Friday, July 29, 2011

epub Summa Theologica

Here is my epub version of Aquinas's Summa Theologica.
[Edit: Fixed bad link.]

Thursday, July 28, 2011

My search for an Android ebook reader

[Edit: I edited the Moon+ review to take into account the latest version as of January 5, 2012. -ARP]

Every couple of weeks, my Palm TX stops working, and the only way to get it working again is to short out its battery quickly in order to clear out the RAM (disconnecting the battery would work, too, but then I'd have to unsolder it and resolder it; hmm, maybe I could solder in a tiny switch?).  So I need a new home for my large ebook collection.  It looks like the current options are iOS and Android.  But iOS development requires a Mac, plus iOS is notoriously closed.  So Android.

I acquired an Archos 43.  I don't particularly recommend the device, but it has the advantage for me of not being a phone (so I don't have to switch from my grandfathered-in phone plan that gives me unlimited Internet on my Treo at a ridiculously low rate), plus a manufacturer who has a very open attitude.  A happy thing: PDF readers for Android are an order of magnitude better than PalmPDF (though PalmPDF was a great step forward from Adobe's reader for Palm), and the higher resolution screen is quite helpful.

But what about non-PDF ebooks?  It looks like the standard format of the future is epub.  So I converted my Plucker version of Aquinas's Summa Theologica to html.  This generated 626 html files (about one per article), total size 25 mb.  These html files use very simple formatting, which should make them easily convertible.  I then converted the html to epub with Calibre.  Options: 260K segments, don't split on page breaks.  Result: a 6.9mb epub file (the Plucker file was 5.6mb).  This is quite large as epubs go, since most epubs are novel-length, rather than Summa-length.

What would I like in an ebook reader?
  1. Speed (I don't want to wait 30 seconds to open the Summa at a conference to look something up prior to asking a question). 
  2. Good searching at a decent speed through large texts.
  3. Multiple bookmarks/annotations.  
  4. Good use of a small screen.
  5. Scrolling rather than paging (this is a taste preference, but I think paging is a left-over from dead-tree technology;  why should one have to flip back and forth to see a difficult passage that is broken between pages--one should just be able to scroll to locate the passage conveniently).
  6. Open source.
Item (1) and (2) are essential.  Item (3) is close to essential, but I find I don't use Plucker's bookmarks/annotations quite as much as I thought I would.

I tried: Moon+, FBReader, CoolReader, Aldiko, the Nook app, StarBooks, Foliant Beta, Mantano Trial and the Kindle app.  FBReaderJ and CoolReader are open source.  I don't know about Foliant and StarBooks.  The others are closed source.  All are free or have free or trial versions which is what I tested.

Summary: None of the readers was 100% satisfactory for my purposes.  Moon+ and Mantano are the best choices.  Moreover, both have very responsive developers who are interested in working with me on large text issues.  If you care more about searching than opening large documents very quickly, Moon+ is the choice.  If you care more about opening large documents very quickly, Mantano is the choice.  But this may change with future versions.

My main tests were just opening the Summa and searching through it for the nonsense word "trubbli".  As background for the speed tests, the Summa opens in two or three seconds in Plucker on my PalmTX, which is underclocked to 208mhz, and a search through the Summa takes 41 seconds.

The Archos has a 1000mhz CPU.  The epub format is basically zipped html files, each at most 260K long, with some additional meta-data.  It should be possible to extract a single file from an epub zip just about instantly, to open an epub file it shouldn't be necessary to do more than open some meta-data files and then load the correct html segment.  It takes the Archos 0.05seconds to unzip a 200K file (unrepresentatively large) from my summa2.epub file using busybox's unzip.  Unzipping all of the files in the Summa takes 17 seconds on the device, and then searching them with grep takes less than two seconds.

Moon+: This was the first reader I tried, after hearing really good things about it. This mini-review is edited as of January 5, 2012, and is of the version downloaded from the developer's site. It takes 10 seconds to load the document. That is slightly disappointing--I thought it would be like Plucker, namely almost instant.  Display options are great, scrolling is great.  I haven't tried the annotation features, but I've been told they're good.  Search took about 22 seconds, which is close to the best that one can expect given how long unzipping the epub takes.
The developer is great and responsive. For instance, the version I tried in the summer took an unacceptable 20 seconds to open the document, and the developer has worked on reducing this. Moreover, the summer's release had an annoying dialog each time you clicked on an intra-document link, but it's now gone.

Apart from the imperfect 10 second load time, Moon+ is great. You can scroll, you have a ton of display options, etc. It is the best choice right now for large ebooks as far as I can tell. And the 10 second load time is decent given some of the competition.

FBReader: This is open source, which means a lot to me as I don't expect any reader to have all the features I want, and so I expect to have to add features myself.  It took about 40 seconds to load the document, which is unacceptable.  Search time was a creditable 20 seconds.  Since the opening time was utterly unacceptable, further tests were unnecessary.

Coolreader: Another open source offering.  Took a minute to load.  Took three seconds to flip a page.  I couldn't click on any of the links.  Didn't try any more as it was not usable.

Aldiko: A pretty popular closed-source reader.  It loaded the file instantly, thereby showing that there is nothing intrinsic to the epub file structure that makes that impossible.  But the search was unacceptably slow at  about 74 seconds.  Moreover, it pages rather than scrolls, which is annoying.  I didn't try any more as the search speed killed it as an option.

Nook: Annoyingly, it wants epubs in its own directory, and doesn't let you browse the file system to get to them, like other readers let you.  It also loaded the file instantly.  However, it had really annoying large margins, showing too little text per screen.  Maybe it's optimized for larger screens (the Archos has a 4.3" screen), but such large margins should be adjustable in the app, and I couldn't find an adjustment for them.  The deal-killer was the search.  After two minutes it wasn't done, and I gave up and uninstalled it.

