12-31-86 . . . At home, I had a nice conversation with Mom about my career plans. She asked me what philosophy is. “I still don’t know; all I know is that it has something to do with arguing,” she said. I hated to do it, but I told her that, as I now understand philosophy, it is not about arguing. Rather, it’s about clarifying concepts and issues—keeping other people, such as lawyers, doctors, and scientists, in line. To give an example, I told her about property, about how it is misunderstood and why someone needs to do the conceptual work. This led to a discussion of my dissertation and about my likely effect on the world. I admitted that I would spend my career writing for other academics, but that, eventually, it might have an effect on judges and laypeople. “I’m not out to change the world, although that would be a nice by-product,” I said. “I’m interested primarily in getting clear on things—so others can make it a better world.”
Does anybody have a Microsoft Zune? I'm thinking of buying one. I have a Rio Karma music player, which I like, but it holds only 20 gigabytes of music and is almost full. The Zune holds 30 gigabytes, which will give me plenty of room for new CDs. The weight is about the same (5.5 ounces for the Karma, 5.6 ounces for the Zune), but the Zune is flatter (.6 inches as compared to 1.1 inches for the Karma) and will therefore fit better in my bicycling jersey's pocket. I'm not one to run out for new gadgets, just for the sake of having something new, but in this case, the Zune fills my needs better than the Karma. Please don't tell me to buy an iPod. I don't own anything by Apple and never will.
You are right: “The United States needs a more progressive tax system and the government must find a way to help businesses and individuals with out-of-control health care costs.”
Readers might remember our nation’s last major “ideological conflict.” During and after World War II, the top income tax bracket was 91 percent.
Returning to such a system would accomplish both your objectives. It would help pay for health care, education and countless other needs. In addition, it would restrain the obscenely high compensation of many corporate executives and other believers in “greed is good,” and reduce the alarming gap between the haves and the have-nots.
Hoboken, N.J., Dec. 25, 2006
The writer is secretary of Health Care for All/New Jersey.
Note from AnalPhilosopher: Ah yes, the good old days of confiscatory taxation.
Read this. Is anyone surprised that when the New York Times makes a mistake in its news coverage, it is favorable to progressives and progressive causes and unfavorable to conservatives and conservative causes? If there were no bias at the Times, mistakes would redound to the benefit of no party, no cause, no ideology, and no political morality. You can complete the syllogism.
Notice how the meaning of the following sentences changes as the word “only” is moved:
1. Only Professor Wu claimed that Socrates wrote poetry. (Meaning: No one else claimed it.)
2. Professor Wu only claimed that Socrates wrote poetry. (Meaning: She didn’t prove it; she only claimed it.)
3. Professor Wu claimed only that Socrates wrote poetry. (Meaning: She claimed nothing else.)
4. Professor Wu claimed that only Socrates wrote poetry. (Meaning: She claimed that no one else wrote poetry.)
5. Professor Wu claimed that Socrates only wrote poetry. (Meaning: She claimed that Socrates didn’t read poetry; he only wrote it.)
6. Professor Wu claimed that Socrates wrote only poetry. (Meaning: She claimed that Socrates wrote nothing besides poetry.)
The first, third, fourth, and fifth of these are listed by Zachary Seech in his book Writing Philosophy Papers, 4th ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2004), 51. Seech says that the meaning of sentence 5 is “She claimed that Socrates wrote nothing besides poetry.” But that’s the meaning of sentence 6, not of sentence 5. My list, therefore, is both more complete and more accurate than Seech’s. By the way, Seech’s book is very good. It is required reading in my forthcoming Seminar in Research Methods and Philosophical Writing.
