Wednesday, August 25, 2004
For those of you who haven't seen them, they say, "The Chief: YESTERDAY, TODAY, FOREVER" -- a direct and disturbing reference to racist Governor George Wallace's famous quote, "Segregation yesterday, today, and forever".
First day of school
Monday, August 23, 2004
Untitled post #6
The keynote is insecurity, an insecurity that arose, above all, from the German paranoia about encirclement, matched by Britain's insecurity about its naval power. How a great power at the apex of its influence, with no obvious rivals in sight--the British didn't want a rival navy, but were more or less content with a minor German empire--grew convinced that it was beset by an overwhelming existential danger is difficult for a contemporary American to understand, of course, but somehow that is what happened.
Thursday, August 19, 2004
Anyhow, over metablogwards, Hannah posted this awhile back:
I wonder if theoretical perspectives like the gaze could be used to think about blogging. A friend was talking about how he was reading this girl's blog because he liked her, and he knew all these things about her like when she got a boyfriend, etc. But I don't think he was posting comments on the blog, just reading it.Hmmmm.
So what about voyeurism with blogs? What about people out there who are reading them and not commenting on them? I know my friends, the ones reading and commenting, but there's no requirement to comment, and no reason why one can't follow your every step based on your blog. Interesting, and a bit scary.
I don't know about the stalker aspect, but I do find that knowledge of the possibility of an audience makes it easier for me to write. Or, at any rate, it makes it easier for me to write pieces that have a coherent beginning, middle, and end. I guess if I were to try to translate this into some kind of critical theory idiom that I don't really understand then what I'd say is that the possibility of an audience imposes a discipline on the writer. And to go a step further, I think this is all to the good.
Free at last, free at last
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
Blogger blog blogging
On the other hand, I'm reasonably confident that things will get better now that Google is bankrolling the whole shebang. In fact, I'm pretty sure that things have been getting better in fits and starts.
The latest innovation is that the banner ad is gone and has been replaced by a navbar. There are more than a few skeptics** of the innovation, but I like it. For one thing, I think it makes my page look better.*** But what I really like is the next blog button in the top right corner. Talk about a valuable procrastinatory aid!
Today I found Jesus Revolution, a blog that I'm not quite sure what to think of. I can't tell from a casual perusal whether it's run by a fundamentalist or someone with more Haurerwasian leanings. I hope it's the latter.
* Actually, I've been thinking about disabling comments as part of my ignore-the-audience initiative.
** To be fair, the navbar has messed up The Squire's template.
*** And with a page this ugly, I need all the help I can get.
Monday, August 16, 2004
An introduction to the logic of quantification*
- All Ps are Qs.
- There is a P which is a Q.
- Some Ps are Qs.
- There is a P which is not a Q.
- Some Ps are not Qs.
* Yes, Virginia, this post is metablogging.
Friday, August 13, 2004
General and particular
As you probably know, McGreevey gave a speech yesterday in which he both came out as gay and announced his resignation as the governor of New Jersey. The connection between those two facts is a little bit unclear. Preliminary reports seem to indicate that McGreevey had an affair with a man by the name of Golan Cipel, gave Cipel any number of jobs that he didn't deserve (including New Jersey's top Homeland Security post), and was facing a $5 million dollar sexual harrassment suit from Cipel. This is all on top of a history of credible allegations that McGreevey was more than a little muddy when it came to political patronage.
If you look at the particulars of the scandal, then it's pretty hard to deny that McGreevey would have been in extremely hot political water even if the affair had been with a live woman. For myself, I'm inclined to believe that (a) the same scandal with a live woman would have ended McGreevey's political career; and, (b) McGreevey's actions are sufficiently egregious that the people of New Jersey are well rid of him.
