Monday, December 19, 2005

Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Kris and I rented this last night. Was actually quite funny. Totally absurd and ridiculuous plot--but I wasn't expecting or looking for realism is a movie like this. But it was very amusing and enjoyable to watch. I doubt I would watch it again, unless it was on TBS on Saturday afternoon, but it was worth a rental.

3.5 out of 5

Spenser returns to School

One of my favorite series of books is Robert Parker's Spenser's novels. Parker's lastest Spenser novel is School Days. One of his best in years. I think after several weak novels, the last few have been much stronger and more memorable.

Spenser is often cast a mystery novel, but usually there isn't a mystery. I categorize these books as detective novels--the books are about the detective, not the mystery. Anyway, School Days actually had me guess as to whodunnit, which was a nice change of pace.

Spenser was also back to old form: lots of wisecracking and flirting with members of the opposite sex. A very enjoyable read. Also raises some interesting questions about justice: in particular individual responsiblity and it's mitigation. Also some interesting questions about the justice system itself: role of defense lawyers, who gets punished and why.

The one draw back was no Hawk and no Quirk.

4 out of 5 stars.

Colts and Shadenfreude

My friend Joshua, over at Mudita Journal, has a post about 'Shadenfreude' (read his post here). Shadenfreude is the German word for "malicious satisfaction in the misfortunes of others". I have to admit that watching the Colts lose yesterday, I felt Shadenfreude. I hate the Colts and Manning annoys me. Watching him almost cry yesterday as the Chargers ran back the 'nail-in-the-coffin' touchdown felt, well, wonderful. Not as good as if the Patriots had beat them (or as good as watching the Patriots blank Tampa Bay), but still good. And that's Shadenfreude!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Trader Principle

The trader principle is actually a deeply engrained principle in our culture. The Trader Principle, in brief, is the idea (developed by Rand) that the only moral way individuals can interact is on the basis of trade; trade understood broadly as voluntary interaction for mutual benefit.

That this principle was deeply engrained occurred to me last night while watching ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Kris and I watch this show occasionally. It’s a bit cheesy, but there’s usually a nice, poignant story about the family who’s getting a home makeover. The demolitions are fun to watch, and the finished house always looks great. The basic idea of the show, for those with better things to do, is that a design team of 5-6 folks come to the house; sends the family on a week’s vacation somewhere while they completely redo the house. The families are usually folks who have had some tragedy befall them (son loses his sight and they need a blind-friendly house but can’t afford it, etc.).

Last night’s holiday special, was part retrospective looking back on the folks they’ve helped. But these folks wanted to help the design team help others, and so the each design team member went to some family that was helped in past episodes, and they went and worked on some one else’s house. Some examples: A soldier who lost his leg in the Iraq war had his house done, and he wanted to help a fellow soldier who lost his legs. A girl who was allergic to direct sunlight and was helped in a past episode wanted to do something nice for others like her—so they got DisneyWorld to open at night for these kids with XP (these disease prevents the skin from repairing the damage done by UV light, and so they can’t be in direct sunlight at all, ever. It was really quite sad.) You get the idea.

So what is the relevance to the Trader Principle? In each case, some one received help, aid, kindness from someone and they felt a need or desire to repay that. We don’t like to receive kindness or aid or gifts from others without doing something for them (or for someone else as a kind of proxy). Someone gets you a gift, and you say “But I didn’t get you anything”. An office associate does something out of his way to help you out, and you want to make it up to him (you take him out to lunch, buy him a beer, etc.) We want to make it a fair trade. And this was all over the Extreme Makeover show. Each person wanted to make good on what they had received by helping others in the way that each of them was helped.

I think this is evidence for the psychological basis for the trader principle: we don’t expect to get something for nothing, but moreover, we don’t want something for nothing.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

A good Eulogy

After watching Napolean Dynamite, we put in Eulogy. I had never heard of this, but Kris has picked it up a bunch of times while at Blockbuster, so we decided to finally rent it. It has an interesting cast with Hank Azaria, Rip Torn (small role), Ray Romano, and plenty of others you'd recognize but I don't remember their names. ('Jean Grey' (Famke Janssen) from X-Men plays the lesbian lover of one of the characters--makes any movie, at least, watchable.)

The movie is largely seen through the ideas of the granddaughter, Kate. Her grandfather dies, and the whole family gathers for the funeral and to say goodbye. But this family takes dysfunction to an art form. They are just plain crazy. Over the course of several days, all the family's dirty little secrets come out and everyone's craziness gets, to some extent, explained. Very funny, some great characters. Ray Romano has a serious scene in the movie that makes you feel a little uncomfortable to watch--but that is the point and I think he does a good job at it (though his character is just a seedier version of his TV character).

4 out of 5.

Not blown away by Dynamite

Kris and I finally saw Napoleon Dynamite. Strange little movie. Everyone in that town was a bit odd. I particularly liked the character of Deb. She was quirky, but she didn't seem like an exaggeration like the rest of the characters. She had confidence and inner strength that made her stand out. Napoleon was downright weird. Pedro was an interesting character. Why was everyone so bored?

I was underwhelmed based on the hype this movie had, but it was still funny and memorable. I'd give it a 3 out of 5.

Edit (12/15): I've been thinking about this movie since I saw it. I definitely need to see it again--I think it's the kind of movie that will get funnier the more I watch it. Maybe then I'd appreciate it more.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Harry Potter and the movie that fell short

Kristen and I saw Harry Potter on Wednesday afternoon. Afternoon showing was not crowded and only a few annoying kids.

