Sunday, 30 December 2007


I hope the title of this column is a rhetorical question. If it isn’t, we’re in big trouble.

Twenty Years Ago

12-30-87 Wednesday. Until last night, I hadn’t given much thought to my plans for the remainder of the week. I simply assumed that David [Schmidtz] and I would find other accommodations and spend our time sightseeing. But last night, David called Leigh Bernstein, a friend of his and an acquaintance of mine, and arranged to stay there for a few days. Her parents were also in town, so there wasn’t room for me. I took the news calmly, but all of a sudden I was worried. I had less than two hundred dollars to last four days and did not particularly want to be alone in the big city. Without David to share hotel expenses, it would be hard for me to make it until Saturday, when our airplane was scheduled to leave. So after David left for his morning interviews, I showered, packed my things, and left the hotel, leaving David a note and my hotel “key” (it wasn’t really a key; it was a piece of plastic, like a credit card). My plan was to find a cheaper hotel near LaGuardia airport, and in the process get off the island of Manhattan.

It was bitter cold outside. After making a few inquiries, I found a bus service to the airport, paid six dollars, and waited in a hotel lobby. Oddly enough, I was the only person on the bus. The driver, a middle-aged black man, struck up a conversation with me. He was particularly interested in Arizona—the weather, the topology, and the people. It sounded like he was planning for his retirement. As we neared the airport, I asked him about hotels. He pointed out a couple and told me which, in his opinion, was likely to be cheapest. I tried to give him a dollar when I got off, but he refused to take it. “You’re a student”, he said. It was that simple; I knew exactly what he meant. I put it in my pocket and thanked him. See? Not everyone in New York City is a money-grubbing, rude person. I was genuinely touched by this man. Perhaps he, too, was touched, because I treated him with respect and did my best to answer his questions about Arizona.

At some point during the bus ride, or shortly after I got off, it occurred to me that I might be able to leave for Tucson early. It would pose no problem for David, who had his own airplane ticket, and it would save me lots of money. I decided to ask. Sure enough, I was placed on standby for the next plane leaving LaGuardia for Pittsburgh. I was told that I would get a seat only if no ticketed passenger wanted it. Moreover, I would be on the same standby basis in Pittsburgh. But as far as I was concerned, the closer I got to Tucson, the better. If nothing else, hotels were bound to be cheaper in Pittsburgh than in New York City. During my wait, in a freezing, crowded US Air terminal, I saw Charles Griswold, one of the two interviewers from Howard University. We chatted for a few minutes. Griswold told me that, as far as he could see, he would be contacting me again. That’s good news. At least someone was positively influenced by my interviews.

This must be my lucky day. The plane was substantially overbooked, which means that some passengers with tickets were denied a seat. I occupied an even worse status; I had no ticket for this flight. But after half an hour of dickering with the passengers, offering them alternative flights and cash discounts, there was one seat remaining. I happened to be standing there, so I asked if [sic; should be “whether”] I could have it. The flight attendant told me to come aboard, with my luggage, so I did. I had, literally, the last seat on the plane. It was in the back. My companion on the flight was a young black man from Oregon, Floyd Jackson. I learned during our conversation that he’s a practicing psychiatrist. And get this: He did his residency and internship at Harvard and Yale. To top it off, he was a member of the 1984 United States Olympic team—in bicycling. I noticed that he was reading a newsletter on triathlons, so I inquired about whether he participates in them. He does. And he was a polite person to boot. This is a perfect example of how people should not be judged by their appearance. Here was a mild-mannered, ordinary-looking person who happened to be both intelligent and athletic. I enjoyed the conversation.

The flight to Pittsburgh took only an hour or so. When it appeared that I would have to spend the night there, I decided to call Mom and let her know of my revised plans. She asked if [sic] I could catch a flight into Detroit and visit her and Jerry for a few days. I tried this, but to no avail. Finally, after walking a mile to a Wendy’s restaurant for dinner (it was a clear, cold day in Pittsburgh), I called Mom again. This time she suggested a Greyhound bus ride. I had time on my hands and wanted to come home, so I called the bus terminal and made arrangements for a ride from Pittsburgh to Saginaw (for sixty-two dollars). An hour later I was in downtown Pittsburgh, waiting for the bus. Until today, I had a bad impression of Pittsburgh. I thought it was cold, dirty, and rundown. But what I saw this evening has changed my mind. The downtown area is beautiful. A large river flows through it (actually, three rivers, but I saw only one) and the banks rise majestically on each side. The place was amply lit. I saw riverboats docked on the side and plenty of fancy stores and restaurants. I’d like to see this place in the daytime.

