In my last posting, I mentioned the Party of Reason and Progress . . . a group that I have joined in the hopes that I can do some good.
There is an interesting mix of sentiments associated with becoming involved in a project such as this.
It comes with a built-in conflict. A conflict between what one wants and hopes such a group to be, and the fact that one has a dusty to help serve the interests of others in the group which will not always be in agreement with one's own. One has to expect that at least some of one's effort will go towards serving ends one not only does not share, but against which one may be adverse. At the same time, one is hoping to harvest the cooperation of others in serving ends one considers important and which one cannot advance on their own.
I have some hopes for this group. I imagine a group that can take an issue - such as social security, or banking regulation, or climate change, or nuclear power - collect the testimony of experts, and render a reasoned opinion on the issue. I have to imagine that there are a lot of voters out there who are sick of being presented with evidence that they cannot trust and arguments devoid of reason that aim to manipulate the listener into supporting a desired conclusion. What a relief it would be to find an organization that simply says, "We looked at the issue, we consulted with the experts, we have tossed out the bad evidence and the demagoguery, and here is what we can tell you."
Now, in an organization such as this, it is actually unlikely that there is a single right answer that all reasonable people will agree on. People will still have their differences. Some will take a particular piece of evidence as being stronger than others will. Some will see possibilities that others miss. With this in mind, I am disinclined to see the party actually endorse a specific proposal. I would like to see something more akin go Supreme Court decisions where a panel studies the evidence and renders a verdict, complete with dissenting opinions. "By a vote of 6 to 3 today the PORP Committee on Labor today endorsed a $12.00 minimum wage. The majority opinion, delivered by
Indeed, towards this end, I have suggested that PORP set up a shadow legislature with shadow committees to judge the types of legislation actually being considered in the legislature. Consequently, if a minimum wage bill goes before the legislature (or, in all likelihood, if people are merely calling for such a law), the proposal can be submitted to a PORP committee for an evaluation of the evidence and a recommendation - a recommendation where the vote cannot be reliably predicted to fall along party lines.
For one thing, such a system respects the fact that intelligent people can disagree. It is far better than the traditional party platform that determines what its members must believe. It tells people that it is perfectly legitimate to dissent with the majority opinion so long as one can provide arguments in its defense. It leaves open the possibility that the case can be re-argued in the future, and new evidence provided, that may cause the new Committee on Labor to change their vote and render a new verdict based on that new evidence.
I do not know if PORP will go that direction. I have a fear that it will join the factional fighting - becoming an organization dedicated to the rationalization of traditional liberal policies, where the political agenda will dictate the evidence it is willing to accept and the arguments that its members judge to be sound. There is a very real risk of this. Though whether this happens or not ultimately depends on the type of people join the organization and what they intend to do while there. If it can be filled with people who say to themselves, "I really want to know what the case is for and against the legalization of marijuana. I want to make a rational and informed decision and I want to help others do the same," then there is some hope that the organization can do a type of good that is far too rare in contemporary society.
Ultimately, I think that the contribution that such a group can make towards civil society is in directing the votes of rationally ignorant voters. It takes a great deal of time and effort to become a fully informed voter. In fact, I doubt that, even the most intelligent person can pull this off. Most people look for heuristics - simple formulae that will give them a somewhat reliable way of picking a candidate while saving their free time for such things as taking care of their children or elderly parents or volunteering at the local soup kitchen. Or just relaxing in front of the television. PORP has the opportunity to establish itself as a useful political heuristic - allowing people to turn to the organization as a source of answers to political questions. PORP will do the leg work - the research and analysis - that the common voter simply does not have time for.
Of course, I would like to see PORP evaluate candidates as well as legislative proposals and policies. In particular, I would like to see PORP involve itself in the primary elections in both parties - helping each party to select those members of the party respectful of reason and evidence.
Well, those are hopes and dreams.
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
In my last posting, I mentioned the Party of Reason and Progress . . . a group that I have joined in the hopes that I can do some good.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 7:35 PM
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
132 days 7 hours until the first class starts.
Yesterday, I started the matriculation process so that I can actually be taking that class this fall. I indicated my agreement to all of their terms and conditions and set up my student account. I have a student email address now.
I need to figure out how I am going to handle having two names . . . Richard Fyfe (which is the name I use in the real world) and Alonzo Fyfe (which is the name I have used in my writings - as Alonzo is my middle name).
Anyway . . . I was sent a long message yesterday asking my opinions about the future of the atheist movement. I found it odd to be getting such a list of questions, since I am not a representative of the atheist movement. I have "atheist" in the blog title because of a rampant prejudice against atheists when it comes to ethics - the idea that religion is required for morality. However, other than that, I consider the question of whether a god exists to be relatively unimportant.
The reason I consider it unimportant is because the proposition "a god exists" says nothing about what is right or wrong. It has no moral implications whatsoever. In order to get a moral implication, you need to add something else to this statement. You have to say that morality requires that we obey God and that God requires that we kill anybody who works on the Sabbath. One can question both of these additional premises without touching the question of whether or not a god exists.
One does not even need to challenge the assumption that God created morality.
Here's an example that I often use. A theist believes that God created trees. However, there is no fear that, because atheists deny the existence of God, that they also deny the existence of trees. Atheists acknowledge that trees exist - they just deny that their origin is in God.
The same can be said about morality. An atheist can agree that the wrongness of slavery exists - but it denies that a god is responsible for its existence. In fact, it is easy to demonstrate that slavery does not depend on god for its existence because . . . can god make slavery a good thing? This is the famous Euthyphro argument. Morality has to be something that exists independent of God, or it would not be possible for God to be morally good.
So, I just haven't cared to argue about the existence of god and, I think, because of this I have not been a spokesperson for the atheist movement.
Well, here is my response to that questionnaire. To explain the answer a little - questions 1 through 8 had to do with how I would handle absurd religious beliefs. I gave an answer applicable to all of them. Then, on the issue of the future of the atheist movement, I gave more detailed answers.
(The answer is lightly edited - as those who are familiar with my writing know that I am prone to do.)
I find it odd that you would consider me a representative of the atheist movement. I have never held any type of leadership position and am not often cited as an authority.
A part of the reason for that is, I think, the fact that I do not consider being an atheist to be that important. I have an analogy I use to explain my priorities.
Assume that you and several hundred other people are on a spaceship that crashes on a planet with no hope of rescue. You have two options.
Option 1: come to a unanimous agreement on the existence of God, then look for food, clean water, shelter, security, and caring for the injured.
Option 2: get to work providing people with food, clean water, medical care, and security.
Well, here we are, 7.5 billion of us, crash-landed on this planet. Lots of us do not have enough clean water, food, or security. Many need medical care and they are not getting it. I don't think convincing people that their god belief is mistaken is the top priority.
Be that as it may, I identify myself as atheist to push back against the bigoted sentiment that atheists lack morals. But, generally, when I meet a stranger my first question is not, "Do you believe in god?" It is, "Will you help me to provide the global poor with clean water, food, medical care, and security?"
(9) Figureheads: Please note that atheists do not select their figureheads. The press selects them – they select the people that they will put in front of the camera and show to their audience. Naturally, they are going to select figureheads in virtue of their potential to boost ratings, not according to their ability to represent the atheist community. In fact, it is quite the opposite – they are going to prefer people with provocative and interesting messages over somebody whose message is boring.
(10) Schools: This may only be tangentially related to what you wrote here, but I do hold that atheist organizations should create private schools – and collect money from school vouchers and other sources of funding that is currently going to religious schools.
(11) Atheist Entrepreneurship: William Lane Craig is a showman – an entrepreneur. He knows that his station depends on selling entertainment. That does not mean that he does not believe what he says, but, at the same time, he knows that he is in the job of selling a product. The best comparison to WLC would be Bill Mahar – an atheist who recognizes that he, too, has to sell a product.
(12) Goals: Going with what I said above, my outlet – and the outlet I would recommend for atheists – are organizations such as the Party of Reason and Purpose (PORP). This organization, at least in its inception, seeks evidence-based government policy. Technically, it is not an atheist organization, but it has attracted a large body of atheists. I would object to making atheism a requirement for participation, but it is easy to see why atheists would be interested in evidence-based public policy. So far, it has demonstrated this concern. However, I do fear that it will become a "think tank" for rationalizing a liberal/progressive agenda - evaluating the evidence according to how well it supports a political agenda, rather than evaluating a political agenda according to how well it is supported by the evidence.
(13) Groups: Large movements are going to fracture into groups. It’s human nature. Rather than complain about what other groups are doing, the best option is to form or join a group that represents one’s ideals (see “PORP” mentioned above).
My main reason for finding value in an organization such as PORP is because it is interested in evidence-based politics. It is interested in providing food, water, medical care, and security as mentioned above. It (so far) discounts individual prejudices and is seeking to look at the available evidence to determine what ideas are actually worth supporting. I think – such an organization cannot help but improve the image of atheists, and do some good in the process. After all, these two goals go hand-in-hand.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 8:37 AM
Friday, April 14, 2017
135 days, 23 hours, 40 minutes, 16 seconds until the first class begins.
The clamor to colonize Mars continues . . . a foolish waste of effort, so far as I can tell.
