What’s Wrong with the World

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What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

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March 2009 Archives

March 1, 2009

Kimball on the ECC controversy

Roger Kimball has a fine piece on the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization controversy in the latest New Criterion. There's some new information there, so check it out. (For my own previous articles on this issue, see here, here, and here.)

A conjecture

I conjecture that the present economic difficulties of the U.S. will strengthen the grip of political correctness in both business and in higher education. People will be afraid either of losing their jobs or of not being hired in the first place and hence will be more susceptible than ever to intimidation, more careful than ever not to say anything to offend the noisiest and nastiest of the bullies in their fields. I would think the effect might even be stronger in the business world than in the academy. In the business world you can't even say, "I have tenure."

What do you think?

Crossposted

What's right with the world: hawks in your backyard.

hawk2.jpg

A mating pair of Red-shouldered hawks have taken up residence in my back yard. We see them almost every day, perched stoically on a branch or gliding effortlessly through the oaks and maples. Magnificent birds. I have yet to witness a kill, though I have seen them active down on the ground in a way that suggests I just missed one. With any luck, these two will deplete the local population of squirrels, chipmunks and moles that have been laid waste to the lawn I'm trying to cultivate.

[Another photo is below the fold.]

Continue reading "What's right with the world: hawks in your backyard." »

March 2, 2009

Aquinas on Usury

I've never studied the subject of usury in any depth, so I hesitate to make any strong claims on the topic. But I thought what the Dumb Ox had to say on it was pretty interesting in light of Paul Cella's recent post. Aquinas' core idea seems to be that usury consists in selling something which doesn't exist; where that economic double-dipping in nonexistence arises from the fact that for some kinds of things, to use it simply is to consume it:

I answer that, To take usury for money lent is unjust in itself, because this is to sell what does not exist, and this evidently leads to inequality which is contrary to justice. In order to make this evident, we must observe that there are certain things the use of which consists in their consumption: thus we consume wine when we use it for drink and we consume wheat when we use it for food. Wherefore in such like things the use of the thing must not be reckoned apart from the thing itself, and whoever is granted the use of the thing, is granted the thing itself and for this reason, to lend things of this kind is to transfer the ownership. Accordingly if a man wanted to sell wine separately from the use of the wine, he would be selling the same thing twice, or he would be selling what does not exist, wherefore he would evidently commit a sin of injustice. On like manner he commits an injustice who lends wine or wheat, and asks for double payment, viz. one, the return of the thing in equal measure, the other, the price of the use, which is called usury.

On the other hand, there are things the use of which does not consist in their consumption: thus to use a house is to dwell in it, not to destroy it. Wherefore in such things both may be granted: for instance, one man may hand over to another the ownership of his house while reserving to himself the use of it for a time, or vice versa, he may grant the use of the house, while retaining the ownership. For this reason a man may lawfully make a charge for the use of his house, and, besides this, revendicate the house from the person to whom he has granted its use, as happens in renting and letting a house.

Now money, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. v, 5; Polit. i, 3) was invented chiefly for the purpose of exchange: and consequently the proper and principal use of money is its consumption or alienation whereby it is sunk in exchange. Hence it is by its very nature unlawful to take payment for the use of money lent, which payment is known as usury: and just as a man is bound to restore other ill-gotten goods, so is he bound to restore the money which he has taken in usury.

Now, it isn't obvious to me that money is always like wine: that its use necessarily and always consists in its consumption. But when we look at the current crisis it sure does seem like a lot of consumption driven by an economic engine which was busily selling things which don't exist, or selling the same thing multiple times.

Electric brinkmanship

Object lesson.

As I write, the price of credit default swaps on GE senior debt is soaring. That would be General Electric Co. Its CDS is being quoted in "points up front," which in Wall Street argot means that to "insure" $10 million in GE debt for five years you have to cough up a million dollars up front, plus 500 grand annually.

Who the hell is selling these swaps? is what I would like to know. They are playing a game of high-stakes poker, whoever they are, and we could all get sucked into the misery. If GE fails, thus defaulting on its debt, how are these sellers going to pay? Where will they come up with the pay-outs to all the GE bondholders already counterparty to the CDS contracts, to say nothing of the speculators right now buying up the CDS in a frenzy?

On the other hand, if GE survives, why then they've probably made a handsome profit indeed. This is brinkmanship of a very base order, magnified by the appalling potential consequences.

Observe the lunatic incentives imbedded in this usury: the sellers of GE CDS (again, General Electric Co.!) want the company to careen toward disaster, right up to the edge of collapse, but never quite collapse. They want GE to approach ruin and default -- but never quite get there. They profit most if this old American titan of industry creeps right up to the precipice, to the very farthest point of desperation, just short of falling off; but of all things they profit least if GE actually falls off.

Note again that nothing tangible is actually being exchanged here. What is skyrocketing in "value" is little discrete packages of risk, little mathematical abstractions supposedly estimating the possibility of GE chance of defaulting on its senior debt.

I hope I do not need to belabor the obvious point that a failure of General Electric Co., impelled by another derivatives panic, would be catastrophic for the economy. GE is a major participant in, for instance, the commercial paper market, the near-collapse of which, you'll recall, was one of the primary drivers of the crash last fall.

March 3, 2009

And on the Leiter side…

Brian Leiter “learns” from Charles Hermes that the counter-petition mentioned by Lydia below is “the creation of Edward Feser,” of whose “unhinged screed” Leiter has (as my long-time readers know) been critical before. Except that, as even a cursory reading reveals, the counter-petition was sponsored by a group calling ourselves “Concerned philosophers.” And except that, in my response to the email from Hermes cited by Leiter (a response Hermes posted on Leiter’s own blog), I refer to the “authors” of the petition. Leiter, apparently fascinated by minutiae to the point of carefully inspecting his commenters’ IP addresses (see the crack detective work in identifying “Matt Hart” and “Michelle” exhibited in the first link above), has, nevertheless, apparently yet to master simple English plural noun forms.

Leiter kindly directs his readers to my book The Last Superstition, which he compares, bizarrely, to Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism. Apparently Leiter hasn’t mastered the difficult art of reading subtitles either, since a glance at mine would reveal that my book has absolutely nothing to do with the topic Goldberg addresses. (Yes, my puzzlement is feigned. The scare reference to Goldberg is, of course, just “boob bait for the bubbas,” viz. Leiter’s left-of-center readers.)

Readers unfamiliar with Leiter should be made aware of the moral seriousness he brings to this debate. As someone who knew him back in the day has attested, Leiter “was the only guy I knew who openly regretted the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

Those wondering how any philosopher could countenance turning the APA over to ideologues and commissars, take note.

