Saturday, 24 March 2007

R. M. Hare (1919-2002) on Obligation and Ability

The sense of ‘imply’ in which ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ is not that of logical entailment. It is a weaker relation, analogous to that which Mr. [P. F.] Strawson has claimed to exist between the statement that the King of France is wise, and the statement that there is a King of France. If there is no King of France, then the question whether the King of France is wise does not arise. And so, by saying that the King of France is wise, we give our hearers to understand that we think, at least, that the question arises to which this is one possible answer, and that, accordingly, there is a King of France. And similarly, if we say that somebody ought to do a certain thing, and ‘ought’ has its full (i.e. universally prescriptive) force, then we give our hearers to understand that we think that the question arises to which this is a possible answer, which it would not, unless the person in question were able to do the acts referred to.

(R. M. Hare, Freedom and Reason [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963], 53-4 [footnote omitted])

Twenty Years Ago

3-24-87 . . . This afternoon, while waiting for Joel Feinberg’s [Philosophy of Law] seminar to begin, I read an article on a contemporary movement called “Critical Legal Studies” (CLS). [Andrew Altman, “Legal Realism, Critical Legal Studies, and Dworkin,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 15 (summer 1986): 205-35.] Like their realist forebears, these theorists, many of whom teach at the Harvard Law School, argue that there is fundamental indeterminacy in judicial decisionmaking. Hart argued that judges are bound by rules, and that in most cases the rules will determine the result of a dispute. More recently, Dworkin has supplemented Hart’s account by introducing principles.  Judges, he says, decide cases on the basis of both rules (which have an either-or character) and principles (which have the property of weight). Dworkin thinks that in every case that comes before a judge there is a right answer to the question “Who is entitled to prevail?” Members of the CLS movement deny this, claiming either that there are several “right answers” or that there are none at all. There are several if a judge can come up with more than one “soundest theory of law,” but none if there simply is no soundest theory of law. Some CLSers argue that there is no soundest theory of law because the law is riddled with contradictions and doctrinal incoherence. At this point, I’m with Dworkin. CLSers seem to rest their case too heavily on ethical skepticism, nihilism, or relativism (I haven’t decided which). I’ll have more to say about this movement in future entries.


Aw, shucks. See here, then here.

Addendum: Freire’s average speed for the 182.6 miles was 27.1 miles per hour. Unbelievable.

Rejected Letters to the Editor

By now you have surmised, correctly, that I enjoy reading letters to the editor. I read them in The Dallas Morning News, the paper version of which lands in my yard every day.  I read them in The New York Times, online. I read them in First Things, a periodical to which I subscribe. I read them in The Shorthorn, my university’s student newspaper. I’ve always read letters to the editor, from my earliest days as a reader of The Detroit News. I continued reading letters to the editor in The Arizona Republic (when I lived in Tucson) and in The Houston Chronicle (when I lived in College Station). In case you’re wondering, I’ve had many letters to the editor published over the years, on many different topics. I’ve also had my share of rejections. Here, if you can believe it, is a website devoted to the publication of rejected letters to the editor. Click “About” to learn more. Thanks to George Jochnowitz for the link.


I have only one thing to say to the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association: Boooooo!

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Shashi Tharoor not only insults “the American national character” to glorify cricket but also draws the analogy between “the dozen different ways of getting out” in that sport versus America’s supposed “homogenized McWorld.”

Never mind that America’s history is a tapestry of immigration and diversity.

By the way, there are many more than 12 ways to get out in baseball: fly out; force out, with fielder tagging the base while holding the ball in advance of the runner; holding the ball and tagging the runner; a strikeout (looking or swinging); on a swinging third strike, a dropped ball is thrown to first base and bag is tagged; a foul ball on a two-strike bunt; the infield fly rule; a double play; a triple play; one runner passing another runner on the base path; running outside of the base path; interference with the ball while in the base path; the runner is picked off by the pitcher; the runner is cut down by the catcher while trying to steal; a caught foul tip with two strikes; the appeal play.

There are more.

Paul Sussman
Rye Brook, N.Y., March 23, 2007

Note from KBJ: If there were anything worthwhile about cricket, it would have been Americanized long ago. You can complete the syllogism for yourself.

A Year Ago


Addendum: Within a year, I had changed my mind about this. See here.


A high-school girl invites her boyfriend to dinner at her parents’ house. This is a big event for her, so she announces to him that after dinner, they will go out and have sex for the first time—provided he is willing. The boy is ecstatic, naturally, but has never had sex, so he takes a trip to the pharmacy to get condoms. He explains the situation, after which the pharmacist gives his best fatherly advice. He tells the boy everything there is to know about condoms and sex. At the register, the pharmacist asks how many condoms the boy would like: a three-pack, a ten-pack, or a family-pack. The boy thinks for a moment, then decides on the family-pack because, as he puts it, “I’ll probably be busy, it being my first time and all.” That night, the boy shows up at the girl’s house, where she greets him at the door. “I’m so excited that you’ll be meeting my parents,” she says. “Come in!” The boy goes inside and is taken to the dinner table, where the girl’s parents are seated. He says hello to them and immediately offers to say grace. They bow their heads. A minute passes and the boy is still deep in prayer. Ten minutes pass; no movement. Finally, after twenty minutes of silence, the girl leans over and whispers, “I had no idea you were this religious.” The boy whispers back, “I had no idea your father was a pharmacist.”


Read this. My first reaction is that SMU’s professors can’t think very highly of their students if they don’t want those students to be exposed to the arguments of Design Theorists. Have they not been teaching their students critical-thinking skills? Have they been brainwashing their students? Do they think their students are stupid? My second reaction is that progressives don’t really believe in free speech—although they pretend to. What they believe in, first and foremost, is propagating progressive beliefs. If the way to do this is to stifle dissent, then they’re perfectly happy to stifle dissent. No marketplace of ideas for these people! My third reaction is that Darwinists can’t be very confident in their theory if they feel threatened by a rival theory. If the rival theory is not science at all, it should be easy to demonstrate as much. If the rival theory is bad science, then it should be easy to demonstrate as much. Isn’t this a perfect opportunity to demonstrate the superiority of Darwinism, if in fact it’s a superior theory? So why the opposition to the conference? With ideologues such as these in control of SMU’s campus, who would want to go there, either as a teacher or as a student? It sounds more like an indoctrination camp than a university.