Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Three kinds of instrumental rationality

There are three levels of instrumental rationality, in order of decreasing thickness:

  1. Rationality with regard to genuine ends that one has. Some of these ends may be self-given and others may be ends that one has independently of what one desires and pursues.
  2. Rationality with respect to what one desires or what are goals of one's pursuits.
  3. Rationality with respect to arbitrary states of affairs. Thus, if a student fails an exam, that is rational with respect to the state of affairs of getting a low grade in the course, whether or not that state of affairs is one the student pursues, desires or should pursue or desire.

The thinnest option does not make actions even be prima facie rational. My sticking a pin in my nose is instrumentally rational in the third sense with respect to creating pain in myself, but is not even even prima facie rational. The third option only makes actions prima facie conditionally rational, provided that the state of affairs is one that is at least prima facie rational to pursue.

More controversially, I think the same is true of the middle option. That I pursue E and C appropriately promotes E only makes it even prima facie rational to pursue C when pursuing E is at least prima facie rational. That I have set myself to pursue a goal does not automatically make that goal be a genuine end of mine. And what I said about pursuit goes over, even more controversially, for for desires. So the middle option only gives conditional prima facie rationality: pursuing C is prima facie rational provided that pursuing E is.

One might think: "provided that pursuing or desiring E is." But there may be cases where desiring E is rational but pursuing E is not even prima facie rational. Suppose you will kill me unless I desire to step on a point-up tack. I form this desire quite rationally, but this rational desire does not give me a reason to step on the tack, given that I continue to believe that the action is not worth pursuing.

It is only the first kind of instrumental rationality that is a genuine form of rationality, that makes actions at least prima facie rational. In fact, the thinnest and medium options don't have any normativity to them at all: they just tell us about causal and logical connections between events in the world (thinnest) or events in the world and mental states (medium).

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Two desiderata for preaching about hell

  1. Hell needs to be presented in such a way that nobody would be willing to go there.
  2. It needs to be shown that hell is an expression of divine love.

Nonconglomerability and hyperreal-valued probability

Note added later: This follows by applying Theorems 3.1 and 3.2 of Schervish et al. to the standard part of P.

Suppose P is a finitely-additive hyperreal-valued probability on the natural numbers such that P assigns infinitesimal value to each natural number. While groggy from a cold plus baby-feeding at night, I've been trying to prove that P is nonconglomerable in the following strongish sense: there is a partition A1,A2,... of the naturals, an event E, and real numbers a<b such that P(E|Ai)<a for all i but P(E)>b. Thus, if we are trying to figure out if E is true, and we plan to observe the Ai, we know ahead of time that no matter which Ai we observe, our probability for E will go down. (This, of course, violates van Fraassen's reflection principle.) This is likely already known, but I couldn't find it on the Internet.

My proof sketch starts by dividing into two cases. Either the standard part of P takes on infinitely many values or not. If it takes on infinitely many values, then the standard part of P is a merely finitely additive measure that takes on infinitely many values, and so by the 1984 Schervish et al. theorem, it is nonconglomerable, and hence so is P in my strongish sense. If, on the other hand, the standard part of P takes on finitely many values, then P is a convex linear combination, with real coefficients, of a purely infinitesimal finitely additive signed measure and a finite number of indicator functions of free ultrafilters. And then with a bit of work one can construct a counterexample to conglomerability, I think. (I am not completely sure which extensions of the reals this works for, but it does work for the hyperreals.)

Monday, October 29, 2012

DIY stuff

In case anybody is curious what hobby stuff I've been doing lately, here are two of my recent instructables.

Bow sight:

Vibrating bassinet:

Spatializing time

This photography is rather interesting.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A principle about induction and explanation

Here's an intuition I have. Suppose that I somehow knew that a dozen of boxes have appeared ex nihilo for no cause (not even a stochastic one) in my office. I open half of them and each one was purple inside. Do I have good reason to think that the others are also purple inside? As long as I hold on to my knowledge that there is no explanation of the boxes' presence and character, I think not. It is rather like when I get heads six times in a row when tossing a fair coin—as long as I get to hold on to my knowledge that the coin is fair, I have no reason to think subsequent tosses will be heads.