I give the movie 3.75 out 0f 5 stars. It was enjoyable, with a lot of end-of-your-seat action (especially towards the end). But there was little character development -- even of new characters. Dumbledore seemed to be mailing it in. Sirius had one scene. Of course the biggest compliant one hears is that the movie leaves too much out from the book. Which is true--necessarily so-- for any book longer than a 100 pages or so. But they left out some essential dialogue in the graveyard scene, and that was a big mistake. Yeah, I missed not seeing Dobby and the house-elfs, but that is not as essential to the story line. The bit of dialogue left out is very important to the overall plot arc that runs through all the books, and that really hurt the movie.

Still, it was great fun to see everyone back on scene and in action.

BTW, did I mention that I edited a book on Harry Potter? Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Wayback Machine: Self-Judgment Days

Rosh Hashanah has ended and Yom Kippur is coming soon, so I here's a commentary I wrote back in 2001 about these holidays. The article is about how a secular culture might adapt a traditionally religious holiday (such as Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah) to meet real emotional and psychology needs we have in a non-religious way.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Rebuilding New Orleans Unconstitutional

Walter Williams compiles a number of quotes from America's Founding Fathers and other 19th Century leaders on the limits on government contained in the constitution--specifically on the limits of federal monies directed towards disaster relief.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Happiness and the free society

An interesting article by Johan Norberg on the connections between freedom, economic growth, and happiness. (Hint: there's a positive correlation between these)

(Hat tip to Arts and Letters Daily)

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Hanson on Gaza

I am uneasy about the Gaza pullout; unsure it will work and unsure that it is right. But I hopeful too, that it might work out for the best. Victor David Hanson pens an essay that captures that hopefullness and explains just how the Gaza pullout just might be the best strategy in the long term.

Monday, August 15, 2005

On the history of Israel

The following is a response to a post at the Rand-Discussion group at Yahoo Groups. The quotations are from the poster. I do not beleive them to be taken out of context.


Not sure what this post is doing on an Ayn Rand list, but I noticed several gross historical errors in this post. I hestiate to respond because I do not wish to engage in a debate on these issues (because they typically degenerate into something not worthy of discussion). Nonetheless, the errors were egregious enough that some statement needed to be made.

"So with America and its many powerful Jewish citizens behind it, a plan was created to hand over control of Palestinian land to Jews."

First, the Americans had very little involvment in the UN commission that recommended the partition. (The commission was constituted by: Australia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, India, Iran, the Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, Uruguay and Yugoslavia) The US did work to create support for the partition in the general assembly vote, but it was hardly America's plan. Second, there was, no doubt, tremendous and vocal support from the American Jewish community for a Jewish state, but the Truman administration was more likely responding to general American support rather than some silly notion of powerful Jewish citizens behind the adminstration (according to some public opinions at the time 65% of American support the establishing of a Jewish state).

Most importantly, there was no plan "to hand over control of Palestinian land to Jews". Prior to Partition, Jews settled on land that was purchased or abandoned. The UN Partition planned called for a division of Palestine into two areas: Jewish and Arab. The partition was based on population. The areas that Jews got were the areas that Jews had a majority or ones that were largely unpopulated/unowned (60% of the Jewish Partition was the Negev desert). And the areas the Arabs were allocated were where Arabs had a majority. Most of the land that was turned over to the nascent Jewish state was land controled by the British Mandatory government and not owned by Arabs.

Hardly a plan to take land away from rightful owners.

"Not one in ten thousand today can tell you what the Palestines were given in return, myself included."

The UN Partition called for a partition into a Jewish and an Arab state. The Jews declared statehood when the Brits left and the partition begin. The Arabs declared war and invaded. So, what the Palestinians were given was the opportunity for an independent state of their own. The leaders of the Arab world chose instead to invade the Israeli state. I don't think any historical scholar believes that had the armies of Syria, Jordan and Egypt pushed the Jews out, that they would have set up an independent state for the Palestinian Arabs. It is more likely they would have divided up the area between the three of them. Evidence for this is the period between 1948 and 1967 when Jordan and Egypt controlled, respectively, the West Bank and Gaza (areas mostly alotted to Palestinian Arabs under the Partition) and did nothing to set up a Palestinian state, deal with refrugees, or establish Palestinian self-rule. (It is also telling that Palestinians didn't begin to call for their own state until after 1967 and these areas were controlled by Israel)

" Israel's troubles are thus partly due to the fact that they as a
nation originated as a UN resolution, and did not grow organically
through a political process that included the voice of indiginous

The state of Israel _did_ grow organically from the early 1900s until 1948. The institutions and organizations that become the State of Israel did not spring into existence on May 15, 1948, but had been developing and growing for decades. Moreover, the Arabs probably had more of a voice than Jews in the process through the other Arab countries in the UN general assembly.

"The US, particularly during the critical
Kissinger years, simply looked aside and gave Israel free reign,
peferring to stall any final settlement talks, allowing Israel more
time to crush insurgents. "

Anyone well versed in the history of US-Israel relations knows how untrue this statement is. The US has always used its close relationship with Israel to hold Israel back. The US was pivotal in getting Israel to give back the Sinai after the Suez War and the 6 Day War (in the US brokered peace treaty with Egypt in 1978). By analogy, giving the Sinai back to Egypt would have been like the US being forced to give Alaska back to the Russians during the height of the Cold War. (There is also a questionable insinuation here that Kissinger -- who's Jewish--played a role in letting Israel have "free reign")

"did it take 911 to make the United
States realize it must force Israel to relinquish its hold on the
occupied territories?"

