Sunday, 16 December 2007


I leave you this fine evening with a column by George Will.

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

I.Q. is not an inherent trait—it is an invention that measures how much a person knows within one’s cultural context, which is why the environment makes such a profound difference in one’s score.

I.Q. tests are notoriously biased against anyone who is not white, male and middle class. Numerous studies have shown that it is not a valid measure of intelligence and, indeed, even white people who come from other cultures score poorly on the tests.

The idea that psychologists are still trying to find racial differences in I.Q. scores is maddening. Moreover, we know that there are far more genetic differences within races than between them.

The real point of interest is why people do this research in the first place. These studies tell us nothing about intelligence, black people, white people, genetics or environment. What they really show is the inherent racism of the ones doing the research.

Leeat Granek
Toronto, Dec. 10, 2007

Note from KBJ: People “do this research” because they want knowledge, both for its own sake and because it will make for better social (e.g., educational) policy. Isn’t that a sufficient reason?


Here is a New York Times op-ed column about the Second Amendment. Here is the text of the amendment:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Here are two ways to read it:

1. The only reason why the people have a right to keep and bear arms is that there needs to be a well-regulated militia.


2. One reason why the people have a right to keep and bear arms is that there needs to be a well-regulated militia.

The Supreme Court will almost certainly reject 1. As for 2, it is compatible with reasonable restrictions on firearm ownership and possession. Expect the Court to do for the Second Amendment what it has done for the First Amendment, namely, distinguish between justifiable and unjustifiable restrictions. People who expect anything else are in for a big letdown.

Ronald Dworkin on Liberty

In my view, liberty means the freedom to use what is properly or morally your property as you wish provided you respect the rights of others. So liberty is not infringed by just taxation. See Ronald Dworkin, Sovereign Virtue 120-83 (2000). But of course others think it is I who misunderstand the concept of liberty.

(Ronald Dworkin, “Thirty Years On,” review of The Practice of Principle: In Defense of a Pragmatist Approach to Legal Theory, by Jules Coleman, Harvard Law Review 115 [April 2002]: 1655-87, at 1667 n. 14)

Note from KBJ: Most people (including most of Dworkin’s fellow liberals) conceive of liberty as the absence of constraint. Since taxation is coercive, it constrains liberty. But constraints can be justified. All but anarchists believe that some taxation is justified. Dworkin conceives of liberty in such a way that not all taxation constrains (infringes) liberty. Some does; some doesn’t. Dworkin is free to use terms like “liberty” any way he wants. The rest of us, however, must not allow him to change meanings.

Note 2 from KBJ: Here’s what’s bizarre about Dworkin’s conception of liberty. Most of us assign intrinsic value to liberty. We say that liberty, understood as the absence of constraint, is good for its own sake, as well as for the sake of other good things it gets us. But liberty isn’t the only good thing. It can be justifiably infringed when it runs up against other goods. We say that there is a (rebuttable) presumption in favor of liberty. Dworkin accords no presumption to liberty. When taxation is just, it doesn’t even infringe liberty, and if it doesn’t infringe liberty, then the question whether the infringement is justified doesn’t even arise. Dworkin, therefore, assigns no intrinsic value to liberty, understood as the absence of constraint. For Dworkin, only equality (justice) matters. For most of us, both liberty and equality matter.

Note 3 from KBJ: I thought of a way to present this. Dworkin is claiming (rightly) that the following propositions are inconsistent:

1. Liberty is infringed only when it deprives one of what is properly one’s own.

2. Just taxation doesn’t deprive one of what is properly one’s own.

3. Just taxation infringes liberty.

The truth of any two of these propositions entails the falsity of the third. Proposition 2 is a tautology, so everyone must accept it. Dworkin rejects 3. Most people, including most of Dworkin’s fellow liberals, reject 1. Dworkin’s modus tollens (1, 2, ergo not 3) is most people’s conjunction (2, 3, ergo not 1).

A Year Ago



Yesterday’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram contained the following curious paragraph (in a story about the Texas Rangers baseball team):

“He [Kazuo Fukumori] is a reliever who has had a lot of success in Japan in a number of roles,” [General Manager Jon] Daniels said. “What really stood out is Kaz’s makeup. He wants to prove himself over here.”

My first thought was, “Makeup?! I wonder what kind he uses. Avon? Maybelline? Mary Kay?” But then I realized the word “makeup” is being used in a different sense, to mean character. So why didn’t Daniels use the word “character”? It’s perfect for what he’s trying to say. He’s saying that Fukumori has good character. For example, he has “grit.”

What is character, anyway? A person’s character consists of more or less stable traits that make that person’s behavior predictable. Character can be good or bad. People of good character, for example, can be counted on to tell the truth, keep commitments, help others, and obey the law. People of bad character can be counted on to do the opposite of these things. A virtue is a good character trait. A vice is a bad one. Most of us gravitate to people of good character and shy away from those who have bad character. Part of getting to know someone (including a prospective spouse) is learning about his or her character. We try to shape the characters of our children so that behaving well comes naturally (easily) for them. It’s even possible to change one’s own character, which is why it makes sense to hold people responsible for their vices. Ceteris paribus, the older you are, the more culpable you are for having a given vice.

Perhaps the word “character” has become too closely associated with morality to be of general use. If Daniels had used “character” rather than “makeup,” he might have been thought (by certain listeners or readers) to be making a moral judgment about Fukumori.  But wasn’t he? Isn’t grittiness a moral virtue? It’s related to sedulousness, firmness, resolve, and fortitude, each of which helps a person do the right thing. A person who lacks grit can’t be counted on to behave properly, especially when doing so is costly to him or her. Baseball teams, like families, are moral communities. The interests of individuals and their team are not identical. General managers want players who put the interests of their team ahead of their individual interests (when they conflict). One sign of this is grit. Players with grit will play when hurt. Players with grit will make sacrifices for the team. Players with grit will motivate  and inspire their teammates. Daniels believes that Fukumori has this moral quality. Why, then, didn’t he use the word “character”?

It’s all very strange. Can anyone explain how makeup differs from character? I’m seeing the word “makeup” quite often, usually in connection with athletes. I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes Word of the Year in 2008.

Safire on Language