Friday, February 28, 2014

When May I Shoot a Student?

When  you lack arguments use satire:
When May I Shoot a Student?

This piece from the apparent hoplophobe, Greg Hampikian, is a reaction to Idaho's bill removing the restriction banning guns on college campuses.  That's because the only good data suggests removing such bans does indeed make places safer: see for instance More Guns Less Crime (but even if the data isn't conclusive either way, there's no good reason for a government (with guns) to restrict freedom of the people).

About the only thing close to an argument in this piece is the following (interpreting this as irony):
In terms of the campus murder rate — zero at present — I think that we can all agree that guns don’t kill people, people with guns do. Which is why encouraging guns on campus makes so much sense. Bad guys go where there are no guns, so by adding guns to campus more bad guys will spend their year abroad in London. Britain has incredibly restrictive laws — their cops don’t even have guns! — and gun deaths there are a tiny fraction of what they are in America. It’s a perfect place for bad guys.
The problem with comparing the U.S. with Britain is that (a) the demographics and cultures are radically different and (b) there are way fewer guns in Britain because (c) they don't have anything like the 2nd Amendment.

The suggestion is that places with hard core gun control are safer.  But the evidence is the opposite.  Among other things concealed carry laws are correlated with lowering the rate of violence against women (which makes sense since women are typically physically weaker than men).  Gun-control also ups the likelihood of hot burglaries.  So, ladies, if you want an armed thief breaking into your house at 2 a.m. while you're home, move to England.

Is-Ought Problem and Truth and Normativity

For anyone interested, we are currently discussing whether an "ought" can be validly derived from "factual" (non-normative) premises over at the Maverick Philosopher's blog:

Truth and Normativity

Three more putative instances of valid is-ought inferences

Thursday, February 27, 2014

God's Existence Debate Now on Youtube

The William Lane Craig debate with physicist Sean Carroll is now up on YouTube:
Debate at New Orleans Seminary

I haven't watched it yet.  The only credible reviews I've heard so far report that it was about a draw (unlike the recent debate between Craig and Lawrence Krauss wherein any rational person should think that Craig mopped the floor).

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Constitutional Right to Death and Poor Grammar in New Mexico

A New Mexico judge (Nan Nash) has just overturned state law criminalizing aid in suicides.  It's another case of our leftist judicial oligarchy inserting their own moral beliefs into a constitution, in this case, New Mexico's.
Here is the judicial OPINION

So if you feel like a burden to your family or caretakers, if you feel worthless and downtrodden, if you just can't summon the courage to pull the trigger, well, the judge wants you to know now you have options.  (Actually, you've always had them since they were right there in the Constitution all along.  Silly us for not noticing).

Here's the essence of the "argument" from her opinion (commentary below the fold):

HH. This Court cannot envision a right more fundamental, more private or more 
integral to the liberty, safety and happiness of a New Mexican than the right of a competent, terminally ill patient to choose aid in dying. If decisions made in the shadow of one’s imminent death regarding how they and their loved ones will face that death are not fundamental and at the core of these constitutional guarantees, than what decisions are? As recognized by the United States Supreme Court in Cruzan “[t]he choice between life and death is a deeply personal decision of obvious and overwhelming finality.” Cruzan, 497 U.S. at 281. 
II. The Court therefore declares that the liberty, safety and happiness interest of a 
competent, terminally ill patient to choose aid in dying is a fundamental right under our New 
Mexico Constitution. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Beard Transplants

From the NY Post

It’s shear madness! Brooklyn’s hipster beard craze has grown so popular that men in New York are rushing to doctors for “facial hair transplants” — surgery that helps make beards look thicker and less patchy, sources said.
Stubble-challenged guys are forking over up to $8,500 for the beard-boosting procedure, which has spiked in popularity in recent months, plastic surgeons told The Post.
“Brooklyn is probably the nucleus of the trend, it’s the hipster ‘look’ guys want. If you have a spotty beard, and you let it grow out, it looks sloppy, ” said Dr. Jeffrey Epstein, a Midtown-based plastic surgeon.

“[Clients] want full beards because it’s a masculine look. Beards are an important male identifier,” he added.

