Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Key Terms In Logic

The University of Kent Centre for Reasoning and Continuum Books are planning to publish short articles on key terms, authors and texts in logic, both in The Reasoner and in a volume "Key Terms in Logic". The volume will be priced at £50 hardback and £12.99 paperback.

Entries should be pitched at beginning undergraduate students in philosophy.

Authors will retain copyright of their text, but will need to fill in a form to give The Reasoner and Continuum Publishers permission to reprint their work

If you would like to contribute, please choose unassigned entries from the links provided in the most recent issue of The Reasoner (Volume 2, Number 4 - April 2008), and contact TheReasoner@kent.ac.uk with a brief CV.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Military and Atheism

According to CNN, Army Specialist Jeremy Hall is suing the U.S. for religious discrimination, naming Defense Secretary Robert Gates in the lawsuit. CNN states that "The issue came to a head when, according to Hall, a superior officer, Maj. Freddy J. Welborn, threatened to bring charges against him for trying to hold a meeting of atheists in Iraq. Welborn has denied Hall's allegations."

Hall's case is currently being aided by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. According to the foundation:

All branches of the United States military are afforded the same rights to religious freedom as are American civilians. However, members of the Armed Forces willingly surrender on a temporary basis certain free exercise rights when it impinges on military discipline and the successful completion of a military objective. This guarantee of religious freedom is codified for the Armed Forces in Title 10, United States Code (USC), sections 3073, 3547, 5142, and 8067. Free exercise of religious freedom for military personnel is further detailed in Department of Defense Directive (DODD) 1300.17, “Accommodation of Religious Practices Within the Military Services,” which describes the commander’s responsibility to provide for religious accommodation.

I think the gray area in this case is a soldiers "willingly surrender on a temporary basis certain free exercise rights when it impinges on military discipline and the successful completion of a military objective." In other words: military first, religion second.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Vengeance Is Ours

In the current New Yorker, anthropologist Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse, examines the vengeance practices of tribal societies in New Guinea. According to one of the tribesman, "The original cause of the wars between the Handa and Ombal clans (which have spanned 4 decades) was a pig that ruined a garden." I couldn't help but place this battle in the context of Just War Theory and wonder whether this would qualify as a "Just Cause."

It is easy to dismiss these causes and ongoing wars as a by-product of a primitive society in which war, murder, and demonization of one's enemies are the norm. Yet, while we may comfort ourselves in believing our modern nation states are more civilized, Diamond reminds us that these tendencies are still alive and well today. He writes:

In times of war, even modern state societies quickly turn the enemy into a dehumanized figure of hatred, only to enjoin us to stop hating again as soon as a peace treaty is signed. Such contradictions confuse us deeply. Neither pacific ideals nor wartime hatreds, once acquired, are easily jettisoned. It’s no wonder that many soldiers who kill suffer post-traumatic stress disorder. When they come home, far from boasting about killing, as a Nipa tribesman would, they have nightmares and never talk about it at all, unless to other veterans.

What I found most fascinating about the article was that the tribes seem to follow an ethical code during warfare - something akin to a discrimination principle.

On one occasion, I asked Daniel whether there are any rules that limit how one may kill enemies. He said, “In a night raid in which we sneak into an enemy village and surround the hut of a targeted enemy individual, we can tear down the hut to force the enemy to come out so that we can kill him. But it’s not acceptable to set fire to the hut and burn him to death.” I then asked, “Is it acceptable for six of you surrounding a hut to attack and kill a single outnumbered enemy?” Daniel answered, “Yes, that’s considered fair, because it’s already extremely dangerous for us to penetrate enemy territory, where we are greatly outnumbered.

The two examples set up a contradictory notion of respect. On the one hand, killing your enemy without facing him is cowardly and shows little respect for the enemy. On the other hand, death-squad style killing, of a seemingly non-personal nature, is considered permissible due to the inherent danger a group assumes in penetrating enemy lines!? A strange ethical code indeed. Unless, of course, the mode of execution is viewed through the lens of revenge. Warfare in the eyes of Handa and Ombal is an ongoing battle of revenge, not just between tribes but internally with themselves. Modes of killing become secondary to the proper identification of the killer by the victim. The need to relieve feelings of vengeance is the primary motivation for violence. Without a doubt, this perpetuates a never-ending cycle of violence - feelings of vengeance are simply pushed onto someone else.