At the same time, I think it's just ridiculous to take these two points and conclude from them that McGreevey's sexual orientation isn't politically relevant. I've read folks around the web claiming that his sexuality was an open secret and asserting that the good people of New Jersey wouldn't have allowed a little buggery to cloud their voting preferences. This is just bullshit. You can condemn McGreevey's actions from a standpoint that's neutral with regard to sexual orientation, but I doubt very much that they can be understood without first acknowledging the fact that we live in a deeply homophobic culture. As far as the electoral prognostication goes, I'll believe it when the first openly gay politician is elected to statewide office anywhere. Until then, save it.
But I said that there was tension for me here. Let me try to explain. Here's a paragraph from a (very rough) draft of a paper I'm working on:
First, it rules out of court the possibility that we might regard ourselves as having reason to act, and even moral reason, in cases where we are not prepared to articulate a principle on which we are acting. Given the complexity of particular moral decisions, it’s not clear that we will always be willing to locate or endorse such a principle. The point is that any principle we find will, necessarily, simplify the situation. This means that by committing ourselves to acting from principle, we commit ourselves to acting on reasons which are less fine grained than are the situations in which we find ourselves.In the quoted graf my main contention is that we should seek to understand each moral situation through close attention to its idiosyncratic particularity, rather than through the lens of more general principles of interpretation. My analysis of the McGreevey case, though, appears to conflict with my theoretical commitment. In the McGreevey analysis my contention is that paying too close attention to the particulars of the case will block from view more general facts that we ought to attend to. As it happens, I'm confident that this apparent tension can be reconciled. I think, that is, that the right thing to say is that we misrepresent the idiosyncratic particularity of the McGreevey case if we bracket off facts about the status of homosexuality in American culture. But while it's clear enough what I want to say, it seems to me that I have to put a lot more thought into the issue of how we conceptualize the particular.
It's a puzzle.
Thursday, August 12, 2004
Normativity and morality
Of the philosophers working today, the one most tightly focused on issues of normativity is probably Christine Korsgaard. In a series of lectures published under the title The sources of normativity she argues that the central question that must be asked of any moral theory is the one posed by an agent of whom moral action is demanded. The moral theory must, Korsgaard says, have an adequate answer ready when such an agent asks, “why should I do this?” Korsgaard calls this question the normative question.
I don’t want to go too deeply into Korsgaard’s way of answering the normative question, but it will be helpful to say a few words about the sort of answer she believes to be appropriate. Consider a simple case: Tommy sees that Kathleen is choking and realizes that he could easily relieve her suffering, possibly saving her life. He then asks, “why should I do this?” For most people, most of the time, it would be enough to say, “Kathleen is choking and if you don’t help she may die.” If Tommy were in a particularly contrary mood you might also have to explain such things to him as the facts that dying is a bad thing, Kathleen is a human being, helping is easy, and so on. What you wouldn’t do is launch into a philosophical speech about the way that helping Kathleen corresponds to a genuine moral facts or must be done in order to unify one’s agency.
These sorts of reasons, the ones that occur to us at the moment of moral action, aren’t the focus of Korsgaard’s inquiry. Her interest begins at that point where Tommy reflects on the question of why he was moved by the concerns articulated in that moment. At this point Tommy might well call for a philosophical theory which looks deeply enough into human motivations and reasons to explain to him why it was that he was moved as he was. The adequacy of such a theory, Korsgaard holds, does not depend solely on its descriptive success. It must also be the case that our commitment to first order moral reasons survives the theory’s higher order explication of that commitment.
The paradigm of an inadequate theory, according to Korsgaard, is the evolutionary account. We might imagine that attention to the workings of selective pressures would reveal to us the reproductive utility of a commitment to norms favoring altruism, particularly when altruistic behavior has few costs. Such a theory, Korsgaard argues, would fall short of providing a justification of altruism to the individual. What such a theory shows is, at most, something along the lines of the claim that, in general, reproductive success is connected to the display of altruistic behaviors. This leaves it open to the individual to question whether a particular altruistic act would, in fact, contribute to reproductive success, and whether reproductive success is itself worth pursuing. Moreover, Korsgaard says, if such questions aren’t left open to the individual then the result will be that the individual’s place in the world will be that of an automaton rather than that of an agent.
