"Moral disagreement is more widespread, more radical and more persistent than disagreement about matters of fact."
I have two main comments to make on this suggestion: the first is that it is almost certainly untrue, and the second is that it is quite certainly irrelevant.
The objection loses much of its plausibility as soon as we insist on comparing the comparable. We are usually invited to contrast our admirably close agreement that there is a glass of water on the table with the depth, vigor and tenacity of our disagreements about capital punishment, abortion, birth control and nuclear disarmament. But this is a game that may be played by two or more players. A sufficient reply in kind is to contrast our general agreement that this child should have an anesthetic with the strength and warmth of the disagreements between cosmologists and radio astronomers about the interpretation of certain radio-astronomical observations. If the moral skeptic then reminds us of Christian Science we can offer him in exchange the Flat Earth Society.
But this is a side issue. Even if it is true that moral disagreement is more acute and more persistent than other forms of disagreement, it does not follow that moral knowledge is impossible. However long and violent a dispute may be, and however few or many heads may be counted on this side or on that, it remains possible that one party to the dispute is right and the others wrong. Galileo was right when he contradicted the cardinals; and so was Wilberforce when he rebuked the slaveowners.
There is a more direct and decisive way of showing the irrelevance of the argument from persistent disagreement. The question of whether a given type of inquiry is objective is the question whether it is logically capable of reaching knowledge, and is therefore an a priori, logical question. The question of how much agreement or disagreement there is between those who actually engage in that inquiry is a question of psychological or sociological fact. It follows that the question about the actual extent of agreement or disagreement has no bearing on the question of the objectivity of the inquiry. If this were not so, the objectivity of every inquiry might wax and wane through the centuries as men become more or less disputatious or more or less proficient in the arts of persuasion.
(Renford Bambrough, "A Proof of the Objectivity of Morals," The American Journal of Jurisprudence 14 : 37-53, at 41-2 [italics in original])
Note from KBJ: With all due respect to Professor Bambrough, this is a travesty. The question is not whether persistent disagreement about moral matters is logically compatible with moral objectivity. Of course it is! For all we know, there are moral values floating in the sky, invisible and, to date, inaccessible to human beings. The question is not about logical possibility; it is about probability. How likely is it that there are objective moral values, given that the greatest minds humanity has produced (from Socrates onward) have spent more than 2,000 years trying desperately to discover them, with no success? There is no more agreement today than there was 2,000 years ago. In fact, there is much more disagreement! The disagreement is not just persistent; it is pervasive. There is disagreement in metaethics; there is disagreement in normative ethical theory; and there is disagreement in practical ethics—on every conceivable topic. There is even disagreement about which method to use in formulating and testing a normative ethical theory! Some philosophers say that intuitions are irrelevant. Some say that they are relevant but not dispositive. Some say that they are dispositive. In my judgment, the probability that there are objective moral values is less than .00001. Yes, that's greater than zero, but not by much.
I'm trying to make a PowerPoint diagram (of an extended argument) for my Philosophy of Religion course. If someone could help me, I'd appreciate it. Here's what I need. At the top, I need three boxes (in which I will type text), joined by a brace. Call these boxes 3, 4, and 5. There is an arrow going downward from this brace to another box (6). This box is joined (with a brace) by another box (2), with an arrow going downward from that brace to another box (7). This box is joined (with a brace) by another box (1), with an arrow going downward from that brace to another box (3a/8). This box is joined (with a brace) by another box (2a), with an arrow going downward from that brace to another box (4a). This box has an arrow pointing downward from it to another box (5a), and that box has an arrow pointing downward from it to another box (God). One more thing. There is a box (1a) above box 2a, with an arrow going downward from 1a to 2a. I know this is confusing, but perhaps someone who knows PowerPoint can do it for me in a flash. I just wasted 15 minutes trying to do it. All I got was a headache.
Addendum: If I get a diagram, I will fill in the text and post the PowerPoint on this blog, so that readers can see the argument. It's Samuel Clarke's version of the Cosmological Argument.