This suggests to me that induction requires that the cases we do induction over be non-brute, that they have explanations. But not just any explanations will do. The cases need to have a common type of explanation. If one box was materialized in my office by aliens, and another was delivered by my best friend, and another coalesced from the drippings in a leaky ceiling, and so on, then I don't get to do induction across the cases.


  1. That all observed Fs are Gs gives me knowledge by induction that all Fs are Gs only if there is a common type of explanation as to why each F is a G.
Normally, when all observed Fs are Gs, that gives us reason to think that there is a common explanation, say that Fness is a natural kind that includes Gness. But when there is no such common explanation, then even if all Fs are Gs, we don't know it—we have Gettiered knowledge.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Inductive inferences across kinds

I observe some ravens, and they are all black. This gives me good reason to think all ravens are black. This is an inductive inference within a natural kind. One might have this picture of the inductive inference here: observing the ravens, we learn something about the appropriate-level universal raven that they fall under. One might then think that all inductive inference is like this: We observe instances of a genuine, non-gerrymandered natural kind K, and conclude that the kind is such-and-such.

But I don't think this is all that happens. Here are a few other kinds of cases.

  1. From the fact that octopi behave in some ways like we do, we infer that they are conscious. But there is no biological taxon K that contains both octopi and humans such that we have good reason to think that all Ks are conscious. The lowest level taxon containing octopi and humans is the subregnum Bilateria and we have little reason to think all Bilateria are conscious. We might seek for a natural kind that isn't a taxon, like critters that exhibit apparently intelligent behavior. But that's a gerrymandered kind. We might try for a non-gerrymandered kind, like critters that exhibit intelligent behavior, but then we would have to have reason to think that octopi exhibit intelligent behavior rather than merely apparently intelligent behavior, and our problem would return.
  2. We have good reason to think that all life on earth descends from a single ancestor. But organism on earth isn't a natural kind.
  3. We can do induction within artificial kinds. That all the pens that I have observed have ink in them gives me reason to think all pens have ink. But pen isn't a natural kind.

Does this matter? Maybe. (I think a theist may have a better explanation of why induction not-within-a-kind works than a naturalist. But the thoughts here are inchoate.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hell and Auschwitz

The oldest Holocaust survivor, Antoni Dobrowolski, who went to Auschwitz as punishment for teaching young poles has died at 108. The article quotes him as saying that Auschwitz was "worse than Dante's hell".

My initial reaction was that this is surely an overstatement. But a moment's reflection suggests that Dobrowolski is correct, at least as concerning hell itself (I won't comment on Dante's hell, since I am no Dante scholar). Hell is a place that upholds the dignity of its inmates by acknowledging their autonomous choice for evil, giving them justice and limiting their downward moral slide, while the concentration camps aimed at the destruction of autonomy and dignity. It is a terrifying thought that we humans can produce something worse than hell.

But at the same time, we have to remember that in a choice between hell and Auschwitz, we should choose against hell. So perhaps hell is worse? Or maybe we need to distinguish: in itself, in some sense, Auschwitz is worse, but hell also guarantees lack of union with God, while Auschwitz is compatible with union with God, just as the Cross was.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Nonexplanatory Platonic entities

Benacerraf-style arguments that numbers couldn't be any particular collection of abstract entities (say, some particular set-theoretic construction) because there is a multitude of other constructions that could play the same role will fail if numbers play an explanatory role in the world. And one can imagine metaphysical views on which they play even a physical explanatory role. For instance, charge and mass play an explanatory role, indeed perhaps a causal one, in the world. But a Platonist could think that to have a charge or mass of x units (in the natural respective unit system) is to be charge- or mass-related to the number x. In other words, such determinables are relations, whose second relatum must be a number, and their determinates are cases of that relation for a fixed second relatum.