This is not because space development itself is dumb - quite the opposite. It is because it fails to serve the most significant problem that space development is capable of solving - the survival and flourishing of the human species (or whatever it is we, with technology, make of ourselves).
The current problem that we face is that of "all eggs in one basket". So long as all of the human eggs are in one planetary basket. Already, this has nearly destroyed us. Apparently, about 75,000 years ago, the Toba super volcano in Indonesia erupted, and the human population shrank to less than 10,000 individuals.
Until recently, the only threats to human survival have come from these natural sources - an asteroid, a virus, a super volcano. Now, in spite of our technological advancements (or, more precisely, because of them) we have new threats. A genetically engineered virus, a nuclear war, or a global environmental catastrophe.
Either way, having everybody on one rock in space increases the risk of extinction.
Splitting us up between two rocks would increase our chance of survival. However, if we are talking about the risk of unforeseen effects, if we can destroy life on Earth, we can certainly fail to bring life to Mars.
Each globe is going to have global problems. There is limited room for anybody to try anything new - new in the ways they organize their societies, make decisions, and in the rules they establish - because of the immediate impact of everybody else living on the same globe. An interconnected global community is either going to require global governance or global extinction. Local rule works fine when the effects of actions themselves are local. However, the bigger the impact, the bigger the numbers of people who are going to need to be involved in making decisions.
I fear that this fact alone is going to guarantee a lot of future conflict.
Orbiting cities in space not only allow for smaller communities, it allows for isolated communities with their own ways of doing things. There is a lot less reason to be worried about what the next tin-can-in-space is doing because what it does will substantially only impact them. If they succeed, then other tin-cans-in-space will be able to copy their success. If they fail, the other tin-cans-in-space can note the failure and move their own communities in another direction.
While the diversity of civilization shrinks into monotony on each planet, we can expect diversity to thrive in the orbiting cities in space.
But, mostly, a swarm of orbiting cities would be the best way of securing the future of humanity.
Certainly, there will be tragedies. A plague may wipe out one orbiting city. Another may fall apart due to an engineering failure. Still, the pandemics and natural disasters on Earth or Mars will be far worse - taking out millions and, potentially, tens of millions of people at a time - perhaps more. In space, the wide separation of communities will act as a firebreak - a gap that will prevent the spread of a disaster, and thus actually helping to save lives.
To, there is good reason to work in the direction of developing space cities.
Landing on a planet such as Mars will likely get good ratings and lots of applause. However, when it comes to actually doing something constructive, the future is in space, not on the surface of any planet.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 3:27 PM
Thursday, April 13, 2017
136 days, 18 hours, 43 minutes, 36 seconds until the start of the first class. The counter is set for the start of the first class session - at 2:30 PM on Monday, August 28. It is a class on environmental philosophy - just right for somebody interested in public policy.
I received an email from the school yesterday saying that my application is in order and matriculation starts next week.
In the past few days I have been listening to the podcast EconTalk. My interest is, in part, stimulated by my wanting to be of service to the Party of Reason and Progress.
Its host, Russ Roberts, is a conservative, libertarian type, but he is intellectually sophisticated and has data and argumentation on his side.
I believe that there is a mistake in his thinking. He has an affection for the types of kindness and assistance that one finds in small groups. For example, there is the case of a village getting together to build a barn for one of its members; everybody pitching in and helping as they can.
Roberts knows about tribes - that humans seem to have a disposition to form groups of about 150 members or so who we care about. Everybody else is on the outside - members of a competing tribe. Where Roberts runs into trouble, I think, is in taking what is true of a group of 150 and asserting that it can be just as true of a group of 300 million or 7.5 billion. In fact, that is not the case.
Let us take the United States, with 320 million people, and divide it up into about 2 million tribes of about 160 people per tribe. What will happen?
Well, within each tribe there will be a great deal of kindness and cooperation. However, every other tribe will be a competitor - and there will likely be no love lost between them.
One tribe will grow beyond 160 members. It will do so by forming a "tribe" among its male members, who will become dominant, with the women and children effectively excluded from the tribe in the psychological sense and becoming the effective property of the 160 full members.
Another will conquer its neighbor, kill everybody, and take their resources as its own.
Yet another will invade a neighbor and enslave its members. This is still a tribe of 160 people. However, this 160 people have, among its resources, 500 slaves created out of the conquered members of three other tribes.
Of course, there will be some combinations of these.
Tribes, seeking to defend themselves, will try to band together into larger groups. However, the basic human psychology is such that you can only form tribes of 150 or so. Anything larger, and people will start attacking each other. Thus, these larger tribes will select a leader and an aristocracy of some sort. These 150 leaders will include enforcers to prohibit violence between the tribal members. In this, you begin to see the workings of a civil government.
The community can continue to grow - but not by increasing the size of the "master" class. Only by increasing the size of the "servant" class. In this way, communities can grow into the millions. Yet, there will always be a happy handful who are the chief members of this tribe, with the rest of them being followers.
That is the state that we find ourselves in.
Russ Roberts may dream of a community with 300 million people all being as kind and loving to each other as we find in these small tribes. However, humans are not built that way. With groups this large, there will be factionalism, conflict, and violence of the worst kind. The way out is the creation of a state - an organization with the capacity to prohibit violence among the different factions.
Yet, the tension is always there, and it will not take all that much for the society to begin to tear itself apart.
This is one of my fears about China and India - they seem much too large to be properly functioning states. Somewhere, sometime, the tribalism will take control, and factions will begin fighting each other. It seems only a matter of time.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 8:15 PM
Wednesday, April 12, 2017
137 days until the first class.
I think I have a decent paper in the final stages of being written concerning the relationship between morality and sentiments. This is something that, of course, somebody who embraces desirism would be particularly concerned about.
I am writing a paper for the class on the work by Jesse Prinz. He defends a type of moral relativism on the grounds that moral judgments are based on the sentiments of the person making them. Prinz is an experimental philosopher - somebody who actually does research on the brain in trying to answer philosophical questions. Thus, he thinks he has an empirical defense of this thesis.
My paper has inspired me to write Dr. Prinz a letter explaining how the very evidence he musters in defense of moral relativism actually defends desirism instead. (Only, I did not call it 'desirism'. I called it 'a more externalist and objective moral theory'.)
Well, you can read the letter yourself.
I am a graduate student at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
I would like to know if you would consider the proposition that the evidence you have mustered in defense of individual- or cultural- relativism instead supports a more externalist, objective morality.
If I can explain . . . starting with five assumptions that I do not think you will have any problem accepting.
(1) You have found yourself stranded on an island filled with sentimental creatures. Their sentiments color how they see the world and provide the key (sole) motivation for their intentional action.
(2) Those sentiments are not fixed, but variable, at least to some extent. Specifically, those sentiments are influenced by their interaction with their environment.
(3) You are a part of their environment.
(4) Furthermore, you have the capacity to determine - at least approximately - how different environmental factors influence their sentiments, and thus their intentional actions.
(5) This means that you have the capacity to influence the sentiments they adopt through procedures that you call "emotional conditioning."
I think you would accept all of these suppositions.
In this situation, it would seem rational to put some effort into promoting sentiments in others that are useful to you. For example, it would make sense for you to create in them aversions to those types of actions that would tend to threaten your interests. In other words, "emotional conditioning" ultimately seeks to promote useful sentiments.
I want to use a distinction that comes from David Hume between sentiments that are pleasing to the person evaluating them and those that are useful to the person evaluating them. Respectfully, I see in your writings a strong - almost exclusive focus on sentiments that are pleasing to the person judging them. From this you get your individual- or cultural-relativism.
I would like to bring your attention to the question of whether a sentiment is useful to the person assessing it.
The difference between whether a sentiment is pleasing or useful is much like the distinction between whether a food tastes good or is good for you. Ultimately, it is not wise to judge whether a food is good for you by determining whether you enjoy eating it. Though evolution does provide a loose non-random association between the two.
This difference, with respect to morality, can be expressed as the difference between saying that something is wrong if I would have an attitude of disapprobation towards it if I were fully informed and free of influences I would regard as biases, and saying that it is wrong if I have reasons to promote that sentiment universally in others.
This would still yield a type of individual- or cultural-relativism. However, I want to introduce one more consideration.
I belong to a linguistic community. We invent terms to discuss items of mutual concern. There is no "mutual concern" for whether promoting a given sentiment is useful to me. However, when I get together with others in the community, we will likely discover that there are certain sentiments that all of us – or, at least, most of us – have reasons to promote universally.
This is a subject of mutual concern, and something for which we would have good reason to invent a common set of terms and common practices.
So, now, we are looking at a formula like, "X is wrong if people generally have many and strong reasons to promote universally a sentiment against performing acts of type X." For example, people generally have many and strong reasons to promote aversions to lying, breaking promises, theft, vandalism, assault, rape, and murder. To the degree that those sentiments can be fine tuned, we may build in exceptions, such as self-defense, but exceptions are limited by our limited ability to build them into our sentiments.
This turns out to be inconsistent with internalism. What I have a particular sentiment towards (and a particular set of motives to bring about) may well be distinct from that to which people generally have many and strong reasons to promote an aversion.