This is not a historical inaccuracy per se, however, it is based on an incorrect assumption. The US is not forcing Israel out of Gaza. While the adminstration is vocally supporting the plan, it is my understanding that there are many in the adminstration and congress that are against the pullout. Morever, it is also my understanding that this has been an idea floating around Israeli policy circles for years and is largely a homegrown idea.

Also, wouldn't it make more sense, after 9/11, for the US to pressure Israel to stay in Gaza and the other disputed terrorities for the same reasons we are in Iraq: to destroy the centers of terrorist activities?

"[The Israel-Palestinian conflict] has directly lead to the present state of terrorist warfare."

The idea that somehow if Israel didn't exist, that the US wouldn't be under attack from Islamic terrorism is absurd. The Islamists do not hate and attack America(and the West) because of Israel. They hate Israel because it is part of the West. Al Qaeda rhetoric doesn't mention or where it does gives small mention to Israel before and after 9/11. Though sometimes Israel gets prominent place in rhetoric, the thrust of anti-American(Western) hostilities is because we are a symbol of individualism, secularism, and freedom. I suggest the following:

Personally, I have my doubts about the disengagement plan. I fear that the Palestinian Arabs will take this as a sign of weakness on the part of Israel and continue terrorism with renewed fervor.


Monday, August 08, 2005

Taking Harry Higher

My undergraduate alma mater, Tufts University, recently did a web page cover story on yours truly. You can read the profile here. The web cover page has since changed, but you can see what it looked like here.

For the cover photo, Tufts sent a professional photographer to snap some shots of me. It lasted an hour and half and required a few wardrobe changes. I felt like a real celebrity, it was very odd. But alas, no groupies.

Academia and Rand

An interesting extracurricular discussion at the graduate seminar was to what extent one should be open about his interest in Rand. While I recognize that there are those in academia that are hostile to Rand and her ideas, I personally have never encountered such hostility. Nor have I ever felt that my interest in Rand was held against me in any way.

My experience has always been that what counted was how well I did my work--not what particular beliefs I hold. This is how it should be. I am sure there are those that fall short of upholding this ideal, but that has never given me enough reason to go 'in the closet' about my interest in Rand. I've always been pretty straightforward about what positions I hold, and I don't know how not to be.

There is outright bias against a thinker--which is inappropriate and irrational. This certainly exists in some quarters against Rand. I am less concerned about this. I'd rather not be in a department with faculty who would hold my particular interests and positions against my like that.

But there are legitimate concerns here about someone with a deep and committed interest in a particular thinker. (1) a concern that the individual will have tunnel vision and thereby not have the proper perspective on the whole field of philosophy. (2) a concern that an individual will treat the classroom as a source of philosophical 'converts'. (3) a concern that an individual will be biased in the teaching (and grading) of philosophy.

Such concerns arise regardless of the thinker, but I believe are heightened with a thinker like Rand who is outside of the mainstream of academic philosophy.

I don't think I fall prey to those three concerns. My goal as a teacher has never been to make more Objectivists. Such a goal is completely out of wack in education. My goal is to teach my students how to think, to open their minds to the world of ideas and reason. With this as my goal, those three concerns are not even issues for me. I hope that any potential employers will look at my record and see that as well.

TOC Graduate Seminar

I spent last week in DC at TOC's Graduate Seminar. It was a very productive and engaging week. We went through the corpus of Rand's ethical and politcal thought, as well as some recent criticisms of her thought. We also compared her approach to the approaches of other philosophers who were looking to establish somewhat similar conclusions.

One of the most fruitful parts of the seminar is the papers all the participants have to write. Limited to a very small 5 pages, each student is severely and thoroughly critique in style, technique, and substance. It is a humbling but worthwhile experience.

Friday, June 24, 2005

David Mayer on "Supreme Nonsense"

I've been waiting for a few days for David Mayer to post his thoughts on the recent horrible Supreme Court decisions Raich and Kelo. He's posted his analysis:

I particularly like the selections from the dissenting opinions penned by Justice Thomas. These dissents are hard hitting and make no bones about the the devastating blow to freedom and individual rights these rulings will have. As he says in the Raich dissent "the Court abandons any attempt to enforce the Constitution's limits on federal power". We need more justices like Thomas.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Wayback Machine: Funding NPR

With the recent news attention on the possible end to federal funding of public television and radio, I thought I'd a post a link to an old op-ed I wrote on this topic. Save NPR! Not!

It's a bit out of date. 1) There is a possibility that the federal funding will end or decrease (though I actually doubt it) and 2) NPR seems to have veered towards the left even more. I find I can't hardly listen to the news analysis shows anymore. Worse than any bias though is the overall pessimism that seems to pervade the entire broadcast. It's hard to quantify or give examples because its just this general attitude, but what I am left with after listening is negativity and despondency.

A major step backwards

Very disappointing year for the Supreme Court. First they rule against federalism in the medical marijuana case and today they've ruled against private property by allowing local goverments to use emiment domain to take private property for private development. They call this "public use" because the government claims the development is needed for economic development and that economic development is a public good (whatever that means). Further the Court affirmed the idea that a legitimate government function is economic development. This is a major step backwards for freedom.

Here's the press release from the Institute for Justice announcing the decision:

And a link to the decisions themselves:

Second Update:
Cox and Forkum editorial cartoon nicely captures the ruling:

Monday, June 20, 2005

The Book Meme

I've seen this on a few blogs, beginning with Diana Hsieh's NoodleFood. I thought I'd take it up. Here's what I came up with:

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. My favorite genre, and this one, in large part, gets it going. Plus, how cool would it be to be Humphrey Bogart? (A side note: I am embarrassed to say that I never read Fahrenheit 451, and if you've slacked like me, I'm told that at the end of the book, each character chooses a book to memorize and I guess they become that book for a while)

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
I don't think so. I suppose Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged comes the closest, but that's more like worship than a crush.