Now, one can still construct a relation to some set-theoretic isomorph of the numbers that structurally functions just like charge. For instance, if f is an isomorphism from the abstracta relata of charge to some abstract Ss, then we could say that a is related by charge* to y, where y is one of the Ss, precisely when a is related by charge to an x such that y=f(x). But there will be a matter of fact as to whether it is charge or charge* that explains the motion of particles. Surely they both don't—that would be a bogus case of overdetermination.

The point generalizes to other cases of Platonic entities that play an explanatory role—not necessarily a physical one—in the world. For instance, propositions might explain the co-contentfulness of sentences. An isomorph of the system of propositions could play some of the same roles for us, but it would not in fact explain the co-contentfulness of sentences. Compare this case. There is an isomorphism between legal US voters and some set of social security numbers. We can then construct a relation voting* between numbers and candidates such that n votes* for c if and only if the voter with social security number n votes for c. But while one could use facts about voting* to organize our information about elections, it is facts about voting—an action performed by persons, not social security numbers—that in fact explain election outomes.

That said, I think this approach will still tell against the standard set-theoretic constructions of numbers in two ways. First, it will tell against any particular construction. For how likely is it that this construction is the right one? Second, it will tell against anything like the set-theoretic constructions being the numbers. For it seems really unlikely that having a charge of three units is anything like a matter of being related in some way to the set {∅, {∅}, {∅, {∅}}}. So this approach is most plausible if numbers are some kind of sui generis entities.

But, on the other hand, the Benacerraf argument could apply against Platonic entities that play no explanatory role but are merely introduced for our convenience of expression. On some views, possible worlds are like that.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

An argument for evolution and an argument for supernatural beings


  1. Many instances of F have explanations fitting an evolutionary explanatory schema.
  2. There are no instances of F that we have good reason to think lacking an explanation fitting an evolutionary explanatory schema.
  3. So, probably, all instances of F have an explanation fitting an evolutionary explanatory schema.
For instance, F can be biological diversity or non-initial biological complexity. Now compare:
  1. Many instances of G have explanations fitting an agential explanatory schema.
  2. There are no instances of G that we have good reason to think lacking in an explanation fitting an agential explanatory schema.
  3. So, probably, all instances of G have an explanation fitting an agential explanatory schema.
For instance, G can be orderly complexity or usefulness or value. But there are instances of orderly complexity, usefulness and value with the property that if they have an agential explanation, they have an agential explanation involving supernatural beings. The orderly complexity, usefulness and value in the laws of nature is like that, for instance.

I am not inclined to think either of the arguments above very strong, however.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


The following is plausible:

  1. x disbelieves p if and only if x believes not-p.
But suppose Jones believes snow is white. Then, surely, he disbelieves that it's not the case that snow is white. But then by (1) he has to believe that it is not the case that it's not the case that snow is white. But very few people have such double-negative beliefs, and there is no need to saddle Jones with it.

Now believing not-p is sufficient for disbelieving p. But it's not necessary. Perhaps then:

  1. x disbelieves p if and only if x believes a negation or negand of p.
(Negative propositions of the form not-p have p as their negand. Other propositions don't have negands.) But it seems that believing p to be false may also be sufficient for disbelief, even if you do not burden your mind with the further first-order belief that not-p. So:
  1. x disbelieves p if and only if x believes a negation or negand of p or x believes that p is false.
But this is really messy...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Certainty and probability

Suppose X is a number uniformly chosen in the interval [0,1] (from 0 to 1, both inclusive). Then the probability that X is not 2 is 1, and so is is the probability that X is not 1/2. But intuitively it is certain that X is not 2, while X might be 1/2.

One solution is to bring in infinitesimals. We then say that the probability that X is not 2 is 1, but the probability that X is not 1/2 is 1−a, for an infinitesimal a. Unfortunately, this leads to paradoxes of nonconglomerability.

