Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The moral value of happiness


It is better to be happy than sad. Morally speaking, it is better to promote happiness than sadness. Is a happy person a better person that a sad one? If not, then why is happiness better than sadness?

It is clearly more pleasant to be happy, although that may be a circular argument. People are assumed these days to be morally equal, although that has little "meaning" except to say that no one person should be valued above another arbitrarily - i.e. due to factors not relevant to some situation. A merchant and a thief have the same rights under the law. Is the merchant a better person than the thief? Perhaps we can say that he is better, but that doesn't give him a higher moral value. But what are we speaking of when we talk of moral value anyway?

Is it that we should feel the same about other people, or that was should be just to other people? Is a person's moral value about feelings, or about justice? Or is it only actions that have moral value, and ascribing a moral value to an individual is an error of language?

All good questions.


Tuesday, December 28, 2004

After we die


I was reading "Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius - a translated version obviously.

One of the ideas I have heard is that before modern times, whenever you might consider that to be, the idea of the future was that it would be much like the past. That is to say, people will still be farming, the world will always be made up of kingdoms of one sort or other. The people may change, but the lives of people will not. This is clearly the view of this particular Emporer.

Today, the rate of technological change is clearly suggestive of a future which is massively different from the past. Maybe our children will live forever. We might travel to other planets, encounter alien lives. We might engineer ourselves better brains, and uncover deeper secrets of the universe than ever before. The cosmic myth may open its mysteries.

One of the points made by Aurelius is that one need not fear death, for the future holds no special value to us. Our feelings tomorrow will be much like today. For what are we really striving? There is no goal that can ever be reached, for we will always have access only to the same life we had yesterday. Once we realise this, we also realise that tomorrow is no great thing, to be valued no higher than yesterday. Then, with equinimity, we place how well we live more imporant than how long we live.

Is that still true?

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Philosophy Crossword


Hi guys,

I'm working on a philosophy crossword, but I'm also lazy! In order that the crossword contains clues OTHER than relating to "stuff I like", maybe you could leave suggestions for me on this blog! When it's ready, I guess you'll all have the advantage... Of course, you'll have to come back and read the site regularly :)

Oh, and like, Merry Christmas for yesterday.


Friday, December 24, 2004

Group Intelligence


How smart are you? Do you know? Did you take a test? Do you think you would do better on that test if you had someone else to help you, and would it matter how smart they were?

These are questions to which I don't know the answer, but which are the start of group theory. This url carries a radio transcript in which two people discuss this very phenomenon. For some tasks, a group average decision is reliably better than any expert, but then for others there are strong downsides, such as in the cases of lynch mobs, or perhaps more topically, racism and bigotry.

I would be fascinated to know more about this, as it must have all kinds of implications for economic and business theory. Is the monarchy model really the best way to run a business? Is a single CEO necessary, or might you be better off with two people at the top? For those of us who believe evolution suffers from hill-climbing problems (local maxima), maybe a little game theory could allow us to cross the divide towards a higher peak of efficiency.


Thursday, December 23, 2004

Revenge and the Psyche


People, especially stupid people, regard the satisfaction of revenge as some kind of legitimate goal in itself. Slap a murderer in prison, and you get an injection of self-righteous pride. Put the criminal on a program of rehabilitation with psychiatric assessment and people disconnect, get angry and dissatisfied, and start rumbing about lynchings.

Humans at large are highly irrational - that is to say they not only avoid thinking about things, but put a higher value in what is felt about an issue than what is thought or even known about an issue. Where our feelings are positive, they are generally thought of as good motivators. We should strive for happiness and love, for example. However where they are negative - such as in the case for revenge, they are something to be damped down, suppressed by rationality. Rational behaviour is precisely behaviour where we sacrifice the short term assauging of our instinctive appetites in order to achieve some goal which is far more rewarding in the long term. The lack of respect people have for the value of rationality is indicative of the lack hope that people hold out, as well as the natural tendency of humans to be motivated only by things occuring within a narrow context - i.e. close to home both temporally and physically.

Essentially, this is wired into our brains by evolution, where presumably it played a useful role first in individual survival and then later in group dynamics.