Look, I appreciate the beard as well as the next man, but beard transplants?  Really?  Sure, you will look more manly and less boyish with a beard, but looking manly does not entail being manly (think of all the grown boys who drive around in giant trucks with obscene appendages hanging from them).  Let's not confuse the two.  Part of being a man is sucking it up and taking it like a man; so if God or nature has endowed you with a spotty beard or (alas) no beard at all, be a man and use your money in some other capacity as the good son or father that you are.

Having a beard as a fashion statement (like this guy) is another "m" word entirely, namely, metro-sexual, and we already have plenty of those:

One happy patient  is Danny, 27, whose beard used to be so patchy, he was forced to “fill it in” with an eyebrow pencil, he said.
Two years ago, he paid $8,500 for the surgery, which he considers a fashion statement.

An eye-brow pencil?  FOR SHAME.  Having said that, I do share just a bit of vicarious joy with the guy when he adds:

"It’s one of the best investments I’ve ever made.”

Undesigned Coincidences in the Bible

Philosopher Timothy McGrew has a nice series of short articles on undesigned coincidences in the Bible.  A link to all six of them can be found in the middle of this webpage:
Apologetics 315

"[T]here is a third kind of evidence that lies within Scripture itself, a kind that requires only attention to one’s own Bible and a willingness to read thoughtfully. This is the evidence of undesigned coincidences.
The term itself, coined over two centuries ago, is perhaps not the best description for modern readers, since we rarely use the word “undesigned” today. But the meaning is not terribly difficult to grasp. Take two texts (for the sake of the argument one need assume nothing about them except that they both purport to recount some historical events) and compare them. Of course, they might have nothing in common; in that case, there is no material for this sort of argument. But they might touch on some of the same characters and events. If so, we may examine them to see whether the manner in which they discuss these things fits together obliquely, in ways not likely to have been deliberately chosen for that effect—undesignedly."

Monday, February 24, 2014

Affirmative Action for the Ugly

Over the weekend I listened to a Freakonomic podcast interview of Texas economist David Hamermesh on the economic downsides of being ugly:

(At Aeon magazine Princeton philosopher Jonny Thakkar has also just written on the issue:
Are Ugly People Oppressed?)

Common sense says that the uglier you are, the less advantages you'll be afforded, and the data seems to bear that out.  According to Hamermesh, good looking NFL quarterbacks, for instance, make roughly $300,000 more simply by being better looking.  Facial symmetry, which can be measured by a computer, goes a long way in most people's minds (though the data doesn't explain everything, including why I'm not making six figures).

Hamermesh, though, when questioned about whether there should be affirmative action for the ugly said, no way.  He's for it when it comes to women, race, and the usual politically motivated suspects but not when it comes to the unprepossessing, unappealing, or downright unsightly.  But why not? He didn't have an answer, except to say that resources are limited and that he didn't think the finite resources should be expended on the ugly.

Perhaps we should conclude, then, that Hamermesh is simply a cold-hearted ugliist.   With no reason not to include the ugly in the Affirmative Action portfolio, Hamermesh might be thought himself to have an irrational bias against the ugly in favor of these other political groups--a blatant form of ugliism at its worst, though perhaps his bias is the result of hegemonic structures of ugliization in society rather than willful hatred on his part.

For (if folks like Hamermesh are right) the data is clear that there is a strong bias against the ugly in favor of the beautiful from birth onward.  The data is far stronger than, for example, discrimination against females.  Given how well girls do in school compared to boys and how many more women are getting college degrees than men, it's arguable that the reverse is now true.  YES, there is the "pay gap," (which news outlets like NPR remind us about weekly) but I've seen no compelling evidence that anything but a small fraction of that gap is the result of unjust discrimination by employers.  Two of the biggest factors I've seen mentioned are (a) taking time off for children and (b) not being aggressive enough in contract negotiations.  At any rate it seems clear that the ugly are at least as discriminated against as women (and it seems to me much more likely that they are more discriminated against).  So why not have Affirmative Action for the ugly?  There is a huge demographic--from a historically downtrodden class--out there to be politically exploited (though if the "Fox News babes" are any indication, I think I know which political contingency will do the exploiting)!