March 4, 2009

Hypotheticals Don't Exist

One of the things that Paul Cella laments about the current economic crisis is all of the abstractions. There are certainly a great many abstract and complex structures involved. At the same time we've learned (I only just learned) that Aquinas viewed lending money at interest as morally wrong because it involves, in his view, selling something which does not exist.

We confidently reply (as thoroughgoing capitalist moderns) that contra Aquinas, money has a time value. It turns out upon reflection, though, that while it is true that (contra Aquinas) money has a time value, it is true in an equivocal sense: that is, it is sometimes actually true that money has a time value, and it is sometimes only hypothetically true that money has a time value.

Continue reading "Hypotheticals Don't Exist" »

Something is better than nothing

A follow-up to my entry here.

There are finally charges in the murder of the infant in Hialeah dumped alive into a biowaste bag: Practicing medicine without a license and tampering with evidence charges against clinic owner Belkis Gonzales who was seen by witnesses zipping the gasping child into the bag. The excuse for not filing at least manslaughter charges is that the decomposition of the body after eight days of being hidden was too great to make a definite determination of cause of death. Hmm. I guess crime--in this case, evidence tampering--pays. I still can't help wondering if that excuse would be used if someone were witnessed zipping a bigger and older living person into a bag.

Securitized fish.

Writing in Vanity Fair and alternating between brilliance and fatuity, Michael Lewis examines one of the detonation zones of the Great Usury Crisis: Iceland. The essay is illuminating in many ways. Lewis certainly understands the culture and psychology of high finance, and he depicts the unique character of the Icelandic people pretty well for so breezy a report. The result is a great read, but of the sort you have to be very careful about, lest you lose sight of the author's lacunae.

One such is this extraordinary statement: "A nation so tiny and homogeneous that everyone in it knows pretty much everyone else is so fundamentally different from what one thinks of when one hears the word 'nation' that it almost requires a new classification. Really, it’s less a nation than one big extended family." Perhaps Lewis has forgotten that "one big extended family" is precisely the definition of nation we get from, for instance, the Old Testament -- and indeed, from antiquity in general. Even the early moderns thought of nations in much smaller, more concentrated terms. A bracing example of a great modern thinker whose theory rested upon smallness in nationality is Rousseau's On the Government of Poland, an unjustly neglected classic. In any case, the true anomaly of nationality, contra Lewis, is a massive, half-imperial polyglot like America.

But my favorite part of the Lewis essay is this:

Iceland’s big change began in the early 1970s, after a couple of years when the fish catch was terrible. The best fishermen returned for a second year in a row without their usual haul of cod and haddock, so the Icelandic government took radical action: they privatized the fish. Each fisherman was assigned a quota, based roughly on his historical catches. If you were a big-time Icelandic fisherman you got this piece of paper that entitled you to, say, 1 percent of the total catch allowed to be pulled from Iceland’s waters that season. Before each season the scientists at the Marine Research Institute would determine the total number of cod or haddock that could be caught without damaging the long-term health of the fish population; from year to year, the numbers of fish you could catch changed. But your percentage of the annual haul was fixed, and this piece of paper entitled you to it in perpetuity.

Even better, if you didn’t want to fish you could sell your quota to someone who did. The quotas thus drifted into the hands of the people to whom they were of the greatest value, the best fishermen, who could extract the fish from the sea with maximum efficiency. You could also take your quota to the bank and borrow against it, and the bank had no trouble assigning a dollar value to your share of the cod pulled, without competition, from the richest cod-fishing grounds on earth. The fish had not only been privatized, they had been securitized.

If you can securitize real estate, why not fish?

March 5, 2009

A comment on contemporary politics

(Guest Post)

You understand, venerable brethren, that We speak of that sect of men who, under various and almost barbarous names, are called socialists, communists, or nihilists, and who, spread over all the world, and bound together by the closest ties in a wicked confederacy, no longer seek the shelter of secret meetings, but, openly and boldly marching forth in the light of day, strive to bring to a head what they have long been planning - the overthrow of all civil society whatsoever.

Surely these are they who, as the sacred Scriptures testify, "Defile the flesh, despise dominion and blaspheme majesty." They leave nothing untouched or whole which by both human and divine laws has been wisely decreed for the health and beauty of life. They refuse obedience to the higher powers, to whom, according to the admonition of the Apostle, every soul ought to be subject, and who derive the right of governing from God; and they proclaim the absolute equality of all men in rights and duties. They debase the natural union of man and woman, which is held sacred even among barbarous peoples; and its bond, by which the family is chiefly held together, they weaken, or even deliver up to lust. Lured, in fine, by the greed of present goods, which is "the root of all evils, which some coveting have erred from the faith," they assail the right of property sanctioned by natural law; and by a scheme of horrible wickedness, while they seem desirous of caring for the needs and satisfying the desires of all men, they strive to seize and hold in common whatever has been acquired either by title of lawful inheritance, or by labor of brain and hands, or by thrift in one's mode of life. ...

For, indeed, although the socialists, stealing the very Gospel itself with a view to deceive more easily the unwary, have been accustomed to distort it so as to suit their own purposes, nevertheless so great is the difference between their depraved teachings and the most pure doctrine of Christ that none greater could exist: "for what participation hath justice with injustice or what fellowship hath light with darkness?" Their habit, as we have intimated, is always to maintain that nature has made all men equal, and that, therefore, neither honor nor respect is due to majesty, nor obedience to laws, unless, perhaps, to those sanctioned by their own good pleasure. But, on the contrary, in accordance with the teachings of the Gospel, the equality of men consists in this: that all, having inherited the same nature, are called to the same most high dignity of the sons of God, and that, as one and the same end is set before all, each one is to be judged by the same law and will receive punishment or reward according to his deserts. The inequality of rights and of power proceeds from the very Author of nature, "from whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named."

(Cross-posted)

Hungary 1956

For those interested, here's a follow-up to my Berlin 1953 youtube video:

Continue reading "Hungary 1956" »

March 6, 2009

Of Hieroglyphs and Nihilism

It gives me no pleasure, but, convalescing at home from a bout with a flu and casting about for suitable internet reading material, I happened upon another Thomas Fleming column, this one on the California Supreme Court's pursuit of the logical puzzler of whether the California state constitution is unconstitutional. That constitution provides for a referendum process, and the outcome of one of those processes was that homosexual "marriages" were proscribed, existing ones nullified in the process. The argument, of course, is that the constitution secures "equal rights", or the "equal protection of the laws", and that it is thus a sacrilege against equality that a majority should vote to "revoke" the "rights" of a minority. The resultant egalitarian paradox - that certain persons are effectively rendered more equal than others - either escapes the intellects of the plaintiffs, or is actually embraced, cynically, as an element of the managerial reconstruction of public sentiments.