Starbooks: After about 20 seconds of first-time importing, it loads instantly.  Page-based model.  But no search!  So, that's that.

Foliant Beta: It took a while to scan the Summa, but it cached the scan, so next time it started instantly.  Developers whose model requires the epub to be all scanned (which I am guessing is what is behind the unacceptable startup times on otherwise good apps, such as Moon+ and FBReader) should take note.  Search speed was marginal at 35 seconds, too, and it scrolled fine.  The killer was that I couldn't click on intra-document links, and I couldn't change the absurdly large font size.  The inability to click on links makes books like the Summa which seem to have been written with hyperlinks in mind (wasn't St Thomas ahead of his time?) unusable.  However, it is a beta version, so it may improve.

Mantano: Starts the Summa instantly.  Unfortunately, like many readers, it's page based rather than allowing for continuous scrolling (why pages? most page breaks are an accidental division with no semantic value).  And as with a number of other readers that started the book instantly, searching the Summa was slow, about 80 seconds.  I was using the free seven day trial.  Unlike the other apps, Mantano has no permanent free version.  However, Mantano has an extremely responsive development team that collects suggestions, and it looks like they are quite interested in working on these issues.

Kindle: Unlike the other apps, this doesn't have epub support as far as I know.  Fortunately, Calibre can convert to Mobipocket format, too, so I put a Mobipocket conversion of the Summa, based on the same html files, in the Kindle directory (like some of the other apps, it only reads books in a special directory; my beloved Plucker on PalmOS does that, so I don't complain too much).  It opened in a second or less.  However, it is page-based, with no scrolling.  More seriously, the search.  The good news is that unlike most other apps, it has a progress bar for the search.  The other apps mostly just show you a spinner and so you don't know what percentage has been searched.  The bad news is that I started the search around the time I started writing this paragraph, and it's still going.  It's now about 3/4 done, and my timer says that it took 4 minutes to get there.  It's definitely one of the slower searchers.  Since Kindle is the big name in ebooks, I'm going to let the time get to the end.  Almost there.  Finally: "0 results for 'trubbli'."  I missed the exact time of finishing, but it was around 6 minutes.  Wow!  How did they manage it to be so slow? There is also a subpixel rendering bug, at least as January 5, 2012.

Conclusions: I have yet to find anything that works as well for my purposes as Plucker on my 5+ year old Palm TX, though the faster search speed of Moon+ almost compensates for the slower document opening speed.  Perhaps I should try readers that use other formats than epub, like Mobi.  Or perhaps I should just take Coolreader or FBReader and bang on the source until it does what I want it to do.  Or perhaps I should just wait until something comes along that is compelling better than Plucker on Palm.

Or maybe I should just keep on downloading epub apps.  I'll post comments with test results on other epub readers or update the post.

A disjunction about wronging

Suppose Merlin believes there is a parallel universe containing infinitely many people and that by scratching both ears simultaneously he can cause horribly painful deaths to each of them. And suppose that Merlin scratches both ears simultaneously in order to cause that horrible suffering and death. He has done something infinitely wrong—infinitely-multiple attempted murder—whether or not there are any people in a parallel universe. But whom have he wronged if there is no one in a parallel universe?

I think the only plausible answers are:

  1. God
  2. Merlin
  3. nobody and nothing.
If these are the only answers, and if we generalize from this case, it seems that we have to hold that:
  1. (a) God exists and is wronged by every wrong action, or (b) all wrong actions wrong their agent, or (c) it is possible for an action to be infinitely wrong without anybody or anything being wronged (or two or more of the above options hold).
Each disjunct in (4) is controversial. I embrace both (a) and (b).

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Infinite promises

Suppose I promise x that I will do whatever I promise y, and I promised y that I will do whatever I promise x.  I then promise x to bring ice cream to the party.  In so doing, I have violated my promise to x to bring ice cream to the party.  My violating my promise to x to bring ice cream violated my promise to y to do whatever I promise x.  My violating my promise to y to do whatever I promise x then violated my promise to x to do whatever I promised to y.  And so on.

It looks like by the simple neglect of bringing ice cream to the party, I have violated three promises in infinitely many ways.

But this action doesn't seem to be infinitely wrong, or if it is infinitely wrong, it is such because of the offense against God implicit in the promise-breaking, and not because of the infinite sequence of violations.

But why isn't it infinitely wrong (at least bracketing the theological significance)?

Is it because it's just one action?  No: for a single action can be infinitely wrong, as when someone utters a spell to make infinitely many people miserable while believing that the spell will be efficacious (it doesn't matter whether the spell is efficacious and whether there are infinitely many people).

Is it because only a finite number of promises are broken?  No: for a single promise can be broken infinitely often (given an infinite future, or a future dense interval of events if that's possible) with the demerit adding up.  (Imagine that I promise never to do something, and then I do it daily for eternity.)

Maybe one will bite the bullet and say that the action is infinitely wrong.  What's the harm in saying that?  Answer: incorrect moral priorities.  Keeping oneself from infinitely wrong actions is a much higher priority than keeping oneself from finitely wrong actions.  But it doesn't seem that one should greatly, if at all, prioritize being the sort of person who brings ice cream to parties in the above circumstances over, say, refraining from finitely but seriously hurting people's feelings.

Puzzling, isn't it?