Basically all you'd need as far as practicality goes would be a photograph and the right software.  (Perhaps the smelly will feel left out, but why should we care? It's tautologous that the smelly smell).  Nobody would need to know if you beat out the competition because of your hairy moles or your eyebrows that remind everyone of Al Lewis:

And isn't it a matter of justice that we start seeing job applications with advertisements like the following:

 Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer Statement
The College of _________is an independent college of the liberal arts and sciences with a commitment to excellence in undergraduate education. The College values diversity, strives to attract qualified women, minority candidates, and the grossly deformed and encourages individuals belonging to these groups to apply. _________ seeks to ensure diversity by its policy of employing persons without regard to age, sex, color, race, overbite, snub-nose, nose hair, scars, goiters, creed, religion, national origin, disability, veteran’s status, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or political affiliation. (Transsexual-Ninety year old-Native American- Muslim-Democrat-Retired Coast Guard Commanders who are Endangered Dolphins with bad smiles (due to over fishing) are especially encouraged to apply).

Was Martin Luther King, Jr. Like a Nonviable Fetus?

It just occurred to me that a certain kind of objection seems applicable both to moral relativism and a popular pro-abortion position. 

In short, I'll understand moral relativism as the view that moral truths are relative to particular cultures or societies.  If your society practices capital punishment, then it's morally permissible.  If it disapproves of it, then capital punishment is morally wrong.  [A bit more precisely I'll understand moral relativism as the view (a) denying the following: there are some moral truths independent of whatever people in a given society believe or practice, and (b) affirming the following: moral truths about some action A in a society are true only because people in that culture believe that A is right or wrong or practice A.]
Now there are all sorts of problems with moral relativism.  If true there would be numerous absurdities which I won't go into.  Instead, I'll focus on just one which also applies to arguments involving the viability of a fetus:

Sunday, February 23, 2014

God and Light

There are a lot of similarities between God and light, so it's no wonder that the association is a strong one from antiquity on.  Both are responsible for us knowing things, both seem to be everywhere (or nearly so), both are mysterious, and so forth.  Here is perhaps another similarity:

It's a common misconception that we perceive light--but we don't, at least we don't perceive light in any straightforward or ordinary way.  I can perceive a chair or my dog with my sensory faculties (I can touch my dog or see my dog or heaven forbid taste my dog) but none of the above holds for light.  Some say we can see light, but that too seems false.  Light, we're told, is a particle-wave duality; light consists of photons.  None of this we perceive.  Like God, light is invisible.

So how do we know that there is light?  One answer would be that we infer the existence of light from things that we do see.  We notice that some things are more visible than others when they are nearer to fire.  We notice that when the moon itself is more visible, other things are as well.  Considerations like these perhaps lead us to reason to the conclusion that there is this thing, light, that exists.

But I have my doubts that this is the way things ordinarily go.  I don't ever recall reasoning in this sort of way to the conclusion that there is light.  If there was an inference to the conclusion, it was a subconscious one.  It seems to me that I either (a) came to believe that there was light by way of testimony--by my mom or dad telling me that there is this thing, light, or (b) my belief was innate or (c) it was produced by no ordinary evidential process or faculty but arose from some subconscious process.

And it seems to me that the same is true with people and God.  Most do not arrive at belief in God by way of argument or reasoning.  For most, the belief is formed in the basic sort of way.  There is some evidence from cognitive science that this is the case.  According to some studies, most small children (even with atheist parents) seem to believe in God or something like God.  We seem to come predisposed for theistic belief.  So too, infants seems to believe in things like gravity, that physical objects are impenetrable, and so forth.  Perhaps infants come into the world with the belief that there is both God and light.

Quiz: Are you Conservative or Liberal?

Short, fun quiz.  I was 92% conservative.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

What's Philosophy and Are Feminist "Philosophers" Philosophers?

I just gave a short but controversial paper at a conference on the nature of philosophy with my friend T.H.  I have never had so many people come to a paper; in fact, they had to bring in extra chairs.  I'm glad to see that philosophers are still interested in the big issues and not just the philosophical minutia.  It certainly was a lively exchange.  My only regret is that I neglected to respond to the official commenter, largely because I didn't find much to disagree with.