Such a conception of morality is also ‘objective’, in a sense. The set of act types towards which people generally have reason to promote aversions does not depend on my own personal beliefs or desires. Indeed, the whole community may have reasons to promote an aversion to a certain type of action and not know it (i.e., because the act type spreads disease). Or they may falsely believe they have reasons to promote sentiments actions - to prevent offense to a god that does not exist.
Still, morality, in this sense, depends on sentiments - since the usefulness of a sentiment is cashed out in terms of its tendency to realize (or prevent the realization of) states of affairs towards which people have particular positive (negative) sentiments. The tendency to realize or prevent the realization of those states of affairs provide the reasons people have to engage in this practice of emotional conditioning.
This can be seen as a type of sentiment consequentialism. The right act, in this act, is the act motivated by good sentiments (and the absence of bad sentiments), and sentiments are evaluated in terms of their consequences.
This can also be put in Kantian terms – act on those sentiments that you can rationally will to be universal sentiments.
Though these phrases turn out to be more like slogans than actual statements of the thesis.
In the utilitarian case, what we would actually end up with is a type of harmony of sentiments or “coherence of sentiments” as each sentiment is used to evaluate other sentiments which, in turn, is used in the evaluation of other sentiments. Ultimately we get the Humean theory that sentiments are to be evaluated according to whether they are useful and/or pleasing to self and/or others. Still, usefulness to people generally plays the dominant role in people generally having reasons to promote that sentiment - using the types of emotional conditioning you mentioned.
In the Kantian formulation, we must recognize that there are sentiments we have reason to want some people to have, but which are not promoted universally. Interests respecting such things as what to wear, what to eat, where to live, who to marry or befriend, what profession to go into, and the like are not universal sentiments that everybody should have. Rather, there is no reason to allow - and, in some cases, reason to encourage - individuals to have their own interests. In the case of profession, for example, it is best that some people want to go into medicine, some prefer engineering, some like teaching, and others enjoy piloting airplanes. These latter interests represent the moral realm of non-obligatory moral permissions (a freedom to choose), whereas universal sentiments define the realms of moral obligation and prohibition.
Furthermore, since this is concerned with promoting sentiments, it can be seen as a type of virtue theory, where a virtue is a sentiment that people generally have reason to promote universally and a vice is a sentiment people generally have reason to discourage universally.
This allows moral facts to change over time – as new technology or other changes imply changes in what sentiments are useful or dangerous. This is something that you support, I believe.
Well, I simply wanted to see if you thought that such ideas had much merit.
I thank you for your consideration.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 8:35 AM
Wednesday, April 05, 2017
144 days until the first day of class - and it is looking now as if I will, indeed, have a class on Monday, August 28. It will be a class in environmental philosophy - which fits well in my intention of learning practical philosophy.
My two other classes will be the semi-required seminar in ethics - required of PhD students, but which I will certainly want to take anyway. The third course will be a class in modal logic - the logic of possibility and necessity. I think I could use a brush up in that area.
In other news, a particular blindness among liberals is becoming clearer to me. It is likely a feature of human nature - to simply ignore the implications of a desired policy that make it unfavorable, and turn a blind eye to those who are harmed.
I have encountered three areas of this.
One is an issue that I have written about often - particularly in relation to Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign and the "justice Democrats" who have arisen from that movement. This is their blindness to the fate of the global poor. They talk about bringing factory jobs back to the United States - claiming that it is unfair for American workers to be forced to compete against people willing to accept $2.00 per hour.
They ignore the fact that they are talking about human beings who are willing to accept $2.00 per hour. They are more than happy to take that $2.00 per hour away from those workers - returning those people to the conditions that made $2.00 seem like a good deal - without a shred of regret or sorrow.
In fact, when they speak of those people who are willing to take $2.00 per hour, they tend to talk about such people as if they are something less than human - something deserving of the wretched life they will have once those jobs are returned to the United States.
The second example of this form of moral blindness that I have encountered among liberals is blindness to those who may be harmed by increasing the minimum wage. An honest look at the evidence shows that professional economists themselves have not reached a consensus on whether increasing the minimum wage causes unemployment. All economists believe that it will at some level, but at what level? That is difficult to determine at this point in time.
Yet, many liberals act like the answer is certain.
Of course, the only reason they judge the answer to be certain is because this is the answer they like. It has nothing to do with the evidence - because if the evidence was there then it would have convinced at least a substantial majority of the economists who study this particular issue. When the evidence fails to convince a body of experts, an amateur is simply being arrogant to claim that she knows better than they do that the conclusion she likes most is also the one that happens to be true. How convenient?
The people harmed by a minimum wage increase would not be just some random set of workers. It would be those who suffer some form of employment disadvantage. They are the people whose health is not that good, or who have family commitments that make it difficult for them to keep regular hours. They are the people with a criminal record trying to get a fresh start, those who do not speak English, those who are poorly educated, and those who suffer from some form of implicit or explicit bias. The liberals I am writing about take these people and make them worse off, and then turn a blind eye to their fate because they find the existence of these people problematic.
The third area where I have found liberal bias is in the area of climate change. Many liberals extol the virtues of green and renewable energy. Indeed, switching to a carbon-free energy industry would be a net benefit to society. Yet, those benefits will not be evenly distributed. Many liberals who embrace renewable energy simply ignore the fact that there are a couple of million workers in or related to the fossil fuel industry who will suffer greatly as a result of these programs.
It does not take a lot of compassion to say that the energy program should include some way to transition these fossil fuel industry workers out of their existing jobs and into new jobs. However, the liberals in question prefer to turn a blind eye to the fates of these families - to leave them to suffer the burdens of this change in policy on their own.
It is as if these liberals consider the energy industry employee to be morally tainted by finding a job in this industry and thus deserve whatever suffering may be imposed upon them. I dare say that the fossil fuel industry worker does not likely share this attitude.
It would be useful if liberals would, generally, put some effort into discovering these areas of moral blindness and illuminating them. It would certainly improve the quality of life for the victims of their favorite policies (which, I will add, are generally beneficial). It might even buy them some political capital they can spend elsewhere.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 8:04 PM
Friday, March 31, 2017
150 days until classes start.
From that task list I posted yesterday, I have decided to work on an article governing the right to freedom of speech. And here it is:
The right to freedom of speech is a right against violence or threats of violence for mere words and similar communicative actions.
John Stuart Mill in the book, On Liberty outlined the basic argument for this right.
The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.
More specifically, he looked at the three possible alternatives for an opinion that others might want to suppress, these being that the opinion is true, that the opinion is false, or that the opinion is a mixture of truth and falsehood.
If the opinion being suppressed is true, then humanity loses the benefits of that truth. Humanity suffers the loss of making decisions based on false information. In this era of “alternative facts”, “fake news”, and social media bubbles, we seem to have forgotten the value of truth. Imagine a person who is thirsty seeking a drink of water. She believes that the glass sitting on the table contains clean water. If her beliefs are true, she quenches her thirst. But if it is false and the glass contains poison, then the results may be fatal. For the sake of our own well-being and that of those we care about, true belief is essential.
Because of the value of truth, one might argue that all false claims be silenced. However, this requires a certainty in knowing what they are – something about which every generation has made significant errors. But even if the opinions being suppressed are false, to silence it by rehearsing the reasons for believing it is false benefits us more than silencing it by violence. If the false belief is suppressed by force, then the truth becomes a dead dogma – cited by rote memory but not truly understood. But when we must exercise our reasons by confronting the fictions expressed against it, then we not only know that it is false, but why it is false, and that knowledge counts for something.
And if the suppressed opinion contains some truth and some fiction, in the same way that the received opinion contains some truth and some fiction, suppression through violence denies us both the opportunity to exchange our fictions for truth and to more fully appreciate that part which is true.
Mill published On Liberty in 1869. Four score years earlier, in 1789, the founding fathers had their own reasons for proposing a right to freedom of speech into the Bill of Rights. Not far in their own past, England – and much f Europe - suffered from a series of civil wars that consisted substantially in factions seeking to use violence to silence those who held opinions contrary to their own. Their interest in ending this history of recurring violence became an interest in restricting the use of violence – in establishing a set of rights understood as actions against which violence was not a legitimate response. The right to freedom of speech was one of these.
If we return to the idea that violence is a legitimate response to criticism and competing ideas, we can expect that different factions will again start to compete to see which can most effectively use violence to silence criticism and competing ideas.
The right to freedom of speech is not a right to immunity from criticism or even condemnation for one’s speech. In fact, both criticism and condemnation are, themselves, protected speech. This is true even if the condemnation takes the form of a protest – so long as the protest commits no act of violence or threatens violence against the one who would be speaking. However, a protest does violate a right to freedom of speech when it creates a reasonable fear for the speaker of violence.
Shouting down a speaker counts as an act of violence. Its practical effect is no different than physically gagging the speaker or stopping the ears of the listener. The advocate of these tactics is an advocate of responding to words with violence.
The right to freedom of speech is not a right to have an audience. It does not give others a duty to listen. A refusal to invite a speaker or a decision to disinvite a speaker once invited violates no right. In fact, invitations and did-invitations that are freely made – not made under duress - are themselves expressions of the values of those who extend or revoke an invitation and, as such, are themselves protected as a part of the right to freedom of speech.
The right to freedom of speech is not a right to deceive. It is a right to express opinions one sincerely believes to be true, but not to express ideas that one knows or some easy effort would have shown to be false.