Fleming's piece, however, is vexing on numerous levels, which I will not be able to explore fully - mainly because, being ill and fatigued, the prospect of churning out 5000 words on the subject strikes me as unappealing, but also because the subject is inordinately complex, and implicates a plethora of questions best explored in multiple posts, whereas I intend to produce only one. Perhaps that is unjust, but that is blogging. Hopefully, the subject will receive further explication as the thread unfolds.

Continue reading "Of Hieroglyphs and Nihilism" »

Choice devours itself--the bottom of the hill?

I tell ya', I simply cannot keep up with the bad guys these days. If one gets involved even for a few days in some project other than keeping people informed of what the culture of death is up to, one falls behind. It makes me especially grateful for the work of Wesley J. Smith and perfectly willing to echo him to some degree, just adding my own spin on the stories he keeps up with.

As readers know, I have for a long time been interested in the "choice devours itself" phenomenon. More about that here.

Now comes an example so extreme that one is inclined to say, "This is the bottom of the slope. It can't get worse than this." But who knows? Evil is endlessly inventive.

Evidently it turns out that so-called "assisted suicide" activists are literally holding down the hands of the people they "assist" when those people try to tear plastic bags off of their heads.

Continue reading "Choice devours itself--the bottom of the hill?" »

So am I a crank and a liar, or not?

Mark Murphy has put forward a draft letter to the APA critical of Charles Hermes’ petition, though for reasons different from (though not incompatible with) the reasons put forward in the counter-petition several philosophers (including me) put together in response.

In commenting on Murphy’s letter, Brian Leiter wrote:

“The quality of argument and reasoning here is certainly more substantial than in the counterpetition--not surprising, giving that Murphy is a very good philosopher (and lightyears more able than cranks like Ed Feser, author of the counterpetition [Professor Feser has been denying, by the way, that he is the sole author, but, oddly, hasn't been able to name any other authors]) -- though, for reasons addressed by others responding to Professor Murphy here, not particularly compelling.”

Or at least, that’s what he wrote earlier today. The relevant post has since been altered and the words in boldface consigned to the memory hole (though they are, for the moment anyway, still available in Google’s cache).

Why the change? Did Leiter decide that calling me a crank and (in effect) a liar would perhaps not reflect well on the cause of Hermes’ petition (which he has done more than anyone other than Hermes to promote)?

Did it occur to him that his readers might reasonably infer from his intemperate language that he also regards the other authors of the counter-petition – and perhaps all the signers of the counter-petition as well (268 of them as I write, including Alasdair MacIntyre, Roger Scruton, Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, Peter van Inwagen, and many other well-known philosophers) – as “cranks”?

Did someone who actually knows the facts of the case inform Leiter that I am not lying, and that several other people were involved in writing the counter-petition? Did his lawyer’s conscience kick in for a moment on reconsidering his libelous insinuation?

It’s the other authors’ business, by the way, whether they want to identify themselves, not mine. Of course, doing so will just open them up too to Leiter’s standard ad hominem way of dealing with people he disagrees with – as Leiter well knows.

In any event, the petition speaks for itself.

As do Leiter’s actions.

March 8, 2009

“Yawn” indeed

An embarrassed Brian Leiter frantically updates his post yet again, and devotes 194 words to ridiculing my “lengthy” (360 word) “cyber-treatise.”

Coming soon: A new post from Leiter explaining why I am beneath his attention!

March 9, 2009

Aborting a Miscarried Argument

As far as we know, lots of babies die in natural miscarriages. This fact is often cited by pro-abortion apologists as evidence that pro-lifers don't themselves think that embryos are fully human, deserving of legal protection from murder. The sophistry often appended to this "argument" is the notion that since presumably aborted children and miscarried children go the the same eternal fate, Christian pro-lifers should be acting as though miscarriage were as high a priority as abortion.

I don't understand why anyone would take this so-called argument seriously.

Suppose two million Catholics in a state of grace die, and all presumably go to the same eternal fate.

Now suppose one million of those Catholics were murdered in a mass genocide. The other million died of old age or some other natural cause.

As a political matter, a matter of the exercise of temporal power to protect the common good, which of these two groups of "deaths" - we always have to use language scrubbed of moral implication when speaking to abortion apologists, you see - are a higher priority? Is the genocide of a million people inside our legitimate political jurisdiction a higher or lower political priority than the natural deaths of a million? When we ourselves face judgment, in part for our political actions, are we more likely to be judged harshly because a million people died of natural causes in our jurisdiction, or because a million people were murderd in our jurisdiction as a direct result of policies we supported?

To ask the questions is to answer them.

(Cross-posted)

Prague Spring...

...concluding my series of Shostakovich + anti-Soviet revolts videos:

Continue reading "Prague Spring..." »

Usury is an offense against property.

This is a good discussion of usury we've had. Let's stick with it a bit.

Proposed, that usury really ought to be seen as an offense against property. According to the Angelic Doctor usury is unjust because it is "to sell what does not exist." Now what does not exist cannot have property. Therefore usury (in our current case) may be understood as to offer property in nothing. It is to trade fraudulent property.

At best what the exotic finance engineering of Wall Street did was trade in property in something that did not yet exist. That is, at best this exotic finance assumed a temporal projection was accurate with undo certainly, and on that basis converted future potentials into contemporary abstractions. We may charitably say that the element of fraud is lessened because the aggravating element of intent was not supplied. They were most of them mere fools, not criminals.

They were usurers. And since durn near every last one of us was invested in a fraction of the usurious economy, in some fund or account somewhere, the blame falls in a widespread pattern indeed. They is we.

March 10, 2009

Schiavo trial transcripts now on-line

I want to blog this to bring it even more obviously to the attention of the Google bots. I have just finished an article for the forthcoming issue of The Christendom Review on some legal aspects of the Terri Schiavo case. In the course of doing research for it, I managed (by dint of much and persistent e-mailing) to get hold of the trial transcripts of all the witness testimony in the Schiavo case. As far as I have been able to tell, these transcripts are not available elsewhere on-line.

Because people will be studying and discussing Terri Schiavo's death (murder, I would say) for many years to come, it seems to me extremely important that the witness testimony be available. The judge's job was to decide that there was "clear and convincing evidence" that Terri would have wanted to be dehydrated to death. Judge Greer's opinion is on-line here.

Greer's opinion does not quote the witness testimony he is using. He just alludes to it, sometimes extremely vaguely, and sometimes even erroneously. News stories usually contain only bits and pieces, and their sources are unclear.

On my personal web page I now have

--A PDF scan of the testimony transcript of Diane Meyer
--A PDF scan of the testimony transcript of Scott Schiavo
--A PDF scan of the testimony transcript of Joan Schiavo
--A complete transcript of all the witness testimony, including the testimony of Michael Schiavo and Mrs. Schindler, in a web page html form.

These five were the witnesses who claimed to have had conversations with Terri about end-of-life issues.

