Saturday, August 30, 2008

It's over and done with!

I've just wrapped the first week of classes. Tired, so tired. This semester I'll be splitting responsibilities between two campuses and teaching six courses. Tried relying on trains and buses yesterday and while I like feeling green and reading Harry Potter, I left home yesterday morning at 9 and returned at 8. 11 hours there and back with only 3 hours of teaching. Not efficient. It looks like I'll be driving.

Apologies to those who left comments lately. I've not had much time to respond to them. I don't have internet access at TCU and limited access at the moment at SMU. This will change in time, I'm sure, but it will take time.

In news news, I'm thrilled to see that McCain has decided to bring on a running mate who doesn't actually know what the job of the VP is. That's some outside the box thinking! I'm sure there's an argument for picking Palin as a running mate, but a good one? I would have thought that you couldn't throw a rock at a group of Republicans without hitting someone with more experience and with two rocks you could hit someone with more experience that you could use to pander to the religious right.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


What is it to act for an undefeated reason? I'm not interested in the analysis of acting for a reason (defeated or otherwise). It seems that there's potentially two ways of understanding the claim that we ought always act for an undefeated reason. Suppose R1 and R2 are reasons for X-ing. Suppose R3 is a reason for Y-ing. Suppose no one can X and Y. Suppose also that while R1 defeats R3, R2 could not have defeated R3 if the only reasons that had any bearing on whether to X or Y were R2 and R3. On the first reading, someone who X's from either R1 or R2 acts for undefeated reason. On the second, only someone who X's from R1 acts for an undefeated reason.

Here's a case where the differences between these two ways of talking about acting for an undefeated reason. Spike kills a demon that was about to attack Willow, and while he does what is right (in a sense), we might suppose that he acted from the motive of malice. He didn't care about saving Willow, he wanted an excuse to kill. The reason for which he acted could not defeat much of any reason, but on one reading he acted for an undefeated reason because the potential defeating considerations were themselves 'taken out' by the good reasons there were for Spike to act.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Curious Omissions

A few blogs that have mysteriously not been added to my blogroll are now being added.

I'm a big fan of Jean Kazez's blogging (here). She's both quite clever and apparently a real person (i.e., she has both a personality and interests beyond joining ideas or pulling them apart).

I'm also an avid reader of Errol Lord's blog, The Excluded Middle. I'm not sure he's a real person. His blog is primarily philosophical. Sure, he's wrong about absolutely everything, but he ends up in the wrong place for the right reasons.

Finally, Theories 'n Things and Metaphysical Values. I won't be cute, I've never met Robbie.

Anyway, I'm fed up having to hunt these blogs down with a search engine and thought tonight is the night to blogroll them.

In other news, I'm slaving away on my paper on reasons and the justification of belief for this little collection. Should have something soon. I'm trying to write a piece that is an opinionated overview. Rather than defend any positive proposal, I'll try to show that some current treatments of epistemic justification suffer from a sort of incoherence. Given certain assumptions about the norms governing belief often used to motivate a theory of justification, we can only avoid rejecting the proposed theory of justification by severing in odd ways the connection between reasons and justification. I don't expect you'll quite know what I'm getting at, but stay tuned.

A quick note on Plantinga's religious epistemology

Inspired a bit by some discussions taking place over at Prosblogion, I thought I'd briefly discuss a problem I have with Plantinga's religious epistemology. Some of you might know that there's about nothing that P and I agree on, so I thought I'd start by stating that I'm actually far more sympathetic to his claim we cannot properly determine whether belief in God is warranted, warranted in the way properly basic beliefs are, or rational unless we can offer reasons for believing God doesn't exist. That's because I'm quite willing to accept both a sort of externalism on which one can know non-inferentially that something is so relying on a source one has no (internal, if you like) reason to take to be a reliable source and thus far nothing we've said rules out this: that on the hypothesis that theism is true, it would be quite likely that God designed us in such a way that we could come to have warranted beliefs about God (either basically, by means of something like sensus divinitatus, by relying on testimony, the occasional sky writing, etc...). Having granted that much, it seems Plantinga can then go one step further. Atheists and agnostics might be rational in their beliefs, but that we can rationally accept arguments from evil gives us no reason to be unfriendly atheists. For the rationality of religious belief, you see, depends on the totality of an individual's evidence or grounds. It may be that the theist has grounds the atheists and agnostics don't.