The details of Korsgaard’s own accounts of normativity and of what would count as a successful answer to the normative question are deeply controversial. Nevertheless, it is widely thought that her presentation of the normative question is an interesting and fruitful development in the study of ethics. Why? Just because it gives us insight into an ethical theory when we take up the sort of perspective that Korsgaard recommends. It encourages us to begin ethical inquiry not with abstruse metaphysical inquiries about the status of morality but rather with the thought that morality, if it is anything, is something that has a hold on us. What, then, could it be? That’s a question I’ll come back to.
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
Haidt and associates (1993: 613) presented stories about `harmless yet offensive violations of strong social norms' to men and women of high and low socioeconomic status (SES). For example: a man goes to the supermarket once a week and buys a dead chicken. But before cooking the chicken, he has sexual intercourse with it. Then he cooks it and eats it. (Haidt et al. 1993: 617). Lower SES subjects tended to `moralize' harmless and offensive behaviour like that in the chicken story. These subjects were more inclined than their privileged counterparts to say that the actor should be `stopped or punished,' and more inclined to deny that such behaviours would be `OK' if customary in a given country (Haidt et al. 1993: 618-19).
[Source: Doris, John M. and Stephen P. Stich (2004). ETHICS AND PSYCHOLOGY . In E. Craig (Ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge.]
Doris and Stich draw a conclusion for philosophical method. Philosophers, especially those working in ethics, are inclined to treat their own moral intuitions as evidence for the correctness of their favored interpretation of morality. Doris and Stich note that the academic setting of contemporary philosophy virtually guarantees that its practitioners will possess high socioeconomic status. So, when philosophers assume their intuitions to be normative, they unknowingly assume that the intuitions of those with high socioeconomic status trump the intuitions of those from other backgrounds. Given this situation, Doris and Stich recommend that if philosophers continue to make use of thought experiments that they consign them to an expository rather than an evidentiary role.
I haven't been able to track down the Haidt article*, so my response to Doris and Stich is preliminary. I have questions regarding the factors that go into determining social and economic status, and how those various factors are correlated. It would be interesting to know, for example, whether the results are more highly correlated with educational achievement or with income. The most I am confident in saying at this point is that there is some variable, call it SES, which is correlated with ethical intuitions.
There is, it seems to me, an interesting political point to be made. Note that the families of responses correlate roughly with positions that might be called 'socially progressive' and 'socially conservative'. It doesn't take a particularly astute observer of American politics to note that this divide has been used by the Republican Party in service of an agenda that, viewed from a materialist perspective, favors the interests of the monied elite. Moreover, this marriage of ideology and policy is not mere accident. Consider, for example, the notion that each person has an absolute right to the product of his own labors. This doctrine is a tenet of social conservatism which has the effect of contributing to the reproduction of existing structural inequalities. It has been used to garner broad support among the economically less well off in favor of polices that don't materially benefit them. Examples include support for the repeal of the inheritance tax, for the lowering of marginal rates of income tax, and for the weakening of the social welfare net.
The upshot is that the Republicans, or at any rate the monied elites who benefit from Republican policy, have reason to promote broad acceptance of social conservatism, and hence reason to seek that value of SES which is correlated with socially conservative intuitions. If this variable does, in fact, correlate with advantages in social and economic status then this comes very close to empirical support for Marx's remarks about the nature of ruling class ideology. But that's a whole 'nother can of worms.
*But here's a citation: Haidt, J., Koller, S. and Dias, M. (1993) `Affect, Culture, and Morality, or Is It Wrong To Eat Your Dog?', Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 65 (4): 613-28
Monday, August 09, 2004
A Google star is born
Thursday, August 05, 2004
What it is, what it was, and what it shall be
This proposal sounds more radical than it is. To say that reality is a product of language is to say that the application of such notions as resemblance, agreement, and realism is tethered to the expressive resources available within the classificatory scheme that is our language. It implies that our language, and hence reality, could have been different, but it does not imply that every possible classificatory scheme would be adequate to our needs.