In our modern nation state, we deed over our individual right to exact personal vengeance to the state. This, in turn, theoretically reduces the amount of violence between individuals. But how do we relieve our feelings of vengeance when we are wronged? When a loved one is killed? When you are a victim of a crime? It is not until the moment of victimization that we realize that our right to revenge has been handed over to the state. At this point, we immediately want it back. For the greater good, however, we can't have it back. Nevetheless, our feelings remain. As Diamond points out:

My conversations with Daniel made me understand what we have given up by leaving justice to the state. In order to induce us to do so, state societies and their associated religions and moral codes teach us that seeking revenge is bad. But, while acting on vengeful feelings clearly needs to be discouraged, acknowledging them should be not merely permitted but encouraged. To a close relative or friend of someone who has been killed or seriously wronged, and to the victims of harm themselves, those feelings are natural and powerful

The only question left is: What do we do with them?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Harvard to Establish Open-Access Repository

In a historic first, Harvard University's Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) yesterday unanimously approved a motion that would compel faculty to deposit their research in an open access (OA) repository managed by the library to be made freely available to anyone via the Internet. Harvard University librarian Robert Darnton, in a pre-vote op-ed in the Harvard Crimson, declared that the motion "represents an opportunity to reshape the landscape of learning."

Under the proposal, individual members of the FAS would be directed to retain their copyrights, as opposed to assigning them exclusively to publishers as part of their publishing contracts, so their research could be made available. Faculty could still publish their articles in any journal that would not abridge Harvard's institutional repository rights. Darnton predicted the policy "would make scholarship by FAS freely accessible everywhere in the world, and it would reinforce a new effort by Harvard to share its intellectual wealth." Further, the plan could have major, transformative implications for the library, which would have the remarkable task of collecting and disseminating Harvard's faculty output in addition to its current roles.

The information divide is slowly eroding...now, if we could just do something about the digital divide!

Read the full press release here.

Thanks Philosophy Club

A quick thanks to everyone who participated in the discussion on Fotion's "A New Just War Theory" (on the blog and at philosophy club). The book review has been accepted for publication by Philosophical Frontiers: A Journal of Emerging Thought and will be featured in a commemorative book.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

For Sale: 34-Year-Old Kidney (slightly used)

Should you be allowed to sell your own organs for transplant? Philosophy Now reports that Philosophy Prof. Mark J. Cherry of St Edward’s University, Austin, Texas has called for the trade to be legalized. He believes this would destroy an existing black market and improve the conditions surrounding transactions. He made the proposal in Prohibitions, a book published by the Institute of Economic Affairs

In a radio debate he was opposed by an organ-recipient who felt that all donations should be altruistic. His proposal was welcomed cautiously by Prof. Nadi Hakim, the surgeon who performed the world’s first hand transplant. Having seen the changes possible in patients who receive transplanted organs, he said that such items were beyond price, but that any method to stimulate the supply of donors should be examined.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Evangelical Atheism

Culture critic Mark Dery has written an excellent rant about "'evangelical' atheists" like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Although delighted by their strategy, Dery is disappointed in their seeming ignorance about American evangelical christianity on more than a surface level. For Dery, the key to understanding why christianity still "works" in the U.S. is by examining it, in proper context, as another subculture.

As a subculture, American evangelical christians will continue to dismiss any argument (logically consistent or otherwise) from a non-evangelical christian as misguided. Much like the punk dismissing the person in the suit and tie as part of the system, the evangelical christian will only see the non-christian as part of a dangerous secular tyranny. Dawkins and Hitchens think if they can expose the illogical beliefs of Christianity it will - by the power of Castle Grayskull reason - be eliminated. Reason, therefore, is a necessary but not a sufficient criteria for understanding the rise of evangelical christians in America.

From Dery's essay, titled "Devil's Advocacy":

Yes, the Enlightenment tradition of reasoned debate and the scientific method's appeal to fact trump evangelical Christianity's "faith-based" obedience to scriptural "truth," its cowering fear of the Deeply Disapproving Daddy in the Sky. Those points being eagerly granted, how much more interesting to excavate the historical, class-based, and economic roots of American evangelical Christianity, to understand it in all its oxymoronic complexity as a conservative counterculture. There is a reductionistic, black-and-white binarism to Dawkins and Hitchens arguments that, irony of ironies, replicates the very same Manichean dualism beloved of American fundamentalism.