Thus, the right to freedom of speech is not a right to engage in fraud or defamation. Violence in the form of civil or criminal penalties may be legitimately applied to the person who attempts manipulation through deception. Deception in promoting or advertising a product – such as deception regarding the effects of smoking on cancer rates or greenhouse gas emissions on climate change – are not examples of protected speech.
The subject of defamation brings up the subject of epistemic negligence. A person can be convicted of defamation on the basis of making a false claim that is harmful to another that the accused could have easily checked. In other words, making a sincerely held claim where a little effort would have shown it to be false is not always protected speech. For example, claiming that a person was convicted of a crime, even when sincerely believed, when one can easily check to determine that this is false (and it is false) is not protected speech. This suggests that epistemically negligent false claims that harm others are not protected speech.
Epistemic negligence, even where it may be counted as protected speech, such as in political speech, is illegitimate. An individual who is deciding on policies that have an impact on the lives of others – which certainly includes legislators and office holders – have an obligation to ensure that their beliefs are well grounded on solid data and valid or strong reasoning. Voters should consider it essential to hold candidates to a standard of epistemic responsibility.
Finally, speech that creates a clear and present danger to others is not protected speech. This applies to the paradigm case of shouting "fire" in a theater or inciting a mob to violence. Clear and present danger means that the danger must be reasonably certain to occur and immediate. A vague possibility of distant danger is not sufficient.
Because of the importance of freedom of speech – in terms of exposing falsehoods, keeping true beliefs from becoming dogma, and in preventing factional violence – speech is presumed to be protected, with the burden of proof placed on those who would claim that a given case is in violation of the principles listed above.
As time moves on it becomes harder to remember that there was a time when imprisonment and execution for mere words were common as tyrannical leaders – and equally tyrannical majorities – sought to control the opinions of others by the force of arms rather than the force of reason. We must also remember that, when societies allowed individuals to express new opinions that challenged existing prejudice, we got ideas like that of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. It is inevitable that, when people see violence as a legitimate response to opinions one does not share, that those with the easiest access and willingness to use the instruments of violence will be those who dictate, as much as they are able, the thoughts of opinions of others.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 10:01 AM
Thursday, March 30, 2017
151 days until the start of classes.
Writing on "Bigotry and the Immorality of Moral Sentimentalism" has been a struggle. However, the struggle has not been in the area of philosophical argumentation. It has been in the area of writing something that can please a professor of moral philosophy (and impress her in such a way that she will support my further education).
Consequently, I have not had that much that I wanted to report on here.
I have 4 weekends left to work on this paper. (I actually have another 2 weeks after that, but I have conflicting commitments for one of those weeks and I want an opportunity to revise and amend my remarks - to rewrite parts of my paper that I discover that I don't like. Consequently, Wednesday, April 26, is my unofficial self-imposed deadline.)
Other writings that I am adding to my to-do list.
(1) A desirism blog posting on the philosophical and moral principles that provide the foundation to a paper I have written on the minimum wage. This paper will not look at the data - and will take the Congressional Budget Office document written in 2014 concerning a minimum wage increase to $10.10 as sound. It will focus instead on the discussion that the government should not interfere with a voluntary contract between two individuals and that the financial burden for a policy for protecting certain jobs should be placed on the poorest workers and their households.
(2) A paper on freedom of speech that will serve both as a position paper for the Party of Reason and Progress and a blog posting on the Desirism blog site. The right to freedom of speech is an immunity from violence or threats of violence for words and other communicative acts. This analysis will include something I have ignored in previous discussions - fraud, libel, and slander. There is also the issue of "clear and present danger". These are words and communicative acts that are legitimately met with violence. Concept of "group libel" which are false claims.
(3) A Party of Reason and Progress position paper on the carbon tax. They have a position statement on climate change, but nothing specific on the use of a carbon tax as a way of bringing about change. Important ideas that I want to bring in here is the income effect - that a tax hits poorer households harder than wealthier households, and there is an effect of wealthy households "buying the food off of the table of the very poor". Consequently, a carbon tax should include energy assistance for the very poor.
(4) For my own interests - a Party of Reason and Progress paper on property in space and the mining of asteroids - that it not be the case that 100% of the property in space be simply handed to the very rich on the grounds that they are the only ones who can afford to get there.
All of this, in addition to working on the paper assignment for my class.
This is starting to be like holding down a second job.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 10:38 AM
Sunday, March 26, 2017
154 days until the first class.
The class paper is going poorly. I am not at all happy with my writing on the section that discusses anger and its implications for agent-centered sentimentalist moral theories. The actual problem is, I think that agent-centered sentimentalist moral theories are so wrong that the paper sounds mean.
I mean . . . according to agent-centered sentimentalism, if I say that your act is wrong, then I am saying that I am disposed to be angry with you for doing that act. But . . . look at that from your point of view. Is it the case that for you to say it is wrong is to say that I would be disposed to be angry at you for performing the act? No. It means that you are disposed to feel guilty for performing the act. And the two need not be at all related. I can be disposed to be angry at you for something you are not disposed to feel guilty about. Thus, I can say that your act is wrong, and you can say that it is not wrong, and both of us are right.
One of the more disturbing implications of this is . . . do you want your act to quit being wrong? Well, then quit feeling guilty about it. If you can quit feeling guilty about lying, about rape, about murdering your noisy next-door neighbor - then it is not wrong. I need to find a way to take this view seriously so that I can criticize it . . . and I am having difficulty. My arguments sound like mockery - the type of claim that one would find in a twitter comment. But, it is really easy to mock agent-centered sentimentalism.
I introduced a couple of arguments that I actually have not experienced elsewhere in discussions of the subject.
Argument 1: If there is a negotiation between one person whose basic needs are at risk (by which I mean having enough food to eat, shelter, medical care, the well-being of one's children are threatened due to lack of income) and another whose basic needs are secure, then this cannot be considered an example of a voluntary contract. The person whose basic needs are at risk is negotiating under duress. It's much like taking a cattle prod and waving it over one of the children and saying, "Agree to my salary proposal or the child gets it." That contract is not freely entered into.
This is an answer to the libertarian argument that there is something intrinsically wrong with interfering with a voluntary agreement among two individuals. Rather than argue that it is sometimes permissible to interfere with such agreements - this answer says that it is not a voluntary agreement between two individuals. One of the parties can turn down the offer and continue to live a good life with his basic needs met. The other cannot turn down the offer without facing drastically unpleasant circumstances. One of the parties can act voluntarily, the other cannot.
The other argument looks at the consequences of having a minimum wage versus not having one.
One of the standard arguments against increasing the minimum wage is that it increases unemployment. In 2014, the Congressional Budget Office produced a report on the effects of a law that would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
Now, I know a lot of people believe that raising the minimum wage does not cause unemployment. However, the evidence on this matter is uncertain. There are some professional economists who believe that this is the case, and some who do not. Until economists have reached a consensus, the only rational and responsible position for us amateurs to take is to hold that raining the minimum wage creates a risk of unemployment. And this risk is not borne evenly. The people who are at greatest risk of losing their jobs are those with health issues, family commitments that make it difficult to maintain a decent schedule, suffered from a low quality education or have language barriers, or suffer the effects of implicit and explicit biases. The CBO report said that raising the minimum wage would reduce the number of jobs available to such people by 500,000. That's a heavy cost for raising the minimum wage.
But, to use this as a reason against raising the minimum wage - think about this implies.
This means that we are going to adopt a policy to protect these jobs that places the entire financial burden on the poorest workers by an accumulated total of $17 billion. This is the difference between the income that would be earned by the poorest workers if the minimum wage is raised compared to if the minimum wage is not raised. Our policy to protect these 500,000 jobs leaves this group $17 billion poorer than they would have otherwise been.
Furthermore, the "no raise in the minimum wage" option puts $17 billion in the pockets of the very rich. They get this money because they are able to make higher profits by paying a lower wage rate. So, this is a money transfer of $17 billion from the poorest Americans to the richest - those who, according to the CBO, make 6 times or more the poverty level.
If we are going to protect those 500,000 jobs - or those people with the employment handicaps who would lose those jobs - it makes little sense to adopt a program that (by analogy) we fund with a tax on the poorest Americans. The people we should look to for protecting those 500,000 Americans are the very wealthy - the people who can most afford it. Either the wealthiest corporations, or the wealthiest individuals, or both.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 8:22 PM
Friday, March 24, 2017
157 days until class.
My job in the last 24 hours has been to write up a position proposal for the Party of Reason and Progress. I originally thought they wanted a short paragraph that they could post - a brief description - which I did not like to do because I like details. What I wrote ended up being three paragraphs and I feared it was too long.
I discovered that they want a description of the policy complete with statistics and references. This was more to my liking.
What follows is my first draft.
I must admit, I felt some sense of pressure to come up with a liberal document - not because of anything everybody said, but just because I felt it would be received better. However, what I presented was a proposal that I think is grounded on the evidence. The minimum wage issue is one in which I judge people on the left and right both to argue about poorly - embracing evidence that supports their position and ignoring conflicting evidence. It was not written to try to secure votes, and we will see what PORP does with it.