The last book you bought is:
Dreams of a Final Theory by Steven Weinberg (Just came today from Amazon)

The last book you read:
False Prophet by Faye Kellerman. Part of the Peter Decker series. It's another detective fiction novel.

What are you currently reading?
The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order by Samuel P. Huntington (just started last night)
Natural Goodness by Philippa Foot (I'm working on a paper on Foot)
Virtues and Reasons: Philippa Foot and Moral Theory by Rosalind Hursthouse, Gavin Lawrence and Warren Quinn

Five books you would take to a deserted island:
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (This one is a little too obvious, no?)

The Complete Works of Aristotle Vol 1 & 2. (I could spend my lifetime just studying Aristotle's works)

The Collected Dialogues of Plato (I guess I should have some Plato along with Aristotle. And while I prefer Aristotle to Plato, the dialogues can be quite fun to read.)

William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. (Drama, comedy, poetry: what more would I need)

(I suppose I am cheating a little by taking these complete works anthologies, but they are all books that one could carry with them to the island.)

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons)? And Why?
Karl: if he actually does anything with this, it'll be hilarious.
Patrick: same as Karl, but a lot more cheese.
My Mom: She reads a lot and might enjoy the exercise.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The excess of democracy

David Mayer, my favorite consitutional scholar, explains why the US is not a democracy, but a republic. He goes on to show how the US is suffering from an excess of democracy. Read the essay

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Summer Reading

Summer reading is going well. I started with Cicero by Anthony Everitt which was very good. The subtitle is "the life and times of Rome's greatest politician" and it lives up precisely to that subtitle, providing the context in which Cicero lived. Taken largely from Cicero's letters, one gets a feel for what politics was like in Rome. And we think negative ads are bad today! I would have liked to have more on Cicero's philosophical ideas, but Everitt didn't get into that too much.

I try to alternate between fiction and non-fiction, so next I read Herman Wouk's The Hope. This near-epic novel follows the lives of several Israeli's from 1948 to 1967. Weaved in with historical accounts of the politics and wars of the times, the novel is gripping and engaging. A little slow to start, but then it takes off and was nearly impossible to put down. (had a few late nights!) It gives a balanced view of Israel and her people--not demonizing and not worshipping. And it doesn't demonize the Arabs either. Though, of course, the folly and foibles of the Arab militiaries in the different wars comes through crystal clear. (For an excellent account of the 1967 war see Michael Oren's Six Days of War).

I am now reading Jose Ortega's What is Philosophy?. So far, I am sad to say that I am not impressed. My friend Bill Perry recommended reading Ortega (Bill is giving a presentation on Ortega at TOC's Summer Seminar). But so far he's a little too vague to really get a sense of what he's trying to say. Hopefully it will get clear as I get through it.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Schools out!

Well, the long semester has come to a close. I handed in my last paper (sort of) for the semester. The 'sort of' is because I am taking an incomplete in one class and finishing that paper over the summer. I still have grading to do, but that'll all finish up this week.

The incomplete is for an independent study with Stew Cohen on Philippa Foot's metaethical views. I've been reading a bunch of her older articles and her Natural Goodness. Very interesting material. I also took a seminar on Legal Positivism for which I wrote a paper comparing the legal theories of H.L.A. Hart and F.A. Hayek. Hayek is not a legal positivist, but there were some interesting parallels with Hart's legal positivism. And today I finished up a paper on R.M. Hare's performative theory of goodness for the 20th Century Analytic Philosophy seminar.

Now that courses are done, I can focus on some other projects. First on the list is working on my lectures for TOC Summer Seminar. I will be teaching the weeklong "Basics of Objectivism" again. I also plan on re-renting the Natural Law tape course from the library and finishing up my summaries of the lectures.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Patriots Champions Again

You have to love this team. No loud mouths or spoiled sports. All class act, all the time. And they win, even when they don't play as well as they could. What a year for Boston fans!!!


Natural Law Lecture Nine

Biblical Views of Nature and Law

In this lecture, Koterski discusses some of the religious roots of natural law and the development within religious thinking of the ideas of law, nature, and the connections between the two.

He starts with a discussion based on the Jewish Bible and the importance placed on B’rith or covenant. The theme of a covenant between God and man is one that recurs through out the Jewish Bible. There is the covenant with Adam, then with Noah, then with Abraham, Moses, and King David. Also, Koterski mentions Jeremiah’s prophecy of a new covenant to come that Christians take to refer to Jesus.

This theme of the covenant is important because it sets the terms for the relationship between God and man, and this relationship is one of laws. God commands man to take certain actions and to avoid others, and this is the law. It defines the relationship of God as the sovereign and man as the subject.

In a section that is rather unconvincing, Koterski attempts to find a relationship between this divine command theory of law and the natural law tradition. In natural law, the law is discovered through reasoning and reflection but the divine command is primarily revelation. Koterski argues that natural law will hit upon similar commands. Also, he argues that one can see a kind of inchoate natural kinds theory in the bible when it lays out the distinctions and classification of the creatures.

