Wednesday, 28 February 2007

A Year Ago


Tuesday, 27 February 2007


I leave you this fine evening with an essay about Rudy Giuliani. I don’t care what Giuliani has said or done in the past. If he commits himself to (1) putting law-abiding judges on the federal bench, (2) enforcing our immigration laws, and (3) kicking the living shit (that’s a technical philosophical term) out of jihadists, I will consider voting for him for president. Don’t get me wrong. I still prefer Mitt Romney, but Romney isn’t doing well in early polls. I believe it’s because of his Mormonism.

Addendum: The author of the essay doesn’t even try to disguise his antipathy to Giuliani. Notice the swipes he takes, the manipulative rhetoric he uses, the innuendos he spreads. These tactics may endear him to progressives, but they’re likely to be distasteful to anyone who doesn’t already dislike Giuliani. It makes you wonder about the author’s intelligence. He could have written a fair-minded, informative, critical essay. Had he done so, it would have established his reputation as a serious journalist. Instead, he produced a hatchet job.

Zbigniew Janowski on Nihilism

Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky are thinkers of nihilism par excellence. But in contrast to Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky is an acute realist who knows that in real life “if there is no God, everything is permitted.” Nietzsche, on the other hand, left us with a piece of philosophical fiction known as the Übermensch, whose visage is so unclear that, more than a century later, we still cannot recognize him. According to Vattimo, “[H]e can escape from the permanent dominion of moral valuations.” This sounds convincing as a scholarly device, but as a social message it is an invitation to people of practically any political orientation to claim the title, which is why Nietzsche could attract thinkers on the extreme right and has been appropriated by the secular left.

(Zbigniew Janowski, “Human, All Too Human,” review of Dialogue with Nietzsche, by Gianni Vattimo, First Things [January 2007]: 54-6, at 56 [brackets in original])

Too Much Information

The editorial board of The New York Times believes that it’s acceptable to force restaurants to provide nutritional information to customers—presumably on the ground that it allows customers to make informed decisions. The same board believes that it’s unacceptable to force doctors to provide health information to patients seeking abortions. Are these beliefs consistent? You decide.

Cheney Derangement Syndrome

See here.


Here is John Fund’s latest column. I think he’s right that many people who would otherwise support Hillary Clinton are turned off by the prospect of continuing the Bush-Clinton line of presidents (not to be confused with the Bush-Clinton line of precedents). Sometimes we need a clean break with the past.

Best of the Web Today


From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

As Frank Rich relates, the evidence suggests that President Bush and his administration have done everything possible to avoid really going after Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, the perpetrators of 9/11 and the reason we have been engaged in a ubiquitous “war on terror” for almost six years and a specific (unrelated to 9/11) war against Iraq for four years. One wonders, Why?

The simple answer is this: Victory against Al Qaeda would end rule by fear as we’ve come to know and define the chief characteristic of the Bush administration, a rule involving manipulation of the nation’s fear threshold so as to engender political ends: George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004 and his desired (who knows for what reason?) war with Iraq.

Unfortunately, Mr. Bush’s governance by fear and terror has put more than our psychological well-being at stake. Thousands of lives have been wasted needlessly in Iraq, and the people who committed mass murder on 9/11 are stronger than ever.

John E. Colbert
Chicago, Feb. 25, 2007

Note from KBJ: As I’ve written before, there are two possible errors, not just one. The first is being afraid when there are insufficient grounds for fear. The second is not being afraid when there are sufficient grounds for fear. The letter writer assumes that there are insufficient grounds for fear. Perhaps he’s wrong about this. After all, he knows far less than President Bush does about what is happening in the world. Perhaps President Bush is trying to get our fear to match the danger. Isn’t that what we would expect of a leader?