I had this draft finished before I came here and saw faithlessgod's recommendation attached to yesterday's post. One will see in this provision a recommendation to provide assistance to those who are have employment difficulties for such reasons as health and education/training. The options that faithlessgod pointed to provide ways of dealing with that.
Anyway . . . let me repeat . . . I am not speaking for PORP at this point. They claim to be a party that wants evidence-based positions, so this is my proposal for an evidence-based position on the minimum wage and earned income tax credit.
A Living Wage
In a society as wealthy as the United States, if somebody is willing to pull their weight by working the equivalent of a full-time job (e.g., two half-time jobs), they should earn enough to cover the basic needs – food, clean water, clothing, basic medical care, transportation, and some entertainment. Several policy options exist to try to achieve that end.
Two of these are the minimum wage and the earned income tax credit (EITC).
The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, with state minimum wages minimum ranging from $5.15 (Georgia) to $11.00 (Massachusetts, Washington state).1
The EITC is a wage subsidy that effectively adds a tax refund payment to earned income to produce a higher overall household income. A single mother with two children with a full-time job throughout 2016 earning the current Federal minimum wage will have $15,080 in earned income, and qualify for an earned income tax credit of $5,572. This would be a combined income of $20,652 – the equivalent of 9.92 per hour.2
The Minimum Wage
The standard argument against a minimum wage appeals to a standard principle of liberty. If one person is willing to receive $5.00 for an hour of work, and another is willing to pay it, then it is intrinsically wrong to come between them. One could respond that this intervention comes in the name of exploitation – coming from the fact that the worker is being forced by desperate circumstances (e.g.,
starvation) to accept $5.00. However, this option is blunted by the employer’s option to pay nothing, whereby the intervention makes the worker even worse off. In the name of preventing exploitation, the intervention forces the worker to accept the desperate circumstances she was trying to avoid – but at least she is not being exploited.
A recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco estimates that the effect of a 10% increase in the minimum wage would result in a 1% to 3% loss in employment for the target population.3
If we assume a 2% loss of jobs among minimum-wage workers with a 10% increase in the minimum wage, it follows that an increase would help 98% of the workers in that range. Those workers would not be forced to accept the desperate circumstances they were trying to avoid – they would be helped to further distance themselves from those desperate circumstances. But for the other 2%, the results would be catastrophic. Furthermore, this 3% will be made up of people who already have employment disadvantages such as implicit and explicit bias, health issues, insufficient or low quality education, and family commitments that interfere with work schedules.
Even if total employment does not decrease, there is an issue with job transfer. A higher minimum wage makes these jobs more attractive to the voluntarily unemployed in middle-income households seeking additional income. These workers are generally more highly skilled and tend to suffer from many of the employment disadvantages of current minimum-wage workers. Consequently, businesses have an incentive to replace their current minimum-wage employees with these alternative employees – providing its benefits to middle-income households rather than the poor.
Up until 1994, there was a consensus among economists that an increase in the minimum wage would decrease employment. The vast majority of households with minimum-wage workers would benefit from the increase, but some households would suffer potentially catastrophic economic results from those who lost their jobs.
At that time, David Card and Alan Kruger published a study that compared the employment effects in one state that increased its minimum wage, with an economically similar state that did not increase its minimum wage. By using the former state as a study group, and the latter state as a control group, they could control for some confounding variables. Their study showed a slight increase in employment, rather than a decrease.4
Possible explanations for this include (1) lower-income households tend to spend their additional income on goods and services which, in turn, create additional jobs, and (2) employers generally would be willing to pay the higher wage but do not do so because the economic power they have over potential workers desperate for a job.
Attempts to replicate their findings have produced mixed results. More importantly, they have produced no consensus among economists as to the employment effects on employment. In 2014, 600 economists including 7 Nobel Prize winners endorsed an increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.105, while 3 Nobel Prize winners joined 500 economists in opposing the increase.6 In 2014, when the Congressional Budget Office was asked to estimate the effects of an increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, they estimated that it would reduce total employment by 500,000 jobs.
Some economists who think that a higher minimum wage produces a job loss still support a higher minimum wage because – overall – it increases the purchasing power of the poor. The CBO estimated that a $10.10 minimum wage would give households below the poverty line an additional $6 billion, and households between the poverty line and three times the poverty level an additional $12 billion.7 This additional income produces the side effect of stimulating those businesses that provide goods and services to lower-income households, as opposed to businesses that cater to the very wealthy.
PORP rejects the traditional practice of embracing studies that support a favored result and ignoring other data. Until economists come to a consensus on the effects of a minimum wage, PORP considers it to be irresponsible for non-economists to declare one side or the other the victor in this debate purely because if that side were right it would support a favored policy.
What we do know is that an increase in the minimum wage will help a significant percentage of those households earning less than what would be the new minimum wage. However, there is a risk (though it is not certain) that a percentage of low-income households will suffer catastrophic economic hardship through loss of employment, and that these costs would fall on workers who have employment disadvantages.
There are good reasons to support a higher minimum wage. However, this program should be considered alongside programs that would provide assistance to those who have employment disadvantages. One option, for those employees, would be to provide wage subsidies to employers who
hire such individuals.
Recently, several states and municipalities have increased their local minimum wage. This will provide fertile ground for research.
Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
The EITC answers several of the challenges made to the minimum wage.
(1) The benefits go exclusively to low-income households, whereas much of the benefit of a higher minimum wage goes to middle class and even upper class households with members seeking a second source or independent source of income.
(2) It does not give employers an incentive to fire workers since the cost of employment to employers remains constant. In fact, it has been argued that the EITC provides a subsidy to employers who hire workers from low-income households because a part of their wages is paid through the wage subsidy rather than the business.
(3) It does not give the voluntarily unemployed in middle-class households an incentive to enter the labor force seeking additional income – taking job opportunities from poorer heads of household.
(4) The financial burden can be placed entirely on the very wealthy individuals and corporations through direct taxation, rather than burdening smaller and struggling businesses.
The EITC, as it is currently being implemented, has two significant problems.
One disadvantage with the earned income tax credit as currently designed is that those who qualify get a lump-sum payment when they file their taxes after a year of hardship. Some low-income households lose a percentage of that assistant by borrowing against it in the year of living on low wages. Or they have to put off important purchases, such as medical care or home repairs, until the money comes in.
Another disadvantage comes from the bureaucratic red tape associated with the program. A worker needs to know that she is eligible to apply for the assistance. The IRS has an online "EITC Assistant"8 to help people decide if they qualify and for how much. Because of this, many poor people do not acquire benefits to which they are entitled. In addition, government reports show that much of the money is paid to individuals who, strictly speaking, do not qualify for the benefit (or as much of the benefit as they receive). Some of this is fraud. However, the General Accounting Office attributes much of this to the complexity of the law and difficulty in determining eligibility.9
The EITC has another disadvantage over a higher minimum wage, though this is entirely cosmetic. The EITC shows up in the government budget in terms of tax revenues received and benefits paid out. With the minimum wage, the money transfer goes directly from employer to employee and the amounts do not show up on the government ledger. A money transfer is required in both cases. This makes it politically easier to oppose the EITC in spite of its advantages, and easier to support a higher minimum wage in spite of its flaws.
The EITC is not an alternative to a higher minimum wage. In fact, the EITC and minimum wage can work together. An increase in the minimum wage provides households with additional earned income, which, when combined with the earned income tax credit, provides the household with greater overall income.
If the single mother at the start of this entry received a pay increase due to a higher minimum wage to $10.50, she would still qualify for $4,806 earned income tax credit for a total income of $26,646 - an income equivalent of $12.81 per hour.
In principle, PORP supports the objective that anybody working the equivalent of a full-time job earn enough to cover basics needs. We support the use of both an increased minimum wage and increased earned income tax credit to accomplish these ends. We also support wage subsidies for people who are unemployed due to employment disadvantages such as implicit and explicit bias, health issues, and education/training. We support improving the EITC by arranging for qualifying workers to get their benefits throughout the year, and simplifying and expanding the eligibility requirements.
1 Labor Law Center, State Minimum Wage, https://www.laborlawcenter.com/state-minimum-wage-rates/, retrieved 03/23/2017.
2 Internal Revenue Service, “EITC, Earned Income Tax Credit, Questions and Answers”, https://www.irs.gov/creditsdeductions/
individuals/earned-income-tax-credit/eitc-earned-income-tax-credit-questions-and-answers, Retrieved 03/23/2017.
3 Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, "The Effects of Minimum Wages on Employment", http://www.frbsf.org/economic-research/publications/economic-letter/2015/december/effects-ofminimum-
4 Card, David; Krueger, Alan B. (September 1994). "Minimum Wages and Employment: A Case Study of the Fast-Food Industry in New Jersey and Pennsylvania". The American Economic Review. 84 (4): 772–93.
5 Economic Policy Institute, “Over 600 Economists Sign Letter in Support of $10.10 Minimum Wage, http://www.epi.org/minimum-wage-statement/ retrieved 03/23/2017
6 “A Statement to Federal Policy Makers,
ion=0&alloworigin=1, retrieved 03/23/2017
7 Congressional Budget Office, The Effects of a Minimum-Wage Increase on Employment and Family Income,
February 18, 2014.
8Intrnal Revenue Service, "Use the EITC Assistant", https://www.irs.gov/credits-deductions/individuals/earnedincome-tax-credit/use-the-eitc-assistant, Accessed 03/24/2017.