Here is an alternative. Introduce certainty operator C(p) and C(p|q) operators that work in parallel with probabilities, subject to axioms like:

  1. If C(p), then P(p)=1.
  2. If p is a tautology, then C(p).
  3. If p entails q and C(p), then C(q).
  4. If C(p), then ~C(~p).
  5. If C(p|q) and P(q)>0, then P(p|q)=1.
  6. If C(p1 or p2 or ...) and C(q|pi) for all i, then C(q).
  7. If p entails q and ~C(~p), then C(q|p).
  8. If p entails q and C(p|r), then C(q|r).
  9. If p entails q and ~C(~q) and C(r|q), then C(r|p).
  10. If C(p1 or p2 or ...|r) and C(q|pi and r) for all i, then C(q|r).
I am not proposing these axioms. This is just a suggestion about the form a theory would have. Note that we might even require 6 and 10 for uncountable sequences.

Then, we can say that while the probability that X isn't 2 and the probability that X isn't 1/2 are the same—both are one—the former is certain while the latter isn't.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Reasons and desires

A plausible theory of desire is that x desires A if and only if x is disposed to pursue A (perhaps we should add "as such", to get around Daniel Stampe's worries, or maybe do a functionalist tweak on it and add some "typically" qualifiers). Now it seems that I am disposed to pursue A explains why I pursue A but does not directly justify or give reason for pursuing A. (It could indirectly do so if, say, I promised you to act on my dispositions in some case, or if my therapist told me that it would be good for me to act on more of my dispositions.) Moreover, dispositions to pursue are precisely the sort of thing that itself calls out for reasons. So even if desires, on this view, were reason-giving, that would only be shifting the bump under the rug in an unhelpful way.

That said, there is a view on which one could hold fulfilling because it is good for an entity to be active in accordance with its nature, and it is in the nature of desiring beings to act on their desires. On this Natural Law view, one could hold to something like a dispositional theory of desire (with teleological tweaks) and still think that desires are reason-giving. But it would be very odd to think in a case like this that desires are the only reason-givers. After all, there are other ways of being active in accordance with our nature.

The main alternative to dispositional theories of desire is to see desires as an awareness of, belief in or attention to normative (putative) states of affairs, such as there being a reason to do something or something's being good. On such a view, the reason-giving force of desires is parasitic on the reason-giving force of something else. In fact, this is true in the Natural Law view I offered above, too.

So it really does seem very plausible that if desires are reason-giving, their reason-giving power is parasitic on the reason-giving force of something other than desires.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Teresa Rose Pruss

Our third child, Teresa Rose Pruss, was born this afternoon. Weight: 9 lbs 5 oz. Length: 20.5 inches. She and her mother are well.

Cheating at analytic philosophy

X knows p if and only if X and p stand in the most natural relation whose extension in the actual world closely overlaps with the extension of justified true belief.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Excessive love, distorted lives and God

  1. (Definition) x has an infinitely excessive love for y if and only if x loves y and either (a) x loves y as an existent entity and y does not in fact exist or (b) x loves y as being infinitely greater than y in fact is.
  2. (Premise) A life centered on an infinitely excessive love is severely distorted in respect of morally central elements of life.
  3. (Premise) St Francis of Assisi's (or Mother Teresa's or ...) life is not severely distorted in respect of morally central elements of life.
  4. (Premise) St Francis of Assisi's (or Mother Teresa's or ...) life is centered on loving someone as an absolutely infinite being.
  5. (Premise) If God does not exist, then every being that exists is infinitely less than an absolutely infinite being.
  6. St Francis of Assisi's (or Mother Teresa's or ...) love of someone as an absolutely infinite being is not infinitely excessive. (2-4)
  7. If God does not exist, then a love for someone as an absolutely infinite being is infinitely excessive. (1 and 5)
  8. So there is a God. (6 and 7).
Subsidiary argument for (3):
  1. (Premise) St Francis of Assisi's (or Mother Teresa's or ...) life was a greatly flourishing human life.
  2. (Premise) A greatly flourishing human life is not severely distorted in respect of morally central elements of life.
  3. So, etc.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A method for probabilistic reasoning, with an application to closure and naturalism