The above generated a puzzle by infinite reflection.  But one can generate puzzling cases without such reflection.  Suppose x loves y, and I harm y.  I therefore also harm x, since as we learn from Aristotle, Aquinas and Nozick, the interests of the beloved are interests of the lover.  Now suppose infinitely many people love y.  (If a simultaneous infinity is impossible, assume eternalism and imagine an infinite future sequence of people who love y.  Or just suppose I falsely believe that infinitely many people love y.)  It seems that by imposing a minor harm on y, I impose a minor (perhaps very minor) harm on each of infinitely many people, and thereby an infinite harm.  Now, suppose that I have a choice whether to impose a minor harm on y, who is loved by infinitely many persons, or a major harm on z, who is loved by only finitely many.  As long as the major harm is only finitely greater than the minor harm, it seems that it is infinitely worse to impose the minor harm on y than the major harm on z.  But that surely is mistaken (and isn't it particularly bad to harm those who have fewer friends?).

One might try to bring God in.  Everyone is loved by God, and God is infinite, and so the major harm to z goes against the interests of God, and God's interests count infinitely (not that God is worse off "internally"), so the major harm to z multiplied by the importance of God's interests will outweigh the minor harm to y, even if one takes into account the infinitely many people who love y, since divine infinity trumps all other infinities.  But this neglects the fact that God also loves all the infinitely many people who love y, and hence the harm to the infinitely many lovers of y also gets multiplied by a divine infinity.

Nor is infinity needed to generate the puzzle.  Suppose that N people love y and only ten people love z, and my choice is whether to impose one hour of pain on y or fifty years of pain on z.  No matter how little the badness of x's suffering to x's lovers, it seems that if you make N large enough, it seems it will overshadow the disvalue of the fifty years of pain to z.

I think the right answer to all this is that wrongs, benefits and harms can't be arithmetized in a very general way.  There is, perhaps, pervasive incommensurability, so that the harms to y's lovers are incommensurable with the harms to y.

But I don't know that incommensurability is the whole story.  It is a benefit to one if a non-evil project one identifies with is successful.  Now imagine two sport teams, one that has a million fans and the other of which has a thousand.  Is it really the case that members of the less popular team have a strong moral reason to bring it about that the other team wins because of the benefit to the greater number of fans, even if it is a moral reason overridden by their duties of integrity and special duties to their fans?  (Likewise, is it really the case that the interests of Americans qua Americans morally count for about ten times as much as the interests of Canadians qua Canadians?)

Yet some harms and benefits do arithmetize fairly well.  It does seem about equally bad to impose two hours of suffering on ten people as one hour of suffering on twenty.

So whatever function combines values and disvalues is very complicated, and depends on the kind of values and disvalues being combined.  The only way a simple additivity can be assured is if we close our eyes to the vast universe of types of values, say restricting ourselves to pleasure and suffering as hedonistic utilitarians do.

PDF Viewer for Android

I acquired an Android device, but haven't been too happy with any of the free PDF viewers I tried for ebook reading. E.g., some don't keep your place in the document when you exit. Anyway, the closest I found was the APV project, and it being open source, I joined and added most of the features I wanted. In case anybody else wants an acceptable and free PDF Viewer for Android, a pre-release version with a whole bunch of enhancements by me is here. Send me bug reports.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

More on chance and compatibilism

This is another attempt at defending the main point of this post, that the randomness objection is also problematic for compatibilists.

Compatibilism is of merely academic interest unless the freedom or responsibility whose compatibility with determinism is being defended is close enough to the kind of freedom we have. For instance, a freedom or responsibility whose compatibility with determinism is assured by supposing time travel or backwards causation is not close enough to ours to be of great interest, except academically.

Now consider this thesis:

  1. Many of the actions that we are responsible for are significantly causally affected by factors that have little to do with the ingredients in a compatibilist decision theory.
Consider, for instance, the fact that surely in the ordinary course of things, judges are responsible for their decisions. But a fairly recent study found that judges have a 65% chance of granting parole shortly after a food break, and a close to zero chance at the end of a period of not eating. Yet, except in extreme cases (e.g., a judge who had been starving for days), we would surely hold judges responsible for their decisions at both times. Effects like this are, I suspect, not at all uncommon.

But a decision to a significant extent determined by such causal factors is no less "a matter of chance" than a libertarian-free indeterministic choice is. This suggests that compatibilists cannot afford to wield the randomness objection against libertarians, unless they want to say that freedom is much more rare than we normally think.

What can compatibilists say? Well, they can go agent-causal and say that, nonetheless, the action is caused by the agent, and that makes it free. Or they can say that the desires of the agent play a significant part in the decision, and that that is enough to make the action be an action of the agent, rather than a mere matter of chance. But the libertarian can make either move.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Producing a character

Suppose I act in a way that contributes to Bob's having a vicious character that deterministically produces wrong actions under a wide variety of circumstances. Am I responsible for these wrong actions of Bob's? Maybe and maybe not. I might have completely inculpably acted in such a way as produced this character in Bob. Perhaps my action caused Bob to undergo some minor temptation that he simply did not withstand. Perhaps I was brainwashed into brainwashing Bob. On the other hand, if with full responsibility I produced Bob's vicious character, and produced it so that it would deterministically produce such wrong actions, then I am fully responsible for those wrong actions of Bob's. The following seems right:

  1. x is responsible for the actions determined by y's character precisely to the extent that x is responsible for y's having a character that determines such actions.

Now, I will apply principle (1) in the special case where x=y. You might wonder if (1) is applicable in that case. But consider cases where I act so to induce a vicious character in some individual under some description and it turns out that that individual is me. For instance, I pay a brainwasher to kidnap a random person and brainwash that person into being a bank robber, and I turn out to be the random person. In those cases, (1) seems exactly right, too. It is plausible that (1) holds in general. (I think I am thinking about N-responsibility here.)

In the special case where x=y, we get the claim that one is responsible for the actions determined by one's character precisely to the extent that one is responsible for having such a character. And now add this:

  1. x is responsible for a state of affairs S only if S depends (causally or constitutively or by a chain of causal and/or constitutive relations) on or is identical with one or more of x's choices or actions that x is responsible for.
One could probably formulate this in terms of degrees of responsibility, but there may be some difficulties. The idea is that one is responsible for S to the extent that x is responsible, under that description, for choices or actions on which S depends or with which S is identical. Maybe that's exactly right or maybe it needs to be tweaked. But I'll only need (2).