9 U.S. Government Accountability Office, "Improper Payments: Inspector General Reporting of Agency Compliance under the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act ", http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/667332.pdf,
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 11:31 AM
Thursday, March 23, 2017
158 days until class.
I am trying to get into a new lifestyle.
In terms of my use of the internet, this site is to be used as a journal and where I sketch sketchy ideas.
The brand new desirism site is where I post (or work on) more formal presentations of ideas. I have just posted a new blog post describing the basics of desirism as applied to the morality of lying. As mentioned before, I post my papers as I work on them. I am considering moving the desirism wiki site here if I can figure out an easy way to do it.
This is continuing to work out well for writing discipline as I try to update the "in progress" item every day. I put the most recent draft up there last night. I am continuing to work on the thesis that moral instruction provides a reason for adopting the position that morality is concerned with molding sentiments and not with the expression of the sentiments one has. I think I can finish that section tonight and, tomorrow, begin on another section that tries to understand the emotion of "anger" (perhaps including a distinction from "hate").
There's also the desirism facebook group - which seems a good place for discussion.
I have also been trying to position myself to do some work for the new Party of Reason and Progress. This will allow me to make a contribution that, at least in its initial intent, seeks to promote evidence-based policies. I am entirely in favor of this option.
A member of their platform committee has asked that I provide a draft of policy proposals governing the minimum wage and college tuition. The minimum wage is an issue that I have researched - and I think I can produce a quality evidence-based product. I hope they like it. My intent is to turn around this assignment quickly.
If anybody wants to point me to some relevant evidence for drawing an evidence-based conclusion about either of these issues, I would be grateful for that.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 2:10 PM
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
159 days until first class.
My accomplishments in the past 24 hours include continued work on "Bigotry and the Immorality of Sentimentalism".
The part that I am currently working on aims to show that the evidence Prinz points to in his argument from moral instruction not only fails to support moral sentimentalism - it directly contradicts the theory.
Prinz defines a wrong act as the act that one would be disposed to morally disapprove of under conditions of perfect information - dismissing those biases the agent herself judges to be irrelevant. (In other words, something is a bias if and only if the agent judges it to be a bias.)
One of the arguments he uses in defense of this thesis is the fact that a parent's moral instruction of a child involves emotional conditioning. It involves reward and punishment and ostracism in order to link the misbehavior to a negative emotion. This demonstrates that emotions are central to morality.
It may do this. However, my argument is that the use of techniques of emotional conditioning such as praise and condemnation - techniques that aim to change the sentiments the child has - demonstrate that the sentiments can be out of alignment with the moral facts and must be brought into alignment. This, in turn, implies that there are moral facts independent of the sentiment of the assessor - and that those sentiments, if used as a guide to right and wrong action, can give a false reading. To make the sentiments more reliable, they need to be properly calibrated.
Yet, Prinz argues that there can be no such thing as an improperly calibrated sentiment. It is like saying, no matter where the compass points, that direction is north by definition. "North" simply means "the direction the compass points when I look at it."
As I will try to always do, I will be posting my most recent drafts on the brand new, ugly, but utilitarian Desirism website as I write them - updating them nightly with that day's changes.
What a wonderful incentive to write.
In other news, I have been putting in effort to become active in the newly forming Party of Reason and Progress. I have mentioned here that I am interested in my ideas being put to practical use to making the world a better place than it would have otherwise been. Some work in improving the real world seems in order.
In this, I have been posting comments on some discussions arguing for getting involved in the primary process in both major political parties in order to select science-friendly candidates.
My argument is that, let us assume you have a group in a legislative district with 100 members and each person can bring in the political support of 10 more (on average) for a voting block of 1000 voters.
You have two options.
Option 1: You run your own candidate and draw 1000 votes away from the most science-friendly major party candidate, giving the office over to the least science-friendly major party candidate.
Option 2: You get involved in the selection process of the dominant party in the district - the one that will likely select the candidate that, due to party voting, will win the general election - and make sure that major party selects a pro-science candidate in the primaries.
Your 1000 votes are going to be a lot more effective pursuing the second option than the first.
I hope I have successfully planted the idea in at least a few heads.
I received a message from their new head of policy formation to contact him - which I have done. We'll see where that goes.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 8:10 AM
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
160 days until classes start.
Accomplishments yesterday include more work on "Bigotry and the Immorality of Moral Sentimentalism".
I am posting the drafts of this paper as I word on them on the in progress section of my Desirism website. If anybody is interested in seeing what I have so far, they can take a look. You will see that it is clearly a work in progress. I am posting it as I write it. It will improve and change over time.
I was also involved in a discussion yesterday that brought up a distinction between anger and hate.
Anger is sometimes justified. If I were to discover that somebody had taken or done harm to property of mine for no good reason, I would be angry. That anger would provide me with motivation to engage in some moral instruction - in the form of punishment and condemnation - of the responsible parties. Yet, anger can be justified when it is directed to an actual wrongdoing. It may even be necessary and good insofar as it actually motivates the moral instruction. It may need to be tempered, though, as anger runs a risk of inflicting more harm than is morally justified, which - in turn - promotes anger on the part of the other party - who then retaliates - and we end up in a war.
Hate, on the other hand, has the effect of encouraging people to invent things to be angry about.
The type of hate that I am referring to is one that emerges in tribal psychology. This concerns the human disposition to divide the world into "us" and "them". They then promote injustice by allowing "us" to get away with things that, when those things are done by "them", result in condemnation. Examples of us versus them tribal thinking include racial prejudice such as white supremacy, nationalism, religious and anti-religious bigotry, factionalism such as that found between political parties, and sexism.
Trump is a champion of tribalism with his unjust treatment of Mexicans, Muslims, and other immigrants.
Bernie Sanders in the 2016 campaign also championed tribalism, targeting "billionaires" and "establishment democrats" as "them" to be hated.
A part of the effect of tribalism is that it creates a bond among members of the "us" group, creating fierce loyalties and, as mentioned, unjust preferential treatment of members of the in group to go along with the unjust hatred of all members of the "them" group.
Hate, as I am using the term here, is an integral part of tribalism. The "us" group is united - and, unfortunately, strengthened - by its unjust hatred of the "them" group.
This is where the distinction between "anger" and "hate" comes in. One can be justifiably angry at another for wrongs done, but anger does not apply to groups. At least, righteous anger does not legitimately apply to groups. It applies to the individuals who have done the wrong. Applying it to innocent members of the group who have done no wrong is unjust.
What "hate" does is inspire members of the "us" group to invent reasons to hate members of the "them" group. If they cannot think of reasons to be angry, they invent those reasons. They come up with conspiracies, re-interpret events (communications and actions in particular) to give them the most sinister interpretation, and otherwise manufacture what they need to give their hatred of "them" an appearance of legitimacy.
This "us/them" psychology, left unchecked, is that which motivates wars between nations and civil wars between peoples within a nation. It is that which made slavery possible, and produced genocides such as the Holocaust. In less severe forms, it gave us such things as Jim Crowe laws and discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual orientation.
The Tea Party is a tribal group of this type - motivated by and strengthened by hatred.
As if to make up for lost time, tribalism is coming to dominate the Democratic Party as well. You can see it in the hate-filled rhetoric, the imagined wrongs, and the eagerness to misinterpret words and deeds targeting "establishment Democrats".
This is not something new or unique. It is common. It explains much of human history. The rise of hate-motivated factionalism in the Democratic Party, in fact, is to be expected, given human nature.
Yet, while it is something to be expected, it is also something to be lamented.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 8:16 AM
Monday, March 20, 2017
161 days until the first class.
I am taking additional steps to preparing myself for a new, more academic, lifestyle. In 148 days, I will switch to being a part-time employee, providing me with 20 extra hours per week to devote to academic pursuits.
This weekend - on an impulse, I bought the desirism.com domain name and set it up as a website. I will be doing some blogging there, and that is where I will be posting my papers for people to read and comment upon.
So, here's the new the new desirism website.
As some have already pointed out . . . the aesthetics is terrible. I am not a designer.
I have a theory of aesthetics that fits in with my overall theory of value. All value relates objects of evaluation to desires (defined broadly to include emotions, sentiments, and the like). Morality evaluates malleable desires according to their relationship with (tendency to fulfill or thwart) other desires. Beauty - or aesthetics - evaluates that which is seen or heard according to their tendency to fulfill desires directly.
It actually takes some knowledge about these relationships to be able to do aesthetics well - and this is something I never studied in any detail. I have been interested, instead, in the relationships between malleable desires and other desires. Consequently, my ability to do aesthetics, or even to judge aesthetics, is poorly developed. And one can see that on the website.
A person who is good at aesthetics has determined, through training and experience (and perhaps a bit of talent) the relationships between those things that are heard or seen and human sentiments or desires. They have acquired an understanding of what will generally cause human approval or disapproval, and they put that knowledge to use in the creation of art, theater, movies, music, buildings, parks, and web sites. It is simply not the case that something that an amateur like myself can put up and have it be done well. As is obviously the case by looking at the desirism site (at least as it exists today).
