Sunday, 23 March 2008

Graduate Record Examinations

Anyone care to explain this?

“The Fever Swamps of Jeremiah Wright”

Here is Mark Steyn’s latest column. Steyn is rapidly becoming my favorite columnist. Other contenders for the title are Thomas Sowell, Charles Krauthammer, George Will, Victor Davis Hanson, and Pat Buchanan.




The first of three weekends is over. Sixteen of 64 teams are left in the NCAA tournament. My beloved Arizona Wildcats (seeded 10th in the West) went down to defeat, but so did #2 Duke, #2 Georgetown, #4 Vanderbilt, #4 Pittsburgh, and #4 Connecticut. Three of the six Pac-10 teams in the tournament (UCLA, Stanford, and Washington State) are in the round of 16. Only three of the eight Big East teams in the tournament (Louisville, West Virginia, and Villanova) remain. The Pac-10 is by far the strongest basketball conference.

A Year Ago


From the Mailbag

If Obama’s grandmother is a “typical white person,” is his “Uncle” a typical black person?

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Senator Barack Obama has denounced sermons laced with black nationalist statements by his Afrocentric pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Given Mr. Obama’s racially mixed white-black heritage, it would have been absurd for Senator Obama not to have done otherwise.

So before playing the race card in attacks on Mr. Obama, as white conservatives are doing by attempts to turn Mr. Wright into Mr. Obama’s “Willie Horton,” they might well consider how that ploy has hurt Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in the primaries.

A majority of white Americans of either major party no longer support racist politics. Conservatives engaged in a racial smear campaign against Mr. Obama put Senator John McCain’s election success at risk, and the risk is not only the loss of black Republicans.

Carl Senna
St. John, New Brunswick, March 19, 2008

Note from KBJ: Isn’t it nice of Carl Senna to render strategic advice to conservatives?

Thomas Nagel on the Autonomy of Ethics

[E]thics is meant to govern action, not just belief. In trying to solve ethical problems we are trying to find out how to live and how to arrange our social institutions—we are not just trying to develop a more accurate picture of the world and the people in it. Therefore, ethics is connected with motivation. It begins not with prereflective ideas about what the world is like, but with prereflective ideas about what to do, how to live, and how to treat other people. It progresses by the subjection of these impulses to examination, codification, questioning, criticism, and so on. As in other areas, this is partly an individual process and partly a social one. And the progress of earlier ages is included as part of the socialization of members of later ones, some of whom may make advances in turn.

The development in this case is not just intellectual but motivational, and it cannot be pursued exclusively by small groups of experts, as some scientific or technical subjects can. Because the questions are about how men should live and how societies should be arranged, the answers must be accepted and internalized by many people to be effective, even if only as steps in a continuing process. Though they need not be internalized equally by everyone, this requirement makes ethics a more democratic subject than any science, and severely limits its rate of progress. The community of debate does not comprise a set of experts, except in special institutional cases like the judicial system.

Still, the premise of this view of ethics as a subject for rational development is that motives, like beliefs, can be criticized, justified, and improved—in other words that there is such a thing as practical reason. This means that we can reason not only, as Hume thought, about the most effective methods of achieving what we want but also what we should want, both for ourselves and for others.

It is of the utmost importance that such an investigation, such reasoning, is internal to the subject. It does not proceed by the application to this subject of methods developed in relation to other subjects, or of a general method of problem-solving and question-answering. While there are some extremely general conditions of rationality, they will not get one very far in any specific area of inquiry. Whether it is molecular biology, algebra, or distributive justice, one has to develop questions, concepts, arguments, and principles by thinking about that field and allowing reason and intuition to respond to its specific character. It happens again and again that the methods of one subject are taken as a model of intellectual respectability or objective rationality, and are then applied to a quite different subject for which they were not developed and for which they are unsuited. The results are shallow questions, nonexplanatory theories, and the anathematization of important questions as meaningless. Fields that lack a well-developed method of their own, such as the social sciences, psychology, and ethics, are particularly vulnerable to such intellectual displacement.

(T. Nagel, “Ethics as an Autonomous Theoretical Subject,” in Morality as a Biological Phenomenon: The Presuppositions of Sociobiological Research, rev. ed., ed. Gunther S. Stent [Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1980], 196-205, at 198-9)

Safire on Language