I owe the Diane Meyer transcript directly to Pat Anderson, one of the Schindlers' lawyers. I owe the complete transcript to Atty. Joe Bell, who took a PDF that he had from Pat Anderson and made a careful project of translating it into searchable text.

My hope is that now when people search "Schiavo" and "trial transcripts," "Diane Meyer," and other such phrases, they will have more luck than I did in finding these important documents on-line.

Oderberg on bioethics

Natural law bioethicist David Oderberg reports on the state of "Bioethics Today" in The Human Life Review. Particularly timely given President Obama's latest abomination.

(Bonus article: Oderberg on "What's Wrong with Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research?", also from The Human Life Review.)

March 11, 2009

St. Tom Approximately.

Things I like about Thomism (lacking even the slightest expertise in the philosophy though still, according to some readers, capable of forcing every topic, up to and including the more opaque levels of high finance Capitalism, through the Thomist "grid"):

Continue reading "St. Tom Approximately." »

March 12, 2009

ForeWord on TLS

ForeWord Magazine is a trade journal directed at librarians and booksellers and devoted to reviewing books published by independent and university presses. I am pleased to learn that The Last Superstition, having been put on Booklist’s Editor’s Choice list for 2008, has now been named by ForeWord a finalist for the Book of the Year Award in the field of religion.

March 13, 2009

The Low Man, Redux

I just wanted to mention in light of this:

Sometimes one has the impression that our society needs at least one group for which there need not be any tolerance; which one can unperturbedly set upon with hatred. And who dared to touch them - in this case the Pope - lost himself the right to tolerance and was allowed without fear and restraint to be treated with hatred, too.
... that I appreciate the Holy Father reading What's Wrong with the World.

March 14, 2009

The low man is so very low...

...that he needs a liberal kindergarten teacher to help him out, by force if necessary.

(I always knew I disliked this guy.)

It seems to me that the regulative idea that we—we...liberals, we heirs of the Enlightenment, we Socratists—most frequently use to criticize the conduct of various conversational partners is that of “needing education in order to outgrow their primitive fear, hatreds, and superstitions.” This is the concept the victorious Allied armies used when they set about re-educating the citizens of occupied Germany and Japan. It is also the one which was used by American schoolteachers who had read Dewey and were concerned to get students to think ‘scientifically’ and ‘rationally’ about such matters as the origin of the species and sexual behavor [sic] (that is, to get them to read Darwin and Freud without disgust and incredulity). It is a concept which I, like most Americans who teach humanities or social science in colleges and universities, invoke when we try to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic, religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own.

What is the relation of this idea to the regulative idea of ‘reason’ which Putnam believes to be transcendent and which Habermas believes to be discoverable within the grammar of concepts ineliminable from our description of the making of assertions? The answer to that question depends upon how much the re-education of Nazis and fundamentalists has to do with merging interpretive horizons and how much with replacing such horizons. The fundamentalist parents of our fundamentalist students think that the entire “American liberal establishment” is engaged in a conspiracy. Had they read Habermas, these people would say that the typical communication situation in American college classrooms is no more herrschaftsfrei [domination free] than that in the Hitler Youth camps.

These parents have a point. Their point is that we liberal teachers no more feel in a symmetrical communication situation when we talk with bigots than do kindergarten teachers talking with their students....When we American college teachers encounter religious fundamentalists, we do not consider the possibility of reformulating our own practices of justification so as to give more weight to the authority of the Christian scriptures. Instead, we do our best to convince these students of the benefits of secularization. We assign first-person accounts of growing up homosexual to our homophobic students for the same reasons that German schoolteachers in the postwar period assigned The Diary of Anne Frank.

Putnam and Habermas can rejoin that we teachers do our best to be Socratic, to get our job of re-education, secularization, and liberalization done by conversational exchange. That is true up to a point, but what about assigning books like Black Boy, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Becoming a Man? The Racist or fundamentalist parents of our students say that in a truly democratic society the students should not be forced to read books by such people—black people, Jewish people, homosexual people. They will protest that these books are being jammed down their children’s throats. I cannot see how to reply to this charge without saying something like “There are credentials for admission to our democratic society, credentials which we liberals have been making more stringent by doing our best to excommunicate racists, male chauvinists, homophobes, and the like. You have to be educated in order to be a citizen of our society, a participant in our conversation, someone with whom we can envisage merging our horizons. So we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable. We are not so inclusivist as to tolerate intolerance such as yours.”

I have no trouble offering this reply, since I do not claim to make the distinction between education and conversation on the basis of anything except my loyalty to a particular community, a community whose interests required re-educating the Hitler Youth in 1945 and required re-educating the bigoted students of Virginia in 1993. I don’t see anything herrschaftsfrei about my handling of my fundamentalist students. Rather, I think those students are lucky to find themselves under the benevolent Herrschaft of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents. It seems to me that I am just as provincial and contextualist as the Nazi teachers who made their students read Der Stürmer; the only difference is that I serve a better cause. I come from a better province.

Richard Rorty, from "Universality and Truth," in Robert B. Brandon, ed., Rorty and His Critics (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), pp. 21-22.

HT: Esteemed husband

March 15, 2009

Why Traditional Christians are all Nazis Who Need to be Reprogrammed

Sean in the comments to Lydia's post below observed that, according to Richard Rorty:

... the fact that we just don't accept the triumph of the sexual revolution and last Thursday's discovery that a man's ability to marry another man is a most fundamental human right means that we are the moral equivalent of defeated ex-Nazis?
One of the most delicious and horrifying ironies of our modern/postmodern condition is that the Nazi, who is a heretic from liberalism precisely because he makes the Low Man (and programs for his extermination) completely explicit, now counts as the paradigmatic Low Man himself. So any Low Man (e.g. someone who doesn't buy into last Thursday's discovery etc.) is, for all practical purposes, a Nazi or Nazi-in-gestation. A further irony is that the liberal and his close-cousin heretic the Nazi have much more in common with each other than the actual men that both see as the Low Man (other than each other), the actual politically subhuman roadblock in the way of the triumph of the will of the free and equal new man, self-created through reason and will, living under a value system created by man himself and not subject to natural or traditional hierarchies and authorities, politically subject only to himself and most especially not to God or other men. Man may be subject to God in his private life and by private choice, so long as this in no way interferes with the free choices of other men. But politics must be the instrument of man's free and equal will and only man's free and equal will: no God allowed.

I'm not sure this is fully conscious on the part of the liberal himself though, in this sense: the liberal himself is often (ironically) one of the most narrow-minded human beings to ever exist, and is generally incapable of seeing modes of thought farther away than the tip of his nose. Because the Nazi is no farther away from the liberal than the tip of his nose, he understands the Nazi and is rightly horrified by the Nazi's evil. Anyone even further away than the tip of his nose thus cannot be anything but a Nazi. The notion of a non-Nazi illiberal or anti-liberal is inconceivable, or is ruled out a priori.