Next, the wisdom literature is discussed. The most philosophical part of the bible, Koterski argues that it largely deals with the problem of evil and the relationship between goodness and reward/wickedness and punishment. It seems as though overtime the covenants between God and his people changed regarding this relationship of reward and punishment. Under the original covenant with Adam, wrong actions saw immediate punishment. But after Noah, this connection was weakened, and this literature seeks to understand why it was weakened – to allow for human freedom, develop character, etc. – and to show how to act properly even if the connection between the consequences and one’s action is no longer clear.

The relationship to natural law comes in that some of the explanations appear to make an appeal to nature. The claim is that God uses nature to aid his people in coming to see right and wrong, and to cultivate real goodness and justice.

Lastly, we turn to the New Testament and St. Paul. In his Letter to the Romans, we can begin to see more explicit appeals to nature as well as the influence of Stoic thinking. For instance, Paul claims that those who haven’t received the revelation of God’s laws are still responsible for them because God’s will and laws can be known through reflection on the world and nature. One can see what is natural and unnatural, and therefore come to know what is right and what is wrong.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Natural Law Lecture Eight

The Stoic Idea of Natural Law

This lecture primarily focuses on the great Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero. Cicero, according to Koterski, offers the first thorough going presentation of natural law theory. Before going into Cicero, Koterski briefly covers the Stoic ideas that influenced Cicero.

The Stoics focus on the ideal of self-reliance and of living according to “right reason in accord with nature.” This latter idea articulates an important and foundational principle of natural law theory. Cicero will also place this idea at the center of his thought.

The idea of right reason is that humans can reason rightly or wrongly. Right reason is truthfully discerning the nature of things. We can go astray or be on target, but we should strive for discerning truth and reality.

The Stoics thought that by living in accordance with right reason and discovering their true nature, one can live in harmony and happiness. All humans have reason, and if all are self-reliant and practice right reason, society will be harmonious.

According to Koterski, the Stoics also sought to connect nature and law to God. God becomes more personal for the Stoics than with Aristotle or Plato. God also becomes the law-giver. This is important historically because it paves the way for Christian natural law and its notion of a personal God. It also puts ethics under the rubric of law instead of virtue.

Cicero brings much of Stoic thought to Roman society and philosophy. He articulates further the ideals and principles of natural law. He discusses the notion of right reason and the discovery of our nature. He brings into the equation the notion of a kind of punishment or sanction violating natural law. Cicero expresses the Stoic ideal of one law binding on all people at all times. This incorporates a fundamental principle of equality and kinship among all humans.

Cicero was also concerned about enumerating a vision of politics that was not based on power or might, but on justice and law. He saw the natural law has dictating duties and obligations, and that these should guide our actions, personally and politically. He seems to also get at a notion of positive and natural law in the distinction of Jus and Lex. Jus is the notion of justice and right that exists as a matter of nature. Lex is the idea of legislation that is created by humans.

In his expression of morality, Cicero followed the Stoics in insisting on focusing on that which one can control: his own choices and actions. It is here that one must follow right reason and choose well based on one’s nature. In areas outside of one’s control (luck or natural course of events) one can’t choose and ethics is silent.

One can see in the Stoics and Cicero the groundwork for later Christian thinking on natural law and other issues. Naturally, that is the topic for subsequent lectures.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Horror!

Yankees and Patriots sharing the same winning philosophy? Brady = Jeter!? Belichick = Torre!? It makes me shudder, even gag. Objectively, however, I recognize that there is some truth to the comparison, but the Yankees are still evil and the Patriots everything that is good and right. Read the NYTimes article for more...

Monday, January 24, 2005

Jacksonville Bound!

My New England Patriots are headed back to the Super Bowl for the third time in four years. It is a glorious time to be a Boston sports fan. Super Bowl. World Series. Super Bowl? Go Pats!

Friday, January 14, 2005

Natural Law Lecture Seven

Aristotle on Justice and Politics

This lecture takes a look at Aristotle’s general ethical theory and the ideas that will influence later natural law thinkers. Koterski admits that Aristotle isn’t really a natural law theorist. Aristotle doesn’t articulate his views on ethics in terms of law, but in terms of virtue.

Koterski discusses Aristotle doctrine of the mean and four central virtues: Prudence, Courage, Temperance, and Justice. He focuses on the contrast Aristotle draws between our nature and our second-nature—that is, between natural dispositions and virtue. We are born with natural dispositions to act and to be certain ways. Virtue requires that we take those natural dispositions and develop them with the goal of being excellent at what we do.

In this way, for Aristotle, virtue is natural in that it is the development and ultimate fulfillment of our nature. Ultimately, these virtues are explainable by reference to our natural function. According to Aristotle, this is rationality. It is what makes us what we are; and so, to be most truly what we are, we need to perform our function excellently. This means that all our actions and activities have to be informed by the principle of reason. This understanding of our function directs us towards the outlines of ethics and politics.

This leads Koterski into a discussion of Aristotle’s view on justice. Justice is, for Aristotle and most of the classical thinkers, what is due, what is fair. The virtue of justice is, then, the virtue of behaving in ways that appropriately gives and takes what is fair. Aristotle argues that we have a natural sense of what is due and what is fair and that this natural justice needs to inform and stand behind the positive law created by communities.

In this sense, Aristotle is coming close to a natural law theory. He even talks of the common law of nature that can be known by all and that needs to be the basis for judging positive law. Next up, the Stoics.

Coalition of the giving

I found this article by way Arts and Living Daily. It is an interesting--and darkly funny--take on the Arab/Muslim response to the tsunami: from the paltry amounts donated to paranoid ponderings about a US/Israeli conspiracy to destroy the Muslim world.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Natural Law Lecture Six

Aristotle’s Clarification of “Nature”

Ahh! The teacher of teachers. The great Aristotle. In this lecture, Koterski turns to Aristotle and his ideas that have influenced natural law. The focus in this lecture is first on Aristotle’s four causes, his theory of change, and our reasoning abilities.