8-31-89 . . . This is a season that Detroit Tiger fans like me would just as soon forget. The Tigers lost their eleventh consecutive game this evening, dropping their season record to 47-88. Nothing seems to be going right for them. They’ve had injuries to key players (Jack Morris, Jeff Robinson, Alan Trammell, and Gary Pettis); their pitching has faltered at crucial times; and the hitting has been atrocious. The team is last or next to last in both team hitting and team earned-run average. I wish I could say that I’ve taken the team’s stumble in stride, but I haven’t. There are days when I laugh as the scores are announced on television. I expect the Tigers to lose; the only question is to whom and by how much. How will they lose tomorrow’s game? The only consolation is that things cannot get worse. In fact, I look upon this season as a cleansing experience. Just five years ago, in 1984, the Tigers were on top of the world. They began the season with thirty-five victories in their first forty games and never looked back. The post-season was a breeze. Five years later, the team is the pits. Perhaps it’s a five-year cycle, in which case things will get better. One thing is clear: Things can’t get any worse.
By taking away the possibility of easy employment in high-paying jobs, the economic downturn may end up helping the current crop of law students.
Very few law students at elite schools make meaningful explorations of the broad array of career choices available to law school graduates. Instead, lured by prestige and a high salary, they march through on-campus interviews to large urban law firms, where a great many end up leading unfulfilled lives.
As the jobs with large salaries disappear, law students will draw on the thoughtfulness, intelligence and perseverance that got them into law school in the first place in order to find employment that they actually find rewarding. They will also find creative ways to pay their loans and other expenses.
Most law graduates already do not expect a starting salary of $160,000 and yet are able to make ends meet. Graduates of elite schools will adjust to the new financial realities and come out better for it.
She is extremely interesting. She is a former Los Angeles director of NOW and is now a conservative radio talk show host. She is totally secular and a lesbian. Her life story is fascinating. She's kind of like a right-wing Paglia.
If you are ever looking for some relatively light and entertaining reading about the culture and its mores, I recommend this one. I am enjoying it a great deal.
Yesterday, in Wichita Falls, Texas, I did my 18th bike rally of the year and my 464th overall. This is the mother of all rallies: the Hotter 'n Hell Hundred. I've been doing this rally for 20 years. My friend Joe has done 25. I know you will laugh when I tell you this, but I'm dead serious. The temperature was in the mid-60s (degrees Fahrenheit) at the start. (We rolled at 6:44.) I shivered for the first hour. My body is not used to anything below 70º! The official high temperature for the day in Wichita Falls was 89.2º. The lowest we've had for this rally (in 20 years) is 84º. The highest is 105º. I guess you could call yesterday's rally the Warmer 'n Heck Hundred.
I rose at 3:30 at my house in Fort Worth to make the long (121.6-mile) drive to Wichita Falls. I arrived shortly after six and met my friends in the dark at the designated spot. Joe had picked up my packet the night before, so he handed me my ride number, which I quickly pinned to my jersey. Joe said that some 13,000 people had signed up to ride. We threaded our way through the crowd and got onto the course ahead of the racers. This isn't cheating, because we're not racers. Nor are we alone. Quite a few people left early. It makes for safer riding during the first hour—until the waves of racers and rally riders reach us.
During the rally, we came upon several accidents. In every case, there were emergency vehicles already on the scene, with police officers and race volunteers channeling riders through small gaps. I saw several riders lying in the middle of the pavement, unconscious. Some had neck braces on and some had been placed on stretchers for transport to hospitals. It was a sobering experience, seeing these crash victims. You might wonder why I or anyone else would risk such injury. What can I say? It's fun. You can't get the fun without the risk. Why do you drive your car? You know you could be killed on the way to the grocery store, but you still do it. I hope the injured riders recover from their injuries and get back on the bike soon.
I stayed with my friend Joe and his 14-year-old son Jason the entire way (101.9 miles). Bryce dropped us in the first few miles and we never saw him again. He was doing the 100-kilometer course. Mike, who was also doing the 100k course, rode with us for about 20 miles. Randy rode with us to Burkburnett, where he veered off for Wichita Falls. I've done that shortened course five times. It comes to 74 miles. The other 15 times, I rode 100 miles. We also rode with Harold for a while, a man we met earlier this year in Italy. He was doing his first century. Unfortunately, we got separated in the pack and never saw him again. I hope Harold accomplished his goal and stayed safe. We found Don at the rest stop in Burkburnett. For a 63-year-old man, he can hammer! His wife Donna was to meet him at the rest stop and complete the century with him. (The couple that rides together stays together.) We also saw Julius and Troy at the rest stop. Marc was at the rally, but I never saw him. My friend Phil trained for this rally, but had to pull out with tendinitis (in his knee) at the last minute. We missed you, Phil! Get well soon and do the century with us next year. It wasn't the same without your whining, although Randy did his noble best to pick up the slack.
