Tag Archives | Unethical Philosophy

Like Noises In a Swound

I enjoyed my trip to Duluth. After my left-libertarian talk (powerpoint slides here), several leftists in the audience told me that they’d come prepared to do combat with the evil libertarian but ended up surprised and intrigued instead. (Upcoming speakers in the “Ethics of the Market” speaker series may not be as lucky.)

My host, Shane Courtland, was fun to hang out with as well (even if he is a Hobbesian). His office is filled with action figures, ranging from Darth Vader to Walter White.

The hotel where they put me up is in a cool old brewery overlooking the vast frozen expanse that is Lake Superior. Imagine this picture but with everything much whiter:


Less delightfully, my bag took a couple of days longer to get back from Duluth than I did (and Delta told me it had delivered my bag to me fifteen hours before it actually did so).

In other news, over the next couple of days I’ll be at my department’s annual conference.

Call for Papers: Alabama Philosophical Society

And now another CFP, this one for the Alabama Philosophical Society meeting in Pensacola, October 10-11; submission deadline August 1st. Note also the undergrad essay contest (Alabama students only), which pays $100 plus one night’s stay at the conference hotel. More info here.

Eis Duo Treis ho de Tetartos Pou

I’m familiar with views (and here I include both scientific and mythological views) according to which the universe has a beginning and an ending; and with views according to which it has no beginning and no ending; and with views according to which it has a beginning but no ending.

But I can’t recall coming across any view, either scientific or mythological, according to which the universe has an ending but no beginning.

Now it doesn’t surprise me that that’d be the least popular of the views. Despite the admonitions of Epicurus and Spinoza, we tend to find the prospect of future nonexistence more depressing than the prospect of past nonexistence; so objections to finitude, for those who have them, are more likely to focus on the future than on the past. Furthermore, counting down from infinity likewise seems more objectionably paradoxical than counting up to infinity; so objections to infinitude, for those who have them, are more likely to focus on the past than on the future.

All the same, it’s a big old world with a lot of people in it, and the space of possible views does tend to get populated, so I’d likewise be surprised if nobody had ever held the end-but-no-beginning view. My bet is that someone has. I just don’t know of any example.


No True Fallacy

I’ve noticed a tendency for the charge of committing the “No True Scotsman” fallacy to be leveled at anyone who favours more restrictive definitions of something than the person leveling the charge favours. This is a misunderstanding of how the “No True Scotsman” fallacy works. Just saying something of the form “No true Scotsman would do X” is not by itself a commission of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy – though the fallacy does involve making a statement of that form. A fallacy has to be an error in inference from one statement to another; a single statement on its ownsome, involving no inference, can’t be a fallacy.

The “No True Scotsman” fallacy arises when someone uses a restrictive version of a definition in order to rebut a counterexample to a claim that was made using a less restrictive definition. So, for example:

1. SMITH: “Democracies never go to war against other democracies.”

2. JONES: “What about the war between Israel and Lebanon? They were both democracies.”

3. SMITH: “No country that commits that kind of aggression counts as a genuine democracy.”

What makes Smith guilty of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy here is not that she employs an idiosyncratically restrictive definition of “democracy” in (3). Employing an idiosyncratically restrictive definition is not by itself a fallacy, since it’s not by itself an argument. If an argument is offered for the idiosyncratically restrictive definition, that argument may of course be fallacious – or it may not. We can’t know until we look at the argument. (Merely using a term more restrictively than in ordinary usage is no proof that the more restrictive usage is wrong; sometimes ordinary usage by itself contains commitments to a more restrictive usage. For example, I think that’s true of the Socrates-Stoic-Cicero-Augustine-Aquinas-Blackstone-Spooner-Lane-MLK Jr. position that an unjust law is no true law.)

Rather, what convicts Smith of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy is the fact that she treats her claim in (3), using “democracy” restrictively, as if it supported her claim in (1), where “democracy” was clearly being used non-restrictively. In other words, the “No True Scotsman” fallacy is an instance of the fallacy of equivocation. (Example of equivocation: “A bank is a safe place to deposit your paycheck; the edge of a river is a bank; therefore the edge of a river is a safe place to deposit your paycheck.” The plausibility of the premises depends on taking them to be using the term “bank” differently; the validity of the inference depends on taking them to be using the term “bank” in the same way.)

If Smith were, clearly and non-obfuscatingly, willing to reject (1) in the non-restrictive sense, and endorse it only in the restrictive sense, then although she might have an implausible definition of “democracy” – and a more vacuous opening claim than initially appeared – she would be innocent of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy.

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