Sunday, September 25, 2011

(LCR) A Letter in the Times

Here is an excerpt from a letter in Saturday's New York Times (I have removed some extraneous, partisan jabs that do not contribute to the argument). I think there are several, nested arguments here very worth teasing out. Somebody want to try putting them in standard form?

"We can be either a generous society or a responsible society, but not both. If we are generous, we will undermine responsibility... A responsible society basically asks people to take care of themselves; it is not kind, but such a society can sustain itself and grow. A generous society cannot maintain itself and still be free. The generosity will increasingly be paid for by more and more intrusive government control of all social behavior. Therefore, I believe we must emphasize being a responsible society and build only that generous component -- welfare and charity -- that will not undermine responsibility." -- William N. Hoke, Manhattan Beach, CA

(LE) Kant

You will have noticed that Kant is challenging reading, and also that his criteria for actions to count as genuinely moral are pretty demanding. It is fair to ask how we are to apply such an austere argument to Lincoln, as apparently heteronomous and wily a political actor as can be imagined. Perhaps, as one critic has commented, Kant's morality is for angels only.

Though we may well find ourselves resisting Kant's rigid distinction between mixed and pure motives, we can nonetheless see the power in his concepts of respect and treating ourselves and others as ends. We might also find some echos of these lofty aspirations in some of Lincoln's moral ambition, his personal and national search for those "better angels of our nature."

Saturday, September 24, 2011

(LE) Film Series

We will begin our Lincoln film series this coming Wednesday at 7 pm in Bowman 211 (our regular classroom, as it turns out). Apologies to those who have other commitments at that time. We own the films, so can make them available to you if necessary after the screening.

Friday, September 16, 2011

(LE) Aristotle's Mistakes

Yesterday's discussion was really interesting. Clearly we have learned some things that Aristotle didn't understand, but he may well understand some things that we have forgotten, which makes him worthy of our attention and careful study (never of our worship or uncritical allegiance).

Thursday, September 15, 2011

(LE) Reading Aristotle for Our Purposes

After Tuesday's discussion, and after I read your SLAPs, it occurred to me that we want to be careful not to get too bogged down in the many abstract problems the text raises. Our purpose is, after all, quite concrete -- we're interested in how to think seriously about morality in real-world situations, and particularly in Lincoln's.

Consider, therefore, that not all of Aristotle’s particular, idiosyncratic views are of immediate interest, and only some of his arguments are compelling. Our main interest here is, rather, to grasp his approach to questions of morality, which is distinct from many modern approaches. The specifics of his views and reasoning are important, but not exhaustive of what we can learn from Aristotle. We'll try to amplify this thought in today's class.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

(LE) Uses of Lincoln

This morning at the ground zero memorial service, former president G.W. Bush read a famous letter from Lincoln to a woman who had allegedly lost five sons in the civil war (I think Donald quotes from it). Here is a Wikipedia entry quoting the letter in its entirety: What do you think of this choice of material, and the tacit analogy it draws with the present?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

(LCR) Eternal Happiness

I neglected to mention yesterday that my colleague David Johnson is the author of the sample syllogism we discussed in class, and I owe him this apology. Here is the example:

1) Nothing is better than eternal happiness
2) Studying logic is better than nothing
therefore 3) Studying logic is better than eternal happiness

As many of you were quick to observe, though the argument is formally valid, it is unsound because the linking or middle term "nothing" means different things in the two premises (Aristotle's way of saying this is that the middle term is undistributed).

Some of you also noticed that the concept of "eternal happiness" is somewhat problematic -- not because the phrase lacks a unitary meaning, but rather because we have reason to doubt that it makes practical sense.

This insight is one of the keys to a better argument I think we can make for the truth of the conclusion. Since studying logic is both an intrinsic and an extrinsic good that we can realistically achieve, whereas eternal happiness is probably not, then it is in fact better, at least in that pragmatic respect. Some of you will no doubt wonder at certain points in the semester whether studying logic is, after all, an intrinsic good, but I hope you will not be too quick to draw your conclusions about that.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Fall Semester

Welcome friends and students. This blog will mainly be a locus for posts and discussion about Lincoln's Ethics (LE) and Logic and Critical Reasoning (LCR)for the next few months. LCR students should also regularly check out the B'Logic site (under "My Blogs" to the left) for information about that course. Lower down on the left margin, links to the current bloggers for both courses will appear shortly.