It's really hard to assign probabilities in a systematic and reliable way. But I think we are fairly capable of making comparisons of the form:

  1. p is no more implausible than q
  2. p is at least as plausible as q
  3. e1 supports p1 at least as much as e2 supports p2.
I think that where weighing of evidence and of plausibility is involved, it is valuable to formulate arguments using things like (1)-(3) rather than formal Bayesian ways. An advantage of this for apologetics is that one's arguments can be more widely understood. An advantage of this for seeking truth is that one's judgments of the form (1)-(3) are likely to be more reliable than asking oneself "What is my prior probability for naturalism?"

I used this method here. I will now give another application, namely an argument that a priori we should think that naturalism and closure of the physical are less likely than not to be true.

Start by observing that at least one of the following propositions must be true:

  1. Every physical phenomenon has a physical explanation.
  2. Some physical phenomenon has a nonphysical explanation.
  3. Some physical phenomenon has no explanation.

Next observe that (6) is no likelier than (5). Granted, it might be somewhat counterintuitive if a physical phenomenon had a nonphysical explanation, but it is no more counterintuitive (my undergraduates by and large think: much less counterintuitive) than a physical phenomenon lacking explanation.

Now observe that (4) is surely false. For instance, very plausibly, there is no physical explanation of why there ever are any physical states, since physical explanations cite physical states, and to cite a physical state to explain why there ever are any physical states would be circular (it would be like saying: "There has existed at least one zebra, because once there was a zebra and it had offspring"). Moreover, that physical things behave according to the fundamental laws seems a physical phenomenon, but not one explainable physically.

Furthermore, the argument for the falsity of (4) did nothing to favor (6) over (5). So:

  1. Either (5) or (6) is true.
  2. But (5) is no less likely than (6).
Moreover, unless we are certain of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, in which case we are certain that (6) is false, we will think that:
  1. It might be that both (5) and (6) are true.
But (7)-(9) imply that (5) is more than 50% likely. Moreover, if we think the PSR is true, then (5) will be our only option. So in either case, (5) is more than 50% likely.

But (5) is incompatible with the causal closure of the physical and with naturalism.

So in the absence of further evidence, we should think that naturalism or even the causal closure of the physical is less likely to be true than not.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A dialog on rhetoric, autonomy and original sin

L: Rhetorical persuasion does not track truth in the way that good arguments do. The best way for us to collectively come to truth is well-reasoned arguments presented in a dry and rigorous way, avoiding rhetorical flourishes. Rhetoric makes weaker arguments appear stronger than they are and a practice of giving rhetorically powerful arguments can make stronger arguments appear weaker.

R: Rhetoric appeals to emotions and emotions are truth-tracking, albeit their reliability, except in the really virtuous individual, may not be high. So I don't believe that rhetorical persuasion does not track truth. But I will grant it for our conversation, L. Still, you're forgetting something crucial. People have an irrational bias against carefully listening to arguments that question their own basic assumptions. Rhetoric and other forms of indirect argumentation sneak in under the radar of one's biases and make it possible to convince people of truths that otherwise they would be immune to.

L: Let's have the conversation about the emotions on another day. I suspect that even if emotions are truth-tracking, in practice they are sufficiently unreliable except in the very virtuous, and it is not the very virtuous that you are talking of convincing. I find your argument ethically objectionable. You are placing yourself intellectually over other people, taking them to have stupid biases, sneaking under their guard and riding roughshod over their autonomy.

R: That was rhetoric, not just argument!

L: Mea culpa. But you see the argumentative point, no?

R: I do, and I agree it is a real worry. But given that there is no other way of persuading not very rational humans, what else can we do?