Aristotle’s four causes are the material, the formal, the efficient (or agent), and the final cause. Each of these causes is a necessary part, on Aristotle’s view, of explaining how things come to be and how they act. This is relevant for natural law theory because Aristotle argues that the final cause—the ultimate purpose/goal/end of an entity is within the entity itself. Each being has a final cause to which all its actions and activities are ultimately directed. But this end is not imposed from with out or made up, it is a natural part of the entity.

This theory of the four causes also helps to make sense of change. Aristotle doesn’t want to deny Heraclitus’ idea that the world is dynamic and constantly changing, but he also recognizes that Parmenides was on to something in thinking that something has to stay the same for there to be identity. On Aristotle’s view, change is a real phenomenon, but it is something that happens to a particular thing that doesn’t change. When an animal grows, it changes—but the “it” essentially stays the same. Change is process where something stays the same and something is different. The final end remains the same for a particular being, but it has to change to move and develop towards that end.

Lastly, Koterski gets into Aristotle’s ideas on language and reasoning. Language, on Aristotle’s view, is the manifestation of rationality. It is the way in which one can come to grasp abstractions, make judgments, and form chains of reasoning. This, too, is helpful for natural law theory because it points to a natural feature of humans—our ability to speak. This ability shows even further our deeply rational nature.

Also, Aristotle’s work shows that one can reason from observation and experience to discover the real nature of things. It shows that we gain knowledge through observation and reflection but are not trapped at this level and can move into a deeper and more thorough understanding of the world and our own nature.

Natural Law Lecture Five

Greek Ideas of Nature and Justice

As I love ancient Greek philosophy and the pre-Socratics, I enjoyed this lecture. Koterski goes back to these thinkers looking for the sources of the ideas and principles that would come to form natural law. I don’t think he is claiming that the pre-Socratics or Plato are actually natural law thinkers, but he wants to look into their thinking for the precursors and beginnings of the ideas.

He starts where Western philosophy always starts: with Thales and the Milesian physicists—those fascinating thinkers with unpronounceable names who first struck out to try and explain the world in terms of physical or natural elements instead of myth and gods. This is a natural place for natural law to look for its roots because these thinkers, by looking to nature to explain nature open the door to explaining morality and society by way of nature as well.

Next, Koterski turns to the Sophists. Largely a contrast to natural law, these thinkers represent more of a positive law approach to ethics and social organization. They viewed human life as largely a human creation and human nature is not emphasized.

Lastly, Koterski looks to Socrates and Plato. Koterski gets close to saying that Plato, particularly in The Republic, is a natural law thinker. He doesn’t, but does insist that Plato is making an early attempt at a kind of natural law. Instead of looking at the obligations and requirements of ethics and society as human creations, Plato looks to human nature and its structures and abilities to find out what obligations and requirements we have and what this nature requires by way of conduct and social institutions.

I do get the sense that Koterski is reading natural law, at least a little bit, into these thinkers. At the same time, the roots and precursors are there and so it is worth starting here when looking at the history of natural law.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

A World Without Israel

Here is an interesting article from Foreign Policy that imagines what the world might be like with no Israel. In a world without Israel, Josef Joffe asks, "Would the economic malaise and political repression that drive angry young men to become suicide bombers vanish? Would the Palestinians have an independent state? Would the United States, freed of its burdensome ally, suddenly find itself beloved throughout the Muslim world?" The answers are an emphatic no.

Natural Law Lecture Four

Principles of Natural Law Theory

This lecture largely focuses on the nature of personhood and its relation to natural law theory. Koterski explains that the concept of person is essential in all varieties of natural law theory. Natural law depends on there being a natural kind, in particular, a natural kind of humans. Because of rationality, humans are different, different in kind, than other animals—thus the well-known definition of man as the rational animal. We share with animals an animal nature: we have physical bodies that require nutrition, can grow and decline, can reproduce, and are able to take action. Importantly, like all animals, we have a pattern of development towards a mature individual. But humans also have rationality, which animals lack, and so require a different category.

Koterski more explicitly raises the issue of what might be called the marginal cases. Are non-paradigmatic humans (infants, senile, etc.) fundamentally different than the paradigmatic humans (what Koterski calls the normal case)? Koterski argues that natural law theory considers both to be, from a moral point of view, the same. And it is here that a new concept is needed: personhood.

Person is moral category that will demarcate who deserves protection due to its intrinsic dignity and rights. All humans, on Koterski’s view, are persons in virtue of their humanness. But, he argues, person is a wider category than human. For the religiously minded, God and angels are also considered persons. For the non-religious, one might consider forms of extraterrestrial life that meet certain standards to be persons (it seems quite plausible for there to be a rational Martian which would be a person but not a human).

Koterski argues that we should define human personhood structural—based on our biological structures—and not functionally. The functional definition would seem to leave out the marginal humans because they are incapable of performing the functions that typify humanity. This, he argues, would be arbitrary and subjective because (1) these functions can change and in some ways culturally and individually dependent and (2) because we have no clear way to demarcate the point where the human functionality comes into being. But moreover, even if we could, Koterski argues, nothing fundamental or essential has changed about the individual. The DNA and fundamental organizational principle of the being hasn’t changed, it is just being expressed more and more as the individual grows.