Now, in the case of someone all of whose actions are determined by her character, given (1) (in the special case x=y) and (2), if the individual is responsible for any action, we generate an infinite regress, as in Galen Strawson's argument against responsibility.

I think the compatibilist has to either deny (2), and insist that we can be responsible for a character that does not depend on any responsible choices or actions, or else has to distinguish in (1) between the case where x is non-identical with y and normal cases where x is identical with y (cases like the one where I hire the random brainwasher being abnormal).

As a libertarian, I also think the above arguments conflate derivative and non-derivative responsibility, but I do not think the compatibilist can really make much use of that distinction.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A puzzle about prayer

Consider x's faithful Christian prayer that y would always avoid some sin. (Perhaps x=y, and perhaps they are distinct.) Such prayers are indeed offered, and yet it does indeed happen that sometimes y does commit that sin. This is more puzzling than cases where x prays that y be healed of some physical ailment, because sin is much worse, perhaps "incomparably worse", than any physical ailment.

Libertarians have the beginning of a story about cases like that. For God to ensure the literal fulfillment of such a prayer would require God either to take away from y the opportunity to commit the sin or to take away y's freedom, and in both cases God would be depriving y of a good. God won't give us a serpent when we ask for a fish, and he may well not give us a serpent even if we ask for a serpent. I am inclined to think that God always gives us a gift that is in some sense at least as worth getting as the one we asked for, and it may well be that it is better to get the opportunity and freedom to sin, together with the grace to resist temptation if one rejects not the grace, than to get none of these, but avoid the risk of sin.

Compatibilists have a little bit more difficulty with the puzzle, I think. I think they will say a story about how God is glorified by y's punishment and/or redemption after the sin. I think this works better if one is a universalist (I really think that in the end a Calvinist view of grace forces one into universalism), since the universalist can at least say that there is always redemption, and hence while x doesn't get exactly what x prayed for, y's redemption, which is what x presumably really wanted most of all, is still assured by other means. But it is tougher if one is not a universalist.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"I swear to tell the truth..."

In court, witnesses swear to tell the truth. That's interesting. Let's consider the consequences of taking this literally. Then, witnesses do not swear to tell what they believe, but to tell the truth. This means that even if they tell their honest opinion, they can be in violation of their oath, if their honest opinion is incorrect. This ups the ante. An oath to tell the truth imposes a particular responsibility on the speaker: not only to say what one thinks, but to make sure that what one thinks is true. Of course, if one has fulfilled one's epistemic responsibilities and one is still wrong, then one's violation of the oath is not culpable. But it is a violation of the oath nonetheless. So swearing to tell the truth, and not merely to be sincere, ups the ante. When we make a promise or a vow, it is not only our duty to refrain from consciously going against it, but it is our positive duty to take reasonable steps to ensure that we do not violate it. In the case of a promise to tell the truth, these steps will involve ensuring that there is a high probability of truth, and hence fulfilling one's epistemic responsibilities.

Interestingly, too, if we take the oath literally, then a person cannot be held to have violated her oath if she spoke contrary to what she believed but accidentally asserted the truth. At the same time, such speech is morally just as corrupt and deserving of punishment as when what is asserted is in fact false. If I have vowed never to eat meat, and I eat a veggie burger in the false belief that it is beef, while I have not broken my vow, my moral corruption is exactly like that of a vow-breaker (just as the moral corruption in attempted murder is the same as in successful murder, all other things being equal).

I don't know if the oath is to be taken literally in regard to the promise to tell the truth, but I like the idea that it is. This would also dovetail neatly with the idea that in ordinary assertion it is our moral duty to refrain from asserting the false (and not merely to refrain from insincerity).

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Two types of degrees of responsibility

I've been thinking about comparing degrees of reponsibility, and then it hit me that there are two kinds of degrees of responsibility. Start by dividing responsibility first by the kinds of norms that are being brought to bear on the evaluation. So we have moral, aesthetic, legal, epistemic, etc. responsibility. Within each of these "normative types" of responsibility we may wish to evaluate the degree to which one is responsible. And it is here that there are the two interesting types that I have been thinking about.

Consider what one might call "merely causal responsibility." This is not a normative notion, and it is not a kind of responsibility in the above sense. But it will be suggestive to think about it. There are two dimensions along which we may measure merely causal responsibility: necessity (N) and sufficiency (S). Degrees of necessary causal responsibility (causal N-responsibility) measure just how necessary the cause was to the effect—how much of a difference the cause made to the effect. Degrees of sufficient causal responsibility (causal S-responsibility) measure how much of the effect was accomplished by the cause. Roughly, a substance cause is N-responsible to the degree that it could have easily prevent the effect, that it made a large difference to its being the case that the effect, rather than some relevant alternative, occurred. And a substance cause has S-responsibility to the degree that it is difficult for other cause to prevent the effect, that other things made a small difference to its being the case that the effect, rather than some relevant alternative, occurred.

There is a suggestive, though rough, formal relationship between S- and N-responsibiity. Thus, x's S-responsibility for E inversely covaries with other things' N-responsibility for E, and x's N-responsibility for E inversely covaries with other things' S-responsibility for E. Thus, it is not possible that x has maximal S-responsibility for E while y, distinct from x, has maximal N-responsibility for E. But it is possible that both x and y has maximal N-responsibility for E—think of how each parent has close to maximal, or maybe even maximal, causal N-responsibility for the child's existence. And likewise it is possible that both x and y has maximal S-responsibility for E—think of two sharpshooters each of whom hits the victim in the heart.

