Thursday, 13 September 2007


I leave you this fine evening with a column by law professor Cass Sunstein. Please read the comments.


Let’s have some fun with this “report” by Steven Lee Myers and Carl Hulse of the New York Times about President Bush’s speech on Iraq. The “report” reeks of cynicism and suspicion. What I mean is that the “reporters” constantly question President Bush’s motives. They act as though they know what President Bush believes, intends, desires, and hopes—even though the mental states they attribute to him conflict with what he says. This is what contemporary journalism has become. Reporters refuse to accept anything at face value, especially when it redounds to the benefit of conservatives. The reporter says (in effect) to his or her readers: “S said p; but don’t believe p; S said p only to get you to believe it, because it benefits S for you to believe it.” As you read the “report,” look for loaded terms such as “cast” and “touting.” A good reporter (meaning an impartial reporter) chooses neutral terms, not loaded terms. I’ll be interested to see what you come up with. I found many instances of bias in the “report,” which is little more than propaganda.

Yankee Watch

The Boston Red Sox didn’t play today, but the New York Yankees lost, so Boston’s magic number to eliminate New York is down to 11. If the Red Sox go 8-7 the rest of the way, the Yankees will have to go 14-2 to tie. It’s over.

All Fred, All the Time

Who but a Washington insider such as Robert Novak would care about the things he discusses in this column? As long as Fred Thompson does the following, I’m happy:

Kill the terrorists
Protect the borders
Punch the hippies

Okay, one more thing: Fill the federal judiciary with law-abiding judges.

Alan R. White (1922-1992) on the Value of Philosophy

If, then, philosophy—in the sense in which we talk of ‘philosophy’ as contrasted with ‘a’, ‘my’, ‘your’, ‘the American’, or ‘communist’ philosophy—is conceptual analysis, what is its value? Primarily, to discover certain important features which no other study can discover, namely, the necessary characteristics of anything, the characteristics in virtue of which it is what it is and is what it is called. How important this discovery will be depends on how important the things it studies are. The analysis of concluding, deducing, inferring, and assuming is, no doubt, more important than that of muttering, mumbling, whispering, and groaning, just as counting the stars in the heavens is, no doubt, more important than counting the sands on the sea shore. It is not surprising that more effort has been spent on investigating the beautiful and the sublime than on investigating the dainty and the dumpy. On the other hand, since philosophy investigates only necessary characteristics, it cannot tell us what things are good or right or known or voluntary or reckless, but only what it is to be any of these.

Philosophy is chiefly valued by some either for its therapeutic powers—for curing “the bumps that the understanding has got by running its head up against the limits of language”—or for its crux-disentangling capacity—for “showing the fly the way out of the flybottle.” One may, for example, embark on an analysis of emotion—and hence of grief, pity, and fear—in order to understand the distinction between tear-shedding and weeping or between cackling and chuckling at a joke. It is no doubt when we are baffled by the mysteriousness of time, torn between free will and determinism, or puzzled by probability that we begin to philosophize. It is also true that many of our beliefs in areas where investigation and experiment cannot prove them right or wrong are due to conceptual assumptions or inferences, as when we believe in fatalism because we confuse logical necessity with physical inevitability, or when we are persuaded either to materialism or to spiritualism by conceptual arguments about the nature of mind and matter.

Others value philosophy as an ancillary to their own primary interests—as when it shows the psychologist that his experiments into the nature of thought are vitiated by his mistaken conceptual assumption that thinking is a specific kind of, perhaps inner, activity like talking or gazing at images, or when it shows the jurisprudent that his doctrine of negligence confuses it with recklessness, or when it shows the educationalist that indulging a pupil’s wants is not necessarily catering to his needs.

(Alan R. White, “Conceptual Analysis,” chap. 5 in The Owl of Minerva: Philosophers on Philosophy, ed. Charles J. Bontempo and S. Jack Odell [New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1975], 103-17, at 116-7 [italics in original])

The Scandal of Social Work

See here. My Canadian friend Grant (a practicing attorney who holds a D.Phil. degree in philosophy from the University of Oxford) writes:

This article hits the nail on the head, but doesn’t drive it home. The biggest area of indoctrination that has been infesting Social Work departments across North America for decades is not even mentioned—i.e. in the area of gender relations (not race, class, disability or sexual orientation). More specifically, social workers are taught to assume “mother = good; father = bad” in family conflicts of all sorts. And more generally “man = oppressor; woman = victim.” It is the most pernicious yet widely presumed falsehood of our age. Even mothers who (try to) kill their kids—e.g. by stuffing their new-born’s head down a public toilet, to mention a recent Saskatchewan example—are treated as victims of some kind of social or biological oppression.

