Thursday, October 30, 2014

The weirdness of academic writing

"The changes in the nature of Chinese government after 1978 where at least as great as those that took place in economic policy. Indeed, one could argue that the massive shift from a centrally planned economy to a more open and marketized one could not have occurred without corresponding changes in the nature of government." -- Fukuyama, p. 371

"One could argue"? Well, is one arguing? And who would that "one" be?

Why not just write, "I argue that"?

Fukuyama on the contemporary Chinese state

"I would argue that the state that has emerged in China since the beginning of reforms in 1978 bears more resemblance to this classical Chinese state than it does to the Maoist state that preceded it, or even to the Soviet state that the Chinese tried to copy. Contemporary China has been engaged in the recovery of a long-standing historical tradition, whether or not participants in that process were aware of what they were doing." -- p. 371

We should go easy on Mises

"Da molti italiani il fascismo fu considerato un male che era necessario accettare. La mancanza di libertà sembrò un prezzo che era giusto pagare per avere un'Italia ordinata, senza scioperi né agitazioni popolari, senza minacce di rivoluzione." -- Il racconto dello storico

"For many Italians fascism was considered a bad that was necessary to accept. The loss of liberty seemed a just price to pay to have an orderly Italy, without strikes and popular unrest, without the threat of revolution."

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

I hope I live long enough to see the ancap revolution

I want to be around to console my ancap friends when all the angry young kids on the Internet are posting slogans like:

"Defense agency fees are theft!"

"A defense agency is nothing but a criminal gang that has duped people into thinking it is legitimate!"

"The network of ancap defense agencies is a massive conspiracy to extort money from people!"

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

McCarthy on Burnham

You should really read this great piece by Dan McCarthy on James Burnham. Machiavelli was a realist, and of course was despised for being one.

But the most interesting thing to me was the influence of Vilfredo Pareto on Burnham. Pareto pointed out that every society that has ever existed has had an elite. But when a rising elite is struggling for power with an existing elite, it will often use anti-elitist language to inspire its followers, since "Give us power" is a slogan unlikely to attract many supporters.

Contemporary libertarians might ask themselves, "Is there a rising elite class who is using our idealism and energy in an attempt to gain power?" (Ahem, ahem, Koch Brothers, Peter Thiel.)

Literal deer in the headlights are no longer like figurative deer in the headlights

When I first started encountering deer on the road, 30 years or so ago, real deer acted like figurative deer in the headlights. But they have adapted to cars remarkably quickly. Now I see them calmly standing on the side of the road, waiting for my car to pass, after which they casually trot across the road.

Monday, October 27, 2014

"Overdetermined": A strange concept

"Latin American institutions are overdetermined: that is, there authoritarian and illiberal character has multiple sources and does not simply lie in the material conditions found by the colonialists." -- Fukuyama, p. 242

Outside of the world of controlled laboratory experiments, doesn't almost everything that happens in the world have "multiple sources"? Collingwood notes this in a discussion of causation: we can say "the high winds caused the tree to topple," but so did its weak roots. And the weak roots were caused by the poor soil in the area. And the poor soil was caused by overfarming in past centuries. And the overfarming was caused by…

Not getting the "web" idea

Looking at a job site today, I found:

"To search positions, click the Search Postings link on the navigation bar."

Um, why not allow users to click "Search Postings" in that very sentence?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Don't you realize, that is handled in the literature?

On pointing out some logical flaw in libertarianism, a typical response is "Aren't you even aware that has already been handled in the literature?"

Of course, if it is a logical flaw, you already know it cannot be "handled" by writing more about it. So naturally these "handlings" are always patches. But they do serve the purpose of keeping any critic foolish enough to try to address every one of them busy forever. I will show you two examples of how logical problems in libertarianism are "handled," and henceforth stop posting comments like this.

1) I point out that the ancap notion that "the market should decide the law" is viciously circular, since we first need law to determine who owns what before they can enter the market. I am told, "Criminy, don't you know that is handled in the literature!" And I am pointed to this passage:

"A sophisticated critic may charge that my proposal rests upon a circular argument: How can people use contracts to define property rights, when a system of property rights is necessary to determine which contracts are valid? After all, Smith can’t sell Jones a car for a certain sum of money, unless it is established beforehand that Smith is the just owner of the car (and Jones the owner of the sum of money.)"

So how, without knowing who owns what, are we going to decide who in the world can contract for what with whom? There is a bit of talk about "insurance companies" in operation, which is curious, because we haven't yet worked out who owns the office building the insurance company will operate from, or the phones or computers or desks it will be making use of. The insurance companies are offering standard contract forms, but we haven't yet figured out if there are intellectual property rights to worry about here. And how do we get to the point where we have some clue who owns what, if IP exists, and so on? Will the author please tell us how we know if the so-called insurance company really owns the phone it calls me on, or the gold it is supposedly using to insure me? And he does: "The answer is simple: I don’t have such a theory."

So this passage "handles" this objection by admitting the author really has no idea how we will solve this problem, but he swears, it will be better than under the state, for sure!

Man, do I feel foolish for not having dealt with that riposte!

2) I note that it is perfectly permissible to blockade someone from leaving their property under anarcho-capitalism. "Ah, Gene, that has been handled in the literature!" And I am shown this passage, from Rothbard's For a New Liberty:

"The answer is that everyone, in purchasing homes or street service in a libertarian society, would make sure that the purchase or lease contract provides full access for whatever term of years is specified. With this sort of 'easement' provided in advance by contract, no such sudden blockade would be allowed, since it would be an invasion of the property right of the landowner."

To note here:
1) Just like I said, blockades are perfectly permissible in ancap, unless one has specifically purchased a right to not be blockaded by buying an easement.
2) Rothbard assumes no one ever signs a foolish contract. Now that's a pretty realistic assumption, isn't it?
3) An easement to where? What if you simply find yourself blockaded at the end of the easement you have purchased? Presumably no one can afford an easement that encircles the globe: at some point, the possibility of a blockade arises again. (This point is so simple that you can tell Rothbard was just doing patchwork: you can buy all the finite amount of easement you want, and still find yourself blockaded wherever it ends.)
3) This does not deal with the scenario I outlined at all if Jeb was living in, say, the town of Weston, which then goes ancap. Jeb had no reason to buy an easement, as he lived on a town road. But suddenly the road is private, and owned by the wealthy landowners who surround Jeb. Oops!

Every instance I have found of these problems being "handled in the literature" turns out to be like the above. Sorry, I don't have time for more snark hunts.

UPDATE: I just took the time to read all of his discussions of blockades in Block's private roads book, and it turns out, again, I was totally correct: blockades are perfectly permissible in Block's system. He only argues that as a practical matter, they won't occur, because people will make sure they have an easement.