12-30-86 . . . This evening I saw a movie with Gary and Scott at the Quad Theaters in Saginaw. I drove Jerry’s Pontiac J-Car. The movie, The Mosquito Coast, was excellent—much better than I expected. It was about an inventor (played by Harrison Ford) who gets fed up with society and movies his family (a wife and four small kids) to Central America. There, he supervises the building of a magnificent estate in the jungle, only to lose it in a fire that he sets to kill three thugs. All the while, he deteriorates mentally, putting his family through the most difficult of circumstances. The scenery is beautiful. At the end, he is killed in a freak accident and his family lies to him. He asks [as he lies dying] if [sic; should be “whether”] they are staying in the jungle and they say “yes,” when in fact they are heading for the ocean and the United States. It was a real study in mental illness, this movie, and also about the cohesiveness of a family. Gary and Scott enjoyed it. [I have this movie in DVD format. I watched part of it the other day—a television broadcast—on my high-definition television.]
Afterward, we stopped at Burger King for a bite to eat and went bowling at Stardust Lanes. Unbeknownst to me, some bowling alleys now have computerized scoring. All we had to do is punch in our initials and let the computer do the rest. When we finished, we asked the clerk to print out our scores. Neat, huh? I beat Gary and Scott in both games, but not by much. All of our scores except one were in the low hundreds. My best was 123, my worst 115. Scott got the most strikes. I won, it seems, on the basis of my spares. Numerous times I left nine pins standing after the first ball. Earlier, while waiting for our number to be called, we played video games. I enjoyed being around Gary and Scott. It made me feel young again. We dropped Scott off on the way home and I got to sleep at 1:50 A.M.
The reporter who wrote this story would have benefited from a course in critical thinking. If I tell you that I have no intention of leaving my job, when in fact I intend to leave, and if my motive in misrepresenting my intention is to deceive you, then I have lied to you. Whether the lie is justified, all things considered, is a separate question. Perhaps it is; perhaps it isn't. If I tell you, truthfully, that I have no intention of leaving my job, but change my mind and leave, I have not lied to you. I have changed my mind. This is true not just of coaches but of anyone. By the reporter's logic, people who divorce are liars. But that's absurd. I can be perfectly sincere in committing to you, but change my mind thereafter and sue for divorce. It might be wrong for me to do this, but it's not wrong because it's a lie.
John Deigh is a “professor” of law at the University of Texas at Austin. (I put the word “professor” in quotation marks, since Deigh has no legal credentials. His training is in philosophy.) Deigh is the editor of Ethics, a prominent philosophical periodical. In the most recent issue, dated October 2006, he editorializes about the fallacy of deriving an “is” statement from an “ought” statement (not to be confused with the fallacy—known as Hume’s Law—of deriving an “ought” statement from an “is” statement). Deigh gives two illustrations of the fallacy. The first concerns “Stalin’s efforts at falsifying the photographic record of Russia’s October revolution and the early history of the Soviet Union” (page 2). The second concerns the war in Iraq. Let me reproduce the two paragraphs about the war in Iraq:
The Soviet Union was of course a totalitarian regime. Its rulers had vast power over their subjects. Nothing like this sort of propaganda campaign, it is easy to think, is imaginable in modern liberal democracies. Yet the propaganda campaign undertaken by President Bush and his administration in the run up to the invasion of Iraq and during the subsequent occupation of that country should make us think twice. It too was propelled by the fallacy of deriving ‘is’ from ‘ought’. And it too used false and misleading representations of fact to gain support for its architects’ ends. Thus Bush and the leading members of his administration loudly denounced the Iraqi government as an evil regime whose malignancy not only threatened to destabilize the Middle East but placed the Western world in grave peril as well. A regime this wicked ought to be in league with the most diabolical enemies of the West, plotting our destruction, and it ought to be amassing weapons of such destructive power as to give it a real chance of succeeding in these plots. So there followed from the Bush administration a steady stream of alarming, now discredited statements about the regime’s ties to al-Qaeda terrorists, its active program for developing nuclear arms, and its stockpiling of huge stores of chemical and biological weapons. In the words of the head of British intelligence, reporting in the secret Downing Street memo of July 23, 2002, on the Bush administration’s prewar strategy, “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” One could not give a better description of the fallacy.