A person concerned with aesthetics also has to be concerned with usefulness. In my writings, I do devote some effort to those aesthetic elements that help to improve understanding. For example, I have rules that require avoiding large paragraphs. One could ground this on the fact that big, blocky paragraphs look ugly. I ground my decision on the fact that the human brain needs bite-sized pieces of information to digest. I try to create reasonably sized bites to put on the page.
I am generally more concerned with content than appearances, but I do have an interest in aesthetics when it influences the content - or, at least, the user's ability to understand that content.
I am not denying that appearances matter. In fact, I would deny that appearances do not matter. When one creates valuable content, it is still the case that one needs to get eyes onto the content before it can do any good. It's the aestheticist who gets the eyes on the content.
We are told not to judge a book by its cover. However, how else are we supposed to judge a book? We certainly do not have time to read every book and then judge after reading them which are worth reading. We need a way to determine the quality of the book before opening and investing too much time in it. The same is true of a web site or a philosophy paper. (Now you see why I have given short descriptions of my papers on the web sites - so that people can judge whether the content seems worth reading without a huge investment of time.)
If somebody wants to give me aesthetic advice, then I would be pleased to get it. This would count as one of those cases, such as those I discuss in my writing, concerning a harmony of interests. In my writings, I frequently illustrate my points with a reference to the harmony of desires between Alph, with a desire to gather stones, and Bett, with a desire to scatter stones. These desires work well together, and provide an argument for the conclusion that, in some areas at least, we do not want everybody to value the same thing.
There could be a harmony of desires here between me - with my interest in content - and somebody else - with an interest in aesthetics.
I am not that person - and doubt that I have the time or inclination to become that person.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 7:54 AM
Friday, March 17, 2017
163 days until the first class.
I am feeling the tug between moral theory and practical moral philosophy.
I have a strong sense that moral theory, though interesting, is of limited practical value. All of the various theories floating about have had little impact on the way that people actually debate moral issues. To have an impact on substantive issues one has to actually apply the theory to those issues. Yet, the very tension I feel is the tension between working on the theory and working on the practical application.
Those who look through the desirism group see the difference when I post something on a substantive moral issue. I generally preface these posts with something like, "This is an application of desirism. However, if this posting contains any errors, this does not necessarily imply that there is a problem with desirism. Making this inference would be like claiming that, because somebody made a mistake in adding a column of numbers, that this calls the whole practice of addition into question. A better explanation can likely be found by looking at whether the author applied the principles correctly."
There are two issues of practical value that I would like to write on. One is the bigotry exhibited by the Trump administration. This is embodied in his hate-mongering; giving emphasis to crimes committed by immigrants in order to promote a hostility towards (hatred of) immigrants to make unjust and bigoted legislation against them "feel" legitimate. The other is on the topic of intellectual recklessness, using as an example the Trump Administration's attitudes towards climate change.
But now I have an additional time constraint since I want to get a paper done for this Philosophy pseudo-class I am taking written on time. And that, as it turns out, is a paper on moral theory. Though I am trying to squeeze some practical moral philosophy into it by applying the theoretical elements under discussion to bigotry in general and the American civil war more specifically. The way this paper is starting to turn out, it is almost shaping up to be addressing the question, "Could moral knowledge have averted the Civil War?" Or, "Was the Civil War caused by a moral mistake?" Or, "Was the Confederacy objectively wrong?"
The answer to all of these questions is "yes," by the way. The Confederacy was objectively wrong. An understanding of moral facts in the Confederate states and a willingness to do what was right would have saved a lot of lives and prevented a lot of slavery.
At the same time, the Union was not as objectively right as it could have been.
Still, I am bothered by the fact that I do not have the time to write up a couple of practical moral issue papers on the Trump Administration's bigotry and intellectual recklessness.
On the issue of intellectual recklessness, we have the decision to stop all efforts on stopping or even studying climate change as a waste of money.
Imagine being a passenger on the Titanic. The lookouts have just shouted, "ICEBERG! DEAD AHEAD!" Upon hearing this, the Captain says, "You're fired! Get down off of there." He then commands, "Full speed ahead."
This is the type of negligence that, in the world of everyday people, would be declared criminal. Those who practice such negligence would be deemed deserving of punishment - and harsh punishment at that. It is only in the halls of political power that a person can engage in this level of negligence without facing legal ramifications. But this does not mean that the rest of us will not suffer the harms that the laws of physics dictate will follow from their actions. Cities will be destroyed. People will die. Others will suffer greatly. And those who cause this will pocket billions of dollars. This time, we're not going to lose a ship load of passengers. We are putting a planet at risk. Some of us may survive in lifeboats, but a number of us are going to perish because of the intellectual recklessness of those in charge.
It is truly a sickening state of affairs.
This actually relates to the issue of slavery as discussed above. I discussed this issue in an earlier post where I compared the intellectual recklessness of the Trump administration with the "theories" of pro-slavery doctor Samuel Cartwright. (See EPA Chief Scott Pruitt, Dr. Samuel Cartwright, and the Perversion of Science.
On the issue of bigotry, the Trump Administration practice of scapegoating immigrants is perhaps the most morally objectionable public policy since the Jim Crow laws. Trump's executive order commanding the government to focus attention on the crimes committed by immigrants is like a government order commanding law enforcement officials to draw additional attention to crimes committed by blacks - only to justify laws, policies, and even private attitudes that are detrimental to their interests.
The relevant term here is "hate mongering".
A site that focuses on the crimes of a particular group can be readily identified as a site belonging to a hate group by this fact alone. Thus, the Trump Administration has turned the U.S. Government websites into those of a hate-group, containing and promoting hate-mongering bigotry.
These are two points that I would be anxious to develop and write about in more detail if I had the time.
But, currently, I am facing a restriction in that I MUST get a paper done on "Bigotry and the Immorality of Moral Sentimentalism" written and polished by May 11.
But, at least I will be posting that paper on the Desirism site.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 11:14 AM
Thursday, March 16, 2017
165 days until the first class.
One of the things that I enjoy doing is imagining possible futures for humanity.
Before I start, I would like to comment that many readers may not like this vision of the future. And, admittedly, I consider it a possibility, not because I consider it ideal, but because I consider it likely. Yet, I do think that such likes and dislikes are cultural and malleable - what we dislike future generations may learn to value. Our likes and dislikes determine our own preferences for our own lives - it is a mistake to think that they identify something of intrinsic value.
As I have written about before, I think that this future involves the colonization of space. I have written about how the material in the asteroid belt, if converted into space cities, can create the equivalent surface area (not land area, but surface area) of 30,000 earths. Of course, this would not be 30,000 space cities the size of earth, but a cloud of millions of space cities orbiting the sun - most of them in the region of the asteroid belt out to the orbit of Jupiter. Jupiter's moons can be harvested to create several million more.
But . . . we actually do not need to go into space to do this. In some of my imaginings, I imagine something similar being done on Earth.
Think about taking 25 square kilometers of desert - largely unused land. Consider adding a second level onto this - a second floor. It can be rather high up; say - 30 meters up (100 feet) with pale blue lighting. And a third floor. And a fourth.
The top floor has a glass roof. It could be used for a recreational park, or for farming, or for a little of both. After all, any of the lower floors could also be used for farming. Compartmentalized, climate control, and free from pests (thus no need for pesticides), it would allow for perfect growing conditions year round. The productivity of 25 square miles of cropland built within the city would be substantially higher than a comparable amount of farmland open to the atmosphere and subject to the natural variations in weather.
Long distance travel - both vertically and horizontally - could be carried out using a type of subway. Seriously, if we can have a town that takes up 25 square miles horizontally, then we can also have a town that can be 25 kilometers high, as long as we provide vertical forms of travel that are approximately as efficient as horizontal forms of travel. That would be over 800 "floors" tall at 30 meters per floor - for a total surface area of nearly 21,000 square kilometers - about the size of New Jersey (which has a population of about 9 million).
This would be a community that fully recycles its water and waste. That's not to say that it would be entirely self-contained. It will still engage in trade - and its participants would engage in travel. There will be a need for imports from other communities and an interest in exporting goods and services.
Ultimately, the one thing that this community would need from the outside is energy - and the best source of energy would be the sun. With respect to space cities, one imagines large solar power stations providing these cities with power from direct, uninterrupted, unfiltered sunlight. Plans exist for solar power satellites beaming their power down to earth.
One of these disadvantages of building such a self-contained city on earth rather than in space is the existence of gravity. The structures on the lower levels would have to hold a great deal of weight. This would be a significant engineering problem. On the other hand, the space city will have to deal with creating artificial gravity and with keeping out cosmic radiation and small asteroids.
In space, the relevant engineering problem could be solved by the use of counter-rotating city sections built inside of an enclosed stone shield about 1 meter thick that would stop cosmic rays and small asteroids. On earth, this would require engineering the structure to support these weights.
Admittedly, gravity also provides advantages - sufficient advantages to justify creating artificial gravity in an orbiting city.
There will be wealthy districts and poor districts, of course - and some parts of the community will be parts that one would be reluctant to visit.
I do wonder about the effects of homelessness. Since the whole city is enclosed and climate control, I wonder if there will be people who are voluntarily homeless in the sense that they have a bed somewhere and little more than that. They would not need to worry about freezing in winter or having rain pour down on them as they struggle through a night. The reason for a home is to have a place to store one's possessions - and some may well decide that they do not have that much to store, or can store what they have in a locker.
