Friday, 14 December 2007


Here is the latest step in the feminization of society.

Church and State

According to Richard John Neuhaus, “the Church is more important than the country.” Do you agree?

Thomas Nagel on Deontological Thresholds

If murder were merely an agent-neutrally bad type of occurrence and nothing more, then the badness of one murder would be outweighed by the badness of two or three others, and one could be justified in murdering one innocent person to prevent three others from being murdered. But if there is a right not to be murdered, it does not give way when murdering one innocent person is the only means of preventing the murder of two or three others. A right is an agent-relative, not an agent-neutral, value: Rights tell us in the first instance what not to do to other people, rather than what to prevent from happening to them.

It is compatible with this conception of rights that they are not absolute, and that there may be some threshold, defined in consequential, agent-neutral terms, at which they give way. For example, even if there is a general right not to be tortured or murdered, perhaps there are evils great enough so that one would be justified in murdering or torturing an innocent person to prevent them. But this would not change the basic character of the right, since the threshold will be high enough so that the impermissibility of torture or murder to prevent evils below it cannot be explained in terms of the agent-neutral badness of torture or murder alone. Even if it is permissible to torture one person to save a thousand others from being tortured, this leaves unexplained why one may not torture one to save two.

(Thomas Nagel, “Personal Rights and Public Space,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 24 [spring 1995]: 83-107, at 88-9 [italics in original])

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Stop Stalling on Judicial Raises” (editorial, Dec. 11):

While there is no doubt that judicial raises are long overdue and mired in politics, I take issue with your assertion that “in judging, as in most lines of work, competitive salaries are important for attracting the best work force.”

No one should sit in judgment of others because the money is good. To suggest that salaries are the motivator for exceptional people to assume the bench is to denigrate the integrity of the judiciary.

Not to mention that, even with a raise, the salaries will still fall significantly below that of a first year associate, including bonus, at any major law firm.

Judges must be paid appropriately, and never again left to beg for crumbs from the politicians. But not because they are only in it for the money.

Scott H. Greenfield
New York, Dec. 11, 2007
The writer is a lawyer.

Note from KBJ: Who said that judges “are only in it for the money”? What a bizarre letter!


Here is Peggy Noonan’s latest column. Here is Peg Kaplan’s latest post.


Here is John Patrick Diggins’s review of Charles Taylor‘s latest book. (Taylor is a highly regarded philosopher.)

Best of the Web Today


A Year Ago



Here’s what Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig should do: inform Roger Clemens and the other players on George Mitchell’s list that if they do not come clean about their usage of performance-enhancing substances, they will not be eligible for induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The players, to this point, have refused to cooperate with investigators. Selig has leverage; he should use it. If Pete Rose can be kept out of the Hall for wagering on baseball, Clemens and others can be kept out of the Hall for cheating. Don’t say they haven’t been convicted of cheating. Rose wasn’t convicted of wagering on baseball. This has nothing to do with criminal justice; it has everything to do with the integrity of the sport. It’s the job of the commissioner to preserve, protect, and promote the integrity of the sport.


I’m writing a follow-up to my recent column “The Logic of Torture” (see here and here). This one will be entitled “The Morality of Torture.” (There may eventually be a third column, entitled “The Law of Torture.”) Will someone please make a chart for me? I honestly don’t know how to do it. I don’t even know which software to use.

Let me describe the chart. It’s a two-by-two box diagram, so you should think of a big rectangle (it can be a square) cut up into nine rectangles (squares). For the sake of reference, let me number the boxes, starting from the top left and reading across (the way one reads a book, or this post). Box 1 has the word “Rules” in it. I prefer that there be no lines above or to the left of it, so that one who looks at the chart realizes immediately that it’s a breakdown of rules. Box 2 has the word “Exceptions” in it. Box 3 has the words “No Exceptions” in it. Box 4 (middle row, first column) has the words “Grounded in Utility” in it. Box 5 has the words “Act-Utilitarianism (AU)” in it. Box 6 has the words “Rule-Utilitarianism (RU)” in it. Box 7 (bottom row, first column) has the words “Not Grounded in Utility” in it. Box 8 has the words “Moderate Deontology (MD)” in it. Box 9 has the words “Absolutist Deontology (AD)” in it. (In my first column, I used the name “absolute deontology,” but I now prefer “absolutist deontology.”)

It may help if I explain the chart. All four normative ethical theorists (AU, RU, MD, and AD) endorse rules (such as a rule that prohibits torture). The rules of an act-utilitarian are grounded in utility and have exceptions. The rules of a rule-utilitarian are grounded in utility and have no exceptions. The rules of a moderate deontologist are not grounded in utility and have exceptions. The rules of an absolutist deontologist are not grounded in utility and have no exceptions. If I receive more than one chart, I will use the best one, so do a good job! As soon as I receive an acceptable chart, I will post an addendum so that others don’t waste their time. I’m going to submit my column to TCS Daily. While the chart itself may not appear in the column, there will be a link to it. (I will upload it to my webspace.) You may want to “sign” your chart, so that everyone knows it’s your handiwork. Who knows? Maybe the Wall Street Journal will pick up this column as well, in which case you could become famous!

Addendum: Adam Handwork, who made a chart for me many months ago (was it on free will and determinism?), responded to my plea with this. Thanks, Adam!