January 28, 2009

Quote of the Day: Kant Smacks Down Eudaimonism With Some Greek Word Play

If this distinction [between 'pathological pleasure' and 'moral pleasure'] is not observed, if eudaimonism (the principle of happiness) is set up as the basic principle instead of eleutheronomy (the principle of the freedom of internal lawgiving), the result is the euthanasia (easy death) of all morals. (Immanuel Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals, tr. Mary Gregor, p. 143)
For the record, I think that, whether accidentally or intentionally, Kant radically distorts ancient eudaimonism. Eudaimonia doesn't mean 'happiness' in the English sense of that word, which comes from 'hap', meaning 'luck' (as in 'perhaps')...
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January 24, 2009

Kant on Copyright

Regular readers are no doubt aware that I don't believe in intellectual property. That is, I don't believe that you can have property rights in ideas or, generally, in intangibles. I have, however, noted that I support anti-plagiarism laws, and even suspect that they are capable of doing most of the good that so-called 'intellectual property' laws do. (Our current copyright and patent laws, in my opinion, do more harm than good.) Kant, however, has an interesting argument (which is even more or less comprehensible - a rare find in a Kant text!) against the unauthorized publishing of books. The section is fairly short so I will publish the whole thing without authorization...
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January 23, 2009

How Putnam Defeats Descartes' Demon

A little while back, I wrote a post describing Cartesian demon skepticism as a form of 'adversarial epistemology'. The idea is that Descartes' thought experiment can be conceived of as a game with two players: the meditator and the demon. The meditator selects a process for forming beliefs from perceptual experiences, and the demon knows what process the meditator has selected, and controls all of the perceptual experiences. If the meditator ends up with mostly true beliefs, she wins. Otherwise, the demon wins. Now, I mentioned at the bottom of that post that this way of framing the problem is helpful...
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January 21, 2009

The Limits of Religious Toleration

In a very sad case out of Wisconsin, the parents of 11 year old Kara Neumann are being prosecuted for reckless endangerment after their daughter died of diabetes. They refused medical care for their daughter on account of their religious beliefs. (They do not belong to the Church of Christ, Scientist, which I believe is the largest religious organization which forbids its adherents from seeking medical care; rather, it appears that they are followers of some internet group by the name of "Unleavened Bread Ministries".) The Neumanns originally entered a constitutional challenge to their prosecution. The judge ruled that...
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January 20, 2009

Topics of Thought for This Quarter

Although I only very rarely post life updates to this blog, it is my custom here to list the subjects I am studying each term because it generally has some bearing on what interesting philosophy I will be blogging about. This quarter I am taking courses on the following topics: Early Modern Social Contract Theory. Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. I am already considering a paper topic: grievances against the state. (A timely subject.) Hobbes seems to say that you can't sue a sovereign (whether sovereignty is held by an individual or a group) unless he/she/they intentionally set up a process...
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January 19, 2009

Alex Byrne on Contemporary Debate About the Existence of God

The latest edition of the Boston Review is running an article by MIT philosopher Alex Byrne on the state of philosophical debate about the existence of God. For a popular article, it is in many ways quite good. It focuses on the ontological argument and the teleological argument (although it doesn't consider versions of the latter like the one I advocate), which are probably the two most interesting of the traditional arguments, and it has interesting things to say about each of them. I do, however, have a few complaints. First, early in the article we find this colorful phrase...
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January 9, 2009

Quote of the Day: A Summary of Berkeley's Mature Doctrine of Signs

Although the details are sketchy, Berkeley's basic point is clear: A sign may be significant not because it marks an idea, or even because it can be traced to something with which we are immediately acquainted, but because it is a working part of a system of signs that makes a genuine difference to our lives - to our thoughts, actions, and emotions. (Kenneth P. Winkler, "Berkeley and the Doctrine of Signs" in Winkler, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Berkeley, p. 151) This is Winkler's summary of Berkeley's mature "doctrine of signs" as developed in Alciphron 7. By the way,...
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January 7, 2009

'Contemning the Shame'

I was reading Hobbes today, and came across a word I'm not sure I've ever seen before. At Leviathan 1.6 (p. 24 of the original edition), Hobbes writes: Those things which we neither Desire, nor Hate, we are said to Contemne: CONTEMPT being nothing else but an immobility, or contumacy of the Heart, in resisting the action of certain things; and proceeding from that the Heart is already moved otherwise, by other more potent objects; or from want of experience of them. The word I am talking about, 'contemne' (which was later spelled 'contemn' - I will use this spelling...
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January 5, 2009

The Problem of Analyticity

The new quarter has begun, and I have just finished reading Quine's "Two Dogmas of Empiricism". One of Quine's chief purposes here is to argue that the difference between 'analytic' and 'synthetic' truths is one of degree, and not of kind, so that there is no neat division between the two. I want discuss this difficulty here, although I shall treat it slightly differently than Quine does. Anyone who has been exposed to post-Kantian philosophy is familiar with the distinction between the analytic and the synthetic. For instance, 'no bachelor is married' is an analytic truth...
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Blog Year 2008 in Review

The year 2008 on this blog saw over 181,000 visits from nearly 55,000 distinct users. This is the third year in review post I have done, and each time I have seen a drop in my statistics. Last year, I attributed it to less regular carnival submissions and the fact that I hosted a Philosophers' Carnival in 2006, but not in 2007. However, I hosted two carnivals in 2008, and my stats continue to drop. It has been suggested that over the past two years...
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