In short we argue that philosophy can't be defined in terms of methodology or subject matter, rather, following Graham Priest, we argue that it should be defined in terms of a certain critical spirit--on our view, it is a disposition of a certain sort held by a certain sort of person.  To be a bit more precise but a bit more arcane--philosophy is intellectual activity which flows from a person acting from a spirit of critical inquiry. 

What is it to have a spirit of critical inquiry?  The sort of person acting from a spirit of critical inquiry is one who acts from inquiry for inquiry's sake, who follows the evidence wherever it leads, who has a strong willingness to revise his or her total beliefs, and is one whose mental life is not constrained by narrow or specific subject matter.  When intellectual activity flows from someone acting on that spirit it is philosophical (but may also be scientific, historical, etc.)  Certainly more needs to be said, but at least at this point I think this view has more promise than anything else on offer.

Of course, not everyone agreed (which is just what one should expect in the midst of a group of philosophers!)  The liveliest part of the discussion, though, was when a guy objected with the following (roughly):

"Sorry, I'm a bit upset, if I'm understanding you correctly, but I'll try to control myself.  I think you are cherry picking your examples to fit your case and your definition of philosophy is too narrow and problematic.  There is a whole field of feminist philosophers, disabled activists, and ________[after that remark my mind short circuited for a moment] who do what they do purely out of political motivation or to change society.  According to your view, they aren't philosophers.  Is that what you're saying?!" 

I wish I would've had the time and the presence of mind to say more but I still stick with what I did say,

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Should I Go to Graduate School?

A couple of sober views from libertarians:

Maybe you should

Don't do it

Their views don't generalize well to all fields or graduate schools.  I suspect the acceptance rates for law schools are typically quite generous compared to a Ph.D. in political theory; and seminaries will often take about anyone willing to pay for graduate school.  There's also a much wider market for J.D.'s and M.Div's than Ph.D.'s in specific fields.  One thing is for sure: unless you're going to seminary, you'll have a better chance of getting in to graduate school if you appear to be a liberal.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Politics and the University President...

..."They go together--as long as the politics are left-wing." 
My alma mater dealing with the Thought Police

“Part of the problem I have with the faculty,” Kerrey told New York in 2009, “is I like to argue. . . . But if [faculty members] begin by saying ‘Oh, your argument is unacceptable,’ what kind of university is that?” The answer, alas, is: a typical university.

Biblical Paradox?

[UPDATE: This post suffers from some cyber leprosy that I cannot seem to get rid of without a Ph.D. in HTML.  Still, we are called to love the lepers even if hating the leprosy.]

Philippians 2:3 is an interesting verse, but the last part of it is difficult (for me) to understand, and, at least as it is often translated, could easily be interpreted as paradoxical.

NIV: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, rather in humility value others above yourselves

ESV: ... count others more significant than yourselves
NASB: ...regard one another as more important than yourselves
KJB: ...let each esteem other better than themselves

Let us for the moment understand "regarding one as" as "believing one is". And let us suppose additionally that Paul is saying that humility consists in considering or believing another is more valuable, important, esteemed, and significant than oneself, and let us suppose that a Christian community should believe Philippians 2:3 and understand it in this way.  Then here is a paradox:

Speciecism Refuted by My Dog

Speciecists, who think that no species is more intrinsically valuable than another, presumably have not regularly awoken to dog barf on the only patch of carpet within 400 square feet.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Snake-handling, Suicide, and Sodomy

Yesterday it was reported that snake-handling, Pentecostal pastor, Jamie Coots, died of a snakebite. Apparently it was the 10th time he was bitten.  Coots lived in Kentucky which is one of a few states that both has snake-handling churches and laws against snake-handling.  The Kentucky law even mentions snake-handling church services and has the penalty as a misdemeanor fine.

Here is one of these borderline cases where a law teeters on violating the Free Exercise clause in the 1st Amendment (at least if one interprets the clause as applying to states which is the dubious, current interpretation).  A libertarian would find such a law appalling and even a number of conservatives would as well.  Nonetheless if a strong case could be made that, say, children are likely to be harmed by the practice, an argument of some merit could be made that this is a case where the state has an interest in promoting the common good at the expense of free exercise of religion.

