Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Gregory S. Kavka (1947-1994) on Hobbes’s Rule Egoism

Whatever ultimate verdict is rendered on rule egoism as a viable moral system, viewing Hobbes as a rule egoist is surely necessary to enable us to understand what he is up to in his moral philosophy. His primary aim is to make the traditional moral virtues—justice, equity, and so on—attractive to his fellows, whom he views as (at best) predominant egoists. He points out that long-term and short-term interests do not always coincide and that, when reciprocation can be hoped for, practicing the traditional virtues is the best and most reliable way to maximize one’s long-term self-interest in an uncertain and perilous world of interpersonal interactions.

(Gregory S. Kavka, Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986], 383)

Note from KBJ: Every normative ethical theorist is either a consequentialist or a deontologist, depending on whether he or she thinks that acts are to be evaluated solely in terms of their consequences. (Consequentialists do; deontologists don’t.) Every normative ethical theorist is either a progressive or a conservative, depending on whether he or she uses the theory to criticize or support commonsense morality. (Progressives use it to criticize, conservatives to support.) These distinctions cut across one another, creating four categories: (1) consequentialists who are progressives; (2) consequentialists who are conservatives; (3) deontologists who are progressives; and (4) deontologists who are conservatives. Exemplars of category 1 are Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, R. M. Hare, J. J. C. Smart, and Peter Singer. Exemplars of category 2 are Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, and Henry Sidgwick.  Exemplars of category 3 are John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, and Thomas Nagel. Exemplars of category 4 are Immanuel Kant, H. A. Prichard, and W. D. Ross. See here for elaboration.

Yankee Watch

Strange things are coming out of A-Rod’s mouth. Here is my favorite paragraph:

Wherever A-Rod goes, there are questions. He is 8-for-59 (.136) in the postseason dating to 2004 and hitless in 18 consecutive playoff at-bats with runners in scoring position.


Twenty Years Ago

2-20-88 . . . It was interesting to read Ronald Dworkin’s article on the [Robert] Bork nomination, because I wrote a similar piece (though shorter) several months ago. [Ronald M. Dworkin, “The Bork Nomination,” Cardozo Law Review 9 (October 1987): 101-13.] Mine appeared in The General Practitioner. In his article, Dworkin opposes the nomination and argues that the [United States] Senate should not confirm Bork, while I argued that President [Ronald] Reagan was entitled to have Bork as his Supreme Court justice if he wanted him. Dworkin’s arguments don’t go to the heart of the matter. His basic argument is that Bork has no coherent, developed political philosophy. Dworkin spends much time showing that Bork has changed views over time and that he simply asserts, without argument, that judges ought to read the Constitution in a certain way. But what does this have to do with the Senate confirmation? Is Dworkin suggesting that only individuals with developed political philosophies should sit on the Court? He can’t be, because this begs the question against people like Bork, who argue that moral and political philosophy are not proper bases for resolving constitutional disputes. And I love how Dworkin refers to Bork as a “radical” (several times, in fact). Is Dworkin suggesting that only mainstream nominees should be confirmed? He seems to be. Though Dworkin’s arguments are flawed, I enjoyed reading the article. He’s a witty and entertaining writer.

In what turned out to be a nail-biter, the Arizona Wildcats defeated the UCLA Bruins, 78-76, in overtime. The game was played in Los Angeles. The Cats knew that if they won, they would clinch their second Pac-10 title in three years—both at tradition-rich Pauley Pavilion. But they probably didn’t expect it to be this difficult. Nor did I. The Cats blew a thirteen-point lead late in the first half, then needed a bucket with time running out to tie it. Sean Elliott, our All-American, hit it, a jumpshot from the corner that flirted with the rim. That sent it into overtime, where the Cats jumped ahead and held the lead. I would have been sick had the Cats lost. We’re now 26-2 with only three regular-season games remaining. We should win them easily, thus sending us into the Pac-10 tournament with an amazing 29-2 record. The real nail-biters start during the NCAA tournament.


Philosopher Stephen Webb reviews a new book on conservatism.

Animal Ethics

Here is my latest post.