(And no, I'm not echoing the sophistic argument, made with her usual blunt-trauma subtlety by Ann Coulter and with somewhat more nuance, on the left, by Chris Hedges. I'm not arguing that a dogmatic atheism is a fundamentalism by any other name; rather, I'm arguing that using the sledgehammer of reason to smash to smithereens religion's preposterous epistemology and its hypocritical morality leaves half the job undone. Conservative Christianity has little to do with theology and everything to do with the culture wars; making sense of it requires not just a rationalist-materialist critique but an ethnographic/anthropological angle of attack

Friday, April 11, 2008

“Einstein’s Jewish Science”

Tue, Apr 15, 2008 7 pm
Business Conference Center
Lake Charles, LA

Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity was referred to as “Jewish science” by sympathizers of Adolf Hitler. Sure, the Nazis were evil, but, in this case, could it be that they were right? It depends, of course, on what you mean by the phrase “Jewish science.” When the question is viewed through the lenses of Einstein’s views concerning science, religion, and politics, the answer may be surprising. Discussion is encouraged.

Dr. Gimbel holds a doctorate in philosophy from Johns Hopkins University and is a professor of philosophy at Gettysburg College. He is the author of Defending Einstein, Rene Descartes: The Search for Certainty, and edits “The Grateful Dead and Philosophy.” He has also written articles on issues of sportsmanship in the Kasparov/Deep Blue chess match, the geometry of M.C. Escher’s artwork, and comparing the environmental ethics of the German and American Nazi Parties. His special approach to teaching ethics in a fashion designed to encourage open-minded, but rigorous discussion is featured in the “Journal of Thought.”

Free admission

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Rep. Monique Davis to atheist Rob Sherman: `It’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists!'

As a native from the Land of Lincoln, I can't do anything but wonder about the quality of our political representatives. The Chicago Tribune recently reported on the face off between Ill. Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) and Rob Sherman - green party candidate.

In response to Sherman's objection to the state of Illinois giving $1 million to the Pilgrim Baptist Church, Davis attacked him for not believing in God and for having the temerity to say that the Church and State should be separate. She told him that she believed it was dangerous for children to know that atheism exists. She ordered him to stop testifying and insisted that in the Land of Lincoln, "people believe in God!" That is certainly news to this Illinois boy.

Here is a brief snippet of the debate (for fun, see if you can pick out the logical fallacies):

Davis: I don’t know what you have against God, but some of us don’t have much against him. We look forward to him and his blessings. And it’s really a tragedy -- it’s tragic -- when a person who is engaged in anything related to God, they want to fight. They want to fight prayer in school. I don’t see you (Sherman) fighting guns in school. You know?

I’m trying to understand the philosophy that you want to spread in the state of Illinois. This is the Land of Lincoln. This is the Land of Lincoln where people believe in God, where people believe in protecting their children.… What you have to spew and spread is extremely dangerous, it’s dangerous--

Sherman: What’s dangerous, ma’am?

Davis: It’s dangerous to the progression of this state. And it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists! Now you will go to court to fight kids to have the opportunity to be quiet for a minute. But damn if you’ll go to [court] to fight for them to keep guns out of their hands. I am fed up! Get out of that seat!

Sherman: Thank you for sharing your perspective with me, and I’m sure that if this matter does go to court---

Davis: You have no right to be here! We believe in something. You believe in destroying! You believe in destroying what this state was built upon.

I am not quite sure which state she is referring to: our nation-state or the state of Illinois. Having grown up in Illinois, I am pretty sure it was built upon lots and lots of corn fields, not God's divine will.

* Outside of the logical fallacies, Davis may be on rocky historical ground as well. As this incident has caught fire the last few days, East Carolina University History Dept. chair Gerald Prokopowicz has found a new audience for his book, "Did Lincoln Own Slaves? And other frequently asked questions about Abraham Lincoln." According to Prokopowicz: "His religious beliefs were dynamic, complex, and powerful, but not conventional." Read his brief interview here

John Abbott

John Abbott was opposed to WWI, WWII, and every other war. He was classified as a Conscientious Objector in WWII (which apparently was not his idea), and ordered to a camp with other CO's. But he refused to serve there, either, thinking that even the make work in the camp was supporting the war effort. He then got sent to prison. In Prison, they wanted him to work, and he refused again, so he was sent to solitary confinement, where he remained for most of the war.

In an interview with Studs Terkel, described in "The Good War": an Oral History of World War Two, he takes up the question of Hitler and the justification of war:

All wars are the same. In war, both sides are trying to kill each other over a "principle." And the principle "thou shalt not kill" got lost in the shuffle.
>What about Hitler?
What about Hitler? He was one person. They were all doing what Hitler said. What do all prisoners do? They do what the warden says. The only power Hitler had was the power the people gave him. I felt the whole world had gone absolutely mad, crazy mad. They were in love with war.
I like that last part, and it makes me wonder. Certainly Hitler had power, but he had power because many of the people did what he wanted them to do. He already had, pre-1933, the brown shirts agreeing with him, and using violence to get what he (they) wanted. Hitler by himself could do absolutely nothing. So when we focus on the leaders who get us into wars, we forget that they are not leaders until they have followers, we forget that there is always an option, that people let themselves be bullied, or else follow willingly. The pacifist refuses, either to be bullied, or to follow willingly. If someone kills him, it is the killer who does something wrong, but not the pacifist.

