Sunday, 9 December 2007


I leave you this fine evening with a column by Robert Maranto.

Gregory S. Kavka (1947-1994) on the Naturist Fallacy

[A]ppeals to human nature are often used illegitimately to support questionable normative conclusions. For example, it is often said that we are heterosexual (or acquisitive, etc.) by nature, so we ought to encourage people to be heterosexual (or acquisitive, etc.) and to discourage them from being otherwise. This pattern of inference—“We are Z by nature, so we ought to encourage being Z”—may by called the Naturist Fallacy. That it is a fallacy can be seen by simply noting that if we were fully Z by nature, there would be no need to encourage being Z. But if we are less than fully Z, it does not follow that we should become more so, unless we assume that if we are (somewhat) Z by nature, it is good to be Z (and as much Z as possible). But this is absurd. Some have argued, for example, that humans are somewhat aggressive by nature. Would anyone infer from this that we should be encouraged to be even more aggressive? Or, to take a Hobbesian example, if people tend to be somewhat shortsighted, does it follow that we should encourage and support this harmful trait? Surely not. We must therefore be suspicious of any argument from human nature having the form of the Naturist Fallacy.

But there are other, and better, arguments from human nature that lead to normative conclusions. The form of a typical valid argument of this sort is:

(1) Certain social conditions C are undesirable.

(2) People are X by nature.

(3) A group of people that are X will be in social conditions C, unless they live under social arrangements of kind Y.

(4) Therefore, other things being equal, social arrangements should be of kind Y.

An argument of this form starts from a normative premise concerning what sort of social conditions are undesirable. Thus, it does not attempt to deduce values from facts alone. But the value premise, (1), may be uncontroversial, in which case the descriptive theory of human nature expressed in (2) may play a critical role in deriving a possibly controversial normative political conclusion from an uncontroversial normative premise.

(Gregory S. Kavka, Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986], 31-2 [footnote omitted])


Terry Eastland analyzes Mitt Romney’s religion speech. Neither Romney nor Mike Huckabee is going to be the Republican nominee. The nominee will be either Fred Thompson, John McCain, or Rudy Giuliani. Right, Will?

A Year Ago


Curro Ergo Sum

The weather in these parts is bizarre. Yesterday, the official high temperature at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport was 79º Fahrenheit. By 8:45 A.M., when the Toys for Tots 5K race started, it was 72º and humid (79%). By evening, the temperature had begun to fall. I was glad to see it, because my friend Joe was running in the Dallas White Rock Marathon this morning. When I got up, it was drizzling, and then it began to rain. All the while, the temperature was falling. By noon, it was in the high 30s. I feel sorry for the marathon runners who planned for heat and ended up running in cold rain. The temperature wasn’t bad for a marathon, but rain is not good. Right now, at 5:26 P.M., it’s 37.2º at my house in Fort Worth. I’ve had a fire going since morning and plan to keep it going all evening. Joe finished the marathon. He’s a tough old coot. I wish I could have done it with him, but my body won’t let me. I have to do shorter distances.

My 5K race went well, considering the heat, humidity, and hills. Yes, this is the race with the terrifying hill. At least this year I knew about it! I knew where it was on the course, how steep it was, and how long it went on. A year ago, I finished sixth of 19 men in my age group (45-49). Yesterday, I finished first of five men in my age group (50-54). I wonder why the turnout was so small. Maybe people enjoyed running in bitter cold a year ago. I was the 10th finisher overall, of 105. Half the fun of racing is standing along the course afterward, cheering the late finishers. There were kids, old people, people with strollers, and overweight people. Some were walking. I said the same thing to everyone: “You’re almost done. Finish strong. Be tough.” Some probably resented it, but others nodded or thanked me as they passed.

A year ago, my mile pace was 7:26.69. Yesterday, it was 7:14.95. (Elapsed time = 22:31.40.) I’m certain that I would have broken seven minutes on a flat course. My new shoes are wonderful. I feel as though I’m running on pillows.

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Feminist Pitch by a Democrat Named Obama” (front page, Dec. 2):

It is high time that Democrats and Republicans alike realize that when it comes to courting the so-called women’s vote, shared biology among women does not equal shared politics. Boomer-era feminism failed to see that being female does not a feminist (or a voting bloc) make. Issues of class inequality, not gender inequality, define the plight of this generation.

Struggles with single parenting, urban failing schools and inadequate health care diminish the opportunities for poor and middle-class women in ways that affluent women never experience. Regardless of gender, the presidential candidate with the guts to tackle the class divide as the biggest plank in his or her platform will have this feminist’s vote.

Catherine Milton
Norwalk, Conn., Dec. 5, 2007
The writer is a professor of English and women’s studies at Norwalk Community College.

Note from KBJ: If there are no issues that affect women as such, then what’s feminism all about? Is the letter writer saying that feminism is dead?

Note 2 from KBJ: The letter writer professes to have expertise in English, but is not proficient at it. Count the metaphors in the final sentence: guts, tackle, divide, plank/platform. Ugh.

Safire on Language