The result has been a major human disaster, whether one measures it by the common conservative estimate of nearly 50,000 civilian Iraqi deaths since the invasion or by the radical estimate published this month in the Lancet of over 600,000 civilian Iraqi deaths or by something in between. And while the death toll in any case is dwarfed by that of Stalin’s tyranny, such comparisons will bring no comfort to the Iraqi people or to the many families of soldiers who have died in the war or have returned home horribly and permanently maimed. A human disaster of this magnitude calls for investigation into its causes. Has it been due to undemocratic features of America’s political institutions? Was it by exploiting them at an opportune time that a determined clique of government officials was able to grab the levers of power and push through policies of unnecessary war and conquest? Or should we conclude that the institutions of liberal democracy themselves have become less reliable safeguards against such efforts than we thought? These are questions for political scientists and perhaps eventually historians. For philosophers the disaster does not appear to have generated new questions for study. Our discipline’s research is not as responsive to current events. But we are not isolated from them. And one thing we can do is to acquaint our students with the fallacy of deriving ‘is’ from ‘ought’, to alert them to the ease with which it is committed, particularly in government propaganda. (pages 2-4; footnotes omitted)
My first reaction upon reading Deigh’s editorial was that it’s a paranoid rant that has no place in a serious philosophical publication. It might be fit for a blog, or even a newspaper op-ed column, but it’s not appropriate for a scholarly organ. My second reaction was that my first reaction was uncharitable. So let’s put the best spin on Deigh’s editorial, even if he doesn’t put the best spin on the Bush administration’s reasoning, for he claims to be making a serious philosophical point. Did President Bush commit the fallacy of deriving an “is” statement from an “ought” statement?
I don’t see it. Deigh refers to a “propaganda campaign” undertaken by the Bush administration. But he doesn’t support this claim. He says the Bush administration used “false and misleading representations of fact to gain support for its architects’ ends.” The implication is that lies were told. But a lie is not merely a false statement; it is a false statement uttered with intent to deceive. If Deigh believes that President Bush lied, then, given the seriousness of the charge, he has an obligation to supply the false statement together with evidence that, at the time it was uttered, it was known by President Bush to be false. Furthermore, he must adduce evidence that President Bush uttered it with the intent to deceive. That one or more of President Bush’s factual claims was false, or turned out to be false, doesn’t make it a lie; nor does it make it propaganda. In short, Deigh makes a number of wild and unsupported assertions. We teach our students not to do that sort of thing. Indeed, we grade their term papers down when they do.
Deigh next complains that President Bush described the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein as an “evil regime.” Was it not an evil regime, by any reasonable standard? How many thousands of people did Hussein have murdered, tortured, raped, and mutilated? How many people did he terrorize, and for how long? Does Deigh deny that it was an evil regime? If it was an evil regime, what is wrong with saying so and acting accordingly? And keep in mind that President Bush did not have to speculate about Hussein having evil intentions toward the United States. There was plenty of evidence that he did, including Hussein’s own statements over a period of many years. As for President Bush’s belief that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, this wasn’t something that the president cooked up for propaganda purposes. Almost everyone in American government, including Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and John Kerry, believed it. Deigh has to show not that the belief was false, for there can be justified false beliefs, but that it was unjustified or unreasonable. He goes no way toward doing this. Deigh’s discussion of President Bush’s beliefs, decisions, arguments, and actions is uncharitable in the extreme—to the point where Deigh’s honesty must be called into question. There is a lesson here for students of philosophy, but it’s not the one Deigh supposes.
As for the Iraq war being a “disaster,” that requires both elaboration and argumentation. Calling it a disaster several times does not make it a disaster. (Students, take note.) Yes, people have died in Iraq since the invasion. Lots of them, on both sides. But people die in every war. Does that make every war unjustified? How many people died fighting Hitler? If Deigh believes that the war in Iraq was unjustified, he must make his case. He must state his principle of just war and apply it to Iraq. He doesn’t. He simply assumes that the war was unjustified and goes on to “explain” why it occurred. That’s called begging the question. Students should take note. That Deigh’s audience (professional philosophers) overwhelmingly believes that the war was unjustified is neither here nor there. Is he merely preaching to the choir? What would be the point of that? He should do what philosophers routinely do, or profess to do, which is to try to persuade those whose minds are not already made up. But this would require more than the three pages he devotes to the topic, and it would require a lot less manipulative rhetoric. Deigh’s editorial is drive-by philosophy. No wonder philosophers get no respect!