Game theory basically tells us that the best kind of societal re-enforcement learning is a quick and precisely even response to all unfair unjuries. Players in those ideal games quickly reach an equilibrium nearly as useful as if people always played for mutual benefit. In real life however, the rush gained from revenge can outweigh the pain of the original crime.

It strikes me as odd that humans have evolved a revenge mechanism which is so clearly less efficient that a fairness mechanism, and it worries me.


Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Who's surprised by the Big Bad Wolf?


From an article in today's age (
"We're all in shock and can't believe this has happened," he said.

What, may I ask, is so surprising about this? Learner drivers shouldn't be out on the road driving, because they don't have the experience to do it well. It's not like driving is really really hard, but you do need a certain amount of practise before you can reliably get it right, especially where other traffic or adverse conditions are involved. Like it being night-time and exceeding the speed limit.

To quote Forrest Gump, "stupid is as stupid does". If people question the value of intelligence, I think we have a prime example right here. Even in the hormone-fuelled existence of adolescence, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realise that cars are dangerous. Who is to blame here? It's hard to say. Pretty much everyone involved, I would say, apart from the driver of the oncoming vehicle who seems to have been mercifully unhurt.

Sure, it's a tragic loss of life, but it's hard to physically prevent people from doing this kind of thing. What's tragic about it is that it's just so senseless and dumb. It's a mistake to think that something like this can ever be made right, but it looks like they will throw the book at Simon. For myself, I don't really think jail will do anything, although a life-ban on driving is possibly appropriate. Let this be a lesson to everyone - don't downplay the value of intelligence and rational thinking. It wouldn't have taken a big dose of that to have prevented this accident.


Objectivism - Objective Reality


Time for a counter-article. I had a bit of a go at Ayn Rand for being sloppy in presenting her philosophy, but there are some things in her wider writings which I think are sound philosophy and should be generally promoted.

The first idea I would like to address is that of the primacy of existence. Consider yourself. Now consider the world around you - clearly there is a delineation between what you can control through thought and what you cannot. You exercise the most control over your own thoughts, followed by your body, and exert little appreciable control over reality at large.

Descartes used this to formulate the mind-body problem, and concluded that the only thing we can be certain of is our own mind - everything that comes from the outside, including in his philosophy the feelings of our body - could just as well be illusion.

Rand basically dismisses this as being so much hocus-pocus, and not of any use. You try getting pushed off a cliff while asleep and see whether you land or not. Her base practicality leads people to attack some of the more subtle implications alluded to - such as best-interest ethics rather than absolute or spiritual ethics.

The two problems can be to some extent unified with a little linguistic gymnastics. We know from vast, repeatable experience that there is a difference between what our thoughts can control, and what they cannot. We cannot fly just by wishing it, nor can we prevent the external world from having effects back inside our mind (sensations of pain for example). If the world we live in is an illusion, of what is it an illusion? Just because we see the world through human-coloured glasses, does that mean we are looking at nothing?

Of course not. Rand makes this point herself - Descartes threw the baby out with the bathwater. Just because we cannot trust our senses to be accurate, that doesn't mean that they are reporting arbitrarily. Understanding the world we live in is simply useful, and simply taking action requires a mental conception of it. Forgetting about the value of science for a moment, simply living and acting requires a mental model of the world that is sufficiently close to reality that we can continue.

Reality, as she says, exists, and while we may misunderstand it, or experience it poorly, there is still an underlying nature to the world which does not depend on our understanding of it. There might be a sense in which it is affected by our understanding of it, but to claim that we can turn lead into gold by wishing it is not the road to success.


Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Sorry, I just had to


You are 60% geek
You are a geek. Good for you! Considering the endless complexity of the universe, as well as whatever discipline you happen to be most interested in, you'll never be bored as long as you have a good book store, a net connection, and thousands of dollars worth of expensive equipment. Assuming you're a technical geek, you'll be able to afford it, too. If you're not a technical geek, you're geek enough to mate with a technical geek and thereby get the needed dough. Dating tip: Don't date a geek of the same persuasion as you. You'll constantly try to out-geek the other.

Take the Polygeek Quiz at

Monday, December 20, 2004

Philosophy - Who Needs It


I read the opening words of a speech by Ayn Rand recently, in which she claimed that subscribing to philosophy resulted from the existential questions of man, demanded of him by his nature. "Where am I? How do I know it? What should I do?"