Continue reading "Why Traditional Christians are all Nazis Who Need to be Reprogrammed" »

Cato Bound

For some reason, the supposedly libertarian (or is that "liberaltarian," now?) Cato Unbound website has been hosting a discussion of this truly sad & feeble essay by Brown University's Glenn Loury:

A Nation of Jailers.

Prof. Loury is upset because so many people are incarcerated in America, today - and, especially, because so many of them are black.

A phenomenon which he blames on...

...wait for it...

...well? Are you sure that you can handle the sheer gutsiness & originality of his position? for, if you're not sure, dear reader, you must forbear to read any further...

...I mean, I wouldn't want to give anybody heart palpitations, or anything...

...OK, you've been warned, here it comes:

Continue reading "Cato Bound" »

Bring it on, Mr. President

obama%20basketball.jpg

My brother Jim Beckwith mailed this to the White House on January 25, 2009:

President Barack Obama: January 25, 2009

RE: The Gym Beckwith Basketball Decathlon

Dear Mr. President:

Each year on the first Friday of the NCAA tournament I host at my home a basketball decathlon. It involves 10 events. Some are outdoor events on my sport court (free throw contest, 3-pt contest, longest shot, etc.) while others are “indoor” events which involve picking the college games played that day.

Since we share the same age and a passion for hoops, I am inviting you to participate this year. I generally have 12-15 guys about our age playing. This is my tenth year doing this, and each year I try to break in a rookie. You could be our rookie this year.

I think you will feel comfortable with the group. We do have a couple of Ivy Leaguers playing (Big Mike Brown a Penn All-American and Andy Gordon who graduated from Harvard Law School). Our group is very diverse, so race is never an issue. The incident with Joe Hong having to shoot with the yellow ball was sheer coincidence.

As soon as I get the RSVP’s from the other guys, I’ll send you a list of participants for security purposes. Senator John Ensign knows most of the guys, so you can probably just have him eyeball the list. In fact, the veterinarian who Ensign used to practice with, Doc Yach, plays in my event. He is left-handed and shoots 3-pointers Rick Barry style!

I will announce the outdoor events in a couple of weeks so you can begin practicing the skills necessary to win the cup. The indoor events are not announced until the day after selection Sunday, so I’ll need your e-mail to get that to you right away. You will only have a couple of days to ponder before making your choices.

If Danny Tarkanian can play with two artificial hips and my brother Frank Beckwith (#1 person of the year by Inside the Vatican magazine 2007) can travel from Notre Dame to nail a three, then certainly the leader of the free world can try his hand at speed shooting. The official invite is reprinted below:

Four score minus 70 years ago, Gym brought forth on the sportcourt a new event, conceived in his fertile mind, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal (even Christopher Reeves). The world will little note nor long remember the lame excuses of those who have declined to participate, but can never forget the valor of those that did.

You are invited to the 10th annual Gym Beckwith Basketball Decathlon:

Friday, March 20th, 9:00 a.m. The court opens one hour earlier. Lunch will be catered.

Please respond so that I know how many people I will defeat.

Gym

James A. Beckwith, O.D.

As of March 15, 2009, the President has not responded.

(For legalists out there, I wrote this, with the exception of this line and the last one, before the beginning of Lent).

March 16, 2009

The 300 Optimists.

G. K. Chesterton, demonstrating his genius at the art of paradox, once referred to optimism as "morbid." Since the moment I read that (it appears in the second chapter of The Everlasting Man), I have felt in my bones that it is true, and have accordingly nurtured a healthy repugnance for the braggarts of optimism. But as with many paradoxes, it is difficult to explain without vitiating its power to surprise and thus enlighten. A true paradox is not a mere turn of phrase, a linguistic subtlety. It is attempt to fill a gap in man's power of understanding. It is a rhetorical reach, a heuristic device to explain what is in the end a mystery to our meager powers of mind. The paradox is a human reflection of the mystery of being.

So in the hands of a master like Chesterton, the paradox becomes an instrument of extraordinary explanatory power. It can show us, as in a flash, a principle or precept which might by other means require hours of lecture to impart. (There is an obscure masterpiece, long out of print, called Paradox in Chesterton, by a critic named Hugh Kenner, which lays all this out with great elegance. It ends with the astonishing claim for GKC that he be called a Doctor of the Church; and more astonishing still, the reader finds himself convinced.)

In this case of the problem of optimism, Chesterton's paradox opened my mind's eye to the surprising truth that optimism, being so engrossed with the potential for good things, courts ruin and despair by minimizing bad things -- or, in the parlance of finance, by minimizing the downside risk. Especially when abetted by the modern doctrine of progress, optimism is morbid because of its tendency to induce blindness concerning man's limitations.

Now I have a concrete, factual illustration of the problem of optimism, right in front of everyone's eyes.

Continue reading "The 300 Optimists." »

March 17, 2009

The romance of property.

I came upon this passage in Belloc's The Servile State and found it thoroughly fascinating, on several levels:

Either they would put property into the hands of most citizens, so dividing land and capital that a determining number of families in the State were possessed of the means of production ; or they would put those means of production into the hands of the political officers of the community, to be held in trust for the advantage of all.

The first solution may be called the attempted establishment of the DISTRIBUTIVE STATE. The second may be called the attempted establishment of the COLLECTIVIST STATE.

Those who favour the first course are the Conservatives or Traditionalists. They are men who respect and would,if possible, preserve the old forms of Christian European life. They know that property was thus distributed throughout the State during the happiest periods of our past history; they also know that where it is properly distributed to-day, you have greater social sanity and ease than elsewhere. In general, those who would re-establish, if possible, the Distributive State in the place of, and as a remedy for, the vices and unrest of Capitalism, are men concerned with known realities, and having for their ideal a condition of society which experience has tested and proved both stable and good. They are then, of the two schools of reformers, the more practical in the sense that they deal more than do the Collectivists (called also Socialists) with things which either are or have been in actual existence.

According to Belloc (writing back in 1913) the Collectivist or Socialist, meanwhile, "proposes to put land and capital into the hands of the political officers of the community, and this on the understanding that they shall hold such land and capital in trust for the advantage of the community. In making this proposal he is evidently dealing with a state of things hitherto imaginary, and his ideal is not one that has been tested by experience" or Western history.

Continue reading "The romance of property." »

Ireland and her saints.