Our language is a historical artifact. The words it contains and the expressions that it allows are the product of habits of thought that beings like us, beings whose mode of life was much like ours, have found to be useful. Language, and hence reality, is an amalgam of successful choices. There may be other choice worthy modes of representation that we have not hit upon, but not just any mode of representation will be worthy of choice.
I have been writing as if each of us knew and made use of the whole of our common language. Obviously, this is not true. We each have and use only a small fraction of the linguistic resources available to our community. One implication is that reality is, for each of us, slightly different. Another is that any of us can extend our knowledge of the world merely by extending our mastery over the representational resources currently deployed in our community—or by extending our community's store of representational resources.
Let me illustrate these implications by briefly discussing agreement and disagreement. There is a philosophical analysis of disagreement which holds that it isn't really possible to disagree unless there is already significant agreement about the matters central to the dispute. The idea is that without this antecedent agreement the parties will be talking past one another rather than engaging the issues at stake.
This analysis of disagreement goes hand in hand with a notion of agreement which holds that what one comes to agree upon must have been available prior to the dispute. According to this view, one resolves a dispute by reaching this common ground, and if there is no antecedent common ground then there can be no agreement, and hence, no real disagreement either. One implication of this analysis is that some disputes are irresolvable.
The view I have been urging admits of a very different way of accomplishing agreement. On this account agreement can be achieved when one or both of the parties extends their vocabulary in a way that allows a representation of reality capable of securing the assent of the other. Importantly, the extended vocabulary need not have existed prior to the dispute. It can be forged in the heat of argument and, in such a case, is adopted precisely because the new vocabulary solves the problem that led to the dispute. Unlike the traditional analysis, there are no disputes which are insoluble—the only barriers to resolution have to do with the practical willingness to work towards a solution.
What has been written here is not so much an argument as a programmatic expression of certain views that I hold. For myself, I came to these views by way of exposure to various arguments--most notably those of William James, Nelson Goodman, and Lugdwig Wittgenstein--which seem to me to establish the incoherence of the correspondence theory of truth. One could also arrive at similar views through an archaeological examination of the metaphorical apparatus of language. This is what Richard Rorty seeks to provide. I'll give him the last word:
The very idea that the world or the self has an intrinsic nature—one which the physicist or the poet may have glimpsed—is a remnant of the idea that the world is a divine creation, the work of someone who had something in mind, who Himself spoke some language in which He described His own project. Only if we have such a picture in mind, some picture of the universe as either itself a person or as created by a person, can we make sense of the idea that the world has an "intrinsic nature." For the cash value of the phrase is just that some vocabularies are better representations of the world than others, as opposed to being better tools for dealing with the world for one or another purpose.
- Contingency, irony, and solidarity, p. 21.
Monday, August 02, 2004
Seriously, all this pro-liquor research is starting to make me suspicious. Sort of reminds me of tobacco science circa 1935.
Dew it to it?
But then it occured to me that the whole Mountain Dew/caffeine thing might just be an urban legend. Since there's no percentage in drinking piss colored sugar water unless it's highly caffeinated I decided to do a little research googling. If this widely reproduced chart can be believed, then the urban legend is correct. No major brand soda is more heavily caffeinated than Mountain Dew.
Interestingly, Pepsi One is equally as caffeinated, but regular Pepsi only has 2/3 the caffeine. Also, Mountain Dew wanna bees Mellow Yellow, Kick Citrus, and Surge are slightly less caffeinated than Dew, but still in the same ballpark.
So how much caffeine is there in a Mountain Dew? Well, a 12 oz. can contains 55 mg, which puts a 20 oz. bottle at a shade under 92 mg.
In meaningful units, what this means is that a bottle of Mountain Dew delivers slightly less caffeine than a shot of espresso and about the same as a standard cup of coffee.
Disclaimer: This post should in no way be taken as an endorsement of Mountain Dew, let alone Super Dew.