I'm not sure I agree with Abbott's view, but it certainly is something to think about.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Russell on War

Bertrand Russell was a well known pacifist. His opposition to the first world war, and his support for draft dodgers during that war led to his being removed as a professor of philosophy at Cambridge, being stripped of his title ("Lord Russell"), removed from the House of Lords, and eventually, being placed in jail.

His move from Imperialist to Pacifist apparently took place in a 5 minute mystical span, an event which took place in 1901 during a visit to his friend's house, Prof. Whitehead. He writes:

Suddenly the ground seemed to give way beneath me, and I found myself in quite another region. Within five minutes I went through
some such reflections as the following: the loneliness of the human soul is unendurable; nothing can penetrate it except the highest intensity of the sort of love that religious teachers have preached;
whatever does not spring from this motive is harmful, or at best useless; it follows that war is wrong, that a public school education is abominable, that the use of force is to be deprecated, and that in human relations one should penetrate to the core of loneliness in each person and speak to that.
Here, then, is one atheist reason for being a pacifist. All that is good, his view holds, comes from love, and war is its opposite. He had this epiphany watching the wife of Whitehead undergo severe agony, and his human response was to dedicate his life to the irradication of suffering. "The echoes of pain reverberate in my heart.... pain makes a mockery of what human life should be." This pain is caused by, not ended, by war, says the pacifist.

In a New Generation of College Students, Many Opt for the Life Examined

A recent New York Times Article points out the growing popularity of "philosophy" as an undergraduate major.

"Nationwide, there are more colleges offering undergraduate philosophy programs today than a decade ago (817, up from 765), according to the College Board. Some schools with established programs like Texas A&M, Notre Dame, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, now have twice as many philosophy majors as they did in the 1990s."

Really, this should come as no surprise as graduate school is becoming a necessary extension of a student's education. According to the University of Buffalo, philosophy students tend to score higher on the GRE, LSAT, and GMAT (I suspect they do pretty well on the MCAT as well...as long as they double-majored in a science).

In addition to higher standardized test scores, studying philosophy will make you the coolest person in your circle of friends [citation needed].

Sunday, April 6, 2008

When is War Just?

In the 21st century, wars between nations are decreasing while wars between nations and non-nations (ethnic groups, rebels, etc.) are proliferating. As a result, the old model of Just War Theory needs to be revised to accommodate this change in cultural climate. Nicholas Fotion attempts such a revision in his new work, “War & Ethics: A New Just War Theory.” Fotion begins his critique by presenting a general theory of war as understood between nations, “Just War Theory – Regular”:

Before the war begins a nation must have:

Just Cause
currently under attack
been attacked recently
about to be attacked (preemptive strike on identifiable enemy w/knowledge of strike)
protecting an ally currently under attack
protecting an ally that has been attacked recently
to stop a humanitarian disaster

Last Resort
negotiations must have been enacted

Likelihood of Success
a reasonable assessment of victory

overall cost benefit of going to war – gain must outweigh loss

Right Intentions
in relation to Just Cause – intentions must not be imperialistic

Legitimate Authority
war must have support of ruling government

During the war a nation must continue to assess:

specific cost benefit of individual battles – gain must outweigh loss

must target legitimate military targets (not innocent citizens)

Since war is increasingly fought between nations and non-nations groups, Fotion proposes separate criteria for nations and non-nations engaged in war. He calls his theory “Just War – Irregular.”

According to Fotion, nations need not apply last resort because non-nations usually have no centralized authority with whom a nation may negotiate. In addition, since non-nations use secrecy as a tactic in warfare, nations are not held strictly to the discrimination principle - targeting only military targets.

On the other hand, non-nations need not apply a likelihood of success because no rebel group could ever satisfy the principle. Hence, no non-nation could ever be justified in going to war. In addition, non-nations do not have to satisfy legitimate authority due to their loose organizational structure.

The most controversial claim Fotion makes is that a nation may attack a non-nation group that has not necessarily been clearly identified and may not even have been responsible for some not-so-recent attacks on it. In addition to giving general criteria (non-nation group has powerful weapons, is collecting more, gaining new recruits, has plans for a future attack, then it can be attacked.), Fotion states that the variation of these attacks require a case-by-case analysis.