Note 2 from KBJ: Note the letter writer’s cynicism. He imputes the worst motive to President Bush, namely, a desire to be reelected. Why not impute the best motive to him? Why the cynicism? The principle of charity, to which philosophers subscribe—and to which everyone should subscribe—requires that people with whom one disagrees be given the benefit of the doubt. The letter writer gives President Bush the detriment of the doubt. How would the letter writer like it if I imputed bad motives to him? I could say, for example, that he’s trying to draw attention to himself so as to improve his employment prospects (among progressive employers). Imputing bad motives accomplishes nothing, except to demonstrate one’s inability to engage in rational argumentation.

Defying the Totalitarians

Just when I thought college students had been irreversibly brainwashed, indoctrinated, hoodwinked, manipulated, and co-opted by their progressive teachers, whose aim is to reengineer society so that it conforms to their feminist, pacifist, cosmopolitan, egalitarian vision, there comes this. I love it! When political correctness becomes orthodoxy—and on many college campuses it already has—it will be resisted, defied, challenged, and mocked. Long live rebellion!


An Irishman walks into a bar in Dublin, orders three pints of Guinness and sits in the back of the room, drinking a sip out of each one in turn. When he finishes them, he comes back to the bar and orders three more. The bartender asks him, “You know, a pint goes flat after I draw it; it would taste better if you bought one at a time.” The Irishman replies, “Well, you see, I have two brothers. One is in America, the other in Australia, and I’m here in Dublin. When we all left home, we promised that we’d drink this way to remember the days when we drank together.” The bartender admits that this is a nice custom, and leaves it there. The Irishman becomes a regular in the bar, and always drinks the same way: He orders three pints and drinks them in turn. One day, he comes in and orders two pints. All the other regulars notice and fall silent. When he comes back to the bar for the second round, the bartender says, “I don’t want to intrude on your grief, but I wanted to offer my condolences on your great loss.” The Irishman looks confused for a moment, then a light dawns in his eye and he laughs. “Oh, no,” he says, “my brothers are fine. I’m just off the liquor.”

A Year Ago



This is cool. (Thanks to Mark Spahn for the link.)

Monday, 26 February 2007

Food for Thought

My friend Kevin from California sent a link to this interesting presentation. Among other things, it shows the importance of critical-thinking skills, which, by their nature, are not limited to particular times, places, topics, or bodies of information. The skills we philosophers teach—analysis, criticism, synthesis, argumentation—can be used anywhere, anytime, for any purpose. Think of it this way: Philosophy is a second-order discipline. It takes first-order disciplines (such as science and history), institutions (such as religion, art, morality, politics, and commerce), and professions (such as law, medicine, engineering, and theology) as its subject matter. I was born to be a philosopher. Nothing else could satisfy me.


Here is an interview with our next president.

R. M. Hare (1919-2002) on Universalizability

Offences against the thesis of universalizability are logical, not moral. If a person says ‘I ought to act in a certain way, but nobody else ought to act in that way in relevantly similar circumstances’, then, on my thesis, he is abusing the word ‘ought’; he is implicitly contradicting himself. But the logical offence here lies in the conjunction of two moral judgements, not in either one of them by itself. The thesis of universalizability does not render self-contradictory any single, logically simple, moral judgement, or even moral principle, which is not already self-contradictory without the thesis; all it does is to force people to choose between judgements which cannot both be asserted without self-contradiction. And so no moral judgement or principle of substance follows from the thesis alone. Furthermore, a person may act, on a number of different occasions, in different ways, even if the occasions are qualitatively identical, without it following from the thesis that all, or that any particular one, of his actions must be wrong. The thesis does not even forbid us to say that none of the man’s actions are wrong; for it is consistent with the thesis that the kinds of actions he did in the kind of situations described were morally indifferent. What the thesis does forbid us to do is to make different moral judgements about actions which we admit to be exactly or relevantly similar. The thesis tells us that this is to make two logically inconsistent judgements.

(R. M. Hare, Freedom and Reason [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963], 32-3 [italics in original])