I am not actually predicting or advocating that such a thing be built. Instead, I would argue for a transition to something much like this. The next step comes from noticing that, when we have two large sky scrapers next to each other, we can - for much less money than was spent in the construction of either building, create a third building between them that unites the floors on each. Instead of four sky scrapers on each of four city blocks, we get a sky scraper that covers four city blocks. Eventually, we cover eight, twenty, and a hundred.
If there is any lesson to be drawn from this, it is to question the assumption that the future needs to be much like the present. It is a mistake to think that we are confined to conventional cities, conventional farming techniques, and conventional methods of transportation. There are a lot of options available to us. Constraining our imaginings of the future to simply different-looking models of what we say today will almost certainly be inaccurate.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 1:39 PM
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
166 days until the first class.
I have gotten permission from Professor Iskra Fileva on the topic I wrote about in a previous post.
As a reminder - in " "The Emotional Basis of Moral Judgments," Jesse Prinz sought to defend "agent-centered sentimentalism" (also known as assessor-relative moral theory) - the view that to say that something is good is to say that the assessor approves of it, and to say that it is bad is to say that the assessor disapproves.
One of the arguments he used was the claim that the moral instruction of children "...conditions the child to experience negative emotions in conjunction with misdeeds."
But, when the parent tells the child that hitting her brother is wrong, the parent is NOT saying, "If you have no aversion to hitting your brother, you would be using moral terms incorrectly if you then said it was wrong." Rather, the parent is saying, "You OUGHT TO have an aversion to hitting your brother; failure to have this aversion makes you a bad person."
So, I am going to write a paper that argues that the arguments Prinz uses in defense of "agent-centered sentimentalism" work much better as arguments in defense of the thesis that praise and condemnation are used to mold sentiments - promoting sentiments (desires and aversions) that people generally have many and strong reasons to promote.
If I can pull this off . . . it could be a substantial defense of a key part of desirism. And I will get the feedback of an academic philosopher who is an expert in the relevant information.
By the way . . . to David Jacquemotte . . . this class has heavily discussed the relevance of empirical psychology to morality. It will include a discussion of some relevant research in the realm of psychology. This is one of the reasons that I asked to be involved in the course, even though I am not a real student yet. Another one of my objectives in this paper will be to address some of the empirical research that the authors we discussed have considered relevant - such as the research of Jonathan Haidt that shows that people use sentiment as a gauge of right and wrong. I know that you have been wanting that . . . at least, if I have interpreted your comments correctly.
In a related issue, as a part of this paper, I want to address the idea of moral internalism versus externalism.
There is an argument in favor of Prinz' form of moral relativism that claims that a person does not use moral terms correctly if he claims that something is wrong but lacks an aversion to performing that action, or says that something is obligatory without being motivated to perform that action.
This is one of the points that I am going to address in the paper.
You see, it may well be the case that a person will not say "X is obligatory" unless he has a reason to encourage people to do X. However, this does not imply that, "I have a reason to encourage people to do X" is a part of its meaning.
It is also the case that a person will not sincerely say, "Y is true," unless the speaker believes Y. However, this does not allow us to draw the conclusion that "I believe that Y" is a part of the meaning of "Y is true". It does not prove that it is not possible for Y to be true in the absence of the agent's belief that Y is true. If I were to sincerely assert Lincoln was president of the United States from 1861 to 1865, it is necessarily the case that I believe that Lincoln was president of the United States from 1861 to 1865 - and I could not sincerely use the claim that this is true if I did not believe it. However, it does not follow from these facts that we do not know what the claim "'Lincoln was president of the United States from 1861 to 1865' is true" means independent of the fact that I believe it. Its truth is independent of my belief in spite of the fact that I could not sincerely assert that it was true unless I believed it.
Similarly, if I were to say "X is obligatory" it may be necessarily the case that I approve of people doing X. However, this does not allow us to draw the conclusion that "I approve of people doing X" is a part of the meaning of "X is obligatory". It does not prove that it is not possible for "X is obligatory" to be true in the absence of my approval of people doing X. If I were to tell my nephew that hitting his younger sister is wrong, it is almost certainly the case that I would not do so unless I disapproved of my nephew hitting his sister. However, it does not follow from the fact that I could not utter the statement sincerely unless I had such a sense of disapproval that my disapproval is a part of the meaning of "hitting your sister is wrong." The truth is independent of my disapproval in spite of the fact that I could not sincerely assert that it is true unless I disapproved.
The reason that disapproval is a part of the sincere claim is that the claim itself is an intentional act. Like the decision to go for a walk, or a decision to have the last slice of chocolate cake, the decision to condemn my nephew is something that I do on purpose. As something that I do on purpose, I must have a reason for my action. Since my action is clearly an action that aims to dissuade my nephew from hitting his younger sister, I would only utter the statement sincerely if I had an attitude of disapproval with respect to my nephew hitting my younger sister. But that does not mean that this attitude is a part of the meaning of "It is wrong for you to hit your younger sister."
In fact, this is also applicable to truth. Stating, "Lincoln was President of the United States from 1861 to 1865" is also an intentional act. As an intentional act, I cannot sincerely assert it unless I had a reason to do so - doing so must serve an interest that I have. In this case, it serves my interest in illustrating a fact about moral internalism versus moral externalism. Yet, the fact that I cannot utter the statement without having a sincere reason to do so, it does not follow that my having such a reason is built into the very meaning of the phrase, "Lincoln was President of the United States from 1861 to 1865" - or that its truth depends on my having a reason to say it.
In short, if we are interested in knowing the meaning of a term or phrase, we are not going to find it in the reasons that people have for expressing it. These types of arguments are not going to support internalism or externalism. The motivations one may have for sincerely uttering a phrase, whether it be "X is obligatory" or "Y is good", are not a part of its meaning.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 7:46 PM
Monday, March 13, 2017
168 days until the first class.
First . . . I posted "Morality from the Ground Up" on the Desirism site in Facebook over the weekend. For anybody who wants to know the basics of desirism, this is the document for you.
Second . . . I spent the weekend starting my next paper, "Bigotry and the Immorality of Sentimentalism". 2500 words so far.
I am getting to a new point in my work where I am wanting to read and take notes, and this is difficult to do while I exercise. In order to maintain some semblance of physical fitness, I do my philosophy studying while working out on an elliptical exercise machine. Have you ever tried taking entering information into an iPad while elipticalizing at 140 steps per minutes? It isn't easy.
I thought about using a microphone, but I worry about others in the gym looking at me funny.
I am also continuing my studies on the Civil War . . . and noticed an interesting parallel.
When the head of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt denied that CO2 was the cause of global warming, he reminded me a lot of Dr. Samual A. Cartwright.
Dr. Cartwright lived before the civil war, and one of his main contributions to the field of medicine was his presentation of the illness drapetomania. Draptomania is an illness that afflicted black slaves. See, the natural state of a black person was to be in a state of servitude (slavery) to white. However, some blacks had a mental affliction that caused them to want to run away. This was entirely contrary to the nature of blacks and not in their best interests. Cartwright argued that the disease could be prevented by keeping the slave warm, dry, and properly fed, and allowing them to have families. However, once a slave became afflicted with Draptomania, then the only way to cure the disease was to whip the slave was to whip him until he was restored to a proper sense of servitude.
Cartwright's story represents the perversion of science to serve an economic interest. In the years before the civil war, those who profited from slavery subverted the science of medicine to argue that the proper role of the black was to be in a state of servitude. This allowed plantation owners to feel good about the fact that they were, in fact, treating whole populations (about 4 million people) as little more than animals. Indeed, the types of prescriptions that Cartwright argued for were little different from those that one may defend to keep sheep and pigs healthy.
In the case of Scott Pruitt and those like him, we have the perversion of science to allow them to carry on with actions to argue for the legal permissibility of actions that will inflict significant harms on future generations - and even present generations - by poisoning them, destroying their property, and putting them at risk of injury and death. To do this they advance absurd claims, but they use their money and threats of economic hardship to get these views adopted. And, as with Dr. Cartwright, there are always a few scientists who are seduced into adopting the premises that would cause them to see diseases like "draptomania" and the denial of climate change as making sense.
One of the claims that I have often heard from those who defend this perversion of science by those who profit from harmful activity is the claim that, "We are not that evil. How dare you even suggest that we might do such a thing?"
Yet, the history of slavery tells us that human beings - otherwise quite moral and benevolent - can be seduced by perversions of science that protect their profits. It allowed them to enslave millions of blacks 170 years ago, and allows them to poison and otherwise kill and maim humans today and destroy their property - putting whole cities and whole nations at risk of destruction for the sake of a few dollars.
One of the best forms of evidence that one can provide that something is possible is to show that it has actually happened - and the perversion of science in defense of harms as severe as chattel slavery actually happened.
We can also draw parallels to the perversion of science that the tobacco industry paid for - embracing a perversion of science that made them psychologically comfortable with actions that killed and sickened hundreds of millions (billions) of people for the sake of a few dollars.
Indeed, while we may be tempted to identify wars as the greatest cause of human misery, in the last 200 years it has been substantially the perversion of science to protect activities that harm countless individuals profitably as doing far more harm than any war.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 11:58 AM