The modern individual is different

"In agrarian societies, a person's important life choices -- where to live, what to do for a living, what religion to practice, whom to marry -- were mostly determined by the surrounding tribe, village, or caste. Individuals consequently did not spend a lot of time sitting around asking themselves, 'Who am I, really?'" -- Fukuyama, p. 187

Fukuyama would have been a bit more accurate here to say that these things were not a matter of choice, rather than calling them "important life choices." But the main point is sound: it was not until the last couple of centuries that millions and millions of human beings puzzled over the above choices, wondering who they should be.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

With no final arbiter, disputes easily escalate to violence

Bob Murphy is incredulous: Don't I realize that making an activity illegal tends to produce violence in those conducting that activity?

Yes, I do realize that, but the question is "Why does it do so?"

Let us look at some history to answer this question. The earliest form of human social organization was the band. No, not like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, but a small group of closely related people, numbering perhaps a few dozen, who live, hunt, and forage together. Inside the band, the incidence of violence was low. When there was a dispute, the disputants brought their case to the band's elder(s). But violence between bands was widespread. Why? Here I forward a hypothesis: in a case of conflict between two different bands, there is no arbiter to whom they can bring their dispute for resolution, and so they fight it out.

As human population density grew higher, and this interband violence grew more frequent, a solution was devised: A number of bands in close geographical proximity bound themselves together into a tribe, with perhaps hundreds or a few thousand members. Violence within the tribe decreased dramatically, but intertribal violence was high. Why? Our initial hypothesis seems to hold good: within the tribe, disputants could bring their disputes to a final arbiter. But there was no such arbiter for disputes between tribes.

Tribes themselves consolidated into larger units, such as confederations or kingdoms. These were the forerunners of the modern state. Violence within these units decreased, but violence between them continued. Why? Once again, our initial hypothesis seems to hold. And many tribes recognized the benefits of this higher form of social organization: Germanic tribes often fought with Rome in order to gain admittance to the Roman Empire and reap the benefits of the Pax Romana.

As Murphy notes, the illegal status of, say, the trade in cocaine produces a great deal of violence. But why does it do so? To answer that question, we might ask, "In what situations this violence occur?" I think it is clear that most often, it is in cases such as a turf war between rival gangs, and not within the gangs themselves. Why would that be?

Our initial hypothesis seems to still be serving us fine: Within a gang, there is a final arbiter of disputes, namely, the head of the gang. But in disputes between gangs, there is no such final arbiter, and thus, disputes often turn violent. By making the cocaine trade illegal, the state has cast the various groups participating in that trade back into a pre-state condition.

And this explains quite well why various Mafia groups in 19th-century Sicily settled their disputes with violence: it is not because they were illegal, per se, but because they lacked a final arbiter for their disputes. In fact, Murphy has offered no evidence that under the legal code of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, it was illegal to offer private protection services. (And it would seem strange if it was: after all, private security is perfectly legal in the modern United States, and many other contemporary nations.) And even if it turns out that it was illegal to do so, what of it? The Mafia arose precisely because the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was so lax in providing any law-enforcement in Sicily. The negative effect that the Kingdom had on the prevalence of violence between various Mafia families (and note the use of the term "family": here we have a return to earlier forms of kin-based social organization!) was that it would, no doubt, have acted to prevent any one family from consolidating rule over the island and forming a new state. An attempt to do that would have drawn the king's attention to the island, and have resulted in an invasion, no doubt. So here we have an instance of a state too weak to perform its job, of enforcing the law and providing final arbitration of disputes, but not so weak that a new state could form in its place. This is similar to the condition of many "failed states" today.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The weak state and the rise of the Mafia

"Diego Gambetta, however, presents an elegant economic theory of the Mafia's origins: mafiosi are private entrepreneurs whose function is to provide protection of individual property rights in a society in which the state fails to perform this basic service." -- Fukuyama, p. 114

In fact, according to what I have read, state law enforcement was almost entirely absent in Sicily when it was ruled by the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in the 19th century. (One of the "Two Sicilies" was the mezzogiorno.)

As Gambetta writes:

"In all likelihood, by the time Italy was unified in 1860-61 the foundations of this peculiar industry were already firmly in place. Not only did the state have to fight to establish itself and its law as the legitimate authority and a credible guarantor in a region where no such authority had previously existed."

So, in Sicily before the creation of the Italian state, there was effectively no state at all. The Mafia filled this vacuum.

This history would seem to present a problem for anarcho-capitalists. Our good friend Bob Murphy "deals" with this problem by contending the problem was... the state!

So, although we are dealing with a region in which state control was almost entirely absent, which would seem to be ideal conditions for the establishment of ancap defense agencies, the mere whiff of the state in their vicinity caused these agencies to become violent criminal gangs. This does not argue well for the stability of anarcho-capitalism!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The most basic form of redistribution

"The most basic form of redistribution that a state engages in is equal application of the law. The rich and powerful always have ways of looking after themselves, and if left to their own devices will always get their way over nonelites. It is only the state, with its judicial and enforcement power, that can make elites conform to the same rules that everyone else is required to follow." -- Fukuyama, p. 56

Of course, the state often fails to perform its duty in this regard. That is a good argument for reforming it. It is no more an argument for eliminating it than is the fact that most new businesses fail an argument for eliminating entrepreneurship.

The cancer of American politics

"For example, Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act in 2010 turned into something of a monstrosity during the legislative process as a result of all the concessions inside payments that had to be made to interest groups, including doctors, insurance companies, and the pharmaceutical industry. The bill itself ran to 900 pages…" -- Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay, p. 480

Yes, indeed: the good done by the ACA could have been done with a 10-page bill subsidizing insurance coverage for everyone making under some amount per year. That means there are 890 pages of bad in there.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The rule of law and religion

"The rule of law, understood as rules that are binding even on the most politically powerful actors in a given society, has its origins in religion. It is only religious authority that was capable of creating rules that warriors needed to respect." -- Fukuyama, p. 11

It is interesting, in view of the massive amount of historical evidence showing the positive role that religion has played in ordering social life, how little heed the New Atheists pay to this data. Honest scholars who are nonbelievers, such as Fukuyama, Eco, or Hayek, have not had this blind spot.

La Bocca: Your all Francis Fukuyama all the time blog!

Well, at least for the next two weeks, as I frantically try to read his new 600 page book and write a review of it before November 11. As usual, I will be placing interesting quotes from and occasional remarks about the book here, in the process of collecting material for the review.

Here is one for my ancap friends: "The reason that [Africa] is so much poorer in terms of income, health, education and the like than booming regions like East Asia can be traced directly to its lack of strong government institutions." -- Political Order and Political Decay, p. 4

It suggests a new slogan for them: "Embrace anarcho-capitalism, and we, too, can be as poor as Africans!"