I should note here that I don’t think this is persuasive. Yes, the DNA is the same and the individual is a form of human life. But, there is something importantly different—the particular expression of the DNA and subsequent development has created new structures and with them new facilities and abilities that were not there prior. While I am not saying we must adapt a functional definition, Koterski and other natural law theorists are too quick, I think, to argue that there is no fundamental difference here.

Koterski develops the concept of person by tracing its historical roots back to Boethius—the 6th century Roman philosopher. Boethius defined person as “an individual substance of rational nature.” Adapting the term person from the theatrical notion of persona—the role or character played, Boethius wanted a term to convey accountability and responsibility based on the rationality of the agent.

Koterski closes out the lecture with a discussion of the social dimensions of human nature. Human nature, he notes, requires various kinds of social relationships and interactions. The forms of these interactions and relationships are dependent on a number of different factors including: history, culture, political regimes, and individual choices, but reflection on human nature indicates that some kind of social relations are essential for our proper development and flourishing.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Natural Law Lecture Three

Law, Nature, Natural Law

This lecture starts with a lengthy discussion of definitions and the different ways of formulating definitions. He mainly focuses on definition as genus and species identification. He also discusses definitions that are focused on the part to whole relationship, on a thing’s structure, or on a thing’s function or use.

The rest of the lecture is divided between looking at Aquinas’ definition of law and then exploring the concept of nature. Aquinas defines law as “as an ordering of reason, promulgated by the person in charge of a community, for the common good.” Koterski explains each aspect of this definition: that law is an ordering of reason as opposed to an ordering based on will or power and that law has to be publicly disclosed and so on. Four different types of law, as articulated by Aquinas, are then explained: Eternal Law, Divine Law, Natural Law, and Human/Positive Law.

In his discussion of the definition of nature, Koterski follows Aristotle in claiming that we can discover an entity’s nature by observation and reflection. A things nature is the “internal principle of something’s development and typical activities.” It is the way something characteristically develops and acts.

In an interesting discussion of what is meant by natural, Koterski notes that the natural isn’t just average or the normal. It is what constitutes the full mature healthy individual member of that species. He discusses the “privilege of the normal case” as the case we use to describe the typical and characteristics traits and behaviors and to contrast this species with another. He also importantly argues that the normal case is not used for species demarcation, that is, for determining species membership. The normal case is used for comparing the natures of species, but it is not the sorting principle. In this way, he hopes to avoid the pitfalls of claiming that fetuses, senial, comatose, etc., are not humans because they are incapable of being rational.

Koterski closes the lecture with a brief discussion of human nature. Following Aristotle, he defines human as the rational animal. We belong to the larger group of animate objects, but what makes us specifically different is our broad power of rationality. He also discusses personality in addition to rationality, something I hope and expect he will explain more in subsequent lectures since what he meant by this was not clear. He didn’t mean personality in terms of “she has a nice personality.” I think he intends this to mean that humans have other important qualities and facilities besides rationality—and that these qualities are part of our personhood.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Natural Law Lecture Two

The General Nature of Ethics

This was an overview lecture which explained a little more about the breakdown and organization of the course. Koterski explained that his intention will be to look at natural law theory from both a philosophical and historical perspective. The philosophical approach was dealt with some in the first lecture, and here he explains that the historical approach isn’t just to understand the sequence of events in the history of natural law. It is to understand some of the philosophical questions better, in particular, the issue of relativism. Is morality merely a cultural phenomenon? Koterski holds out the promise that by looking at the history of the various insights of natural law and how it developed might help shed some light on this question.

Koterski then quickly explains the essentials of the four major traditions of ethics. He covers Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics, Kant’s Deontology, Mill’s Utilitarianism, and Religious divine command. He covers these in a very simply and basic way, and briefly discusses how they compare and contrast with natural law ethics. My one criticism here is that explains Kant theory as a systematized theory of the golden rule—and that is not an accurate explanation of the categorical imperative.

The next section of the lecture focuses on how natural law can meet the ideals that were laid out in lecture one: objectivity, universality, and intelligibility. Objectivity, he argues, will come from the basing of ethics on our natures as human beings. By asking what kind of beings we are and what our typically activities are, we can find an objective basis for ethical principles. The universality of natural law will come from a similar source in that if all humans share a common nature, the moral principles will be universal across this common nature. Lastly, intelligibility can be found because, it is claimed, one with an open and reasonable mind should be able to discover and understand human nature.

Next are the objections to natural law (and indeed morality itself): relativism, subjectivism, and skepticism. He doesn’t try to answer these concerns here, promising that these will be answer as he argues for natural law.

Lastly, Koterski discusses moral knowledge and natural kinds. Moral knowledge he will argue, is possible, contra the skeptic. He argues that there are certain claims of moral knowledge that it is just implausible to claim we don’t know or that are reasonable to deny. Using murder as an example, he claims it is undeniable that the killing of innocent life is wrong. The rub, of course, is what one considers to be innocent.

A natural kind is a “group that can be objectivity distinguished from another group on the basis of some property.” To be a difference in kind, the trait or property “is present in some degree in every member of the group and is totally lacking in other instances.” Differences in degree are differences along some dimension that all members of the group share. He uses water and salt as an example. Water and salt are different in kind—they are two different natural kinds. They each have a natural structure that gives rise to certain properties that all members of one group have and the other totally lacks. But liquid water, ice, and water vapor are different in degree—they possess related properties based on an essentially similar structure.

He closes the lecture with the question of whether humans are a natural kind. He thinks we are and will argue that the property that makes us different, the one we have that no other creature has, is rationality in the form of intellect and will. He doesn’t think that the possibility that we might find non-human rational creatures shows there is no natural kind—he just thinks he will expand the group of rational creatures are that deserving of respect.