Somewhere is in his spellbinding work of history and synthesis The Might of the West, Lawrence Brown writes of that “great company of Irish saints,” which, by boldness of faith, industry, and patience, were able to begin in the North of Europe what St. Benedict began in the South: the remaking of a workable and fruitful order for human life in the ruins left by the retreat of the Roman Empire from the western provinces. As Whittaker Chambers said of Benedict, we too may say, mutatis mutantis, of the Irish company: “At the touch of [their] mild inspiration, the bones of a new order stirred and clothed themselves with life, drawing to itself much of what was best and most vigorous among the ruins of man and his work in the Dark Ages, and conserving and shaping its energy for that unparalleled outburst of mind and spirit in the Middle Ages.”

The Celtic Church, though it ultimately submitted to the authority of the Papacy, had its own character and integrity. It had never known the secular, and was largely isolated from the ecclesiastical power of Rome — a fact that became quite evident when St. Columbanus came to France and quarreled with the worldly and often decadent Frankish hierarchy. We do not know how these quarrels were settled, but we can reasonably guess that the settlements, which avoided what would have been a disastrous schism, were the fruit of the holiness of Columbanus and Gregory the Great, who then sat on the Chair of St. Peter.

The Irish were susceptible to the error of their kinsman Pelagius against whom St. Augustine of Hippo contended with all his enormous vigor: the denial of the doctrine of Original Sin. Mr. Brown himself follows them in that error, but as he was not really a believing Christian, that is understandable. Only a Christian can really understand the depth of sin, and therefore only a Christian can realize how absolutely vital it is to retain the doctrine of Original Sin. For if there is no Original Sin, then it is possible that men are really good, and only the “system” that has made them bad. We followed the path of that logic in the twentieth century, and it led only to blood and decay.

There is a lot of contempt, in modern thought, and more in modern unthinking prejudice, for the idea of monasticism. But what is often forgotten about monasticism is how powerful an engine of political economy it was in a world were political and economic stability had vanished. Paul Johnson makes this point in his engrossing but peculiar A History of Christianity. In monasticism Western man at last found a way to be productive again; and in monasticism we see the early beginnings of that power over material forces, that stewardship of the riches of creation, that made us — we men of the West — masters of the earth. That this power has perhaps been the single most calamitously abused thing in all of the bloody history of mankind does not diminish the astonishing humility and piety at its roots. And I might be forgiven for the occasional fancy that all our machines and computers and efficiency are but a slow decline from the awesome achievement that the Irish monks and their students all over Europe, along with their Benedictine brothers, made visible in the gardens of the great monasteries.

So on this day when we celebrate the man who drove all the snakes from Ireland, let us also recall his Irish brethren, who so filled the world with their own “mild inspiration,” and made us who we are.

Our Great-grandfathers... (updated)

...were better men than we are.

Here's a video I uploaded to youtube a while ago, but never posted here, before:

Continue reading "Our Great-grandfathers... (updated)" »

March 18, 2009

Pavlischek tweaks a few noses on the counterpetition

At On the Square, Keith Pavlischek raises the issue of Christian philosophers at schools that have been specifically named for censure by Hermes' petition to the APA. Why, asks Pavlischek, haven't more of these signed the counterpetition?

The Calvinians particularly come in for a bit of tail-pulling. Keith mentions that two of the Calvin faculty have signed (Chairman Del Ratszch and David Alexander) but particularly urges more to do so. Keith also discusses a bit the odd case of Belmont University, which rushed to reassure Hermes et. al. that there was a big mistake: Homosexual acts by Belmont faculty are evidently no problem. (To make things odder still, Charles Hermes alleges that some faculty at Belmont have assured him that even the official policy calling for students to refrain from homosexual acts is not enforced.)

Keith gives numbers of faculty at other targeted schools who have stood up to be counted. Westmont especially stands out here, as all three of their philosophy faculty have signed the counterpetition. And a number of Biola philosophy faculty from Talbot have signed, though apparently the purely undergraduate wing is lying low.

All of the signatures from faculty at the schools specifically named and at other schools to which Hermes's attack would apply are most welcome, including several from Wheaton and Azusa Pacific. But it would certainly be good to see even more philosophy faculty at the targeted schools sign the counterpetition, and Keith's prod in this direction is welcome.

Let us not forget that there are young faculty and graduate students not at such schools who have been willing to stick their necks out and sign the counterpetition. They deserve all the support they can get from their Christian brethren at schools that would be most directly affected by the Hermes policy change proposal.

March 19, 2009

The Great Usury Crisis

great_usury_crisis.jpg

A collection of posts discussing the nature of usury, and its role in the current recession.

The image is Rembrandt's Christ Drives Money-Changers from the Temple, 1626.

"The 300 Optimists," March 16

"Usury is an offense against property," March 9

"Hypotheticals don't exist," March 4

"Securitized fish," March 4

"Aquinas on usury," March 2

"Electric brinkmanship," March 2

"Socialism and the crisis of usury," February 27

March 20, 2009

Money Corrupts

Especially government money.

Via Scott at Romish Graffiti comes the story of a Catholic agency in Boston--administered by the Archdiocese, no less--that has made a deal with the devil: They were awarded a state contract to provide medical services to the poor. One of the conditions of the contract was that they provide "access" to abortion. "Access" means a phone number to call to find someone to kill your child and transportation if necessary.

Just a short time before, Cardinal Sean O'Malley had insisted that the agency would never "direct any patients to providers of abortion or in any way...participate in actions that are contrary to Catholic moral teaching..." One hardly knows what to say. One hopes Cardinal O'Malley simply didn't know the facts. But if so he should get his skates on and find some way to get the agency out of this mess.

I've hypothesized elsewhere that threats of withdrawing government money would be one way to enforce participation in abortion. The Boston agency apparently is getting this as a new contract, which means they were not already dependent on the money. That means they could not under any reasonable construal be said to be acting under duress. No one forced them to seek this contract. But the arm-twisting will be all the more blatant if in the future organizations already dependent on government funds are threatened with losing such funds if they do not agree to such conditions.

In related news, here is Wesley J. Smith on President Obama and federal conscience protection law.

Escher on Credit Default Swaps

Escher_Waterfall.jpg

I've suggested in a number of places that it is possible - I am not committed to it being definitely true - that much of the circulation of abstracted risk which led up to the current crisis took the form of something like a horizontal Ponzi scheme. It is horizontal because it involves circulation of abstracted risk among peers, and it is like a Ponzi scheme because it involves selling something which doesn't exist. We know that Aquinas thought charging interest on a loan was usury, and therefore morally wrong, precisely because he believed that it involved selling what does not exist.

All that discursive abstractness isn't everyone's cup of tea. But if you can just imagine the Escher waterfall lined with investment bankers, lenders, homeowners, and who knows who else all dipping in their goblets for a nice deep drink, I think you'll get the basic picture.