L: But there are other ways of persuading them. We could use threats or brainwashing.

R: But that would be wrong!

L: This is precisely the point at issue. Threats or brainwashing would violate autonomy. You seemed to grant that rhetorical argument does so as well. So it should be wrong to convince by rhetorical argument just as much as by threats or brainwashing.

R: But it's good for someone to be persuaded of the truth when they have biases that keep them from truth.

L: I don't dispute that. But aren't you then just paternalistically saying that it's alright to violate people's autonomy for their own good?

R: I guess so. Maybe autonomy isn't an absolute value, always to be respected.

L: So what objection do you have to convincing people of the truth by threat or brainwashing?

R: Such convincing—granting for the sake of argument that it produces real belief—would violate autonomy too greatly. I am not saying that every encroachment on autonomy is justified, but only that the mild encroachment involved in couching one's good arguments in a rhetorically effective form is.

L: I could pursue the question whether you shouldn't by the same token say that for a great enough good you can encroach on autonomy greatly. But let me try a different line of thought. Wouldn't you agree that it would be a unfortunate thing to use means other than the strength of argument to convince someone of a falsehood?

R: Yes, though only because it is unfortunate to be convinced of a falsehood. In other words, it is no more unfortunate than being convinced of a falsehood by means of strong but ultimately unsound or misleading arguments.

L: I'll grant you that. But being convinced by means of argument tracks truth, though imperfectly. Being convinced rhetorically does not.

R: It does when I am convincing someone of a truth!

L: Do you always try to convince people of truths?

R: I see what you mean. I do always try to convince people of what I at the time take to be the truth—except in cases where I am straightforwardly and perhaps wrongfully deceitful, sinner that I am—but I have in the past been wrong, and there have been some times when what I tried to convince others of has been false.

L: Don't you think that some of the things you are now trying to convince others of will fall in the same boat, though of course you can't point out which they are, on pain of self-contradiction?

R: Yes. So?

L: Well, then, when you strive to convince someone by rhetorical means of a falsehood, you are more of a spreader of error than when you try to do so by means of dry arguments.

R: Because dry arguments are less effective?

L: No, because reasoning with dry arguments is more truth conducive. Thus, when you try to convince someone of a falsehood by means of a dry argument, it is more likely that you will fail for truth-related reasons—that they will see the falsehood of one of your premises or the invalidity of one of your inferences. Thus, unsound arguments will be more likely to fail to convince than sound arguments will be. But rhetoric can as easily convince of falsehood as of truth.

R: I know many people who will dispute the truth conduciveness of dry argument, but I am not one of them—I think our practices cannot be explained except by thinking there is such conduciveness there. But I could also say that rhetorical argument is truth conducive in a similar way. The truth when attractively shown forth is more appealing than a rhetorically dressed up falsehood.

L: Maybe. But we had agreed to take for granted in our discussion that rhetorical persuasion is not truth tracking.

R: Sorry. It's easy to forget yourself when you've granted a falsehood for the sake of discussion. Where were we?

L: I said that reasoning with dry arguments is more truth conducive, and hence runs less of a risk of persuading people of error.

R: Is it always wrong to take risks?

L: No. But the social practice of rhetorical presentation of arguments—or, worse, of rhetorical non-argumentative persuasion—is less likely to lead to society figuring out the truth on controversial questions.

R: Are you saying that we should engage in those intellectual practices which, when practiced by all, are more likely to lead to truth?

L: I am not sure I want to commit myself to this in all cases, but in this one, yes.

R: I actually think one can question your claim about social doxastic utility. Rhetorical persuasion leads to a greater number of changes of mind. A society that engages in practices of rhetorical persuasion is likely to have more in the way of individual belief change, as dry arguments do not in fact convince. But a society with more individual belief change might actually be more effective at coming to the truth, since embodying different points of view in the same person at different times can lead to a better understanding of the positions and ultimately a better rational decision between them. We could probably come up with some interesting computation social epistemology models here.

L: You really think this?