I fear that, pretty soon, a student will have to subscribe to this doctrine in order to obtain a law degree in Canada. It already seems to be a requirement to be appointed to the Bench: judges don’t see it as “their job to punish mothers” (as one Appeal-court-bound judge expressed it to me in open Court last year).

It would pay to place Bertrand Russell’s essay on “The [myth of the] Superior Virtue of the Oppressed” on the syllabus.

I’ve been trying to get Grant (a contractarian libertarian) to start a blog. How many of you would like him to do so?

Best of the Web Today



My friend Paul in California just informed me that Van Halen is about to embark on a tour—with David Lee Roth! I confess that I’ve had a hard time listening to Van Halen albums after 1984. I simply cannot tolerate Sammy Hagar. Note that Michael Anthony has been replaced on bass guitar by Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolfgang.

Addendum: Here is a video of one of my favorite Van Halen songs. Here is another. And another. And one more. David Lee Roth is one of the greatest showmen in rock, and Eddie Van Halen one of its best guitarists (if not the best).

Addendum 2: Here is the tour announcement. I’ve always said that there are only two bands I regret not seeing in concert: The Who and Van Halen. (I’ve seen Kiss [seven times!], the New York Dolls, Nazareth, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Foghat, Ted Nugent, Aerosmith, Queen, Uriah Heep, the Outlaws, Def Leppard, Ozzy Osbourne, and a few other bands.) Who knows? If Van Halen comes to my neck of the woods, I might still have a chance.

A Year Ago


From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

While it’s hard to take any comfort in the testimony given by Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Cocker [sic], it is at least refreshing to hear someone deliver the two-part reality check so few want to hear: No, the situation in Iraq will not necessarily improve if we stay; and yes, it will get much worse if we leave. The infuriating part is hearing so many lawmakers freely denounce a war that they voted for.

The notion that the Iraq war was the work of one president rather than an entire nation remains the most consistent fallacy of the whole debate. A drawdown of troops will obviously save American lives, but will cause incalculable grief for Iraqis. If Americans decide that’s a fair tradeoff, so be it. But if it inflames even more hatred toward the United States abroad, they shouldn’t act surprised.

Zach Ahmad
Rocky Mount, N.C., Sept. 12, 2007

Note from KBJ: To a consequentialist, a person is as responsible for what he or she allows to occur as for what he or she does. As Bernard Williams puts it:

It is because consequentialism attaches value ultimately to states of affairs, and its concern is with what states of affairs the world contains, that it essentially involves the notion of negative responsibility: that if I am ever responsible for anything, then I must be just as much responsible for things that I allow or fail to prevent, as I am for things that I myself, in the more everyday restricted sense, bring about. (Bernard Williams, “A Critique of Utilitarianism,” in Utilitarianism: For and Against, by J. J. C. Smart and Bernard Williams [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973], 75-150, at 95 [italics in original; footnote omitted])

It follows from consequentialism that if the United States withdraws its forces from Iraq, the United States is responsible for all of the harm that would have been prevented if it had stayed. I wonder how many of the people who insist on withdrawing from Iraq are consequentialists. I wonder why consequentialists such as Peter Singer are not making the case for retention of United States forces, or at least comparing the overall utilities of the two states (retention and withdrawal). Could it be that Singer is a progressive first and a consequentialist second?

Note 2 from KBJ: To a consequentialist, nationality is morally irrelevant, so it doesn’t matter whether a given harm is experienced by an Iraqi or an American. It doesn’t even matter that the Iraqi is a member of al Qaeda, bent on killing as many Americans as possible. All else being equal, it is better (morally) to allow one American soldier to die than to allow two members of al Qaeda to die. Consequentialism requires strict impartiality.


Major League Baseball is for young men, but that doesn’t mean a wily 40-year-old can’t succeed. Tonight, in Los Angeles, 41-year-old Greg Maddux of the San Diego Padres, who is in his 22d season, faces 44-year-old David Wells of the Dodgers, who is in his 21st season. I’m sure there will be plenty of Bengay in the locker rooms for these geezers.

Addendum: The Dodgers won, 6-3. Wells (8-8) got the victory; Maddux (12-10) took the loss.


John Hawkins of Right Wing News has compiled a list of the 75 most popular right-of-center websites.