I would like to attack this as the basis for philosophy. Firstly, too many philosophers in history have attempted to ground their theories in 'unassailable truths' - axioms, or things held to be self-obvious, or some kind of ontology that enables a consistent understanding of the universe. They have all fallen, so reliably that nobody has philosophies any more, they only study those of others. Ayn Rand, like so many before her, has here tried to sell her philosophy on the attractiveness of this grounding.

It has been proven (he says waving his hands vigorously) that human cognition starts neither at the most basic, nor the most complex levels. Ayn Rand actually accepts this if you read more widely, but still insists in this speech on starting not from the most relevant parts of her philosophy, but from its grounding.

Attacking any such arbitrary decision is almost painfully easy. Firstly, one can attack the sentence "What should I do" as already pre-supposing normativity - the idea that we "ought" to do anything. More simply one could say "What shall I do?" The other two sentences are just as laden with preconceptions. When I wake up in the morning, I don't think "where am I?". Usually, I think "oh damn, the alarm clock". Her lost astronaut is unlikely to think "where am I" with any particular cardinality - it will be just another thought in the mix.

Of course, all I am doing is attacking her choice as being too "high level" as being an arbitrary and poorly chosen entry point into accepting a philosophical system. But it is worth making that kind of attack, because it is precisely that kind of weakness of approach which leads to ordinary people feeling disconnected with philosophy.

Being a philosopher, I don't _need_ to present what I think the right approach is, but as an egoistical blogger, I suppose I ought to. If I were try to persuade someone of the value of philosophy, I would appeal to its interesting nature, its ability to help us structure and understand our thoughts so that we may better address every problem we face and to eternal struggle of humanity to deal with our dreams and our desires. Philosophy is to naive thought as investment is to a salary. Ayn Rand's philosophy is not a bad one - plenty of people find a lot of merit in it - but it is a mistake on her part to assert that it is the most "obvious" or even the most "rational", because all of those assertions pre-suppose her own ideals.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Prisoner's Christmas


Everyone has heard of the prisoner's dilemma, but most people would hesitate if you asked them if they thought there was ever a real situation in which is was played out precisely.

I am proud to announce an annual country-wide championships for this game, in which people play with their families, friends and even their co-workers. It is called Christmas, and over the years has resulted in some novel solutions.

The initial position is where everyone must buy a christmas present for everyone they know, at some personal cost. The goal of this game is to maximise the happiness of everyone around you, plus your own happiness, plus minimise the cost to yourself. There are a number of strategies for improving your situation.

1.) Involve yourself in a large number of gift exchanges. If everyone is playing fair, you will always recieve the maximum number of gifts. Therefore the more groups in which you participate, the more presents you will get. Unfortunately this also increases the cost. However, if you don't play fair, then you can get ahead. (see pt 2)

2.) Unbalance the costs. In this model you still buy each person a gift, but you seek to buy cheap gifts, and receive expensive gifts. This works adequetly, but there is a minimum below which one cannot go and still expect to be accepted next year. However, there will always be some people who buy more expensive gifts, so if you can maintain this strategy, you will improve your situation.

3.) Don't reciprocate. This is where you aim to recieve more presents than you buy. Unfortunately, recieving a great many presents without returning the favour usually results in a feeling of hollowness, or "un-fellowship". Non-reciprocation improves the economics, but our goals relate to happiness while minimising costs. Because of the negative happiness quotient of this strategy, it is seen as a poor choice for the subtle player.

4.) The "Chris Kringle". This increasingly popular option works especially well for men, who are geared psychologically to prefer bigger presents over many presents. Women also prefer bigger presents over smaller ones, but don't connect that with the emotional value of the gift. However, in our increasingly tough competitive environment (applications of rules 1 and 2) both genders generally accept the unpleasantness of buying "crap presents" and see this strategy as an acceptable "out" from the spiral. In this model, costs and benefits are unified at the agreed upon price, meaning that no-one loses more than they win. Additionally, it is felt to increase the appreciation of the gift, although it reduces the number of interpersonal connections involved. In game theoretic terms, which are often more strongly geared towards the negative values of betrayal rather than the positive, this is known as "mutually assured destruction" - no-one may betray their neighbours.