R: No. But it seems no less likely to be correct than your claim that dry argument is a better social practice truth-wise.

L: Still, maybe there is a wager to be run here. Should you engage in persuasive practices here that (a) by your own admission negatively impact the autonomy of your interlocutors and (b) are no more likely than not to lead to a better social epistemic state?

R: So we're back to autonomy?

L: Yes.

R: But as I said I see autonomy not as an absolute value. If I see that a person is seriously harming herself through her false beliefs, do I not have a responsibility to help her out—the Golden Rule and all that!—even if I need to get around her irrational defenses by rhetorical means?

L: But how do you know that you're not the irrational one, about to infect an unwary interlocutor?

R: Are you afraid of being infected by me?

L: I am not unwary. Seriously, aren't you taking a big risk in using rhetorical means of persuasion, in that such means make you potentially responsible for convincing someone, in a way that side-steps some of her autonomy, of a falsehood? If by argument you persuade someone, then she at least has more of a responsibility here. But if you change someone's mind by rhetoric—much as (but to as smaller degree) when by threat or brainwashing—the responsibility for the error rests on you.

R: That is a scary prospect.

L: Indeed.

R: But sometimes one must do what is scary. Sometimes love of neighbor requires one to take on responsibilities, to take risks, to help one's neighbor out of an intellectual pit. Taking the risks can be rational and praiseworthy. And sometimes one can be rationally certain, too.

L: I am not sure about the certainty thing. But it seems that your position is now limited. That it is permissible to use rhetorical persuasion when sufficiently important goods of one's neighbor are at stake that the risk of error is small relative to these.

R: That may be right. Thus, it may be right to teach virtue or the Gospel by means that include rhetorical aspects, but it might be problematic to rhetorically propagate those aspects of science or philosophy that are not appropriately connected to virtue or the Gospel. Though even there I am not sure. For those things that aren't connected to virtue or the Gospel don't matter much, and error about them is not a great harm, so the risks may still be doable. But you have inclined me to think that one may need a special reason to engage in rhetoric.

L: Conditionally, of course, on our assumption that rhetoric is not truth-conducive in itself.

R: Ah, yes, I almost forgot that.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A love-based argument for an afterlife

Start with these observations:

  1. Love is the most important aspect of the moral life.
  2. If love is the most important aspect of one's moral life, it is wrong to perform a non-obligatory action that terminates all one's loves.
  3. Wrong actions are not praiseworthy.
  4. Some non-obligatory instances of sacrifice of one's life for another are praiseworthy.
  5. If there is no life after death, then sacrificing one's life terminates all one's loves.
So we conclude:
  1. Some instances of sacricifing one's life are neither wrong nor obligatory. (3 and 4)
  2. If there is no life after death, then all non-obligatory sacrifice of one's life is wrong. (1, 2 and 5)
  3. So there is life after death. (6 and 7)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Marriage as a natural kind

Thesis: Marriage as a natural kind of relationships is a better theory than marriage as an institution defined by socially instituted rights and responsibilities.

Argument 1: On the institution view, we have to say that people in most other cultures aren't married since they don't have the same socially instituted rights and responsibilities. That's bad, since they say they're married when they learn English. The natural kind view holds, instead, that people in different cultures are referring to the same kind of relationship, but may get wrong what is and is not a part of the relationship.

We do not automatically accept educational credentials from other cultures. Thus, being medically educated in France does not automatically make one count as medically educated in the U.S. And being medically educated in 5th century France would make one not one whit medically educated in 21st century France (imagine a 5th century doctor who travels in time). In other words, being medically educated is always indexed to a set of standards. But we don't think of marriage in this way, with a few notable exceptions, such as polygamy or same-sex marriage. Getting married in India is sufficient for being married in France. Why? If one thinks of getting married as assenting to a set of rights and responsibilities, then getting married in India shouldn't be sufficient for being married in France, or vice versa.