Well, let me introduce you to some of my friends, Francis…

"Hence even the most committed free-market economist would readily admit that governments have a role in providing pure public goods." -- Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay, p. 55

Well, Rothbard/Hoppe/Block says that would not be permitted!

One very curious ancap habit is to declare what would actually transpire in ancapistan by looking in some book by an ancap writer. So, for instance, when asked "Would there be IP rights in ancapistan?" they look in Block's work and answer, "Well, Walter Block says 'no,' so, no."

But Walter Block will not be the king of ancapistan, so how he thinks ancapistan ought to work is almost completely irrelevant as to how it will work. To answer that question, we should look to the interests of those with the most money to pay defense agencies to get the rules that they want. And once we do that, we can see that almost certainly ancapistan will have stronger IP rights than we do at present: the large corporations that own those rights today can pay a hell of a lot more to have them enforced and enforced more strongly than they are today, than Stephan Kinsella and his coalition of 50 anti-IP activists can pay to have them done away with.

Incentives matter, but according to ancaps, apparently they will no longer matter in the earthly paradise of ancapistan.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

If it's not your body it's not your decision

I saw a bumpersticker declaring this on a car in a parking lot today. Presumably, this bumper sticker was meant to make an argument in favor of abortion rights. But it is a very shallow argument: all anti-abortion folks have to do to refute it is to note that the fetus's body is not the mother's body.

I don' for a moment pretend this post has definitively resolved this issue: I am merely noting a very bad argument for abortion rights.

In ancapistan, if you have no property, you have no rights

Ancaps often declare, "All rights are property rights."

I was thinking about this the other day, in the context of running into libertarians online who insisted that libertarianism supports "the freedom of movement," and realized that this principle actually entails that people without property have no rights at all, let alone any right to "freedom of movement."

Of course, immediately, any ancap readers still left here are going to say, "Wait a second! Everyone owns his own body! And so everyone at least has the right to not have his body interfered with." Well, that is true... except that in ancapistan, one has no right to any place to put that body, except if one owns property, or has the permission of at least one property owner to place that body on her land. So, if one is landless and penniless, one had sure better hope that there are kindly disposed property owners aligned in a corridor from wherever one happens to be to wherever the nearest charitable homeless shelter is located.

Or consider the position of a lone poor person, owning a shack and a small patch of land, in the midst of an area that has attracted many rich people: let's call him "Jeb." (When I lived in Weston, CT, I saw such situations: despite Weston being one of the wealthiest towns in the nation, there were still little patches of "Swamp Yankee" housing remaining from the days when Weston was a poor backwater.) The wealthy landowners want Jeb gone, since his shack is an eyesore and brings down property values. But Jeb likes where he lives, and doesn't want to sell. Under standard ancap doctrine, per say, Rothbard or Block, the wealthy landowners literally have the right to starve Jeb to death should he fail to sell, since once they have him surrounded, they can refuse to let him off of his land. (We can even imagine that Jeb's land abuts a privately owned road, but even then, the wealthy landowners can simply pay the road owner to refuse Jeb passage on his road, unless he agrees to sell his land to them. Further, we can note that Rothbard and Block think that as a practical matter, this won't happen [often? ever?], since people will own easements off of their land. But the fact is, if a person does not own such an easement, others do have the right to blockade him.)

It is very strange to characterize such a regime as embodying "freedom of movement"!

UPDATE: I removed "Block" from the sentence with "standard ancap doctrine," as KP notes that Block forbids this.

UPDATE II: Put Block back in, as when I checked the passage KP was citing, it has nothing to do with this problem at all! It is, instead, about others having the right to get in to a piece of fenced but never homesteaded land. I also added the bit about the role of easements for Block and Rothbard.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The computer does not give partial credit

I am working with a student on a programming project at present. I can see that he needs to make a fundamental shift in his mentality in terms of working on a project like this, as opposed to the sort of things he's used to doing in school. He is a smart guy, but he is used to thinking things through part way, and getting close to the idea, and having professors tell him "not bad."

But the computer never tells you "not bad." You either got the code right, and it does what you wanted it to, or you got it wrong. Something very close to the right code can often produce results wildly off from the right results. The computer does not give partial credit.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Wouldn't it be ironic…

if in some future, garbled version of the history of our time, historians described it as follows:

"Around the year 2000, humanity faced a crisis: a new ice age, more terrible than those before, was about to put the world in a deep freeze. Luckily, the far-sighted people of that era had foreseen this looming disaster, and, in a valiant effort to avert it, frantically burned fossil fuels at an incredible rate in order to keep temperatures higher than they would have been otherwise. Thanks to their valiant efforts, humanity narrowly pulled through the frozen centuries that followed."

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The genius of Thomas Schelling

I am rereading Micromotives and Macrobehavior, as I am supervising the senior thesis of a student who is writing agent-based models drawn from this book. I must say, if there is a superior analysis of what models are and what they are good for, I do not know of it.

The red tribe and the blue tribe

Scott Alexander has a great piece on tolerance and the red and blue tribes.

Among other things, it explains what Noah Smith meant when he said that "white" people move out into the country so they can be around only other "white" people. At the time, I had remarked that there were plenty of non-white people at my local redneck bar the very night that I read his post. But as Alexander points out, "white" is used as a code word by the blue tribe for members of the red tribe. So Smith was, in a sense, correct: The blacks and Hispanics who hang out at that bar drive pick up trucks, own guns, go hunting, and watch NASCAR races. This makes them members of the red tribe, and thus "white" in this classification scheme. And right as I was reading Alexander's piece, I was sitting in a Chinese restaurant with a black couple two tables away. The guy was chatting with the (white) people at the next table, and saying, pointing at the TV, "How great is this? Chinese food and NASCAR on the TV!" He was displaying his red tribe bona fides to fellow tribe members!

A very interesting point from Alexander's essay: far more white Democrats and Republicans reported that they would be upset by their child marrying someone of the other party than said they would by him or her marrying someone who was black.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The persistence of false ideas

This is been a running theme of this blog, but sometimes, readers might suspect that I have been biased in my accounts here: perhaps Gene notes the falsity of the typical view of the Middle Ages simply because he is sympathetic to religion, or contends that the typical understanding of Berkeley is false because he is sympathetic to idealism.

But tonight I offer a case in which I cannot see that the persistent falsehood has any religious, ideological, or social implications, and yet it just goes on and on: The idea that Einstein's formula E=mc2 explains the power of atomic and nuclear weapons. Here is a good version of the true story. The true story has been pointed out again and again, yet the falsehood just keeps circulating: tonight I read it in a recently published Italian history book. Once a falsehood becomes popular, it is seemingly almost impossible to eradicate it from the world of thought.