A quick Wikipedia search reveals that Georgia once had the draconian penalty of DEATH for snake-handling which any sane person should agree is, well, a BIT excessive.  The law was eventually abolished since juries refused to convict given the extreme penalty.  Similarly, it was reported yesterday that, in Kentucky, even though snake-handling is considered a misdemeanor, arrest and conviction seldom takes place--the executive branch being leery of imposing on freedom of religion.  Which brings us to suicide and sodomy.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Am I Unjust in Not Giving Extra Credit?

I don't give extra credit, mostly for practical reasons.  If students know that I regularly give extra credit, then they will have reason to slack off on other "credit" assignments. This creates more work for me and I have plenty of grading to do already.  Furthermore, I have put a lot of thought into the "credit" assignments and think that it is good for students to put forth a modicum of effort on these assignments.  Also, there is no principled end to extra credit giving, as far as I can see.  If students don't do the "credit" assignments nor the first "extra credit" assignment, should I give another?  And another?  Should I give them extra credit indefinitely?  The solution seems to me to cut the infinite regress off right at the stem.

But should I give extra credit?  Or should I not give extra credit?  If the "should" is a matter of whether it's pragmatic, I have already given my reasons why I think I should not.  But if the "should" is a matter of morality or justice, this is a different question.  Am I unjust in not giving extra credit?  Or is giving extra credit unjust?  Here I will only address the former question:

Yes, Virginia, Round Two

In the recent Virginia ruling, the text of the opinion begins with a quotation from Mildred Loving who was unjustly sentenced to a year in prison back when Virginia had a statute barring "whites" from marrying people who were "colored."  Judge Allen then goes on to make the hackneyed connection between interracial marriage and homosexual "marriage".  I don't want to spend much time hashing out all the relevant disanalogies between the two, so I will just say these two things about the matter: (a) criminalizing interracial marriages makes as much sense as criminalizing marriages between different cultures, different eye colors, etc.--that is, it makes no sense and (b) the Virginia anti-interracial marriage laws made interracial marriage a crime, it did not invalidate the marriage.  Rather, in criminalizing the act, it tacitly recognized the marriage because a "white" and a "colored" person can marry independently of state endorsement.  Marriage is a relationship that can be entered into prior to state recognition.  The Virginia law (unjustly) penalized interracial marriages.  But on the natural-law view of marriage, homosexuals cannot enter into a marriage (nor can humans and animals or humans and lampposts).  Homosexuals can love each other, they can get a legal "marriage" but they cannot marry.  There is no moral right to marriage between homosexuals because there is no pre-legal relationship, marriage, that can be entered into.  As such, Mildred's own statement about marriage, unfortunately, has flaws which Judge Allen is then able to put to rhetorical use. Comments below the fold on Mildred's statement:

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Yes, Virginia, there is a Constitution

Yesterday I was listening to NPR (I think it was Diane Rehm's Friday roundup) and the talking heads were discussing the Virginia federal ruling that overturned Virginia’s ban on same sex marriage.   My interest picked up when someone quoted the judge as saying that “Our Constitution declares that "all men" are created equal. Surely this means all of us….” The NPR discussion then turned to speculations about how the Supreme Court surely won’t overturn so many Federal rulings (it would be too much overturning of overturnings I guess). 

Not a single soul, however, mentioned what I was thinking: The Constitution declares all men are created equal??  Surely she didn’t say that.  Maybe they misheard her.  Wait.  Maybe they heard correctly.  Have any of these jokers ever read the Constitution (or the Declaration of Independence for that matter)?  I wouldn't bet on it.

But sure enough, this Obama appointed Judge DID say just that in her opinion:

Pretty embarrassing coming from a federal judge (but I don't expect to hear about it in the mainstream press).  Also embarrassing for NPR that no one picked up on it.  More evidence for what I've long thought: some liberal court opinions are not bad interpretations of the Constitution; rather, they are not at all interpretations but opinions.