Argument 2: The natural kind view explains how we can individually and as a society discover new rights and responsibilities involved in marriage. The institution view leads either to constant abolishment of the old institution and replacement with a new one, or to a stale conservatism. We learn about the rights and responsibilities of marriage experientially and not just a priori or by poring over legal tomes. That is how it is with a natural kind like water.

Argument 3: Suppose we see someone from a patriarchal culture who is failing to care for his sick wife (or at least someone he calls a wife). We might well say: "It's your duty as a husband to take care of her." On the institution view, he can respond: "No, it isn't. It would be my duty to take care of her if I were her husband-per-American-rules, but I am her husband-per-Patriland-rules, and in Patriland wives take care of their husbands and husbands do not need to take care of their wives." But on the natural kind view, we can say: "You tried to marry her, and marriage does require taking care of a sick spouse, regardless of who is of what sex. So either you succeeded at marrying, in which case you have this responsibility, or you failed at marrying, in which case you don't have the rights you thought you gained." On the institution view all we can say is: "You're in a corrupt and sexist institution, and you should divorce to stop supporting it. By the way, you're right that you have no role duty to take care of her."

Argument 4a (for conservatives): If you take the institution view, you play into Wedgwood's argument for same-sex "marriage".

Argument 4b (for liberals): If you take the institution view, you cannot advocate same-sex marriage, but only same-sex "marriage". You have to adopt the very revisionery position that marriage should be abolished, albeit replaced with something very much like it, namely marriage*, since marriage is defined by the social understanding, and that has included opposition of sexes. Moreover, such a view leads to unhappy consequences. Once we have replaced marriage with marriage*, we can't say that our grandparents are married*, only that they are married, and since marriage* is the only relationship available after the revision, you can't do what your grandparents did. Moreover, even allowing our grandparents to stay married is problematic if marriage is an unjust institution. So probably the state needs to dissolve their marriage, leaving it up to them whether to marry*. This is a politically untenable and unhappy view. A much better view is that marriage is a natural kind, and we were simply wrong in thinking marriage is only for people of the opposite sex. This (and Argument 3, too) is a species of the general point that relativistic theses run the danger of leading to stale conservatism.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Charity and grading

Quick note after having done a bunch of grading today: To grade student papers well, one needs to combine an ability to read very charitably with an ability to see how the paper could be read uncharitably.

Tradition and traditionalism

On the one hand there is participation in a tradition and on the other hand there is traditionalism. Traditions are (I am not doing fundamental ontology here) living things, and the participants in them stand in a line that embodies central features of the spirit of the tradition, which may be more or less clearly defined as the case may be. Traditionalists, on the other hand, seize on some aspect of a tradition and run with it in a way that may or may not be faithful to the living tradition that the aspects they seized on were a part of or were thought to be a part of.

This morning I was looking up the rules for "traditional" class archery competitions. The point of this class is to rule out sights and other fancy doodads that people put on their bows. But it is the ruling out of sights that is the central aspect of the class. Because any mark on the bow that the archer sees can be used as a sight, the rules forbid any markings in the relevant parts, including wood grain. An amusing consequence of this is that I suspect that no bow made prior to the second half of the 20th century could qualify. Moreover, I bet that just about from the first day that somebody made a bow, things like grain, scuff marks and the like were used, consciously or not, for sighting. This is a rather nice example of traditionalism rather than tradition: an archer thousands of years ago ]whose life depended on accuracy would presumably use any available marks (and make more?), but here one aspect of the ancient practice, the lack of add-on devices, is taken and generalized.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with traditionalism in the context of a sport or game. It is when traditionalism concerns what is central in life—say, traditionalism in religion (e.g., SSPX) or medicine (e.g., home births)—that it becomes problematic. The traditionalist is not fully a participant in the traditional practice she is focused on, failing to embody central aspects of that practice (e.g., failing to obey the Pope in the SSPX or following the best medical practices available at one's time and place), while yet missing out on the benefits of full participation in our contemporary community.