When I got in line for the bus, I saw a short, old man in front of me. He looked Amish, and I later learned that he was. I asked him if [sic] he would watch my luggage while I made a telephone call. He said that he would. I called Mom, then returned to my place in line. “Thanks for watching my luggage”, I said. “Thank you for trusting me”, he replied. That cemented our relationship. I introduced myself, learned that his name was Eli J. Miller and that he was from Port Trevorton, Pennsylvania, and shook his hand. Eli was headed for northern Michigan to visit friends, so it appeared that we would be together for several hours. We sat together on the bus. The odd thing about Eli is that he has repudiated his Amish roots. He now calls himself a “Christian”. He thinks that the Amish have gone astray and have distanced themselves from God. One of the first questions he asked me is whether I am a Christian. “No”, I said; “I’m an agnostic”. This caused a look of consternation on his face, but it didn’t seem to affect our relationship. We became friends instantly.

As the bus rumbled along, we talked about the Amish religion, the difference between agnosticism and atheism, the relation between religion and morality, and certain doctrines that Eli holds. Eli, as I say, was dressed in traditional Amish clothing: denim jeans and overcoat, heavy boots, and a black, flat-rimmed hat. He had a long, gray beard and moist, sad eyes. But Eli was a proud man. He raised ten children, some of whom are Amish and some of whom are “just Christian”, has a wife, and is seventy years old. He lives a simple life in Pennsylvania. He plows his fields with a horse, heats his house with a wood stove, and eats basic foods. He seems to be in good shape, physically, and has an active and fertile mind. I loved our discussions. In Cleveland, where we had a twenty-minute stopover, we used the bathroom and ate. I treated Eli to a chicken sandwich and orange juice. Rather than thank me directly, Eli said that the Lord had blessed him by my presence. He prayed before each meal. When we reboarded, I leaned back in my seat to rest. It had been a long and volatile day, but I was pleased with the outcome.

Lewis and Clark

Turn that football game off! Learn some history. See here and here for a 1950 dramatization of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Pay attention, because there will be a test afterward.


Blitz, clothesline, chop block
Holding, offside, stiff-arming
Iowa caucus

Gregory S. Kavka (1947-1994) on Conditional Arguments

Some may not be satisfied with these responses to the Marxist objection to Predominant Egoism. Others will regard degrees of altruism as purely environmentally determined, on different grounds than those offered by Marxists. Yet others will interpret the observational evidence about human motivation quite differently from the way we have and will on that basis reject Predominant Egoism. To those who for these or other reasons decline to accept Predominant Egoism, a final alternative may be offered: Treat the arguments and conclusions that follow as conditional or hypothetical. Regard them as having the form “If people were (or are) predominantly egoistic, then. . . .” This will allow you to follow the reasoning of, and discern the structure and content of, Hobbesian moral and political theory. The only difference will be in the lessons drawn. You will see, through your relatively rose-colored glasses, the implications of what you take to be an erroneous pessimism. Hobbesians, by contrast, will see a system of plausible moral and political hypotheses emerging from a realistic portrayal of human nature.

(Gregory S. Kavka, Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986], 80)

Note from KBJ: I love this paragraph. Do you see what Kavka is saying? He’s making an argument, one premise of which is Predominant Egoism (the thesis, crudely stated, that human beings are by nature predominantly egoistic). He knows that not everyone accepts this premise and that those who don’t accept it (such as Marxists) will not be persuaded to accept the argument’s conclusion. “Keep reading anyway!” Kavka says. “You might learn something about Hobbesian moral and political theory.” This is exactly right. To persuade rationally, one must use only premises that one’s interlocutor accepts. If your major premise is utilitarianism, for example, you have no chance of persuading me to accept your conclusion, since I’m not a utilitarian. But that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in your argument, because I’m very much interested in what utilitarianism implies. If I understand utilitarianism well, I may even find fault with your argument! As a philosopher, my goal is to understand every normative ethical theory, every normative political theory, every religion, and every philosophical doctrine. Actually, there’s nothing distinctively philosophical about this. Everyone should strive to understand every important theory, religion, and doctrine. If you’re not at least striving to do this, then you’re wasting what sets you apart from other animals.