Roughly, N-responsibility goes with preventability and S-responsibility goes with achievement.

Now, there are similar such types of degrees of normative responsibility. The degree of one's S-responsibility for E measures how much E counts an achievement of one's own, how much one's name can be inscribed on E, in respect of the relevant norms, how little others have N-responsibility for E. The degree of one's N-responsibility for E measures how much one is to be treated as having made a difference in respect of E, how little others have S-responsibility for E. These aren't definitions—I am simply sketching some suggestive ideas that I don't have fleshed out.

Among the following, I am inclined to think the claims about moral N-responsibility are true, perhaps given some provisos about knowledge, but I am not sure about the ones about moral S-responsibility:

  • One's moral N-responsibility for a conjunctive state of affairs is at least as great as one's moral N-responsibility for the conjunct that one is most morally N-responsible for.
  • One's moral N-responsibility for a disjunctive state of affairs is at most as great as one's moral N-responsibility for the disjunct that one is least N-responsible for.
  • One's moral S-responsibility for a conjunctive state of affairs is at most as great as one's moral S-responsibility for the conjunct that one is least morally S-responsible for. (?)
  • One's moral S-responsibility for a disjunctive state of affairs is at least as great as one's moral S-responsibility for the disjunct that one is most morally S-responsible for. (?)
Working out a logic of N- and S-responsibility would be a very useful thing.

Here is an interesting thing. In the case of moral responsibility for evil, N-responsibility counts for a lot. Being an essential cog in the production of an evil is really bad. But in the case of moral responsibility for good, N-responsibility counts for much less, though S-responsibility counts for a lot. Being an essential cog in the production of a good is not as good as it is bad to be an essential cog in the production of an evil.

Next, here is an interesting question: When compatibilists and incompatibilists are talking about what one is responsible for, are they perhaps confusing N- and S-responsibility sometimes? Since N- and S-responsibility seem to differently relevant in the case of goods and evil, it may make a difference whether one's intuitions are driven by cases of good actions or cases of evil actions. Evil actions are, I think, the more commonly discussed in the literature, which pushes the discussion towards N-responsibility.

Here is my intuition, one that I think a lot of incompatibilists have. If C is a sufficient cause of E, then one is no more morally N-responsible for E than one is for C. (One might also conjecture that if C is a necessary cause of E, then one is no more morally S-responsible for E than one is for C. But I am less sure about this, for the same reason that I am not sure about the bulleted claims about S-responsibility above.) If this is true, then something like incompatibilism about N-responsibility follows if there is no backwards N-responsibility. For if causal determinism holds, then the precise state of the universe prior to my conception is a sufficient cause of everything I am a cause of, and hence I am no more morally N-responsible for anything I am a cause of than I am morally N-responsible for the precise state of the universe prior to my conception. And it is plausible that I am not at all morally responsible for the precise state of the universe prior to my conception.

Monday, July 18, 2011


There are times when we have two incompatible desires and we act on the one that felt weaker to us. In those cases, there is a temptation to say: "It must have actually been stronger, since it won out." But to say that goes against the introspective evidence which is that it was, in fact, weaker. Moreover, some of these cases will be cases where one is praiseworthy or blameworthy for acting. So, if we take seriously the introspective evidence, we conclude that sometimes one is praiseworthy or blameworthy for acting on a weaker desire. Those who think freedom is compatible with actions not being determined by one's character and circumstances (that will include all libertarians and some compatibilists) can accept this at face value.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The randomness argument against compatibilism

The randomness argument insists that if our actions are not determined by our character, then they are a matter of chance and hence not free. This is the most powerful argument against libertarianism. I want to think about whether the argument presents a challenge to the compatibilism. (Compatibilists think freedom is compatible with determinism; libertarians think that (a) freedom is incompatible with determinism, and (b) there is freedom. I shall assume that freedom and responsibility go together, though a more careful examination will require dropping the assumption.)

The compatibilist had better have something to say about how on her preferred view of action the actions do not come out as "a matter of chance". As a warmup, observe that for the purposes of evaluating whether something is "a matter of chance" in our ordinary intuitive sense—which is presumably the sense at play in the argument—the question isn't whether the event is determined or not. We think of coin flips as a matter of chance, and we would think this even if it turned out that the outcomes of coin flips are determined by the precise values of the initial conditions, so a slightly different angle or velocity would produce a different outcome, and we do not have precise enough control over the angle or velocity. If our actions came from a deterministic coin flip in the head, they would be no less objectionably random than if they came from an indeterministic coin flip.

Now, add this observation. People sometimes make seriously responsible decisions where their desires are very close in strength. For instance, no one would get off on a murder charge just because her desire to do the right thing was almost as strong as her desire to inherit the money from her uncle. But when desires are sufficiently close in strength, then which desire is the stronger is "a matter of chance" in exactly the same sense in which a deterministic coin flip is "a matter of chance". What sense is that? It's the sense that when something depends on very fine differences in conditions, too fine for us to discern or control, it's "a matter of chance." Whether one is seriously responsible for murder or not responsible for murder at all shouldn't depend on such tiny differences in desires: if it depends on the fact that one's desire to commit the murder has strength 27.4837 while one's desire not to commit the murder has strength 27.4836, that's just as chance as a truly indeterministic choice would be.

I think three families of answers are available to the compatibilist.

Answer 1: Insist that as the strengths of desires get closer and closer, the degree of freedom and responsibility decreases to zero.

Objection: It doesn't! While perhaps we want to especially criticize the character of the person whose desire for murder was by far the stronger desire, the person for whom the desires were closely balanced, and who agonized over the decision is still seriously responsible, and not merely vanishingly responsible.

Answer 2: Go for Markosian's agent causal compatibilism.