More on Palestinian "Moderate"

Apparently, Abu Mazen/Mahmoud Abbas is a Holocaust denier. In article prior to Abbas' appointment as Prime Minister in 2003, Rafael Medoff cites a 1983 book penned by Abbas: The Other Side: The Secret Relations Between Nazism and the Leadership of the Zionist Movement. In this book Abbas apparently doubts that the Nazi's murdered 6 million Jews, disputes that gas chambers were used to murder Jews, and claims these were a product of a Zionist conspiracy.

The Return of DDT

Here's a surprising op-ed from the NY Times by Nicholas Kristof advocating bringing back DDT in Malaria torn countries. While recognizing that DDT hasn't been shown to be dangerous to humans, he does perpetuate the myth(if indeed it is a myth) that DDT caused the death of bird species. This is, after all, the NY Times.

Friday, January 07, 2005

And now the opposite view....

And the opposing view from the NY Times -- of course.

Abbas, "The Moderate"

Charles Krauthammer on why Mahmoud Abbas is not the Palestinian moderate that everyone has declared him to be and that he offers more of the same.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Proletarian Expropriation, or Rationalizing Theft

This is just plain bizarre. Proletarian expropriation is defined in the blog entry as a "form of civil disobedience intended to represent a form of protest against a disproportional raise of prices and despite stagnating or lowering personal income."

In other words, stealing.

Civil disobedience can be a powerful tool used to undermine and then repeal unjust laws. But these loons are going into stores and restaurants and not paying for the goods and services because they think the prices are too high. But, thankfully, they make sure to leave a generous tip to the waiter. After all, he's part of the Proletariat I guess.

The ridiculous thing about this is that thinkers take this crap seriously, as if there were a real issue here. The blog entry at TransAtlantic Monthly has several paragraphs considering the legal ramifications, likely court responses, and whether this stealing is okay if the folks redistribute to those in need.

I should note that the blog entry is from a Serbian and all the episodes of proletariat stealing that are mentioned take place in Italy. Those wacky Europeans still think communism is going to make a comeback I guess. Though, I could see this happening in San Francisco.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Natural Law Lecture One

Philosophical Approach

The first lecture of Natural Law and Human Nature was good. Koterski starts this series off in an unusual, but effective, way. He presents three cases to show the history and importance of the natural law tradition. The first case is Sophocles’s Antigone. I am not going to recount the story, but essentially Antigone defies her king’s direct order not to bury her brother properly. In her defense, she cites a higher law above the king. She appeals to Zeus and to justice as overriding Crion's order.

Next, Koterski discusses the Nuremberg trials. He argues persuasively that the justices leading the trials had to make a kind of natural law appeal in order to try the Nazis. In part because of jurisdiction problems—how can a German by tried under British law for a crime not even committed in Britian—and in part, because German law under the Nazi’s made the actions on trial explicitly legal, the justices had to appeal to a higher law that transcends any sovereign state.

Lastly, Koterski discusses civil rights and Martin Luther King. MLK (and other civil rights activists before and after him) appealed explicitly to the natural law tradition in his defense of civil disobedience.

Given the range of time, culture, custom, and beliefs of these three stories, Koterski is trying to show us that natural law has a long and storied tradition that goes beyond any particular culture or even religious belief.

Koterski ends the first lecture with an appeal to philosophy. He tells us that this lecture series will subject the concepts of law, nature, and human nature to serious philosophical scrutiny. He tells us further that he is guided in his analysis by three philosophical ideas: objectivity, universality, and intelligibility. Objectivity in that he will try and appeal to evidence and argument in ways that are compelling and not mere subjective opinion. Universality in that he is aiming at a justification that applies to every kind of human being. Intelligibility in that these concepts should be ones that readily understandable.

The next lecture looks to be an overview of traditional ethical theories.

Natural Law and Human Nature

In the spring semester, I am taking a seminar on positive law. It looks to be very interesing, in particular because there will only be about 7-8 students, all philosophy graduate students and a few law students. So the quality of discussion should be high.

As a way of preparation, I took out from the library The Teaching Company's "Natural Law and Human Nature" by Father Joseph Koterski. No doubt there will be some religious overtones to Koterski's lectures, but I listened to his Ethics of Aristotle course and that was very solid.

My over ambitious goal is to blog summaries of the lectures after I listen to them. Hopefully,
I won't stop at Lecture One.

Putting Humans First

I am about half way through Tibor Machan's Putting Humans First. I've wanted to read it since it came out, but since he will be coming to speak to the Arizona Objectivists on 1/15 I thought it time to read it.

No surprises so far. It's a straightforward, pleasurable read. I am not sure its very convincing to someone already convinced of animal rights. Surprisingly, the book, so far, doesn't spend all that much time (part of the first chapter) on showing the faulty reasoning of the other side. And going by the table of contents, it won't. It is actually much more positive. Machan goes through the reasoning behind human rights and thereby shows why such reasoning can't be reasonably applied to animals. The book might have been more persuasive (again I am not finished yet) had it spent more time going through the problems with the argument on the other side.

But as I am in total agreement with Machan on this issue (see my piece on animal rights), the book is a pleasure to read.

Yet Another Attempt

I am trying, yet again, to committ myself to blogging regularly. My plan is to blog something everyday--no matter how trivial or uninteresting it might be. Hopefully I will develop the habit in this way. One idea is to comment on stuff I am reading or listening to (as in the Teaching Company)