The editorial board of the New York Times seems more intent on thwarting “the gun lobby” than on saving innocent lives. Why is it so hard to grasp that if there is a rule against carrying firearms in national parks, only criminals will have guns? The choice isn’t between no guns for anybody and guns for everybody; it’s between guns for those who want them and guns only for criminals.

Michelle on Michelle

Here is Michelle Malkin’s blog post (and column) about Michelle Obama. I’m starting to think that if it’s John McCain against Barack Obama in November, McCain will win all 50 states. When it comes to presidential politics, Democrats don’t have a clue. Repeat after me: Hubert Humphrey (1968), George McGovern (1972), Jimmy Carter (1980), Walter Mondale (1984), Michael Dukakis (1988), Al Gore (2000), John Kerry (2004), Barack Obama (2008). Losers all. Only Bill Clinton (1992, 1996) was undefeated, and he did little more than consolidate Ronald Reagan’s accomplishments.

Hall of Fame?

Mark Grace. (For an explanation of this feature, see here.)

Best of the Web Today


A Year Ago


From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Democrats Should Read Kipling” (column, Feb. 18):

William Kristol describes the Republicans as the party of “real-world responsibility.” Let’s take a look at some of this “real-world responsibility” over the last 40 years:

Richard M. Nixon prolonged a pointless conflict in Vietnam, spied on his political adversaries, presided over a scandal-ridden administration and resigned in disgrace.

Ronald Reagan pushed the government deep into debt on the basis of a dream-world economic theory, slashed social services and deeply eroded Americans’ confidence in the very idea of government.

George W. Bush drove the country deep into debt based on economic fantasies, invaded a country that posed no threat, eroded civil liberties, made torture and illegal spying official government policy, and took as executive prerogative the evisceration of any law he didn’t like.

Real-world responsibility apparently means fiscal, legal, military and, indeed, executive irresponsibility. How fitting that Mr. Kristol invokes George Orwell, the coiner of the term newspeak [sic], as his ally.

Jonathan Maskit
Granville, Ohio, Feb. 18, 2008

Note from KBJ: The letter writer unwittingly proves Kristol’s point about the low quality of thought of academic supporters of Democrats. He should step out of the progressive echo chamber from time to time. Then again, why should he? Academia is a safe place, devoid of responsibility. It’s much easier to rail at the establishment from a position of safety and comfort than to enter the realm of governance. Academia not only tolerates irresponsibility; it encourages and rewards it. See here.

Note 2 from KBJ: Here is what I wrote more than three years ago.

Guitar Hero

My friend Carlos is thinking about entering a Guitar Hero tournament. What is Guitar Hero? Is it like Pac-Man?


Has there ever been as detestable a sports franchise as the New York Yankees—detestable not merely in the sense of being capable of being detested, but in the sense of being worthy of it? Imagine trying to buy a World Series title. How is that unlike trying to buy a spouse, a friend, or a good grade in a college course?


I’m thinking ahead. (Maybe I’m thinking too much. Is it possible to think too much?) Barring some unforeseen and bizarre chain of events, our next president will be either John McCain, Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama. Let’s look at things from each person’s perspective:

1. If McCain is defeated in November, he’s done as a presidential candidate. He’s already too old. He’ll be even older four years from now. (McCain will be 76 years old on inauguration day in 2013 and would be 80 by the time his first term ended.)

2. If Clinton is defeated by Obama, she will hope that McCain is elected, for that would allow her to run again in 2012. Why? Because if Obama beats McCain, he will be the presumptive nominee in 2012. While it’s not unheard of for a sitting president to face a primary challenge (think of Jimmy Carter in 1980), it’s unlikely. Clinton will be 65 years old on inauguration day in 2013 and 69 in 2017. Americans are not going to elect a 69-year-old woman to be their commander in chief. Maybe that’s sexist, but it’s true—and Clinton knows it.

3. If Obama is defeated by Clinton, he, too, will hope that McCain is elected, but not to the same extent as Clinton would, for he is younger. He’ll be only 55 years old on inauguration day in 2017. He can afford to wait eight years (two Clinton administrations) to run again.

What do you think? By the way, I’m assuming, for the sake of analysis, that Clinton and Obama care only about themselves. Things are complicated if they care about their party or their country as well.