Objection: I have some problems with Markosian's story, but once one goes for agent causation to respond here, one should allow the libertarian the courtesy of relying on agent causation to respond to the randomness argument as well. But if one does that, one loses the strongest argument against libertarianism.

Answer 3: The person whose desire for murder has strength 27.4837 and whose desire not to commit the murder has strength 27.4838 is still a pretty bad person, even if she does not commit murder. Thus, our moral evaluation of the character of the person who in fact commits the murder because her desire strengths are 27.4837 and 27.4836 for and against respectively and the person who does not commit the murder because her desire strengths are 27.4837 and 27.4838 should be very similar, all other things being equal. The latter person does not commit the murder, but that's just her luck, and it is not a very different kind of luck from the luck of a person who does not murder her uncle because he happens to die before she gets around to trying to kill him. In all of these cases, ordinarily, we are dealing with persons with a corrupt moral character, persons who can be appropriately criticized for that character. Largely for pragmatic reasons, however, we do not punish the person who does not commit the murder, whether because her uncle dies on his own or because her desire for murder is slightly the weaker.

Objection: I do not think this fits with how we ordinarily think about the situations. We think there is something significantly praiseworthy when someone with very closely balanced desires for good and evil does the right thing. Yet the difference between the significantly praiseworthy and the significantly blameworthy action shouldn't be "a matter of chance".

Here, the compatibilist pressing Answer 3 might bite the bullet and say that while for pragmatic reasons we praise the person with such closely balanced desires, perhaps in the hope that the balance is shifting in a good direction and our praise will push it further there, she is a really bad person. But I still doubt this: Is she morally really about as blameworthy as an actual murderer? It still seems that the blameworthiness in the action is objectionably a matter of chance, unless one takes Answer 2 as the way out.

In any case, let's explore this compatibilist answer some more. Even if the bullet has been bitten, it's only going to have any hope of working in cases where the person is responsible for her character. For if her character is not something she's responsible for, it might as well be a matter of chance (and indeed may be a matter of chance circumstances and genetics). In particular, it won't work for the first responsible choices a person makes. The story has to be a story of bootstrapping: one has a very low level of responsibility in the initial choices, but then as one's choices build up a character in concert with them, the level of responsibility rises.

I doubt this this bootstrapping. If the choice itself does not inject any new responsibility, as I think on a deterministic story it does not since it is simply an outcome of earlier character, then one is no more responsible for the up-built character than for the initial character. But that is a different and independent objection to compatibilism, I think.

In sum, I think the randomness argument isn't so much an argument against libertarianism as an argument against the possibility of freedom: it affects compatibilists and libertarians alike. Oh, and I think it doesn't work, either because of agent causation or because it fails to notice how well indeterministic explanation can be made to work.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Does God choose the reasons he acts on?

Suppose that Sam is dying of cancer and Sally prays for him. God now has two reasons to cure Sam's cancer: (1) cancer is bad; and (2) Sally has asked God to cure the cancer. Simplify by supposing these are the only two reasons God has for curing Sam. And presumably there are reasons against curing Sam, such as that miracles damage the order of the universe or that Sam can learn much from suffering.

So, God has to make the decision whether or not to cure Sam. Question: If God is going to cure Sam, does God always have to make an additional choice whether (a) to cure him only because of (1), or (b) to cure him because of (2), or (c) to cure him because of both (1) and (2)?

I think that supposing an additional such divine choice wherever there are multiple sufficient reasons for acting is not particularly plausible. God then would need further reasons in favor of each of the three alternatives (a), (b) and (c). There may be some logically possible cases where God a reason to cure Sam only because cancer is bad, and not because Sally asked him. Maybe this is a world where God promised to ignore Sally's prayers on that day, to teach Sally a lesson. (I doubt God makes such promises in our world.) But typically, there will be no reasons to prefer (a) or (b) to (c). So, typically, God will only have reason to go for (c), and so he won't have to make the additional choice between (a), (b) and (c), since where all the reasons are seen to favor one option, no choice needs to be made.

This leads to the idea that at least typically, when God does anything, he does this for all the reasons that favor doing it, rather than for some selection of reasons. This is an aspect of what I call "divine omnirationality."

Monday, July 11, 2011

Marital love and death

Scripturally, marriage—and hence presumably also marital and sexual love—stops at death. There is good philosophical reason for this. Sexual love receives its unique identity from the bodies of the two persons. It is plausible that when the body is destroyed at death, the love needs to be transformed. The maximal amount of continuous physical commitment that is possible lasts until the death of one of the parties. Given that romantic love calls for the deepest possible union at all levels of the person, especially including the physical level, it is plausible that romantic love calls for something like this kind of commitment, namely for a marriage “until death do us part.”

Granted, after death, there will be a resurrection of the glorified body, Christians believe. However, marriage is a natural state of human beings, while this resurrection is something supernatural. It is no surprise if marriage does not, then, outlast death.

At the same time, the form of love should always take into account the relevant particularities of the persons’ relationship. One’s love for a deceased spouse, while not a properly marital love, should have a form particular to love for a deceased spouse, a love that differs from the love for a deceased child. In this life, we might call this “widowed love”. We can see that widowed love is not the same as marital love from the fact that widowed love for a deceased spouse can legitimately continue even after the widow or widower remarries. And it is particularly in the case of remarriage that it is essential that the widow love not be a marital love—it is unfortunate to be married to someone who has a marital love for a deceased spouse. The difficulties involved in this change of form in the love help justify the grudging nature of the Church’s traditional acceptance of remarriage after a spouse’s death (e.g., 1 Cor. 7:8-9).