This clever move I'll refer to as Plantinga's Pincer movement. I won't call it this for any good reason except that I needed a cool sounding word that began with 'p', and that's what came to mind. Here's my worry. I haven't seen any careful argument for the following claim:
(*) On the hypothesis that theism is true, it is quite likely that some of us would be created in such a way that we could have warranted beliefs about God.

I'd agree that if the conditional probability of our having warranted beliefs on the hypothesis of theism were high, Plantinga's Pincer movement would be quite impressive. Not as impressive as Hannibal at the Battle of Cannae, mind you, but impressive. However, I don't see that Plantinga has given good reason for thinking that this probability is high. I think the probability is either low or inscrutable. His argument that it would be high in WCB is, basically, that God loves us and created us in God's image. The problem is that I see no inconsistency in saying that God loves us, created us in God's image, but equipped us with little by way of brains. At least, that strikes me as no more inconsistent than saying that God loves us, created us in God's image, but some of us are like Dahmer, some of us are swept away to sea during a tsunami, some of us are left to die slowly in burning buildings, to fend for ourselves when cornered by machete wielding mobs, among the millions drowned when God called for a 'Do Over' and sent the floods, etc... Evil can do double duty. It seems to constitute evidence against God's existence. It also seems to constitute evidence that (*) is false or, at the very least, not something we have reason to accept. And, by Plantinga's rules, it seems that if the conditional probability that you are reliable on some matter is either low or inscrutable given your evidence and grounds, you'd be irrational to continue to hold beliefs on the subject. If it's (*) that's keeping the epistemic wolves at bay for the mildly reflective theist, I don't think Plantinga's Pincer movement is quite as useful as some might have thought. But, it's better than maybe you thought I'd think it was.

One footnote. I've seen an occasional reference to Plantinga's Two Dozen or So arguments for theism (here) and I did a quick poll in CO. 50% of respondents said that much of this is either tongue in cheek or just his playing devil's advocate and 50% said he was being dead serious. Does anyone know?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Thomson and McCain

When we discuss Thomson's "A Defense of Abortion" in my CMP courses, I find more often than not students forgetting that Thomson is trying to show that granting that the fetus has a right to life does not show that abortion is never justified. For the most part, they seem not to believe that there were these people who held the extreme view, that a woman is not permitted to terminate a pregnancy if due to rape or if it is a threat to her health. In other words, it seems they don't seem to realize that the extreme view is still on the table. The old (i.e., younger) John McCain argued in 2000 that that GOP should revise its platform and drop language that called for a human life amendment that bans all abortions. The new (i.e., older) McCain apparently is not going to push for a change in the platform. You can find discussion of the story here.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sunday's political rant

I've eaten far too much Indian food, so this will have to do. It's a disgrace that our candidates for President have to answer to Rick Warren.

"At what point is a baby entitled to human rights?" Seriously? If he's going to ask stupid questions and receive even stupider answers, I'd like it if he'd at least follow up. If McCain thinks we have babies from the moment of conception, why is he less willing to compromise on same sex marriage than abortion? Better that we kill babies than let Ellen and Portia marry?

I thought clicking around Rick Warren's homepage would be good for a few laughs. If ever you've wanted to know why God allows evil, you'll find his answer here.*

[*Yes, I realize there's nothing there. I'm sure he'll fix this, but it's funny.]

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Fine-tuned for life?

I've always sort of liked the cheeky response, inspired by Russell, to the fine-tuning argument: there's not a chance in hell that God would have designed a world like this, so I'd say the probability that God exists given the appearance of fine-tuning is nil. Not everyone finds this response convincing. ([tic]Maybe they like fascists and Klansmen?[/tic]) Robert Howell linked to an interesting discussion of fine-tuning here. Take a look.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


I've returned from RoME and can say that it was maybe the most enjoyable conference experience I've ever had. Learned tons, met many fantastic folks, caught up with other fantastic folks that I haven't seen in years, and drank beer. Sayre-McCord gave a nice talk on moral dilemmas. I'm not yet sure what to think about 'real' dilemmas, but part of me hopes that morality doesn't vindicate this sentiment:
"Now if somebody wants to sue us, they have an option to sue, but I'm fairly certain that a judge will see it the way the way the citizens see it here," Mayor James Valley said. "The citizens deserve peace, that some infringement on constitutional rights is OK and we have not violated anything as far as the Constitution."

(Not that I'm not sympathetic to the chief's plight, mind you, but I'd rather hope the Constitution feels violated when constitutional rights are infringed and hope also that when this happens we appreciate that we have a choice to make.)

