Monday, 7 April 2008

“This Gaggle of Cranks and Parasites”

I leave you this fine evening with a column by Christopher Hitchens, who, when he’s not talking about religion or Ronald Reagan, makes sense.

Twenty Years Ago

4-7-88 . . . There’s a television show on PBS (the Public Broadcasting System [sic; should be “Service”]) entitled Wild America. It’s produced by Marty Stouffer and usually contains interesting footage of animals in their natural environments. Tonight the subject of the show was rattlesnakes. Stouffer and a cameraperson entered a cave in Oklahoma to film what Stouffer called a “snake dance”. Deep in the cave, two full-grown male snakes wound around each other in midair, sometimes moving in unison and sometimes pushing against each other. Stouffer described it as a dominance ritual, with the dominant male gaining access to the nearby female. I found it fascinating. What nerve Stouffer has! To get to the back of the cave, he had to move dozens of rattlesnakes from his path. All he had was a forked stick. As he sat watching the dance, he occasionally turned around to find a snake approaching. He casually moved it away and continued watching. I probably shouldn’t have watched this show. I’ll have nightmares about snake dens.

The [Detroit] Tigers won again, improving their record to 2-1. I hope they get off to a good start, but the most important thing is to stay close. Come September, if you’re close to the leader of the division, you can get hot and win it all.

Cogito Ergo Sum

Here is a New York Times story about the resurgence of interest in philosophy.

A Year Ago


Israel Scheffler on Ethical Subjectivism

Perhaps a word should be said at this point about the much-debated issue of subjectivity in ethics. On the present account, disagreements over justification are rationally soluble only if initial commitments are constant. Now it is clearly reasonable to assume that degrees of such commitment are assigned differently by different people, and especially by members of different cultures. But this seems to me highly realistic. Legal and ethical outlooks in different cultures may develop justificational schemes which follow the same rational pattern, and yet, since they start from different initial positions, may conflict beyond the possibility of rational adjudication. The same is obviously true of persons within the same cultural environment, or of the same person at different stages of growth. Such subjectivity is not, however, tantamount to the irrationality of the domain of ethics. According to the prevalent stereotype, the rational realm is the realm in which all must eventually come to agree, and the model of such a realm is science. I fail to see, however, what Providence guarantees universal agreement in any domain. Certainly, if the present analysis is correct, subjectivity reigns in the same sense, though perhaps to a lesser degree, in the cognitive or scientific domain, since all justification rests upon initial commitments, which may vary from time to time and from person to person. How to bring a hallucinatory schizophrenic, by rational means, to agree to the truth of physics is, I think, a hopeless problem; one which cannot be  decided by defining physics as a rational domain. Rationality, in any event, does not create commitments, but only sets up communication among them, so that we may be guided by a controlled totality, rather than by any single one gone wild. Though disagreements, then, over initial commitments are not rationally soluble, this subjectivity is inevitable in all domains and hence cannot entail a distinguishing irrationality for ethics.

Furthermore, there is a practical factor which offsets the theoretical subjectivity in question. We cannot determine with finality at any given time, regarding any given disagreement, that we have exhausted rational means of adjudication and gotten down to the rock bottom of all relevant initial commitments. Theoretically, we may always continue to expand our attention, originally focused on the circumscribed area of conflict, so that it takes in more and more of the totality of our acts. We may hope to encounter some area of shared commitment, of systematic centrality, such that the original disagreement will be overshadowed. Thus, subjectivity, in the sense indicated, is compatible with a constant practical relevance of shared search for areas of agreement.

(Israel Scheffler, “On Justification and Commitment,” The Journal of Philosophy 51 [18 March 1954]: 180-90, at 189-90)

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Your April 4 editorial “There Were Orders to Follow” brings attention to additional evidence that it could take years to unearth the full extent of the damage inflicted on our nation by this Bush administration.

While it will never happen, once the election is over, an independent commission should be appointed to investigate once and for all the nation’s unseemly march to war, the administration’s apparent disregard for civil liberties and international standards of conduct, and its support of policies that served to advance cronyism, self-dealing and economic waste on a monumental scale.

For future generations to be able to identify and marginalize such conduct, it needs to be identified and exposed. While security demands vigilance to thwart the enemy from without, we should not ignore the more insidious dangers posed by contemptible policies foisted on us from within.

Robert I. Goodman
Rye Brook, N.Y., April 4, 2008

Best of the Web Today



I’m not surprised that Memphis reached the title game of the NCAA tournament. I’m a bit surprised that Kansas made it this far. Tonight’s game is going to be a barnburner. Here is the truth in prospect: Memphis 84, Kansas 77. Feel free to make a prediction of your own, but keep in mind that I will mock you mercilessly if you mess up. By the way, the appetizer this evening is a Yankee loss to Tampa Bay. A-Rod leaves seven runners on base.

Addendum: Kansas 75, Memphis 68, in overtime. Memphis deserved to lose. If I were a coach, I would make each player make 100 free throws before leaving practice each day. The sooner you make them, the sooner you go home.


Didn’t I just turn 50? How can I be 51? The past year has flown by. At this rate, it’ll all be over in a week or two. Have you ever heard someone say that you should live each day as if it were your last? Could there be a sillier adage? To get anything done, you must believe that there are many days yet to come. By the way, how many of you would like to live forever? I don’t mean in Heaven; I mean in this vale of tears, with your present body.

Addendum: Mark Spahn, who is also celebrating his birthday today, sent a link to this Wikipedia page. Inexplicably, both of us were left off the list of events. Happy birthday, Mark!