In heaven, the possibility of continuing interaction will presumably transform the widowed love into some other form of love qualified by the shared history of marriage, a form we can only guess at.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Self-love and self-seeking

The following are excerpts from my book manuscript on love, which I am now revising. Comments (whether substantive or stylistic) are welcome. The setting for the puzzle below is Paul's observation in 1 Cor. 13 that love does not seek its own:

There is, however, a special puzzle in the case of love of oneself. The command in Leviticus (19:18) to love one’s neighbor as oneself is a seminal text, including for the Christian Scriptures which quote it frequently (Mt. 5:43, 19:19, 22:39, Mk. 12:31-33, Lk. 10:27, Rom. 13:9, Gal. 5:14, James 2:8). But how can love of oneself not be self-seeking? One answer could be that Paul is giving us a general quality of love: love focuses us on the beloved. In the special case where the beloved is oneself, this calls for a focus on self, but that is not the result of a general quality of love, but of the particularity of the beloved in this form of love. But there may be a deeper way to understand how a love of oneself can be non-self-seeking, and we will come to that in Section 2.9.


2.9. Love of oneself and self-seeking

We saw that we need to distinguish the reasons for loving someone from the reasons for having a particular form of love for someone. The reasons for loving need not vary from beloved to beloved. My son, my wife, my sister, my father, my friend and my enemy is each a human being created in the image and likeness of God, and this calls out for a response of love. So I can love each of my neighbors for the very same reason. But the different forms that the love should take are each justified by different reasons. I love my son with a paternal love that includes a certain kind of authority because he is my son and because he is young. I love my friend with a friendly love perhaps because of our shared history of companionship.

This offers us a speculative way to see how Paul’s observation (1 Cor. 13:15) that agapĂȘ does not seek its own might apply to self-love. Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics IX.4 observes that good people have the same kinds of reasons for loving themselves as they do for loving others: namely, they can love themselves for their character. At same time, Aristotle seems to think that thoroughly corrupt individuals have no reason to love themselves, and indeed do not. Aristotle was wrong in thinking that there was no reason to love the thoroughly corrupt—they, too, are people—but the idea that virtuous persons love themselves for the same reason that they love others is compelling.

This then offers a way in which well-ordered love of oneself is not self-seeking. When Francis virtuously loves himself, i.e., Francis, he does not love Francis because Francis is himself, but he loves Francis because Francis is a human being in the image and likeness of God. Or, at least, he does not primarily love Francis for being himself, but primarily loves him for the attributes that Francis shares with all other humans. Virtuous people love their neighbors as themselves. Conversely, they love themselves as they love their neighbors, namely for the same kind of reason. And in this sense the love is not self-seeking, since although the beloved is oneself, the beloved is loved primarily for reasons for which one loves one’s neighbor rather than for being oneself.

At the same time, love for oneself has a different form from love for another, just as love for one’s friend and love for one’s father have different forms. Perhaps the most important is that one’s relationship with oneself involves a kind of authority that one’s relationship with one’s friend or parent do not have: I can require sacrifices of myself that I have no right to require of a friend or parent. Another is that correlative with this authority over oneself there is a special responsibility for one’s moral development, going beyond that which one has for a friend or parent’s, and more akin to, though perhaps going further than, one’s responsibility for one’s children’s moral development.

Memory, animals and personhood

Consider the following plausible theses:

  1. Some non-human animals that are not persons (maybe dogs and maybe even rats) have experiential memories, i.e., memories in which they remember having lived through past events.
  2. Human intellectual development is continuous and relatively slow.
  3. It is an essential property of me that I am a person. In particular, if personhood begins at some point t after conception, then t is when I come to exist.
Interestingly, we cannot hold on to (1)-(3) as well as this thesis:
  1. Personhood requires developed capacities for distinctively personal functioning.
For suppose for a reductio ad absurdum that (4) is true. Then at some point a year or two after conception, just when I developed capacities for distinctively personal functioning, I came into existence. Now imagine me on that first day of personhood and of existence. Because of the continuity of human intellectual development, a day earlier I was also a very sophisticated animal, presumably sophisticated enough to have formed experiential memories. After all, it seems very plausible given (2) that I've gone through all intermediate levels of intellectual development, and those stages, by (1) and (4) (we need (4) here to guarantee for the sake of argument what I ultimately deny, namely that personhood is a level of intellectual development), include a level where there are experiences but no personhood. These memories surely carry over.

So let's suppose that on my first day of personhood I remember myself as playing blocks with my dad a day earlier. But according to (3), I did not exist before personhood, and if I did not exist, I did not play blocks with my dad, either. And hence this experiential memory, inherited from the non-person human animal that preceded me, is incorrect and unveridical. This is absurd enough.

And here is a further, more serious, oddity. That experiential memory was veridical in the human animal a day before personhood came to be. It presumably still is correct in the human animal. So both the human animal and the human person have the same memory, or apparent memory, but it's only correct in the human animal and not in the human person. So the two memories have different content. This is very weird indeed. Furthermore, such formation of animal memories surely continues during personhood. So I have memories of having eaten breakfast and my animal has memories of having eaten breakfast, and these two memories have different content—for one can be correct (if, say, one remembers a breakfast prior to the advent of one's personhood) while the other is not. All this is very weird. (Of course, there is a non-coincidental resemblance here to Olson's arguments for animalism, but I find these versions add something, though maybe not.)

This is all too odd. So we really can't hold on to all of (1)-(4). I think one should deny (4). Some (e.g., Jeff McMahan) will deny (3) instead.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fetuses and capacity

One of the abortion debates is between those, like Mary Anne Warren, who think that personhood requires a "developed" capacity for distinctively personal functioning (including all or many of features like: self-awareness, general communication, freedom, problem-solving, etc.), or at least that such a developed capacity is needed for the prohibition on killing to apply, and those who think an undeveloped capacity is sufficient, either for personhood or the prohibition on killing or both. Of course, normal fetuses have an undeveloped capacity for distinctively personal functioning.