The most difficult parts of the Prisoner's Christmas is the presence of rogue elements - broken down into two groups: Family and Unexpected Gifts.

The problem of the Family is the tendency to purchase over-the-top gifts. Whereas the pressure in friendship groups is often downward, towards the cheapest gift of quality, the pressure in families is often upwards, resulting in a rapid escalation. It is much like a house auction with closed bids. Whoever makes the lowest bid often feels like they have betrayed the process. This problem is attacked best by choosing the underdog's position or the bidder's position. When assuming the bidder's position, you need to correctly estimate the best value for your gift. You should try to spend roughly the same as a birthday-present level gift, possibly up to 20% more in some situations. It is more an art than a science. The underdog's position is however much safer, and the simplest strategy is to involve multiple gifts. The precise value of a gift is always uncertain, and the pleasure also not always comensurate with price. The purchase of around 5 gifts at values of $1.00 to $15.00 should give you a very reliable position for around $40.00 for any close family member. This is not a _bargain_ but is certainly a cheap way to obtain certainty.

The Unexpected Gift is the hardest of all elements in this game. They will happen, and there is no way to reciprocate until next year. Two non-reciprocated gifts from one person represents poor form, and three is outright rudeness. The Unexpected Gift should be rewarded with an invitation to lunch or other social reward as soon as possible. The cheapest way to deal with the Unexpected Giver is to involve them in a "Chris Kringle" circle, so that you may involve them in gift exchange without extending the number of presents which you have to purchase.

Alternative solutions to the Prisoner's Christmas are merrily invited...


Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Parable Of The Mugs


A group of people stand talking, next to a pillar. One of them places his mug on top of it. Following suit, the others all place their mugs one by one atop the first, so that there is now a pile of mugs. As the final person places his mug on top, they topple the pile and all the mugs break on the ground below. Who is at fault?

One might at first say the final person - they caused the fall. Yet were there no pile available, there could have been no such fall. Imagine also that the pile fell not due to a dump from the final person, but after a moment or two in which the pile became unstable of its own accord.

Our moral instincts work as though it were the first mug that was at fault. The general of an army is more guilty than the soldier who fired the weapon - the responsibility is passed back to its first cause. Morally speaking, the person who put the first mug down is at fault for creating the unstable situation.

Our practical instincts strongly blame the last person - our understanding of cause and effect encourages us to link an effect with its closest cause. We would say that the final person _caused_ the accident, even though the moral blame passes back to the person who instigated the pile-building.

Both of these assume that responsibility can be delegated to one person, but one might suggest that each person bears some responsibility, but surely the blame is not equal? The first person might claim innocense, by the fact that it was in fact the second person who created the pile, and until then there was simply a mug on a pillar. He had no control over other future actions, and was the only person who acted in a fully safe way. Perhaps everyone whose mug broke is definitially responsible - else their mug would not be broken. Are we responsible for all the effects of our actions, or only the ones we intend?

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Guardians of Information


Apparently, one of the blogs in the philosophy carnival of a few days ago contained some misinformation - at least the accusation has been raised. While I am of course shocked and disgusted that anything of the sort has made its way into the blogosphere, one recognises a certain inevitability to the event. And, on the other hand, a quick reading of the article revealed no gaping holes to my mind. Of course, the post was about something with which I am totally unfamiliar (the "PGR" ranking scheme for philosophy courses) and I was only able to dedicate about 6 minutes to checking the accuracy of the entry, but that's still something, right?

When one is using a philosophical process to break down an issue, understand a situation, etc, one must of course require a certain degree of rationality and truthfullness to your own assumptions and implications. However, why is it that we seem to require truthfullness from others? Why is truth seen as being a "good" thing, even in situations where perhaps the truth of the matter is not really relevant?

The PGR article for example, insofar as it contained factual information drawn from a particular report, seemed to be quoting correctly. Beyond that, an argument was simply presented. The accusation here seems to be not that there were inaccuracies of fact, but that some other kind of fallacy was present in the posting - either a bad argument being presented as correct, or some poor assumptions, or simply a disagreement with the basis of the quoted report.