My little camera (Nikon Coolpix S220) worked splendidly. I carried it in my middle jersey pocket. I snapped pictures at rest stops and even snapped some while riding, dangerous though that was. I'll post images in days to come, perhaps explaining each scene as I do so. If you can believe it, I never tired. Even at 80 miles, I felt strong as a bull. We fell in with a big pack near the town of Charlie. Many of the riders wore the same jersey (Texas Irish). I'm no parasite, so, after enjoying the bus ride for a while, I rolled to the front to do some work. The two men at the front didn't seem to want me there. This made me mad, so I rode away from them. There was another pack a couple of hundred yards ahead, so I bridged across at over 25 miles per hour. My heart rate soared to 166, which is close to my physiological maximum of 168 (the formula is 220 minus one's age). Once I reached this pack, I went immediately to the front, where three people were doing the work. I waited momentarily for the lead rider to catch up to me, then increased the pace, hoping that the four of us could get away. The rider couldn't stay on my wheel. That meant I was alone, with two huge packs behind me. Needless to say, one person can't hold off dozens, for the dozens are taking turns. The original pack with all the Texas Irish eventually absorbed me. Hey, it happens even to the best of riders, as you know if you watched this year's Tour de France.
We stopped four times for water, fruit, and rest. I always have a triumphant feeling when I roll into downtown Wichita Falls, with spectators cheering. Someone handed me a finisher's pin. I took a couple of pictures, shook hands with Joe and Jason, and rolled to my car for the long drive home. I was away from home for almost 12 hours, during which time I drove 245 miles and rode 102.9 (counting warm-up and cool-down riding). When you think of all the things that could have gone wrong on a day such as this, that nothing went wrong is miraculous. I had a great time.
Statistically, I averaged 18.76 miles per hour for 101.9 miles. (Elapsed time = 5:25:50.) That makes it my fourth-fastest rally of 2009. A year ago, on the same course, I averaged 19.56 miles per hour. The difference is that I hammered into Burkburnett a year ago. This year, I stayed in the pack with Joe and Jason. I mentioned that my maximum heart rate was 166. My average for the day was 119, which is well below my record of 132. My maximum speed on the flat course (the profile is misleading) was 31.4 miles per hour. I burned 3,011 calories (but probably ingested 1,500 along the way, in the form of cookies, PowerBars, PowerBar Gels, sport drinks, bananas, and spicy peanuts). I stopped in Decatur on the way home for Taco Bell bean burritos, which hit the spot. I bought five tacos for Shelbie.
If you own a bike and want a challenge, do next year's Hotter 'n Hell Hundred. People come from all over the country (and probably many other countries) for this event. I spoke with riders from California and Tennessee yesterday and saw a thousand or more different jerseys. You should not be deterred by the numbers. There may have been 13,000 riders in town, but I didn't have to wait for anything. The rally is beautifully organized.
Addendum:Here is a story about yesterday's rally, from a Wichita Falls newspaper. I read it after I wrote this post.
Regardless of their respective strengths and weaknesses, all of the bills for health care reform are too complex to explain, grasp and support. And Republicans have made it abundantly clear that they will oppose any truly meaningful change.
Yet these very obstacles present the president with the opportunity to do what is sensible and right: to put his conviction, passion and clout behind a single-payer system.
Will people be afraid of so radical a change? The majority probably will; people tend to fear the unknown.
But “the shock of the new” is as old as innovation itself. Eventually, people adapt to change and ultimately embrace it.
Byron Alpers Shorewood, Wis., Aug. 26, 2009
Note from KBJ: This is a remarkable letter in that it typifies the progressive mindset. First, the writer says that all of the bills are "too complex to explain, grasp and support." But those damn Republicans oppose them anyway! Are people supposed to accept something that can't be explained to them and that they cannot grasp? I don't recall hearing anything quite that stupid. Second, the writer explains opposition to health-care reform in terms of fear (of "the unknown"). Does that mean that those who support reform do so out of love or hope? Why would an emotion explain opposition but not support? Third, the writer is correct that "people adapt to change." Captured Africans adapted to slavery; Soviet citizens adapted to tyranny; convicted felons adapt to prison. What is this supposed to show?