Here is a line of thought. Imagine an alien species that suffers through a boiling hot season every ten earth years ("The Boiling"). Most species on that planet die off at that time, leaving some hardy spores or seeds. But one species, the cysters, evolved intelligence and an ability to gather experience over a period of time longer than ten earth years. A biological cycle triggered by increased temperatures records one's memories and character traits in a hardy storage module that can survive The Boiling, and the body entirely sheds its brain and other soft tissues, becoming a kind of cyst. When The Boiling passes, the brain and other soft tissues regrow based on the genetic code, in the same way that they grew in the first place, and memories and traits from the storage module are written back into the regrown brain.

We would expect the cysters to have strong prohibitions against destroying normal fellow cysters once they have gone into the cyst stage (say, with a time bomb). And it is intuitively very plausible that these prohibitions would be correct: killing normal cysters in the cyst stage is wrong. Furthermore, it is plausible that a cyster in the cyst stage is still a person, though I am not insisting on this.

But notice that in cyst stage, the cysters do not have a developed capacity for distinctively personal activity. They have no brains! Granted, they have a module that holds memories and character traits. But they no more have developed capacities for distinctively personal activity than an embryonic gecko has a developed capacity for eating insects. The embryonic gecko presumably has genetic information sufficient to produce a vertebrate brain that will guide its eating of insects. All the information is there, just as in the cyster's memory module. But the presence of the information is insufficient for a developed capacity.

Moreover, imagine that Sam is a cyster who has acquired a capacity for distinctively personal activity an hour earlier, and has since had an hour of experiences. Moreover, suppose Sam does not remember anything prior to the acquiring of that capacity and Sam's character's non-genetic development only started when Sam acquired that capacity. And now the signs of The Boiling show up, and Sam goes to cyst. Clearly it's wrong to kill Sam. But it would be weird to think that the hour of experience makes the crucial difference here.

So it is false that the prohibition on killing requires developed capacities for distinctively personal functioning. And it is likely also false that such capacities are required for personhood.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Two questions about identity

Here is an interesting line of thought.

Consider these two questions:

  1. What is it for x and y to be identical?
  2. What necessary and sufficient conditions can be given for a person to be identical with a person?
These two questions seem respectively exactly parallel to:
  1. What is it for an action to be permissible?
  2. What necessary and sufficient conditions can be given for a killing of a person to be permissible?
Here, (3) is a metaethics question while (4) is an applied ethics question.

One way to notice the difference I'd like to highlight between (3) and (4) is to consider the kinds of answers one might get. For instance, on a fairly standard natural law theory, the answer to (3) is that an action is permissible if and only if it does not conflict with one's nature, while the answer to (4) is, perhaps, that the killing be a proportionate act of justice or self-defense and not otherwise impermissible. On a Kantian theory, the answer to (3) is that an action is permissible if and only if it treats no person as a mere means. But the answer to (4) may be exactly like the natural law answer. On a divine command theory, the answer to (3) is that what makes an action permissible is its not being forbidden by God, but again the answer to (4) might just like on the other theories.

Observe, thus, what we are very unlikely to get from standard answers to (4): we are very unlikely to find out what the permissibility of a killing consists in. If we want an answer to that question, the natural lawyer will say that the permissibility of a killing consists in its comformability to our nature, the Kantian that it consists in its not treating anyone as a mere means, and the divine command theorists that it consists in its not being forbidden by God. None of these answers will answer the applied ethics question we want, as these answers are at too high a level of generality: we can replace "killing" by any other action type, and they remain applicable.

Now go back to the metaphysics. I have no idea how to answer (1). It's hard to think of anything more fundamental than identity to answer it in terms of. But I think the analogy with the ethics question suggests this. If we can get a substantive answer to (2), it's not going to be an answer to the question of what identity of persons consists in. It's simply going to be an answer as to what interesting necessary and sufficient conditions for identity are in the special case where it is given that the relata are persons.

If we want to know what the identity of persons (or at least finite persons) consists in, the correct answer will not be so informative: what makes person a be identical with person b is that (i) a is a person, (ii) b is a person, and (iii) Iab, where "Iab" is a stand-in for whatever identity in general consists in. I have no idea what "Iab" will say, but I know that it won't say anything about memories, gradual replacement of cells, etc. For, "Iab" is the general account of identity, and that is beyond the details of particular kinds of beings.

This line of thought is attractive, but resistable. One might instead insist that identity is something different in different types of beings. (This may or may not involve the further step of accepting a relative identity theory.) Here, the "types" could be categories—substances, accidents, relations, etc. Or they could be kinds—dogs, persons, photons, electromagnetic fields, etc. I prefer the first option, but what I say applies in both cases. One way to flesh out such views is with a theory of analogy. There is no one thing that identity consists in: there is a relation between a substance and substance, and a relation between an accident and an accident, and so on, and these are all analogous (maybe one of them is focal?). Or if one prefers the second type of "type", one might say: there is a relation between a dog and a dog, and a relation between a person and a person, and so on, and these are all analogous.

On this kind of view, we might well have something substantive to say about what identity between, say, a person and a person consists in, which does not reduce simply to saying: this is a person, and this is a person, and this equals this. I think very naturally such a view will call for a typed logic. (Query to self: In a typed logic of this sort, should there be a quantification over types of quantification?)

I wonder if the argument of my recent AJP paper on diachronic identity is vulnerable to this sort of view. Quite possibly. But I still think the reduction of diachronic to synchronic identity that I perform in that paper is plausible.

Progress on Christian sexual ethics book

I finally got two referee's reports on my One Body: An Essay in Christian Sexual Ethics book manuscript. They were extremely positive. The publisher's editorial board still needs to make a final decision, but it's looking very promising.