Does Siri have a political bias?

Just now, every time I tried to dictate the word "repellent," Siri instead put in "Republican."

Hmm, doesn't Apple contribute a lot to Democratic candidates? Very suspicious, I think.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Tibetan idealists are largely in agreement with the British idealists

"For instance, when reading the words on this page, we automatically tend to think that they exist independently from their own side. We do not take into consideration their relationship to ourselves, the factor of our consciousness, or our manner of perceiving them. Holding on to the concept of independent existence, we continue to read without awareness of the interdependence of things. This applies to all phenomena we perceive. However, this appearance of all external objects and of our own person as being independent entities is merely superficial and does not withstand analysis." -- Geshe Rabten and Geshe Dhargyey, Advice from a Spiritual Friend, pp. 41-42

Take that, Ken B.

"'Pilgrimage' implies piety and reverence. I have not had occasion here to mention my impatience with traditional piety, and my disdain for reverence where the object is supernatural... It is not because I wish to limit or circumscribe; not because I want to reduce or downgrade the true reverence with which we are moved to celebrate the universe, once we understand it properly... My objection to supernatural beliefs is precisely that they miserably fail to do justice to the grandeur of the real world." -- Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale, pp. 613-614

So, the "real world," not any theory about the real world, is, for Dawkins, the object of a "pilgrimage," worthy of "piety" and "reverence," and praised for its "grandeur." But I predict this attitude would immediately disappear if someone notes how grand this indicates its source must be: "What?! Can't you see how wasteful evolution is?! Red in tooth and claw?" etc. etc.

What do you think of that, Ken? Not only do I own a book by Dawkins, I have read it start to finish and can remember where to find quotes in it! (And it is actually an excellent book for the 600+ pages where it avoids philosophy.)

Murphy To Sing Karaoke, Help Fulfill My Plan for World Domination

Several commenters went nuts when Bob posted about not being able to thwart God's plans, declaring that his viewpoint denied free will. But consider:

I know Bob will be at a conference Friday evening. I know that after conferences, Bob goes to sing Karaoke.

Does my knowing this interfere with Bob freely choosing to sing Karaoke? Of course, I only know it is highly likely that Bob will go sing, but if my knowledge improved more and more (by monitoring his movements, perhaps measuring his vital signs, etc.), would this make Bob less and less free?

Given that Bob will sing karaoke Friday night, I can now incorporate that fact into my plan for world domination.

Does the fact that Bob's action helps fulfill my plan mean he does not have free will?

Real People Are Just an Economic and Age Demographic!

Marketing firms often buy ads by treating people as abstractions that are characterized only by an age and an income figure. These abstractions apparently work very well for these firms.

Keshav, can you show me that it is impossible that people actually are just these two numbers, and the "apparent" people we see around us are only an appearance caused by those numbers?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Why Peter Singer is wrong

"What is inherently impossible is not morally binding. This means that when scarce goods are involved, loving your neighbor as yourself cannot always mean loving your neighbor equally with yourself. 'Since you cannot do good to all,' wrote Augustine, 'you are to pay special regard to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstance, are brought into closer connection with you.'" -- John D. Mueller, Redeeming Economics, p. 37

And note the interesting similarity of Augustine's phrasing with Hayek's!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Actually, my sister is a total dog

Imagine some guy describing how beautiful his sister is... Until he notices some fellow whom he does not want interested in his sister listening in. Suddenly the description changes completely: now she is just hideous.

We see something similar from the new atheists talking about evolution, don't we? It is a beautiful process, one that should fill us with mystery and awe, that contains all the wonder one should ever need out of life.

Unless one says, "Yes, and that is just the sort of marvelous process by which God brought about human beings." Then suddenly, evolution is described as mindless, and wasteful, and ugly, and obvious disproof of the existence of a supreme being.

The Grey Lady Grows Senile

I flipped through the week in review section of the New York Times while attending to some other, serious business in the bathroom. Thomas Friedman was comparing ISIS to kudzu. The metaphor may be mildly enlightening, but Friedmans attempts to draw policy conclusions from it just seemed silly. Nicholas Kristof, who appears to be pretty darned white, is complaining about how "White people don't get it." Maureen Dowd is writing something about some female comic book character. In short, the usual middlebrow tedium.

And then I found this, a piece questioning whether humans are actually conscious! This was a dive from middlebrow tedium into the utter depths of stupidity! And you know how utter stupidity is the La Brea Tar Pit of Callahan, so let's wade in! The piece begins:

"OF the three most fundamental scientific questions about the human condition, two have been answered."

What Graziano is actually going to ask are three philosophical questions, but he does not even know enough about philosophy to realize this. And what are they?

"First, what is our relationship to the rest of the universe? Copernicus answered that one. We’re not at the center. We’re a speck in a large place."

So we have here the usual ahistorical nonsense about the meaning of Copernicus. As if the question "What is our relationship to the rest of the universe?" can be answered by locating us physically in space! I wonder, if asked about his relationship with his significant other, Dr. Graziano answers, "I am often to the left of her, but sometimes move around to her right." On to number two:

"Second, what is our relationship to the diversity of life? Darwin answered that one. Biologically speaking, we’re not a special act of creation. We’re a twig on the tree of evolution."

Once again, by mistaking a philosophical question for a scientific one, Graziano offers a ridiculous non-answer: a fact about the historical origins of the human species is simply not up to answering the question, "Is human life special in some way?" Alexander, Buddha, Aristotle, Newton, and Napoleon all emerged from wombs, but this just doesn't get anywhere on the question of "Are these people special?" You can't refute someone who claims "America has a unique role in history" by noting that all Americans are descended from hunter-gatherers.

But let's move on to the real gem of the piece; regarding the relationship between mind and the physical world, Graziano contends: "I believe a major change in our perspective on consciousness may be necessary, a shift from a credulous and egocentric viewpoint to a skeptical and slightly disconcerting one: namely, that we don’t actually have inner feelings in the way most of us think we do."

Um, Dr. Graziano, if we are not really conscious, and we have no "inner feelings," then we have no "viewpoint" to shift from either, "credulous and egocentric" or not.

From there, Graziano continues with some of the worst hand-waving nonsense I have encountered in quite some time: "The brain has arrived at a conclusion that is not correct. When we introspect and seem to find that ghostly thing — awareness, consciousness, the way green looks or pain feels — our cognitive machinery is accessing internal models and those models are providing information that is wrong. ["Providing it" to whom?] The machinery is computing an elaborate story about a magical-seeming property. [Who is being told this "story"?] And there is no way for the brain to determine through introspection that the story is wrong, because introspection always accesses the same incorrect information."