The danger, presumably, lies when one accepts a published article as fact, when in fact it may contain errors innocent or otherwise. Humans seem wired up to largely believe reportings of fact given to them, and as such they become very angry and resentful when they encounter a lie in a place where they expected truth.

But is there more to it than the biological reaction? In the end, it becomes a question of how you ground your ethics. A rationalist might simply view it as a question of economics - the truth is usually more efficient, and its goodness lies in its efficiency. An efficient lie would do just as well. However a spiritualist or moralist might hold that lying is per se wrong according to a doctrine or due to its betrayal of morality.

And still, incorrectness is not always lying. It is very slippery to come to grips with what is wrong with being wrong. After all, you wouldn't want to be wrong about going to war. But where a spiritualist holds that falsehood is wrong per se, it is less common to hold that inaccuracy is wrong per se. Most people, spiritual and rationalist alike, would agree that the wrongness of inaccuracy is a problem of efficiency and context. It is perhaps morally wrong to be inaccurate when life is at stake, but less imperative when nothing at all is at stake - such as being wrong about whether a coin will land heads or tails - in absense of other major consequences of course.

All in all, a troublesome area, pointing once again to the value of taking everything you read, er, philosophically.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Footprints of Philosophers


I was skimming an overdue library book this morning prior to returning it, and noticed etched in pencil around the right-hand margin "how to not what to". That was indeed one of the themes of the paragraph, but not what I would have classed the major point.

Nonetheless, I thought it was quite characterful to see what a past student had thought. While I'm not condoning scribbling into library books - an uncouth practise - I can imagine it might be quite pleasant to read the unpolished and un-edited annals of a book's academic history of use. I can imagine a blog from the point of view of this particular text...

"... ah, my new home. My pages are fresh as a virgin olive, my ink strong and that colour of my pages vibrant. "

"Thumbed over by the staff today... weather continues fine"

"A third-year student picked me up today. It was a pleasure to be read again, especially so carefully and thoughtfully. Judging by the initial margin notes, I was worried that I was being subjected to a superficial reading, but subsequent entries demonstrated a good progression of thought"

"It has been years since coming to this place, it has changed much. Last year, the shelves were re-organised such that now I have a view out the window. More students read me this way, as I am in a more aesthetically pleasing position"

"Overdue. Again!."

On a more serious note, one of the pleasures of philosophy is the feeling that you are engaged with the author, almost in dialogue. Quotes are layered upon quotes, and the best authors speak as much now to the topic as they ever did. The margin notes simply added to that feeling of connectedness, that somehow time does not hold any sway over the continuing exploration of these ideas. This community still remembers its past members.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Tougher Copyright Laws


Well, we all told them so.

In line with the FTA, the government is attacking our civil liberties, and allowing people to randomly accuse other people of copyright violation, resulting in US-style takedown notices.

One again, the foresighted IT / Software industry has been steamrolled by politicians who think the only impact of IP laws is book publishing and media distribution (read filesharing music we ripped off from the Inernet). How wrong they are.

Fortunately, I will soon stop caring about my civil liberties because mainstream media interests will now be able to brainwash me by controlling what I listen to (read restrict the ability of independant artists to self-publish via the Internet through economic pressures as well as copyright accusations). Come to think of it, that last Guy Sebastian track wasn't so bad after all. Maybe I'll buy a new mobile phone and some hip 3/4 length pants and find myself a polyester girl...


Thursday, December 09, 2004

Email Privacy Laws


Andrew Bartlett of the Aus. Democrats briefly mentioned this issue on his blog , and it seems to be a bad thing.

Historically, individual privacy has been both seen as a fundamental right, and fought for vigorously on the part of your average citizen. There seems to be a general shift in society away from caring about personal freedoms as much as caring about having a fun life. There is no doubt that a little invasion of privacy can go along way in catching criminals in the act. Being able to act on a suspicion means that a lot more certainty can be obtained about suspects, enabling you to more quickly discount options, or increasing your confidence. Typically however, the only partially tangible downsides to privacy invasion have been seen as paramount, sufficient to outweight the law enforcement advantages. Police corruption is rife the world over, and most people would prefer to live their lives without voyeurs.