Deigh compounds his problem by trying to explain how the “disaster” came about. Doesn’t that have the cart before the horse? First he must establish that there has been a disaster (by what standard?); then he must explain (in a plausible way) how it occurred, so that similar disasters can be prevented or averted. Suppose we used Deigh’s technique on Deigh’s editorial. Suppose we assumed, without argument, that Deigh published a scurrilous, poorly reasoned editorial, and then set about to explain how it could have been published in a journal as prestigious as Ethics. We might say that since Deigh is its editor, nobody had the power or the courage to stand up to him, or to tell him that his editorial is nothing more than a paranoid rant. Or perhaps we would explain it in terms of the left-wing bias of the academy. Everyone to whom Deigh showed the editorial, we might speculate, shared his values, so he got no disinterested feedback. Or maybe it’s just a case of Bush Derangement Syndrome. And so on. I don’t think Deigh would appreciate having his editorial dismissed in this way. So why does he dismiss the arguments of the Bush administration in this way? President Bush made a multi-pronged case for invading Iraq—before he invaded. Other people, including serious scholars, have made a case for war. Deigh ignores these arguments. This, I assure you, is not in keeping with philosophical practice. It is, in fact, a disgrace.
I’ve been teaching logic for almost a quarter of a century. Nothing in Deigh’s editorial convinces me that President Bush committed the fallacy of deriving an “is” statement from an “ought” statement. If anyone has committed any fallacies, it is Deigh. He’s lucky he’s not my student. If I were grading his editorial, it would receive a D.
Addendum: If you came here from Brian Leiter’s blog, see here.
Why do we say “dependent on,” but not “independent on”? We say “independent of.” Is this just a quirk of language, or is there something substantive going on? Can one always replace “independent of” with “not dependent on,” without changing the meaning? If not, then there’s a substantive (if subtle) difference between the two expressions. To use a rhetorical device of Wittgenstein’s, what, if anything, is left over when you subtract “not dependent on” from “independent of”? There seems to be a residue; but what is it?
If our legislators won’t act to set limits on our soaring defense budget, then we as citizens must demand that they do.
Knowing that our soldiers in Iraq do not get the equipment they need, and that billions of dollars continue to pay for anachronistic cold war weapons, we do not expect our new Congress simply to knuckle under to the defense contractors as they have in the past.
Our representatives have to learn that the citizenry doesn’t see it as being “soft on defense” when they restrict the enormous profits of the weapons industries, cut unnecessary weapons programs and ensure that the people who actually fight our wars get the protection they deserve.
If the Iraqis had any sense, they'd put Saddam Hussein's hanging on pay per view. Imagine the money they'd rake in! The money could be used to compensate Hussein's victims.
Addendum: Has anyone noticed the oddity of saying that Saddam Hussein (or anyone else) was executed? To execute, literally, is to follow (or carry) out. Executives, whether in business or in government, are those who are charged with carrying out (implementing) policies, laws, or programs. The executive virtues are those virtues, such as decisiveness and leadership, that are essential to, or that facilitate, the carrying out of policies, laws, or programs. Some people have these virtues; some don't—which is why not everyone would make a good executive. (I, for instance, would not.) What we're doing in capital punishment is executing (i.e., carrying out) a sentence. "Executing X" is therefore shorthand for "executing X's death sentence." Perhaps we use "execute" because it's milder than (i.e., a euphemism for) "kill" or "put to death." Many people are squeamish about killing, even when it's justified. What we should say is that Hussein was punished by death. That both states the ground of the killing (namely, punishment) and describes the kind of punishment it is (namely, capital).
Addendum 2:Michelle Malkin has just the right slogan for Hussein's death: "Sic semper tyrannis" (thus always to tyrants). Does anyone know which assassin shouted this?