Here is a New York Times editorial opinion on immigration. The board asks several questions of the presidential candidates:

What should be the role of immigrant labor in our economy? How does the country maximize its benefits and lessen its ill effects? Once the border is fortified, what happens to the 12 million illegal immigrants already here? Should they be expelled or allowed to assimilate? How? What about the companies that hire them?

And what about the future flow of workers? Should the current system of legal immigration, with its chronic backlogs and morbid inefficiencies, be tweaked or trashed? What is the proper role of state and local governments in enforcing immigration laws? And will a national identity card for immigrants bring on Big Brother for everyone?

I’m not a presidential candidate, but here’s how I expect my candidate to answer:

What should be the role of immigrant labor in our economy? There is no role for illegal-immigrant labor in our economy. Legal immigrants are expected to work, obey the law, and be self-sufficient, like anyone else.

How does the country maximize its benefits and lessen its ill effects? By ensuring that those who come here speak English and have jobs lined up.

Once the border is fortified, what happens to the 12 million illegal immigrants already here? Those who are here illegally must be deported. Once they have returned to their own country, they are free to get in line. Perhaps they should be made to wait a few years as punishment for breaking our laws.

Should they be expelled or allowed to assimilate? How? Expelled.

What about the companies that hire them? Those who hire illegal aliens should be punished.

And what about the future flow of workers? Should the current system of legal immigration, with its chronic backlogs and morbid inefficiencies, be tweaked or trashed? Tweaked. How many people we take in, and which ones, is up to us, not to those who would come here. In other words, that there is a “backlog” is of no moment.

What is the proper role of state and local governments in enforcing immigration laws? Immigration is a national responsibility. Everyone, including agents of states, must abide by federal law. No sanctuary cities.

And will a national identity card for immigrants bring on Big Brother for everyone? There is no need for identity cards. Those who immigrate in accordance with our laws become American citizens, with all the rights and responsibilities that entails.

It’s pretty simple, really.

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

There is a critical distinction between Mitt Romney’s and John Edwards’s wealth. Mr. Romney, as a businessman, made investments that created wealth. Mr. Edwards, as a trial lawyer, made his money through lawsuits that merely took from one pocket and gave to another, and probably destroyed wealth in the process. (Mr. Edwards’s multimillion-dollar medical malpractice verdicts almost certainly hurt the quality of health care in North Carolina.)

Little wonder that Mr. Romney understands that to improve the economy, one needs to expand the pie, while Mr. Edwards’s policy proposals focus entirely on the redistribution of the existing pie without thought for the future adverse consequences to the size of the pie.

Theodore H. Frank
Washington, Dec. 23, 2007
The writer is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.

A Year Ago


Dissecting Leftism

Dr John J. Ray, my polymathic friend Down Under, has his usual batch of blog posts, including a humorous one on surnames. My surname, “Burgess-Jackson,” comes from “Burgess” (my mother’s maiden name) and “Jackson” (my father’s name). “Burgess” means “freeman or citizen of an English borough” and “Jackson” means son of Jack.

From the Mailbag


I have just posted the first of the three essays on free-will. The link here is to the main blog, and the paper is actually in Bill’s Big Stuff. It is nine pages long in Word at 10-point type. It took a bit longer to get it posted than I planned, I had two major gaps to be filled. The second paper needs to be created from my notes that worked out most of the ideas this fall. It will be a while before it is ready. The third paper is probably as far along as the first was a few weeks ago. I think it is rather funny that I managed to skip the middle where the guts of the ideas need to be developed. Rather like the cartoon of a professor at the chalk board doing a major calculation, and in the middle is says, “then a miracle happens.”

I would be interested in any comments you might have on the post. I sure there are deficiencies and if you see them I would appreciate knowing about them. My guess is this might be at the level of an upper-division term paper, but I have to start somewhere.

Have a very happy and successful New Year,

Best regards,