Note 2 from KBJ: With regard to change, the writer confuses self-imposed change with change imposed by others (e.g., political elites). The former, even when radical in nature, is acceptable; the latter, expecially when radical in nature, is not. Americans are not averse to change; but they don't view it as intrinsically good, either. Change, to be acceptable, should be (1) endogenous (rather than exogenous), (2) gradual (rather than abrupt or radical), and (3) self-imposed. Anyone who has been paying attention can see that most Americans aren't buying what the progressives are selling. Progressives don't understand this. "Don't you morons realize that we're trying to help you?" They explain opposition in terms of stupidity, ignorance (of relevant facts), fear (see the letter), or malevolence (a desire to deprive people of health care). If progressives ram a health-care bill through Congress, Americans will punish them at the polls come November 2010.
There's a little over one month left in the regular season. Things are heating up! If the playoffs started today, the Detroit Tigers would meet the New York Yankees; the Boston Red Sox would meet the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim; the St Louis Cardinals would meet the Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles; and the Colorado Rockies would meet the Philadelphia Phillies. Detroit would meet Los Angeles in the ALCS and Colorado would meet Los Angeles in the NLCS. Detroit would beat Los Angeles in the World Series, just as I predicted before the season started.
Please note that I have not given up on my adoptive team, the Texas Rangers. These are not your father's Rangers. Usually, they wilt in the heat of summer; but here it is, almost September, and they're alive and well. The pitching has been terrific this year and the hitting merely mediocre (or above average). Third-year manager Ron Washington has brought a new mentality to the team. I wouldn't say that it's his team yet, but he has put his imprint on it. Some of our players actually steal bases! I've even seen a few sacrifice bunts this year! The defense is very good, and sometimes spectacular. Michael Young has proved this year that he is one of the game's superstars. He began as a second baseman, moved to shortstop to accommodate Alfonso Soriano (who refused to play outfield), and then moved to third to accommodate the Rangers' phenom Elvis Andrus, who is everything the scouts said he would be. Young won a Gold Glove at shortstop a year ago. I expect him to win a Gold Glove at third base soon, perhaps this year. I am honored to be able to watch him on a daily basis.
Here are several gorgeous images from yesterday's prologue at the Tour of Spain, which is the third-hardest stage race in the world (behind the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia). The winner of the prologue was—who else?—Swiss cyclist Fabian Cancellara, who averaged 33.55 miles per hour on the 2.98-mile course. The man is a monster.
Addendum:Here is video. As you can see, one of the riders fell on the rain-slicked ramp while departing.
Addendum 2: The Tour of Spain started in the Netherlands. Go figure.
8-29-89 . . . Barney Frank, a United States Representative from Massachusetts, has admitted publicly that he hired a male prostitute and subsequently employed the man as a personal assistant. Frank, a liberal Democrat, announced a couple of years ago that he is a homosexual, but it didn’t seem to bother his constituents, for they have reelected him at least once. This latest incident, however, may change their minds about him, for it calls his judgment and moral scruples into question. According to Frank, he got in touch with the man through a gay newspaper. The man had advertised his services by claiming to have “hot buns and a large endowment” (!). Following this initial liaison, Frank employed the man as a personal assistant or “gopher”—someone who runs errands for a fee. It’s not clear whether they continued to have sex during this period; Frank denies it. He says that he was trying to “rehabilitate” the man. As you can imagine, conservatives are having a field day with the incident. Robert Novak [1931-2009] says that Frank is a sleazeball and pervert who should be drummed out of Congress for ethical violations. Conservatives insist that their attacks on Frank have nothing to do with gay-bashing; they would make the same arguments, they say, if a heterosexual member of Congress hired a female prostitute. As for me, I’m more interested in the drama and in what it says about our political culture than in making judgments about Frank. I do admire him as a politician. He’s articulate, hardworking, and committed to liberalism. I wonder if [sic; should be “whether”] this recent incident will cause his demise as a politician and public figure. Time will tell. [Frank, now 69, is still a member of Congress.]