Archive | February, 2008

Romo Lampkin’s Cat Is a Daggit!

Click here for a 5-minute preview of Galactica’s upcoming Season 4.

Unless you’re one of those benighted souls who hasn’t seen Season 3 yet (I’m talking to you, P.!),in which case you should under no circumstances click the above link.

In other news, the second trailer for the new Get Smart movie is kinda fun. I especially liked Max’s argument to Siegfried for why he can’t be from CONTROL.

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Anarcho-Puffery, Part Deux

I’ve blogged previously about Doug Den Uyl’s plug for the Anarchism/Minarchism anthology, which reads:

This volume is a much needed revival of a debate critical to Libertarians, but also of significance to political theorists generally. The issue itself goes to the heart of what it means to do political philosophy, and the contributions found here skillfully keep those basic concerns in sight. In addition, I found the writing lucid and fair minded–something often missing in scholarly debate anthologies. I have no doubt that this volume will become a standard reference source for those interested in this particular debate and among the sources one consults when considering the foundations of the state generally.

I see that a second plug has since been added to Ashgate’s page for the book; this one is from Elaine Sternberg, and reads:

The forceful philosophical and historical challenges to the state presented in this volume should be read not just by libertarians, but by everyone who believes that government is either necessary or legitimate.

Also check out this write-up on the Auburn website.

Incidentally, anyone who is planning both a) to buy the book and b) to attend the Austrian Scholars Conference might want to postpone (a) until (b), because ASC attendees will be able to get 20% off the cover price if they pick up a flier from me at the conference. (Still pretty steep, alas.)

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Locke the Antichrist

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

I’ve been reading Craig Nelson’s new Thomas Paine bio. So far it’s pretty good on the whole – a bit superficial philosophically and a bit too eager to entertain, but filled with lots of fascinating info I hadn’t known before.

Unfortunately, I’ve come across a major howler. And I fear that where there’s one there’s probably more.

Here’s the howler, from p. 264:

John Locke, surrounded by England’s religious tumult, would come to believe that “truly the Christian religion is the worst of all religions, and ought neither to be embraced by any particular person, nor tolerated by any commonwealth.”

Did John Locke, the great defender of religious toleration and author of The Reasonableness of Christianity, really say that Christianity was unreasonable and shouldn’t be tolerated? If true, this would be a surprising, startling fact that ought to prompt any writer even minimally familiar with the thought of the era to look more closely. But Nelson is evidently neither surprised nor startled.

So what did Locke actually write? Here’s the passage in its original context; judge for yourself whether it says what Nelson thinks it does:

I answer: Is this the fault of the Christian religion? If it be so, truly the Christian religion is the worst John Lockeof all religions and ought neither to be embraced by any particular person, nor tolerated by any commonwealth. For if this be the genius, this the nature of the Christian religion, to be turbulent and destructive to the civil peace, that Church itself which the magistrate indulges will not always be innocent. But far be it from us to say any such thing of that religion which carries the greatest opposition to covetousness, ambition, discord, contention, and all manner of inordinate desires, and is the most modest and peaceable religion that ever was. We must, therefore, seek another cause of those evils that are charged upon religion.

So did Nelson read the lines he quotes in their original context? If so, how could he have misunderstood them so badly? Or did he read them already excerpted by somebody else? If so, why wasn’t he curious to check the context of such an unlikely quotation? (An endnote informs us that he read them in Locke’s Two Treatises of Government. But the passage isn’t in the Two Treatises, it’s in the Essay on Toleration.)

Now if Nelson can make a mistake this big and this obvious, how likely is it that that’s the only one in the book? Not likely, alas; how many hard-to-catch errors are lurking behind this easy-to-catch one? In fact there’s another somewhat harder-to-catch error, albeit a more minor one, on the immediately following page, where Nelson conflates two different anecdotes about Alexander Hamilton. But are there other, less minor flubs I didn’t catch? That seems the way to bet.

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Wish Upon a Swastika

Several sketches of Disney characters, including this one of Pinocchio, are thought to have come from the pen of Adolf Hitler. No kidding. (Conical hat tip to LRC.)

Comparing Hitler’s version of Pinocchio with the original – is it my imagination, or has Hitler altered Pinocchio’s hairstyle to make it look more like … Hitler’s?

Pinocchio by Hitler

Pinocchio’s cap looks more like a traditional Tyrolean hat to me in Hitler’s version than in the original too – less floppy or something:

Tyrolean hat

But I may really just be imagining that one. I feel more sure about the hairstyle, though.

Say, it’s a pity Hitler’s nose didn’t grow longer when he lied.

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Why Socrates Kant Get Ryled

Philosophers get some namechecks in DC Comics this week. First, from Simon Dark #5 (author: Steve Niles):

Simon Dark and Red Tornado – So, have you told your dad yet?

– Are you kidding? No way! He’d lock me up!

– I don’t believe that.

– Dad’s cool generally. But he’s a rationalist. You know, like Socrates, Kant? This stuff with Simon is waay out of his framework.

– Kant? How old are you again?

Next, android superhero Red Tornado’s musings in Justice League of America #18 (author Alan Burnett):

The British philosopher Gilbert Ryle did not believe in mind/body dualism. He ridiculed the entire concept, dismissively referring to it as “the ghost in the machine.” And yet, here is my mind, existing in a computer. And there is my body, broken spare parts spread out on a table, irreparable. I am that ghost.