However I believe that this kind of legislation is being accepted by the populace because they are ceasing to mind so much. The practical impact of invasion of privacy may not be very significant if the uses are undetected and used in the pursuit of justice. So what if some government snoop spies on my emails - what I have to hide may be embarassing if my family or friends found out, but it's not illegal nor even uncommon. The impersonality of it all means that one can ignore it. If it means that we get a reign on drug trafficking, corruption of officials and various seedier underground activities, surely it's worth a little exposure?

Police are only scary if you're a criminal, right?


Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Jihadist wins immigration appeal


... reads an article from today's Age. Turns out this guy in India was arrested for his involvement with certain Muslim organisation, which may or may not be involved in terrorism. The article doesn't make it explicit whether this is the case.

It seems that the Australian immigration procedures were not properly followed when processing Naff's application prior to his arrest. He is now involved in legal action challenging this - the High Court of Australia are forcing the immigration tribunal to re-assess his claim.

In one sense, it's interesting to consider whether a hypothetical known terrorist should be allowed to apply for emigration rights. In the same sense that a murderer needs to be granted a fair trial, one might consider that a 'known' but untried terrorist be treated as possessing all the rights open to him under the law.

Yet unlike murder, this individual is not a citizen of our country - his behaviour is not governed by our laws, so why should he be protected by them? While we as a country may choose to allow people to become citizens, why might it be said that we owe them any kind of moral obligation. There is clearly no reciprocity here, so surely there is no duty?

I would argue that there are human rights that cross national borders. I would also argue that it is in our best interests to act morally even when others are not doing so, but game theory speaks strongly against this intuition. Often the best strategy when people are trying to take advantage of you is a strict tit-for-tat response. Second to the scenario where everyone co-operates, an optimistic tit-for-tat strategy is always best. Of course, the goal in most games is the same for everybody...

Clearly the most pressing and practical problem is that of defense. Either the risk on the whole of allowing immigration is too high, or it is not. Placing our country at significant risk should be of primary concern over the human rights of an individual, but at the same time a real attempt to engage with the world morally needs to be made if we are to do more than just survive...

There is far more to be said.


Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The Linux Mentality


My Linux install became corrupted last night. It has been playing up a little lately, and appears to have finally kicked the bucket. I've been itching to move to Debian anyway, and this seems like the opportune moment.

Why is it that I would prefer to re-install a new and foreign OS rather than moving to the always-reliable, if somewhat limiting Windows XP? Why not just re-install the Linux I already had rather than changing flavour?

A cynic might suggest I simply have too much free time - I hope the answer is different. In my workplace, linux truly makes sense. There is a multicultural approach to operating systems here, with Unix, Linux, many flavours of Windows all living together if not in harmony then at least in grudging union. Windows is in fact the least able to deal with the wide variety of internetworking applications I use every day.

But it's also a learning experience. As well as my obligations to the immediate goals of my project, I also have an obligation to maintain my own general software awareness and skill level. You might say I am motivated by a goal to be a more expert linux user, much as a builder might incorporate an unusual building material or construction technique just for its own sake.

In life, we make choices all the time about whether to understand something in its full complexities - whether to make full use of a tool or to access only its basic functions. When it comes to changing spare tyres, I'm a do-it-yourself man. Linux is the ultimate tyre-iron. But don't worry, Windows exists for those who would rather call the RACV.


Sunday, December 05, 2004

Philosophy Carnival


Carnival time is here!

Welcome to the 6th philosophy carnival! What is a philosophy carnival? Basically, it's a round-up of philosophy blog posts from the last few weeks, and represents author's pick-of-the-crop. It's a good way to stay of top of the philosophy zeitgeist , read some interesting articles, or keep tabs on ones colleagues. For information about once and future carnivals, visit

Questions Of Existence

Why are we here? This section is dedicated to the kinds of questions that broadside you at 2pm on some idle Tuesday, leaving you wondering about your place in the world...

Title: Aquinas's First Way

Author: Siris
Description: This is a set of notes on the interpretation of Aquinas's 'First Way'.

Title: Critique of Argument for Intelligent Design

Author: Illusive Mind
Description: In this essay I illustrate the critical flaws in Behe's argument for intelligent design, including those problems inherent in the idea of irreducible complexity, Behe's characterisation of the processes of evolution, Behe's inference to intelligent design and the issue of defeasibility.