How in the world can this explain the fact that, say, I actually see green leaves outside my window right now?! And if somehow some meaning can be attached to the idea that I don't actually see them and this is just a mistake my brain is making... Well, then, we'd better throw Graziano's earlier "answers" to the first two of the three important questions right out the window, because the theories of Copernicus and Darwin relied entirely on things that their brains were mistakenly concluding that they were observing. And all of the neuroscience that Graziano claims to be drawing on to reach his conclusions? All of that was developed by neuroscientists based upon things their brains were tricking them into thinking they were looking at. In fact, the very idea that we have a brain is based upon the mistaken idea that when we cut open a human head, we actually see a brain in there, since, according to Graziano, we are mistaken about having been conscious of seeing anything at all.

The basic problem Graziano hasn't faced up to is this: if I can be mistaken about the fact that I feel an itch right at this moment, then there is nothing whatsoever that I can't be mistaken about, including every single observation upon which all of science is based. So Graziano's "theory" entirely undermines every bit of the science which supposedly requires it in the first place.

When Daniel Dennett declared consciousness to be an "illusion," someone said this was the worst philosophical position that had ever been put forward, as it is instantly self-refuting. But Graziano is going to double-down on this bad bet with a load of gibberish. And the NY Times published it!

Bakewell on idealism and realism

"In so far as realism is merely a protest against subjectivism we can all be realists. If it means to affirm the existence of independent reals outside the realm of experience, and therefore wholly independent of consciousness, it is the old hypothetical realism whose absurdities have so often been shown up in the history of philosophy...

"No criticism of idealism has any value which starts out with the assumption that we have, to begin with, two separate orders, called mental phenomena and physical phenomena, or a ' world without ' and a ' world within' and then proceeds to put ideas into the class mental phenomena, the so-called world within, and then to rule idealism out because it has taken the half of reality for the whole. It has no value because it simply begs the question at issue; for idealism is one continued protest against the finality of any such divisions of realities. If one could make any such division of experience into two mutually exclusive orders of existence, it is plain that ideas could not be confined to either group, for the simple reason that ideas live, move, and have their being in the facts of experience, and in the facts of both orders. Of course, we can and must distinguish physical phenomena from mental phenomena; and the growth of the natural sciences and the science of psychology clearly attest both the possibility and the utility of the distinction. These sciences, however, keep in their separate provinces not by dividing actual concrete objects of experience into separate groups, but by adopting and maintaining distinct points of view with regard to all possible objects of experience. The objects themselves may overlap, and furnish material for several sciences, and all objects may serve as material for the psychologist. The separate sciences seek to unify experience, so far as this is possible, from the standpoint of certain deliberately chosen aspects of experience. They deal, not with reality in all the fullness that it has in actual experience, but with abstractions, or, if this term is odious, with reality in so far as it may be conceived or unified by means of certain selected, and selective, principles and categories...

"When one thus turns to one's own experience, one simply does not find any such dualism. Subject and object turn out to be always correlative terms, mutually implied and organically related in all data of experience that have any significance whatsoever.

"But, in the attempt to master and control experience, and to comprehend it, a new meaning of subject and object appears. Subject comes to stand for the transient, private, idiosyncratic; object for the permanent, the common, the universal. The physical experiences are then isolated and assumed to be objects in the strict sense of the word, because, at first sight, they seem to possess these characteristics, and to give us something to tie to; whereas sensations, feelings, volitions, and perhaps ideas, which, again at first sight, appear to lack these characteristics, are referred to the subject. But it takes very little reflection to see that this simple-minded distinction cannot be carried out. Objects, cut off from those subjective factors, lose all the significance which they possess in concrete experience; and the subject, regarded as independent of these objective factors, loses all definiteness. Moreover, when we take the object to be the immediate impression, the thing-as-immediately-apprehended, it turns out to be tantalizingly subjective. Objectivity proves to be not something handed over as a gift in the direct impression, but rather a characteristic which the impression acquires in being thought." -- C. M. Bakewell, "Realism and Idealism," The Philosophical Review, Vol. 18, No. 5, 1909.

The skeleton key

Why is every single scene involving a computer on a television show or a movie mind-bogglingly dumb?

Blacklist, a decent program, has an episode where the NSA is developing a "skeleton key": it can instantly hack into any computer system. That idea is just as silly as that of a single physical key that can open every lock.

Even worse, the skeleton key itself, which looks like an iPad, actually has commands built-in for every device you can hack into. So, for instance, when someone uses it to take control of a DC metro train, it actually has "open door" and "close door" commands available, as well as a "hazardous speed" warning! So we cannot only get you into any device, it apparently also contains some sort of universal menu reader.

But even, even worse: the criminal who steals the skeleton key is named "Ivan." He left his digital signature at the crime scene, and here is the thing: it took him 32 bytes to spell his four-character name. (To be fair, maybe the writer meant the actor to say "bits," and actually understood a plausible length.)

Monday, October 13, 2014

The modern individual

Someone was telling me about a powerful woman they admired whom they heard speaking. This woman said she had decided to sacrifice time on her career because she realized, approaching 40, "That if I don't have more kids I will be unhappy."

This was offered as an example of a refreshingly different attitude, but it is really the same attitude as that of someone who chooses career over kids, just with a different bundle of consumption goods being picked out. In both cases, the person is asking "Will picking this bundle of goods make me happy?" One can pick either the new Mercedes or the new baby, and the question one asks oneself is, "Which consumption good would I rather have?"

What makes these attitudes essentially the same is the question that neither those who choose career or those who choose kids even think of asking: "What should I be doing?"

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Olive Garden is grotesque

Who is tempted to eat multiple bowls of really bad pasta simply because you can pig out for only $9.99? Why wouldn't someone go instead to a local restaurant where they can get one bowl of nice pasta for $9.99, and not be motivated to ridiculously overeat?

Personal causation

Suppose someone asks me, "Why are all your paintings in the corner of the living room?"

If I respond, "I put them there because I am intending to paint the walls," few people would think that I am claiming to have done something magical that violated the laws of physics. Rather, the laws of physics were an integral part of my being able to do what I did: if physical objects did not reliably follow such laws, I would have no idea how to act in regards to them in achieving my goals.

But when someone says something like, "It is a blessing that I recovered from my illness: God must've been looking after me," many people do assume that there is an assertion of some violation of natural law involved. This is a very strange double standard. (I take the point I am making here to be much the same one Bob Murphy has made a number of times in his posts concerning miracles.)

Friday, October 10, 2014

Physics: A partial and incomplete representation of reality

"The belief that all of reality can be fully comprehended in terms of physics and the equations of physics is a fantasy. As pointed out so well by Eddington in his Gifford lectures, they are partial and incomplete representations of physical, biological, psychological, and social reality."-- Physicist George Ellis

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Should this be the official song of the US Census Bureau ?

