Wednesday, 28 March 2007


I leave you this fine evening with a column by Pete du Pont, who thinks Democrats will shoot themselves in the foot.


Here is law professor Robert T. Miller’s latest column about relativism. Here is physicist Stephen Barr’s reply. I love this stuff.

Best of the Web Today



Jean Kazez, who overlapped with me by a year or two at the University of Arizona, has a letter in today’s New York Times. I’m not sure what her point is, unfortunately. It has something to do with the permissibility of classroom advocacy. Here’s how I approach teaching. In my Ethics course, for example, I expose students to a number of normative ethical theories. We discuss act utilitarianism, rule utilitarianism, egoism, Kantianism, contractarianism, and Rossian deontology. At no point do I try to get my students to subscribe to a particular theory. I frankly don’t care which theory, if any, they subscribe to. What I want them to do is to understand the various theories, so that their choice (even if it’s a choice not to choose) is an informed one. Students have no idea which theory I subscribe to; nor do they need to know. It’s no more important to them than which brand of cereal I prefer.

Please don’t say that I have an obligation to teach the truth. Normative ethical theories aren’t the sort of thing that can be true or false. The point of a normative ethical theory is twofold: to systematize one’s moral judgments and to guide one’s conduct. What could it mean to say of a normative ethical theory that it is true? To say that something is true is to say that it corresponds to reality. How can a normative theory, ethical or otherwise, correspond to reality? There are no values, standards, or norms “out there,” independently of human belief or judgment. There are only things—which we imbue with value. I realize that there are people who believe that there are objective values. I have never been able to make sense of this. It’s like saying there are ghosts. That people imply that values are objective only shows the human propensity to give their values more authority than they have.

Every theory, normative or otherwise, has costs. It allows one to believe certain things but precludes belief in other things. Just because most people aren’t willing to believe what egoism entails doesn’t mean that nobody can believe what it entails. Everyone has bullets to bite, meaning that everyone must, from time to time, stick with one’s theory even when it produces painful results. Ultimately, only the principle of noncontradiction limits what can be believed. I cannot consistently subscribe to act utilitarianism while rejecting one of its implications. If the theory produces a result that I find painful or repugnant, I can either reject the theory, modify the theory so that it no longer has that result, or bite the bullet and accept the result. There is no reason why everyone must adopt the same strategy. This is why only some people are utilitarians. Many people (perhaps most) are unwilling to accept the theory’s implications. Some are willing, even happy, to accept them. There is nothing more to say or do. People’s values differ, just as people’s tastes differ. This allows them to subscribe to different normative theories. A theory (such as egoism) that systematizes my judgments may not systematize yours.

If I were to try to get my students to be egoists, I would be indoctrinating them, for egoism is a doctrine. I would be trying to plant that doctrine in them. I have no interest in doing this; nor would I be doing my job if I were to attempt it. I want my students to think for themselves, even if they end up in a different place from where I am. I might add that I teach my Philosophy of Religion course the same way. It doesn’t matter to me whether my students come out of the class as theists, atheists, or agnostics; but by god, they’ll have a better understanding of theism, atheism, and agnosticism than they did at the start of the class.

Animal Ethics

See here for my latest post.

Richard Swinburne on Happiness

Happiness is not basically a matter of having pleasant sensations. Certainly it involves the absence of unpleasant sensations and may be found in having pleasant sensations, but all this is not its essence. There are no pleasant sensations had by the man who is happy in reading a good book, or playing a round of golf with a friend; nor by a man who is happy because his son is making a success of the business which the father founded. Basically, a man’s happiness consists in his doing what he wants to be doing and having happen what he wants to have happen. The man who is happy playing golf is happy because he is doing what he wants to be doing. A man who is having pleasant sensations may indeed be happy for that reason; but he will not be happy if he does not want to have these sensations, e.g. if he wants to try and do without such things for a period.

(Richard Swinburne, Faith and Reason [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981], 133)

Note from KBJ: I am often asked for career advice by my students. Here’s what I say: “What makes you happy? Once you figure it out [for it takes a certain amount of introspection], find a way to get paid for doing it.” In my case, what made me happy was reading, thinking, writing, and arguing. I found a way to get paid for doing these things. This also explains why I walked away from law. I had no idea, when I started law school in August 1979, what lawyers did on a daily basis. The only lawyer I knew was Perry Mason. After my first year of law school, when I began clerking for a firm, I found out what lawyers did on a daily basis. I knew right away that such a life would not make me happy. In some respects, it would have made me miserable. Miserable people do not do their jobs well.

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Thank you, N.Y.P.D., for doing everything possible to protect all New Yorkers from potential acts of terror and violence.

The Police Department has every right to spy and conduct surveillance on suspected criminals and miscreants before they have a chance to wreak havoc on the citizens of New York. The headline of your March 25 front-page article, “City Police Spied Broadly Before G.O.P. Convention,” and the gist of it make it seem as if the New York Police Department did something wrong; it did not!

You are out of touch with reality: most Americans, including New Yorkers, want to live and prosper in a society free from terror and violence. We are thankful that agencies like the N.Y.P.D. take offensive actions to keep us as safe as possible.

Robert Smith
Bronx, March 25, 2007

Note from KBJ: Liberty and security are basic goods, and, tragically, they are in conflict. We can’t have both maximal liberty and maximal security. More liberty means less security; more security means less liberty. Different people strike different balances between these goods. Some people value security more highly than they value liberty. Some value liberty more highly than they value security. Nobody assigns zero value to either. I have found that, as I aged, I assigned more weight to security and less to liberty. Has anyone else had this experience? Can anyone explain it?

Hall of Fame?

Jose Canseco. (For an explanation of this feature, see here.)

Keeping Tabs

Each morning, having fired up the computer, I check my e-mail. Each morning, during our walk, Shelbie checks her pee-mail.

A Year Ago