetitive, boring sports, baseball and cycling are your thing. If you had been raised in England, you’d love 5-day test matches (cricket). In Canada, you’d love curling—which is much more interesting, strategically, than baseball. (Curling is like billiards on ice with a team—very complex and subtle, but not physical like hockey.)

Baseball is only a team sport in the most superficial way: many individual plays by virtually interchangeable players are needed to complete a game. The amount of genuine coordination between players with unique skill sets is minimal. And there is hardly any physical contact. Cycling is about the same. As sports, they rank very low.

Hockey combines the best of football and basketball: It’s like basketball in terms of the intricate team play aspect; and it’s like football in terms of the territorial aspect, and the physical contact. Plus there are goaltenders for added scoring difficulty, and the eye-hand coordination for shooting and passing with a 6′ stick while balanced in two steel blades adds a degree of difficulty not seen in other sports.

Basketball has a bad tendency to be decided in the dying minutes or seconds, by whichever team gets the ball last. You almost might as well not watch until the last 2 minutes.

Note from KBJ: The foregoing letter is from a Canadian friend. It is a reply to the following e-mail from me to him: “What do you like about hockey, anyway? On a scale of 1 to 10, I rank hockey 2 and baseball 10. Football is 3 and basketball 4. Cycling is 9.” I thought I’d post his letter so that others may comment.

Safire on Language