Tuesday, 8 April 2008


Americans are coming to see that free trade is bad for this country.

Paul A. Boghossian on Reasons for Belief

What do we mean by a reason for belief? Ordinarily, we have in mind evidence for the belief, a consideration or observation that increases the likelihood of the truth of the belief. . . . Let us call such reasons epistemic reasons.

Some philosophers have thought that there can also be non-epistemic reasons for believing a given proposition. Many religious conversions were achieved at the point of a gun: “Believe this or else. . . .” A person staring down a gun barrel could be thought to have reason to adopt whatever creed was being promoted—a pragmatic reason, if not an epistemic one: the considerations offered don’t speak to the belief’s truth but only to the pragmatic advantages of having it (not getting your head blown off).

This distinction—between epistemic and pragmatic reasons for belief—is illustrated by Blaise Pascal‘s famous argument to the effect that we all have reason to believe in God. Pascal’s point was that the consequences of failing to believe in Him if he exists (eternal hell fire and damnation) are much worse than the consequences of believing in Him if he does not (a certain amount of sin-avoidance and contrition). Hence, it is better on the whole to believe than not. If the argument worked, at most it would establish that we have a pragmatic reason for believing in God, not an epistemic one, for the argument does nothing to further the likelihood that the Almighty exists. By contrast, we commonly take astronomical observations of Jupiter to provide us with epistemic, not pragmatic, reasons for believing that it has a certain number of moons.

(Paul A. Boghossian, Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007], 14 [italics in original; first ellipsis added] [first published in 2006])


Dr John J. Ray, my polymathic friend Down Under, has an interesting blog post entitled “Leftism and Hate.”

A Year Ago


Yankee Watch

Baltimore’s magic number to eliminate the New York Yankees is 153.


If this isn’t the best album ever made, then the Detroit Tigers aren’t the best team in baseball.

Addendum: Oops.

Addendum 2: Here is my favorite song from the album. At 6:04, the rope snaps.

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

The depiction of Gen. David H. Petraeus in “Generally Speaking” (Week in Review, April 6) underscores the hypocrisy of prevailing notions of civil-military relations.

In the interest of civilian control and political neutrality, it’s not O.K., as I understand it, for those in uniform to openly oppose administration policies—even unannounced ones (as when Adm. William J. Fallon was pushed into retirement recently after speaking out against the hypothetical prospect of using military force against Iran).

But it’s acceptable for them to openly support administration policies—even strategically deleterious, militarily wasteful, politically motivated ones. And it’s acceptable for civilian authorities, including the commander in chief, to abrogate accountability by relinquishing de facto decision-making authority to high-visibility officers like General Petraeus to make their case for them.

Which is more objectionable: political cowardice masquerading as deference to military expertise, or compliant military followership masquerading as iconic martial leadership?

Gregory D. Foster
Washington, April 6, 2008
The writer is a professor at the National Defense University.

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