Title: Finding an ethical center

Author: The Picket Line
Description: How does a rationalist ground ethics? In this Picket Line blog entry, the author traces his own personal geneology of morals from a naive hunt for Gods and Principles to an utter ethical skepticism and finally to a form of virtue ethics he describes as being like an existentialist living a "choose your own adventure" novel and saying "there is no God and I serve Him anyway!"

Philosophical Readings

Many philosophers of note have been highly inscrutable, and thus some kind people have recorded their thoughts and interpretations for posterity, so that the others among us might benefit from their perspectives.

Title: Heidegger on Philosophy

Author: Mormon Metaphysics
Description: Why Heidegger and certain other philosophers following him, such as Derrida, read other philosophers the way they do is a matter of much criticism. Generally they are accused of misreading them. This was a brief aside on a quote from an other blog that I used as an opportunity to discuss this matter of destruction or deconstruction.

Title: Was Nietzsche a Moral Cognitivist?

Author: Fake Barn Country
Description: Some people, including myself, are tempted to attribute a fictionalism about value to Nietzsche. Fictionalism is roughly an error theory (cognitivism plus anti-realism), plus an explanation why speaking falsely in that way is in some sense worthwhile. Brian Leiter has questioned the justification for attributing cognitivism to Nietzsche. I defend that attribution.

Title: Understanding, Knowledge and Truth, again

Author: Mumblings of a Platonist
Description: This is a post questioning the relationship between understanding, knowledge, and truth. It is questioning whether one can understand some thing that nonetheless turns out to be false and, if so, whether that understanding is different from someone's understanding of something true.

Matters Arising

These posts didn't seem to "fit" under any popular category for this carnival, and mostly deal with issues in our context.

Title: Pedagogy of Charity

Author: Oohlah's Blog Space
Description: Davidson's principle of charity is an important contribution that does not receive as much attention as it probably should. In this entry, I try to draw lessons of the principle of charity from epistemology into the classroom.

Title: Impossible God Computer

Author: Becoming Forever
Description: In the course of the discussion one of them brought up the idea of a computer programmed with all the laws of the universe, seeded with the current state of everything, being capable of predicting everything and anything.

Title: By Request: Reasoning

Author: Mixing Memory
Description: This is the first in what is likely to be a series of posts on cognitive theories of different types of reasoning. It looks at a couple types of reasoning errors.

Title: "Marriage and Childrearing"

Author: Philosophy, et cetera
Description: Some oppose gay marriage on the grounds that childrearing is the purpose of marriage. The obvious retort is that childless straight couples also marry. However, one might try to dodge this by appealing to the crudeness of law. In this post, I critically assess such an argument against gay marriage. In particular, the post questions whether sexual orientation is the best indicator of child-rearing intent, and suggests that the appeal to 'blunt law' fails to negate the force of the 'childless straight couple' counterexample.

Title: Adopting Social Responsibility

Author: Melbourne Philosopher
Description: For the most part, we all fulfill our responsibilities to our country, and that's as far as it goes. Australia is not an anarchy - proof by example that we are sufficiently law-abiding. But what about people who believe that's not enough?

Title: Causal loops and time travel

Author: Doing Things With Words
Description: In David Lewis' defense of time travel, he makes an analogy between causal loops and God or the Big Bang. The latter two are inexplicable and uncaused, but no one seems to mind, so what's the problem with causal loops? I argue that he overlooks an important distinction between contingent and necessary events. When we explain contingent events, we typically want causal explanations, but this is not the case for necessary events. This suggests that time travel may very well be problematic because it raises the specter of contingent events with no cause.

Nominations of Interesting Posts

Many fine individuals, presumably too busy hobnobbing with hobnobs, have written good posts without having submitting them to this aggregation. Fortunately, we have managed to include some of them anyway.

"A Puzzle About Utilitarianism" at PEA Soup,

Jason Stanley's guest post on "Language and Mind" at Leiter Reports,

Allan's "Athletic Phenomenology" at Fake Barn Country,

"J'Accuse" at Garden of Forking Paths , which argues that free-will Libertarians are hard-hearted,

and lastly we have Metatome's timely discussion of
"The PGR, Teaching and Advising" . Please note - this article has been accused of containing misinformation, although I see nothing obviously flawed in its presentation. For a resulting blog post on the topic of the responsibilities of bloggers towards the truth, look here. I am unwilling to take down the article just from an accusation, but am happy to flag it as suspect. Ooooh, scandal!