(With my amended lyrics below the video, of course.)

You fill out my census
Do you live in a forest?
Where were you in springtime?
Can you tell me your race?
Do you live in the desert?
Do you live near the ocean?
You fill out my census
Come fill it again

Come let me know you
Who gave your life to you?
What have you done after?
Do you own many arms?
Tell me who lives beside you?
Who always lives with you?
Come let me know you
Let me count you again

What is my opinion of Herbert Spencer?

If someone asks me that question, I will tell them, "I have none."

I have read a number of other people writing about Spencer's work. I have read both condemnations of him as a crude social Darwinist, and defenses of him saying that the first opinion is all wet. But I have read almost nothing of what he wrote myself. And thus, I suspend judgment, until such time as I might get to read him myself.

I cite Spencer only as an example here, in particular, since I am presently reviewing a book that condemns him along the lines of the first evaluation mentioned above. But the author of the book in question has no such scruples: he summarizes hundreds of thinkers in the work (a history of liberalism), and tosses out quite definite opinions as to whether they are good, bad, or ugly. As I often do when first opening up such a book, I looked to see what he wrote about thinkers with whom I am very familiar. I found he had sections devoted to Oakeshott and Hayek, and read through them. I must say, I was appalled. It is fine to criticize Oakeshott or Hayek, and I have my own criticisms of each of them on various points. But it is really not on to sketch a cartoon Oakeshott, or a cartoon Hayek, and then criticize that cartoon.

But the purpose of a book like the one I am reviewing is not too seriously engage the hundreds of thinkers mentioned in it: How could an author possibly do that in a book of a few hundred pages? No, the purpose of a book such as this one is to enable people to sound informed at highbrow cocktail parties or on an "intellectual" Sunday-morning talk show: When Oakeshott's name comes up, the reader of the book can say, "Yes, well, his thought might apply to a static society in which nothing ever changes, but it hardly applies to ours!" The service provided by these books is to provide its readers with a compendium of factoids and prepackaged, soundbite ready opinion, so that they can appear informed, without ever actually having to engage in any serious thought.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Perceptual illusions

Bob Murphy brings up an interesting point about this post:

What if someone says, "Hang on Callahan, did you just 'prove' that illusions don't exist, period? I mean, if I can't trust my eyes in the desert when I think I see water, how can I trust me eyes when I read in a book that it talks about 'mirages'?"

My post certainly did not mean to imply that perceptual illusions never occur. But this does not negate my general point, because consider how we decide that something is a perceptual illusion: Let us say we think we see an oasis in the desert ahead of us. Then we walk closer to what we thought we saw, and find only an empty stretch of sand. We walk back to where we were before, and again see the oasis. We again walk forward, and see only sand. If we are still unsure about our perception, we ask someone else: "What do you see here?" It is only based upon other, better perceptual evidence that I decide that some of my perceptual evidence has been illusory.

If we are presented with one of the many famous perceptual illusions on a piece of paper, how do we convince ourselves that the figure in one drawing is not really smaller than the figure in another? We take a ruler and measure, and perceive that the ruler measures each figure to be the same height.

In other words, we only can declare certain perceptions to be "illusions" by taking other perceptions to be accurate. What we do is to check one anomalous perception against our whole perceptual world, in order to form a coherent world of perceptual ideas. If someone suggests that every last one of our perceptions is illusory, that eliminates all possibility of declaring any particular perception to be mistaken. It is only by assuming that most of our perceptions are accurate that we can declare certain of them to be mistaken.

A true achievement of the physical sciences is their procedures for checking and double checking the accuracy of our perceptions. But every one of those checks relies entirely on other perceptions. If some meter has always displayed a value between one and two, but late one night, when I am very tired, I perceive it to be reading 10, I check that reading by performing the measurement over and over again. When I consistently perceive the meter to always read between one and two, I decide that my reading of 10 was an illusion.

The world of physics cannot condemn the world of everyday experience as illusory without so condemning itself

Every one of us must of heard someone contend that the world of our everyday experience is an "illusion," or something similar, and that physics proves this is so.

Here is a typical example: "Quantum physics tells us that reality is far beyond human perception and intuition. In other words, our rational mind and common sense are just not capable of understanding the true nature of reality."

Or here: "The world around us is real, yes, but it is not what we perceive it to be."

There is plenty more of this around. The problem with it is that the very same manuever that condemns the world of everyday experience as illusory completely undermines physics itself, and so the very basis for this argument. Why? Because every single finding of physics ultimately rests upon someone's perception of everyday reality. No matter how sophisticated are the instruments we (think! aren't the instruments part of this "illusion" as well?) we have devised, ultimately a human being has to read their output, and incorporate it into a theory so it becomes a "finding of physics."

But if I can't trust my perception of the chair I am sitting on as I write this, how can I trust my reading of a voltmeter? How can I even know that what I am looking at is "really" a voltmeter? If the tree in my front yard is not at all what it seems to be, then my spectrometer is also not at all what it seems to be. If my impression that the wall in front of me is solid is illusory, then my reading of the manometer in front of me is probably similarly illusory.

One dodge that might try to avoid the force of this argument is noting that physics, in some sense, "works." This dodge is an obvious failure, as the world of everyday perception overwhelming "works" as well: it got the human species through 100,000 years of history before the invention of physics quite successfully. In fact, in deciding whether to attempt to run through the wall before me in order to leave this building, if I have to choose between the common-sense view that it is solid, and the "debunking" of this understanding by subatomic physics,  I will choose common sense, thank you. (The idea that physics has shown the wall "really isn't" solid relies on equivocating between different meanings of solid in the first place.)

Note: This post is not "anti-physics": I have good reason to trust the findings of physics, because I trust the everyday perceptions upon which those finding are based.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Names Are Conventional

It is strange how often people are confused on this point. Let us start out with a couple of examples that are not likely to generate too much heat, in order to fully understand the point being made.

Example 1: Is Pluto a planet?

Pluto itself simply is what it is, and does what it does, regardless of what we call it. The question "Is Pluto really a planet?" is confused: The real question is, "Is our classification system more helpful to us if we classify Pluto as a planet, or if we do not?"

Astronomers recently decided that the right answer is: "Not." Given I am not an astronomer, I trust them, and suspect they made the right decision. But the question is completely different from one such as, "Does Pluto have an iron core?" or "What is the period of Pluto's orbit of the sun?" The latter two questions are about Pluto; the former question is about how we want to structure our language to make it the most useful to us.

Example 2: Is one a prime number?