Now I’m not sure why being a rationalist in the tradition of Socrates and Kant should be an obstacle to dealing with Simon Dark. It’s hard to imagine Socrates being phased by much of anything. As for Kant, if Simon were really outside the framework of reason, then he wouldn’t be an object of possible experience, right? I suspect Niles has too narrow a notion of what a ratuionalist’s framework can accommodate.

Gilbert Ryle With regard to the Red Tornado’s predicament, I’m not sure that Ryle (who actually might well count as a dualist by today’s standards, though of course not a substance dualist) would have any problem with Red’s status as Burnett describes it – though Ryle might prefer to say that the computer is (now) Red’s body and that the spare parts on the table are not. (Ryle no doubt would put up some resistance, however, to sorcerer Zatanna’s telling Red, once a new body has been prepared for him: “The Brainiacs will transfer your program, but I have to cast a mystic spell that moves your soul.”)

When people hear that Ryle was against the “ghost in the machine” model of mind and body, they tend to assume that he wanted to eliminate the ghost, leaving only the machine. But Ryle rejects the machine as much as the ghost; he sees human beings as organic unities of mind and body, not as an accidental conjunction of an essentially mental thingy and an essentially mechanistic thingy, and he is as opposed to traditional materialism as to traditional dualism. Despite his sometimes behaviourist-sounding language (and his arguably veering a bit too close to behaviourism itself), Ryle is fundamentally much closer to Aristotle, Schopenhauer, Wittgenstein, and the phenomenologists than to contemporary materialism – stressing the mutual inextricability of mind and body rather than the ontological or explanatory privileging of one over the other. (Dennett’s contemporary appropriation of Ryle is a confusion, methinks; Dennett and Ryle are not ultimately on the same side.) Ryle’s Concept of Mind, despite its flaws, is still well worth reading.

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How Not to Liberalise

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

About a decade ago, much-missed Randian philosopher George Walsh (who once gave a student an A for showing up to his exam naked) offered the following remarks on Islamic history:

The forces of Islam quickly conquered the southern and eastern Mediterranean basin. There they encountered the Hellenistic culture which was already absorbed into Christianity. Translations of Aristotle had been made into Syriac in the sixth century by Eastern Christians, and these translations were in turn translated into Arabic in the ninth century. Other writings in Greek philosophy also became available. The Greek viewpoint was at first admired in Islam, unaware of what they were getting into, and it was advocated up to a point by a party called the Mutazilites, the pro-reason party in Islam. Greek philosophy, however, especially Aristotle, contradicted the whole Islamic viewpoint. The points of conflict were the following:

Ibn Rushd The Greek point of view was based on reason, the Islamic on faith and revelation. Greek philosophy regarded all of reality as knowable – this was true even of divine beings like the Prime Mover – knowable by reason. Whereas Islam believed that God was transcendent and unknowable. That is the second conflict. First is reason versus faith, second is the knowability of divine beings. Third, the Greeks believed the universe was fundamentally orderly and subject to regular law, but the Muslims believed that each event was separately decided by God’s arbitrary predestination. Fourth, the Greeks believed in an ethics and politics based on reason. For the Muslims, ethics and politics were based on the Qur’an and sacred tradition.

Those who subscribed to any Greek philosophy, especially that of Aristotle, were soon in deep trouble. This is especially evidenced by the fate of the largely pro-Greek party, the Mutazilites. The sect of the Mutazilites represented a strong pro-reason reaction against the traditional doctrine of Islam. The traditional doctrine about the Qur’an was that it was part of the mind of God and therefore co-eternal with God. The real meaning of this doctrine is that it is a blasphemy to raise the slightest question about the Qur’an. The Mutazilites rejected this doctrine, and they said that it is making the Qur’an into a second God to make it unquestionable. The Qur’an, they said, is a creature just like a beast of the field, therefore it does not necessarily express the essential nature of God any more than a cockroach does (they didn’t put it that way). The Qur’an must be subject to the interpretation of reason. If we find that a given thing is irrational and seems to be taught in the Qur’an, we conclude that God didn’t really mean it this way; he merely talked obscurely at that point. If anything in the Qur’an seems contrary to reason, we must then reinterpret it in accord with reason.

This had an influence on the Christian Middle Ages. In this Mutazilite doctrine, we do not erect a second God and, at the same time, reason is saved. This is called the doctrine of the unity of God; it is really the doctrine of the priority of reason. Secondly, we apply this immediately to sections of the Qur’an which seem to teach predestination. Now predestination takes away moral responsibility and man, the Mutazilites said, is morally responsible. A good God would not reward or punish eternally unless man were morally responsible. This the Mutazilites called the doctrine of the justice of God and they presented themselves as defenders of the justice of God. But of course it was really the assertion of man’s free will. These two pro-reason doctrines were accompanied by a strong emphasis on moral virtue and uprightness.

The Mutazilite position began to make some headway when, unfortunately, their own zeal proceeded to fanaticism, as does indeed happen sometimes with people advocating reason, as well as anything else. They sabotaged their own cause. They came into power and issued a requirement that all public officials swear that the Qur’an is created and not divine. Some who refused this doctrine were put to death. This is sometimes called the Muslim Inquisition, from 830 to 845 (ironic that the only real inquisition in Islam was initiated by the pro-reason faction). Of course there was a religious reaction and the Mutazilites were thrown out of power.

What strikes me as interesting about the final paragraph is the suggestion that the reason the liberal/secular/rationalist-leaning faction lost out is that they tried to impose these values by force and so created a backlash. A lesson, perhaps, for those today who think the way to liberalise/secularise the Islamic world is to force liberal/secular values down their throats?

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