March 23, 2009

Straw men and terracotta armies

Every academic philosopher solemnly teaches his students never to commit the straw man fallacy. And yet relentlessly committing it oneself anyway is almost a grand tradition within certain precincts of our discipline. As readers of The Last Superstition are aware, most of what the average contemporary secular philosopher thinks he “knows” about the traditional arguments of natural theology and natural law theory is nothing but a hodgepodge of ludicrous caricatures, and the standard “objections” to these arguments, widely considered fatal, in fact have no force whatsoever. If such philosophers’ continued employment depended on demonstrating some rudimentary knowledge of (for example) the actual views of Thomas Aquinas, many of them would be selling pencils.

Continue reading "Straw men and terracotta armies" »

March 24, 2009

Self-parody on wheels.

The English philosopher Roger Scruton is a titan of our age -- or would be, if temperance, discipline, subtlety and wisdom were prized as highly today as they were by the humanists of his parents' day. In The American Spectator, Scruton writes movingly of these humanists who raised and taught him. He says that while he "was skeptical toward that kind of humanism, I never doubted its nobility of purpose." To train up the human mind to highest excellence and generosity was its purpose. It aimed to produce intelligence trained by disciplined habit and continual contact with greatness. "It was devoted to exalting the human person above the human animal, and moral discipline above random appetite. It saw art, music, and literature not simply as pleasures, but as sources of spiritual strength."

It was great-minded and full of a sense of duty, which duty including carefully passing on the inheritance of human achievement. The humanism of that generation included an aspect of veneration, and the humility that accompanies it. Being more acquainted with loss and misery, this first post-Second World War generation had a more robust appreciation for the fragility of civilization. It welcomed all wisdom to task of securing and preserving it.

Scruton continues, "And it took the same view of religion. Humanists of the old school were not believers. The ability to question, to doubt, to live in perpetual uncertainty, they thought, is one of the noble endowments of the human intellect. But they respected religion and studied it for the moral and spiritual truths that could outlive the God who once promoted them."

Alas, that original generation of those humanists is dying off, and in its place with have a new generation entirely. We have, indeed, a wild, destructive class of men. But also -- let's face it -- a pretty hilarious one.

We have a whole generation of scolds and pedants altogether unaware of their pedantry. We have the New Humanists. Some may say that this band of ruffians will bequeath to mankind nothing of value, but I say otherwise. They will least be remembered for the image they set loose upon the streets of London, a great howling cartoon on wheels: an ad banner on a city bus reading, if Professor Scruton has reproduced it accurately, what must be among the most magnificent public statements ever: "There probably is no God; so stop worrying and enjoy life."

Now I ask the reader to consider such a statement, pronounced in a public place with all the flourish and boldness of modern political theater, and estimate the number of times he has ever beheld such a remarkable juxtaposition of simultaneous innocence and arrogance as that ad banner. It is a stark staring caricature or cartoon on wheels. The New Humanist has managed to ridicule himself, unwittingly. He has momentarily silenced irony and disarmed parody by becoming his own satire.

The key is the second word. Whatever possessed the British Humanist Association to add this note of ambiguity or uncertainty -- such is not their habit -- must be accounted a marvelous whim of Providence. The New Humanist has outdone himself, and insured his memorial across time. Had he neglected that one beautiful word -- "probably" -- he would have been forgotten forever, but since has he left us this marvelous tableau of cluelessness, we shall have something to remember him by. The New Humanist ad's suggests a man perfectly bereft of self-awareness.

But while we can have our fun at the expense of the New Humanist, it should be recognized that part of the hilarity participates in a darker logic -- that of a Western world actually turning toward the madness advertised on the London bus. It is not a world phenomenon. Far from it: the world appears to be turning the other way. But it sure would be a sad conclusion to the grand story of Western humanism, to end at the feet of these blank negations and self-parodies.

March 25, 2009

The less Rey knows, the less he knows it

Apropos my post on straw man arguments in the philosophy of religion, reader Bobcat calls my attention to this article by philosopher of mind Georges Rey, which purports to show that theism, when held to by anyone with at least “a standard Anglo-European high school education,” necessarily involves self-deception. And for Rey, that includes – indeed, maybe especially includes – highly intelligent theists who happen to be philosophers. Rey starts out by acknowledging that he is “not a professional philosopher of religion and has no special knowledge of theology.” With that much, anyway, the reader can agree, for Rey’s article proves it conclusively. Why Rey thought himself nevertheless qualified to open his mouth on this subject is another question entirely, and the answer is by no means clear. I’ll leave it to those interested in plumbing the psychological depths of academic blowhards to consider whether self-deception might be a factor.

Continue reading "The less Rey knows, the less he knows it" »

Recommending Skyglobe

Paul Cella had a post here about stargazing.

For stargazing I highly recommend the shareware program Skyglobe. It is truly shareware. If you try to send a check to the address, it comes back to you in the mail. I got my copy before there was a Web, so I didn't download it off the Web. I hope the download from here works. You can Google other sites that let you download it as well. I hear it doesn't work with Windows Vista, which is just another reason not to get Vista. We've had to create a generic icon for it on our desktop, which makes it easier to get to (without having to go to the DOS prompt).

It's hard to believe something so useful is absolutely free. Skyglobe works chiefly by keystrokes. It will come up showing the sky at the time on your computer. Hit L and choose a location near you for the most accurate picture of the sky. Hit C repeatedly to add more and more constellation lines (and eventually to make them go away). Arrow keys allow you to look around your sky. If you point your mouse at a star directly, you will see the name or number displayed in the corner of the screen.

Where I am, the bitterest cold of winter is over, and we are even occasionally having clear nights. It isn't yet light into the night, as it will be in the summer. So around about 8:30 we can sometimes see some neat things. Orion, westering a bit, still dominates the southern sky, hunting Taurus the bull. Canis Major, with Sirius brightly visible in it, lopes at his heels. Just above Canis Major, Procyon wags the tail of Canis Minor, who refuses to be left out of the hunt. And over to the east, Leo now rises, ramping straight up the sky.

I also recommend the books on the stars by H. A. Rey, best known as the creator of Curious George. The books are geared to kids, but grownups will find them useful too.

March 26, 2009

This video is arguably blasphemous...

...since it more or less equates our own Ed Feser (giving the Dawkins/Dennett/Hitchens/Harris quartet their comeuppance) to the Archangel Michael (giving the devil his)...

But I hope everyone here will enjoy it anyway:

Continue reading "This video is arguably blasphemous..." »

March 27, 2009

Hear Hear!!

I was ranting this morning about the mistaken idea that finding a scientific explanation for something or other provides some sort of evidence for naturalism. In response to which, Esteemed Husband produced the following quotation. (One of the neat things about being married to someone who knows so much about the history of ideas is that there is a quotation for everything.)