The fact is, if we count one as a prime, then every number is not the product of a unique multiplication of primes. As such, modern mathematicians have decided not to include one among the primes. But various earlier mathematicians did so include it. They were not "wrong": they fully understood the unique factorization issue. The question is not about the nature of the number one, but about the most useful definition of the word "prime."

Now, let us proceed to a case that did generate some heat: I read a post by someone who contended that Pope Francis was completely muddled to talk about capitalism as a social system that included all sorts of favoritism to large corporations, rich political donors, and so on. Capitalism, he argued, means a system of pure market competition, where no such favoritism is possible.

I asked him why, granting that we can conceive of a social system like the one he described, he is entitled to demand that the word "capitalism" be used only to designate such a conceptual construct, and could not possibly be used to talk about an actual social system we find around us?

He seemed completely unable to grasp that I was talking about the conventional use of words, and answered with talk of Aristotelian essences and what not. He simply could not understand that I was willing to grant him, for the sake of discussion, the achievement of having arrived at some unique Aristotelian essence, and was just asking why he had exclusive rights to the word "capitalism" as applying to that essence.

It is interesting to note that when Ludwig von Mises devised a similar conceptual construct, he referred to it as "the imaginary construction of the pure market economy." He chose to call a social system "capitalist" whenever it had a stock market.

I have to say that I think Mises's usage is more helpful. But in any case, what was really amazing to me was that my correspondent seemed clueless about the fact that names are conventional, and that having grasped some useful conceptual abstraction grants one no right to dictate how the words of our language shall be used.

What is real?

What is less complete, more partial, is less real than what is more complete, less partial.

Illustration: We say that the story of World War II given in a chapter of an elementary school textbook is "less realistic" than that offered in the multivolume work of a master historian.

The textbook version leaves out very many important details offered in the master historian's account.

Illustration: A boy is scared by a stuffed tiger in a museum. His parents tell him, "Wait until you see a real tiger!"

The stuffed tiger is less real because it is missing things that a living tiger has, in particular, whatever it is that gives living creatures their life.

Illustration: We say a blueprint of a house is "less realistic" then a scaled down model of the house. The blueprint has fewer characteristics of the real house than does the model: It is merely lines, while the model has walls, windows, a roof, doors, etc.

Illustration: I know Bill only from online chats. His friend tells me, "You don't really know Bill until you've gone out and had a few pints with him!"

The version of Bill that I know is less complete, more partial than the version his friend knows.

Illustration: The world of physics is an abstraction from the world of experience. From the world of experience, which contains sights, sounds, textures, smells, feelings of heat, feelings of cold, pain, pleasure, and so on, physics abstracts only what is measurable using physical measuring devices. It is a small subset of the world of experience.

QED: The world of physics is less real than the world of experience.

Note: This does not mean that the world of physics lacks all reality. It is an important and useful abstraction from the world of experience, in much the same way that a blueprint is an important and useful abstraction of a real house. Because the abstraction is performed according to very particular and coherent procedures, it can be manipulated in ways that reveal to us important new things about the world of experience, much as an accurate blueprint of a house can reveal to us new things about the house: "Hey, I think there is a secret room there in the middle!"

Acknowledgment I: I want to thank Keshav for pushing me to render what I intuitively understood in a more explicit form.

Acknowledgment II: This entire post came to me while I was walking the "Path of seeing" in the woods at the Kadampa Meditation Center. I guess the path did its job!

Keshav's Extreme Idealism

Keshav suggests a world view where "the things outside the mind are describable purely by numbers, and through some magical process, certain sets of numbers trigger certain experiences in the mind." 

Notice, first of all, the things "describable purely by numbers" must be numbers. Anything that is not simply a number would need a number plus a statement of whatever it is beyond a number to describe it. So in this view, somehow the numbers outside our brain interact with the numbers that make up our brain and make us see, hear, feel, etc. a world full of sights, sounds, textures, and so on.

But numbers themselves are, after all, ideas, and so are the mathematical formulas with which physicists make systems of these numbers. So this view claims that a world of mathematical ideas causes us to hallucinate a world of "physical objects" that really have very little to do with reality. Now this view, to me, really is guilty of all the things Berkeley's view was charged with. Is it impossible? No, just as I suppose it is not impossible that we are all really just being dreamed by the Red King. But it certainly sounds implausible.

Friday, October 03, 2014

What do I mean by the modern individual?

Since this topic has generated some puzzlement, let me expand upon it.

First of all, consider the Middle Ages: Of course, people then still acted, and still made choices. But what sort of choices? If one was a peasant, one did not even really contemplate being something other than a peasant. (This began to change with the reemergence of cities, which is part of the transition to the modern era.) If my father was a peasant, I was going to be a peasant as well. I was going to do subsistence farming, and turn a certain portion of my crop over to the Lord of the Manor. I was going to marry another peasant, and we would have as many kids as we were able to. I would be a Catholic, I would observe all the usual holidays, and the goods I had would be those goods that other peasants had as well. The choices I did make would be along the lines of, "Should I flavor tonight's dinner with an onion, or with some garlic?"

Although if I were born into the nobility, although my choices would be a bit wider, they would not be very much wider at all. If I was the first son of a duke, I was going to become a duke, and I would live the way other dukes lived. My choices would be along the lines of "Shall I fight with Duke A, or with Duke B?" If I was the second son, I had a little more flexibility: I might become a bishop or an officer in the army.

Of course, in every time and place, there have been rare people who rose above the common condition. In the Middle Ages, St. Francis would be such an exception: Against his family's wishes, he went and became a monk. Bob offered the example of Lao Tsu in ancient China. Buddha would be another good example. But we know the names of these people precisely because their individuality was so exceptional in their time.

And why was it when cities began to re-emerge in the Middle Ages that it was said that "city air makes one free"? It was precisely because in these places, we were starting to see the emergence of modern states, whose residents were not feudal subjects with a precise place in the Great Chain of Being, but citizens, whose freedom to choose their role in the city was increasingly protected by its political order.

Now let us consider a modern individual. I will use the example of Deirdre McCloskey, simply because she came to mind, and I know something of her story. Donald McCloskey was a fairly successful economist, married, with two children, who one day made a choice: he would leave his family, and become a woman.

Of course, this was technologically impossible in the Middle Ages. But let us say we approached people in that time, and told them that we knew of a witch who could affect such a transformation. Almost without exception, those people would've been horrified with the possibility: they were born with the sex they had because that is what God had chosen for them, and it would have been seen as a demonic violation of his sovereignty to change this fact. And if there had been such a witch, and someone had employed her services, the chance that he would survive the transformation would be very small: The society around him would have completely shunned him, and unless he could survive on his own in the wild, he would likely die.