I thought that the session on detachment went pretty well. It's a damn complicated set of issues to deal with, but I'm now more convinced than ever that the wide-scoper's story will play an important part in dealing with these issues. I'm also somewhat inclined to think that some of the points made about pragmatic implicature in Mark's paper are correct. I don't yet see that it's wrong to combine bits and pieces from his view and mine. Whatever we say about this sort of thing, I hope it's not this. If Mustard intends to kill Green knowing that battering him with the candlestick is the necessary means but doesn't adopt those means as his, what's wrong with him in our eyes isn't that he's not hitting enough people with candlesticks.

The poster session went well, too. I chatted with a few folks, but didn't manage to chat with others about their posters as I was tied to my table.

Each of the talks I attended were pretty darn good. Unsurprisingly, Norcross' commentary on Smilansky's paper was the most entertaining. (I'm not yet entirely sure it's a fair reading of Kant to say that Kant thought people ought to kill themselves before they masturbate, but I'd not be surprised if his attitudes were close to something like this.) I learned from Heathwood that the cost of adopting a philosophical theory is that you should be willing to get pissed on from time to time. I enjoyed Kelly Sorensen's defense of "moral dualism" immensely, but I thought Pekka Vayrynen, Dale Dorsey, David Shoemaker, and Doug Portmore gave fantastic talks.

There was something odd about the conference. There was no posturing, no ego, people seemed to take questions and objections as real opportunities for discussion, and people seemed to raise questions and offer objections in the same spirit. Was it the elevation? The hordes of hippies? The topical nature of the conference? I have no idea, but I'm dying to go again next year. So, please, don't send papers. I want to be on the program.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

No, actually, I envy their positions

Mukasey isn't going to pursue charges against former Justice Department employees (story here). Laws were broken, he concedes, but that doesn't mean crimes were committed. This is precious:
“That does not mean, as some people have suggested, that those officials who were found by the joint reports to have committed misconduct have suffered no consequences,” Mr. Mukasey said. “Far from it. The officials most directly implicated in the misconduct left the Department to the accompaniment of substantial negative publicity.

“Their misconduct has now been laid bare by the Justice Department for all to see,” he continued. “As a general matter in such cases, where disciplinary referrals are appropriate, they are made. To put it in concrete terms, I doubt that anyone in this room would want to trade places with any of those people.

I don't think that's right. If I've violated the law, I'd rather like to get off by switching jobs and suffering only a poor public image in the eyes of the wonks who follow this sort of thing.


There's a difference of degree here, but of kind?

McCain's latest:

The infamous "call me" spot:

First, I think there's little doubt left that McCain is a juvenile little shit and that saying that is giving him far more credit than he deserves. Second, my pledge to give money to Obama every time McCain runs one of these crap ads is going to leave me a little thin before this is all over.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

RoME: The Conference!

It looks like they've posted a goodly number of the papers from the Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress here. It's one heckuva line up and you'll se that there's some pretty good stuff going on in the poster sessions. (Like this little number.) It also looks like there's gonna be a discussion of detachment Friday morning that will be both informative and exciting!

Monday, August 4, 2008


I'm home exhausted after a trip to Portland became unexpectedly a trip to Portland to Sacramento to San Francisco. If you're ever in Portland and in need of a place to stay, I'd recommend Ace Hotel. It's cheap, the rooms are unbelievable, I had the best coffee and food downstairs in recent memory, and the staff is incredibly friendly. In the next few days, I need to update my syllabi for the contemporary moral problems and logic courses I'll be teaching at SMU and TCU, finish another draft of my paper on reasons for belief, and write up comments on a paper on detachment that Mark van Roojen will be giving at the Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress in a few days.

Originally, I was slated to give comments on a paper defending a contextualist approach to ascriptions of intrinsic value. After the speaker had to cancel, I was invited to give a poster at the poster session. I'll still be presenting a version of "'Ought', 'Can', and Practical Reasons" (coming to APQ in the not terribly distant future!), but while deplaning in Sacramento two nights ago I received word that a commentator was involved in some sort of accident and there's a need for someone to step up and offer comments. So, I'll be stepping up. It's not often that you get the opportunity to give comments to your own adviser at a conference. So, I'm looking forward to seeing quite a few familiar faces and meeting some new folks in Boulder in a few days.

Quick philosophical question. Mustard believes Plum is plotting against him and decides to carry a pistol for protection. It turns out that he's right. How many reasons has he that bear on whether to carry the pistol? One? Two? None? Thirty?