With Empirical philosophy, considered as a tentative contribution to the theory of science, I have no desire to pick a quarrel. That it should fail is nothing. Other philosophies have also failed. Such is, after all, the common lot. That it should have been contrived to justify conclusions already accepted is, if a fault at all—which I doubt—at least a most venial one, and one, moreover, which it has committed in the best of philosophic company. That it should derive some moderate degree of imputed credit from the universal acceptance of the scientific beliefs which it countersigns, may be borne with, though for the real interests of speculative inquiry this has been, I think, a misfortune. But that it should develop into naturalism, and then, on the strength of labours which it has not endured, of victories which it has not won, and of scientific triumphs in which it has no right to share, presume, in despite of its speculative insufficiency, to dictate terms of surrender to every other system of belief, is altogether intolerable. Who would pay the slightest attention to naturalism if it did not force itself into the retinue of science, assume her livery, and claim, as a kind of poor relation, in some sort to represent her authority and to speak with her voice? Of itself it is nothing. It neither ministers to the needs of mankind, nor does it satisfy their reason. And if, in spite of this, its influence has increased, is increasing, and as yet shows no sign of diminution, if more and more the educated and the half-educated are acquiescing in its pretensions, and, however reluctantly, submitting to its domination, this is at least in part because they have not learned to distinguish between the practical and inevitable claims which experience has on their allegiance, and the speculative but quite illusory title by which the empirical school have endeavoured to associate naturalism and science in a kind of joint supremacy over the thoughts and consciences of mankind.


Arthur James Balfour, The Foundations of Belief, 8th ed. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1906), pp. 135-36.

Note: Balfour in the context appears to be using "naturalism" in a methodological sense to refer to a particular type of aggressive methodological empiricism. The quote works, however, as well if not better if one reads it as referring to "naturalism" in its contemporary and metaphysical sense. And of course the two things are in a very real sense kissing cousins.

Pants on fire

My stalker Brian Leiter is at it yet again. This is becoming formulaic: First identify me as “the” author of the counter-petition. (That joke’s gone kind of stale by now, don’tcha think, Big Bri?) Then tell a few other fibs about matters you know your more robotic readers won’t bother to check up on for themselves. These things more or less write themselves, which means, I guess, that I can’t blame Leiter for their “inaccuracies” (ahem).

Here’s Leiter’s summary of The Last Superstition:

The "demonstration" consists in recycled Thomist arguments (with no meaningful attention to their now familiar refutations and the repetitive rhetorical trope that everyone [except Professor Feser] has failed to grasp the real import and nuances of these arguments) and some premodern Aristotelian metaphysics, recycled through the lens of Professor Feser's sad obsession with where sperm ends up.

Did you catch that, TLS readers? I give “no meaningful attention” to the “now familiar refutations” of Thomistic arguments. Apparently the copy of the book Leiter read was missing chapters 3 through 6.

It’s also Feser alone whom I claim has properly understood the arguments. None of those citations of Neo-Scholastics, Analytical Thomists, historians of philosophy, etc., that you thought you saw in the book were really there. You dreamed them.

Oh, and the “premodern Aristotelian metaphysics” is recycled through a sperm obsession, or whatever. It was a Cartesian malin genie who made you think you read that chapter on the philosophical, scientific, political, religious, and cultural factors at work in the Scholastic-to-modern transition, and the deep philosophical problems that transition opened up. You were hallucinating when you thought you read all those arguments about how the work of analytic thinkers like Anscombe, Armstrong, Cartwright, Ellis, Molnar, Oderberg, Sehon, Schueler, and others points (whether all these writers intend this or not) to something like a revival of Aristotelian metaphysics. In reality it was all just 291 pages about sperm.

Now, look at this pocket watch go back and forth and repeat after me: There were no actual arguments there, just some religious bigot ranting. There were no actual arguments there, just some religious bigot ranting. You are getting sleepy… sleepy…

Well, we all know what’s coming next: Yet another frenzied response from Leiter about how I keep responding to him. More lies about how I am a lying liar who tells lies. Etc. Well, make it quick, Brian. I know you’ve got lots of free time, and these little exchanges are fun and all. But hey man, I’ve got stuff to do!

March 30, 2009

Fodor and Aquinas on the Extended Mind Thesis

For those W4 readers interested in contemporary academic philosophy of mind (all three of you), here is my Thomistic take on Jerry Fodor's take on a recent development in that field.

Science and the optimistic naturalist

Following up on the quotation I gave below from Balfour, I want to address here a poor argument for dismissing apparent evidence against naturalism. It is surprising how many smart people think, or if they are not naturalists at least worry, that there is something to this argument. Here are a couple of versions of it:

Most problems which were unexplained by science in purely naturalistic terms have now been explained by science in purely naturalistic terms. So, by direct induction, any alleged evidence against naturalism has a scientific explanation in purely naturalistic terms.

or

Science has made and continues to make such great progress throughout history, gradually whittling away at the set of things that were previously not scientifically understood, that whatever it is that you are presently bringing forth as evidence against naturalism, I am sure that science will eventually get to that in time and explain it, as well, as entirely the product of natural causes.

There are so many things wrong with this argument that I don't know if I can fit them all into one post, but I'll make a good start, anyway.

Continue reading "Science and the optimistic naturalist" »

March 31, 2009

Coercion for doctors to come to California?

I described here a new law in Australia which has passed and which requires all doctors to provide referrals for abortions.

Now a possibly even more radical law has been introduced in California. It has not passed, and it is unclear what its chances are. Under this law, healthcare professionals are required (on pain of loss of license) to provide to all their patients information about abortion as a medical treatment available to them or else provide them with assistance in finding another medical worker who will do this. The law says, inter alia,

(e) Each physician and surgeon, nurse practitioner, and physician assistant described in subdivision (d) has an affirmative duty of reasonable disclosure to his or her patient of all available medical choices with respect to the patient's personal reproductive decisions.

As Wesley J. Smith points out, this is fairly ridiculous. Who doesn't know the bare fact that abortion is legal in California? I would further point out that this makes the wording ambiguous. What does it mean to "disclose" abortion as an "available medical choice"? It is pretty clear that it means speaking to the patient about abortion as a choice the patient should take seriously, not recommending against it, etc. I doubt that distributing a copy of The Silent Scream would be considered to satisfy the requirement to "provide information" about this "personal reproductive decision."

Imagine the weird climate this would create: A woman and her husband have been wanting to have a baby for a long time, and their doctor knows it. Finally, she gets pregnant and comes in, radiant, for her first pre-natal checkup. Would the doctor, the same doctor who has been providing fertility advice, have to give her a form to sign that says that she has been provided with "information" on "all treatment options for her reproductive decisions," including abortion? That's not going to go over well with the happy new mother.

This is not about information. This is about making sure that pro-life ob-gyns are drummed out of the profession. No honest person can doubt this. If the law passes, I hope it will be widely defied.