Of course, even today, not everyone alive is thrilled with someone making a choice like McCloskey's. But the state has gradually broken down the ability of other social groupings to effectively banish such a person to the wilderness. A landlord today is not allowed to deny McCloskey housing because of her choice to become a woman. A grocer is forbidden from denying McCloskey access to food, as long as she can pay. Her employer is forbidden from firing her for undergoing her transformation (except for rare cases, for instance, if she had been working as a male stripper). To expand on this example, consider the modern attitude towards having children: children are a "choice," and the modern woman may decide something like, "I will get my career going, and wait until I am 40 to have a kid." And if the child then conceived turns out to have Down's Syndrome, the modern woman may choose to abort her, similar to returning a defective product. Such choices concerning childbearing would have been inconceivable in the Middle Ages for almost all people.

This, then, is the modern libertarian individual, and this is how such an individual has been "created" by the state. (Of course, this process has been one of mutual determination: The modern state has been to a large extent the product of such individuals.)

Another thing I should clarify: in discussing this topic, the notion of "atomic individualism" has arisen. Commenter KP asked "Do you mean atomic individuals free of all social connections?"

But this is a misunderstanding of what intelligent critics of "atomic individualism" are targeting. Let us look at the metaphor: Atoms are not "free" of all connections to other atoms! There are many many other atoms that an atom of hydrogen might connect with. But in the atomic model, none of these connections are essential to the being of the hydrogen atom. It is what it is already, all on its own, whether it winds up connected with an oxygen atom or a carbon atom. (Whitehead, for instance, has denied that physical atoms are really like this, but that is beside the point here: this is the model being discussed.) Those who criticize "atomic individualists" realize that they acknowledge the ubiquity of social connections. The point under contention is that, for these critics, atomic individualists fail to realize that social relations to a great extent constitute the individual, and he would not be an individual at all outside of his social setting. If Bob Murphy had been raised by wolves, he would not be Bob Murphy simply with slightly different connections than he has today: he would not be Bob Murphy at all. (Major Freedom apparently was raised by wolves, so this does not apply to him.)

Finally, let me acknowledge that this analysis is hardly original to me: numerous thinkers, both for and against the change, have analyzed it similarly. For traditionalist Catholics, for instance, this change has been one for the worse, and they criticize the modern state for enabling it. On the other hand, someone like Michael Oakeshott, who according to his biographer was never sleeping with fewer than three women at a time throughout the 1950s, despite being married, welcomed this transition, but also acknowledged the importance of the modern state in bringing it about.

Kant on Berkeley

Here are three quotes from Berkeley's Dialogues:

"Let me be represented as one who trusts his senses, who thinks he knows the things he sees and feels, and entertains no doubts of their existence…"

"I do therefore assert that I am a certain as of my own being that there are bodies or corporeal substances..."

"I might as well doubt of my own being as of the being of those things I actually see and feel."

And what does Kant have to say about a thinker who repeatedly asserts things like the above?

"The dictum of all genuine idealists, from the Eleatic school to Bishop Berkeley, is contained in the formula: 'All cognition through the senses and experience is nothing but sheer illusion...'"(Prolegemona to Any Future Metaphysics, 2001: 107, emphasis mine).

"experience, according to Berkeley, can have no criteria of truth because its appearances (according to him) have nothing a priori at their foundation, whence it follows that experience is nothing but sheer illusion…" (Prolegemona to Any Future Metaphysics, 2001: 108, emphasis mine).

It is hard to see how any description of Berkeley’s views could be further from Berkeley’s views than is Kant’s. And it is clear why anyone who knows Berkeley only through Kant knows him wrongly. But what is the cause of this vast gulf between what Berkeley wrote and what Kant wrote about what Berkeley wrote? Some have concluded that Kant was almost completely unfamiliar with Berkeley’s works and was relying on hearsay.

In an intriguing alternate hypothesis, Colin Turbayne contends that Kant actually knew Berkeley well, and was anxious to create separation between his views and Berkeley's, given that critcisms of Berkeley such as Johnson kicking the rock were in the air. So he set up a strawman Berkeley so he could kick him around for a bit, and show how different his philosophy was. As Turbayne says:
This brings us to the question of Kant's promise, in the first edition of the Critique, to deal with Berkeley's doctrine, and his failure to do so. In the fourth Paralogism, Kant's position is made to resemble Berkeley's more closely than anywhere else. We now know that there is, not only resemblance, but Kant's awareness of it. If he had sought to refute Berkeley in the next section, he must have ended in hopeless confusion, for he would have been refuting himself. He therefore did not even try. A niggardly description of Berkeley's doctrine was his only recourse. (Turbayne, Colin M. 1955. “Kant’s Refutation of Dogmatic Idealism.” The Philosophical Quarterly 5 (20) (July 1): 225–244. doi:10.2307/2957436.)

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Berkeley was a defender of common sense

"Moreover, the Dialogues are filled with passages in which Berkeley, through Philonous, makes reference to the view of common folk, which Berkeley accepts, that the things they see, feel, and otherwise perceive are real objects, that is, physical objects." -- George S. Pappas, "Berkeley and common sense", from Berkeley: Critical and interpretive essays, p. 9

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Hey libertarians: The individual you oppose to the state was a creation of the state

"In primitive societies the person does not exist, or exists only potentially, or, as we might say, in spe. The person is the product of the State." -- David George Ritchie, The Principles of State Interference, p. 29

Many other thinkers have pointed this out: The rise of the modern individual and the rise of the modern state were mutually supporting processes that each depended upon each other.

Charles V

I happened to be looking at a map right now showing the territories of Charles V. It is somewhat mind-boggling how extensive they were. By the end of his reign, in 1556, his territories included most or all of present-day:
The Netherlands
The Czech Republic
The Dominican Republic
Puerto Rico
El Salvador
Coasta Rica

That's a whole lot of territory!

Siri is jealous

In writing a comment a few minutes ago, I repeatedly tried to get Siri to recognize the word "neural." Not only did she not get it correct, she simply ignore the fact that I was saying anything at all, and inserted nothing whatsoever into the comment. This happened even when I said the word completely on its own, with no surrounding phonemes.

I think she is upset because she knows that she has no neurons. (I also could not get her to type the word "neurons" correctly.)

The drunken body politic

"we are delighted to learn from Mr. Spencer that the Houses of Parliament... Resemble the cerebral masses in a vertebrate animal... Apparently the social organism in Mr. Spencer's ideal state, where government is no longer needed, ought to resemble an animal drunk or asleep, with the brain doing as little as possible." -- David George Ritchie, The Principles of State Interference, pp. 20-21

Zeno for the computer age

If you wish to better understand Zeno's worry about the continuum, you could do worse than to consider loops in software. Case 1: You...