Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Twenty Years Ago

9-5-87 Saturday. I got a [telephone] call this morning from Terry Mallory. Somehow we got on the subject of Robert Bork, President [Ronald] Reagan’s Supreme Court nominee. Terry is an unreconstructed liberal, but unfortunately his arguments against Bork are awful. He says, for example, that Bork is “against women’s rights and abortion.” But as I pointed out to him, this is a substantive complaint. “Isn’t there a principled objection to Bork?” I asked. But Terry had none. He also misconstrued my position. From the fact that (1) Keith claims that if Reagan wants Bork, Reagan is entitled to have Bork, Terry infers that (2) Keith wants Bork. Needless to say, this is an invalid inference. I do not want Bork. Not only that, but I maintain that there are many better nominees than Bork and that, all things considered, Reagan should not have nominated Bork. But I can hold all of these views and still insist that if Reagan nominated Bork, he’s entitled to have him sit on the Supreme Court. Terry had a hard time understanding this line of reasoning, probably because he views the world in personal terms. As far as he’s concerned, either you “like” Bork or you don’t. But that’s not the issue. The issue is whether there’s any good theory of confirmation under which Bork can be rejected by the Senate. I deny that there is.

All Fred, All the Time

Here is a video of Fred Thompson at the Iowa State Fair.


Anyone with philosophical training will find this essay by Edward Oakes frustrating, for he never tells his readers what relativism is. Is it a positive theory, about how things are? Is it a normative theory, about how things ought to be? Is it a metaethical theory, about the nature of moral judgment? It’s clear that Oakes doesn’t like relativism, but what the hell is it?

Rational Persuasion

In my experience, conservatives are far more willing (and able) than progressives to engage in rational persuasion. Progressives tend to attack persons rather than make (or address) arguments. See here for the latest personal attack, by the thugs at There are many other examples of progressive thuggery. To my knowledge, Texas law professor Brian Leiter has never (1) made an argument (in the sense of showing an interlocutor that his or her beliefs commit him or her to believing some further proposition) or (2) criticized an argument (in the sense of showing an interlocutor that his or her conclusion doesn’t follow from his or her premises). Instead, he abuses those who disagree with him, often by trying to destroy their careers. (Many people who visit Leiter’s blog do so for his rankings of philosophy programs and law schools, or because he chronicles the wanderings of professors in search of wealth, status, and light teaching loads.) The man has philosophical training, but no philosophical aptitude. No wonder Wisconsin law professor Ann Althouse calls him a “jackass,” and Yale law professor Jules Coleman (who knows Leiter well) calls him “complicated.” He’s complicated, all right: the way psychopaths are complicated.


I blame Steve Walsh for this.

Best of the Web Today



Is there anything better than cake? Seriously. It’s why I run and ride. (Okay, there are other reasons, but that’s one of them.)


Why is it even newsworthy that Mother Teresa was racked with doubt about the existence—or presence—of God? This is the normal condition for a Christian. Only someone who doesn’t understand Christianity, or whose aim is to undermine it, could think such doubt scandalous. John Hick has argued that God created an ambiguous world on purpose: to make human freedom (and therefore responsibility) possible:

[W]hat freedom could finite beings have in an immediate consciousness of the presence of the one who has created them, who knows them through and through, who is limitlessly powerful as well as limitlessly loving and good, and who claims their total obedience? In order to be a person, exercising some measure of genuine freedom, the creature must be brought into existence, not in the immediate divine presence, but at a “distance” from God. This “distance” cannot of course be spatial; for God is omnipresent. It must be an epistemic distance, a distance in the cognitive dimension. And the Irenaean hypothesis is that this “distance” consists, in the case of humans, in their existence within and as part of a world which functions as an autonomous system and from within which God is not overwhelmingly evident. It is a world, in Bonhoeffer‘s phrase, etsi deus non daretur, as if there were no God. Or rather, it is religiously ambiguous, capable both of being seen as a purely natural phenomenon and of being seen as God’s creation and experienced as mediating God’s presence. In such a world one can exist as a person over against the Creator. One has space to exist as a finite being, a space created by the epistemic distance from God and protected by one’s basic cognitive freedom, one’s freedom to open or close oneself to the dawning awareness of God which is experienced naturally by a religious animal. This Irenaean picture corresponds, I suggest, to our actual human situation. Emerging within the evolutionary process as part of the continuum of animal life, in a universe which functions in accordance with its own laws and whose workings can be investigated and described without reference to a creator, the human being has a genuine, even awesome, freedom in relation to one’s Maker. The human being is free to acknowledge and worship God; and is free—particularly since the emergence of human individuality and the beginnings of critical consciousness during the first millennium B.C.—to doubt the reality of God. (John Hick, “Soul-Making Theodicy,” in Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, 3d ed., ed. Michael Peterson et al. [New York: Oxford University Press, 2007], 341-53, at 344-5 [essay first published in 1981])

What would truly be scandalous, from a Christian point of view, is Mother Teresa’s not having doubts.

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Bush, in Iraq, Says Troop Reduction Is Possible” (front page, Sept. 4):

President Bush wants as much leeway to wage war in Iraq as possible, so that in two years he can pawn off blame for the inevitable withdrawal to his successor. He knows that Congress and the American public want withdrawal now, and he has no intention of giving it to us.

But he knows he can use that desire to his ends. And so he promises us that we will finally get what we want—just as soon as the surge works. And, of course, for that to happen, we must continue to pour money into the war and to keep our troops there indefinitely.

Of course, the problem with that is that the surge is not working and can never work. And he knows it. But he wants to make us believe that it will, so he can continue getting what he wants from us. He wants us to have a vested interest in giving him what he wants, in the expectation that it will lead to our getting what we want.

Don’t play his crooked game.

Michael B. English
Washington, Sept. 4, 2007

Note from KBJ: Boldface is mine. Criticism once consisted in acknowledging the other’s good intentions (even if one had doubts about them) while pointing out that the actions performed have bad consequences. It went like this: “I know you mean well, but your policies make things worse rather than better.” Nowadays, in this age of cynicism, criticism consists in imputing bad intentions to the other. The letter writer knows exactly what President Bush believes and desires, and all of it is bad, bad, bad. This is the opposite of charity. It is malice.

Hall of Fame?

Orel Hershiser. (For an explanation of this feature, see here.)

Addendum: Here are the 2008 Hall of Fame candidates.

A Year Ago


South Park

I don’t watch South Park because I can’t understand what the characters are saying. They mumble and speak too fast. (I have no problem understanding the Simpsons characters.) John Hawkins of Right Wing News has a list of the 10 worst episodes of South Park.

A Conundrum

It’s ragweed season in North Texas. Query: Why do sneezes come in pairs?