Fotion believes these twin theories provide a new Just War Theory that helps us analyze war in the 21st Century. A war between Russia and the United States would follow “Just War Theory – Regular” while a war between Japan and the Taliban would follow “Just War Theory – Irregular.” Do you think Fotion’s new theory is correct? Is it just? Is it unfairly applied to nations? To non-nations?

Friday, April 4, 2008

U.S. Funded Health Search Engine Blocks Abortion

Interested in researching "abortion" for your philosophy 251 or 252 class? Well, scratch Popline off your list of databases to check. Popline is run by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland. It's funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the federal office in charge of providing foreign aid, including health care funding, to developing nations.

In accordance with the current administration's policy to deny funding to non-governmental organizations that perform abortions, or that "actively promote abortion as a method of family planning in other nations, Popline has apparently blocked searches on the word "abortion," concealing nearly 25,000 search results.

I guess this means that providing access to information on or about abortions is in the family of "promotion." With this reasoning, they should probably also eliminate such search terms as terrorism, violence, and civil disobedience.

You can read the full article here.

* it looks as though Popline has restored the search term since the release of the article by Wired Magazine. I searched it myself using the search term "abortion" and came up with about 25,000 hits. Nevertheless, the reason employed in making the initial decision to "block access" should make any student of logic cringe...and vote.

Charles Manson Knows His Copyright

Creative Commons is a special license that allows anyone to download, share and mix other people's music as long as they give proper credit. Recently, Nine Inch Nails released their album under a Creative Commons license.

All these efforts, and more, are done to counter the effects of what Creative Commons considers to be a dominant and increasingly restrictive permission culture. In the words of Lawrence Lessig, founder of Creative Commons and former Chairman of the Board, it is "a culture in which creators get to create only with the permission of the powerful, or of creators from the past." Lessig maintains that modern culture is dominated by traditional content distributors in order to maintain and strengthen their monopolies on cultural products such as popular music and popular cinema, and that Creative Commons can provide alternatives to these restrictions.

Oddly enough, Charles Manson is up on his copyright. His recent album, "One Mind," is licensed in a way that allows anyone to share it with others, remix it and use it for non-commercial uses. The exact legal details are here.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Liar Paradox in the Flesh

In Philosophical Psychopathology the psychiatrist and philosopher Bill Fulford describes a patient who was the living embodiment of the logical paradox "this statement is false" during a discussion on the difficulties in assuming delusions are false beliefs, as described in the standard definition.

"There is an even more fundamental sense in which delusions may not be false beliefs, namely that for some patients this would present us with a paradox.

I have reported one such case that occurred in Oxford... The patient, a 43-year-old man, was brought into the Accident and Emergency Department following an overdose. He had tried to kill himself because he was afraid he was going to be "locked up". However, this fear was secondary to a paranoid system at the heart of which was the hypochondriacal delusion that he was "mentally ill".

He was seen by the duty psychiatrist and by the consultant psychiatrist on call, neither of whom were in any doubt that he was deluded. Indeed, both were ready on the strength of their diagnosis to admit him as an involuntary patient.

Yet had their diagnosis depended on the falsity of the patient's belief, as in the standard definition, they would have been presented with a paradox: if the patient's belief that he was mentally ill was false, then (by the standard definition) he could have been deluded, but this would have made his belief true after all.

Equally, if his belief was true, then he was not deluded (by the standard definition), but this would have made his belief false after all. By the standard definition of delusion, then, his belief, if false, was true and, if true, was false." (p.211)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Some Conjectures About the Mechanism of Poltergeist [April Fools]

Two physicists are publishing what sounds like a bizarre scientific paper that they claim explains poltergeists. The researchers--Pierro Brovetto, formerly of the Institute Fisica Superiore, and his colleague Vera Maxia--hypothesize that female neuronal changes at puberty can cause quantum mechanical disturbances. The paper will be published in the science journal NeuroQuantology

"Brovetto and Maxia hypothesise that the changes in the brain that occur at puberty involve fluctuations in electron activity that, in rare cases, can create disturbances up to a few metres around the outside of the brain. These disturbances would be similar in character to the quantum mechanical fluctuations that physicists believe occur in the vacuum, in which "virtual" particle and antiparticle pairs pop up for a fleeting moment, before they annihilate each other and disappear again. The extra fluctuations triggered by the pubescent brain would substantially enhance the presence of the virtual particles surrounding the person. This could slowly increase the pressure of air around them, moving objects and even sending them hurtling across the room."