Monday, 10 December 2007

Twenty Years Ago

12-10-87 . . . I’m still coming to grips with Roger Scruton’s book Sexual Desire. Let me quote and discuss a lengthy passage (from page 4):

[W]e must distinguish the world of human experience from the world of scientific observation. In the first we exist as agents, taking command of our destiny and relating to each other through conceptions that have no place in the scientific view of the universe. In the second we exist as organisms, driven by an arcane causality and relating to each other through the laws of motion that govern us as they govern every other thing. * * * On one view the transcendental world is a separate realm of being from the empirical world, so that objects belonging to the one are not to be found in the other. On the other view, the two worlds are not distinct, but rather two separate ways of viewing the same material: we can view it either from the “transcendental” perspective of the human agent or from the “empirical” perspective of the scientific observer. * * * I believe we must distinguish, not two worlds, but two ways of understanding the world, and in particular two separate conceptual enterprises, by which our understanding is formed.

I quote this not to take issue with it, but to record my agreement. Scruton and others (Bernard Williams [1929-2003] and Thomas Nagel, to name but two) have recently changed my thinking about the world. Previously, I was caught up in the ideology of science. I thought that the scientific way of conceiving and describing the world was somehow more “real”, that it tapped reality at a deeper level than our ordinary understanding. Now I reject that. I agree with Scruton that there is more than one way to understand a given phenomenon like sexual desire. In fact, as a philosopher, I’m more interested in what he calls the “transcendental perspective”, since it takes agents and their actions seriously. I’ll leave science to the scientists, though I’ll not hesitate to criticize their conceptual schemes and faulty arguments.


If this isn’t the best album ever made, then Warren Beatty is not Clyde Barrow.


Somebody explain this to me.


Here is an interesting column about the death of newspapers.

The Sixties

I can’t think of a single good thing about the 1960s. How about you?

Thomas Nagel on the Paradox of Deontology

The feature of rights that makes them morally and theoretically puzzling is a logical one. If they are taken as basic, it is impossible to interpret them in terms of a straightforward positive or negative evaluation of certain things’ happening to people, or certain things’ being done to them. The reason is that rights essentially set limits to what any individual may do to any other, even in the service of good ends—and those good ends include even the prevention of transgressions of those same limits by others. If there is a general right not to be murdered, for example, then it is impermissible to murder one person even to prevent the murders of two others. It is difficult to see how such a prohibition could be morally basic; in fact it seems paradoxical, if it cannot be justified by its utility in the long run.

(Thomas Nagel, “Personal Rights and Public Space,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 24 [spring 1995]: 83-107, at 87)

Best of the Web Today


From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Lenders Agree to Freeze Rates on Some Loans” (front page, Dec. 6):

During the housing bubble, when everyone was getting rich buying real estate, people made bets—they bought houses with mortgages they couldn’t afford. They thought that prices would keep going up . . . but they didn’t. Government and Wall Street looked the other way as everyone made money.

Now, as everyone one [sic] knows, if you drink too much at a party, you will surely suffer a hangover in the morning. Well, many people are experiencing a real (estate) hangover as their low introductory mortgage rates expire and their monthly mortgage payments rise. They gambled and now they can’t afford the payments.

I say you drank too much last night; be responsible and deal with it. The market should sort this out, not our government! No one bailed me out when I lost money in the Internet bubble crash!

Brant Thomas
Brooklyn, Dec. 6, 2007

Note from KBJ: Responsibility? What’s that?

A Year Ago