Parting Words

All of the authors thank you for reading their posts, and we all hope you will continue to pay attention to future philosophy carnivals.


Friday, December 03, 2004

Grab Bag


No specific comments today - regular Apprentice summary will be skipped, sorry for any fans.

Australia's foreign debt is really huge - there are any number of economic reasons why this could be bad, but might there be any ethical considerations of relevance, or any other philosophical concerns? Apart from the impact on our economy, are there any difficulties with the very concept of overseas lending, permitting imbalances in trade or the like? Foreign debt is borrowing from other countries, pure and simple. Presumably, people borrow from other countries when it is cheaper (or more possible) to do so. By what regulations is foreign borrowing covered? Why is another country lending us our own money anyway?

Diplomacy is a fascinating game, although occasionally damaging to friendships if anyone is of a particularly sensitive bent. In order to win, one must enter into a state of suspended disbelief, where loyalty is always seen in terms of eventual victory. In life, loyalty is often taken to be part of a higher set of goals, where the means can be more important than the end. Evolutionary philosophers believe that our morals come from sound game-theoretic principles, such as loyalty promoting the survival of the species, enlightened self interest etc. In a game like Diplomacy in which one plays for a known victory, loyalty is no less vital to eventual success, but ultimately is more a commodity than a rule to live by. Do some people play life in the way which I play Diplomacy? How many people are playing for the win, and how many focus instead on the rules?

Coming on Monday, possibly my next post as I will be away for the weekend, is the Philosophy Carnival. This traveling circus-troupe of an event is an online round-up of the most interesting posts over the past few weeks across the blogosphere. Submissions are invited from around the web, and bloggers submit what they feel to be their best work. Reading through these can be a good way to cut out the chaff, as well as keeping your finger on the pulse of modern philosophy. Tell all your friends!

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Editorial Skills In Decline


"A US Army private's lawyers she was coerced into saying she and other soldiers were just "having some fun" when they posed for photos with naked Iraqi prisoners."

I couldn't help it. I'm sorry. For about the fourth time this week, I have noticed an "Age" article whose front-page extract makes, simply, no sense. Let's break it down.

1) "A US Army Private's lawyers" - the part of the sentence which establishes the subject
2) Something Is Missing Here
3) "She was coerced into saying she and other soldiers were 'just having some fun' when they posed for photos with naked Iraqi prisoners" - okay, this makes sense standing alone. But what possible relation does this have with the start of the sentence. I decided to fill in the gaps with some suppositions of my own.

"A US Army Private's lawyers got drunk and claimed that she was coerced... etc"
"A US Army Private's lawyers deny claiming that she was coerced... etc"
"A US Army Private's lawyers were guilty of extreme stupidity when claiming that she was coerced... etc"

From the article, it becomes clear that the missing word is "say". Now don't get me wrong, the misadventures of Lyndie England, B.Fc (Bungler, first class) and JHF (just having fun) are important issues. Her lawyers seem to have lost all hope of making any kind of reasonable defense in the case, and are now understandably grasping at the straws of mental incapacity - a kind of legally respectable way of saying "she's just really stupid, y' honour". Apparently if they can get enough people to believe them, this forms the basis for some kind of defense - i.e. avoiding spending 40 years in prison. It is thought that it's less satisfying to throw a stupid person into jail for a long time, because they will be unable to experience the proper amount of shame and guilt.

But this article is about the journalistic bungling of the Stupids on the Age editorial team, either unable or unwilling to have a couple of pairs of eyes give the once-over to anything posted to the front page of their newspaper.

Sure, this kind of thing happens all the time. Sure, I'm not the first person to get unreasonably irritated by bad grammar. But, hopefully, I won't be the last.


Wednesday, December 01, 2004

A Question For The Floor


I would like to hear some opinions on something. There is a phrase used to describe a group of people - "The long-term unemployed".

I would be interested in recieving feedback - short or long - on whether you think these people are treated fairly in our society, whether you think their difficulties (whatever they may be) are mostly the result of their economic situation, and anything else you can think of.