Tuesday, October 25, 2011

(LCR) Just a Theory?

From Monday's NY Times:
To the Editor:
Your article concludes that global warming agnosticism is mostly an American thing. I disagree. Around the world, the opinion that global warming is a clear and present danger is much diminished. There is a realization that the case for global warming was uncertain at best, and certainly greatly exaggerated.
Global warming remains a hypothesis. At least in this one instance, the United States showed itself more prudent, and rightly more skeptical, than many. Politics has always been the plague of science.
Claude Roessiger
Wolfeboro, NH

I'm a little confused by the last sentence, but if the author intends an argument and not just a series of loosely connected assertions, I'm curious whether he commits one or more fallacies.

(LE) Mill on Slavery

Jamie sent along this link to the famous Mill-Carlyle debate on slavery:


Blogging and Collective Responsibility

Blog participation, especially in Logic and Critical Reasoning, has been fairly anemic this semester. Leaving aside the academic consequences of not fulfilling the assignment, I want to make a case for a special sort of collective responsibility in activities of this sort.

Of course, each student may choose not to participate, or to do so minimally and sporadically, and the consequences of that choice devolve to that student. Notice, however, that in this setting, where each student must both post and comment on others' posts, making such a choice directly affects the environment in which everyone else acts. Less activity creates, in the aggregate, a target-poor space for comment and discussion, which makes it less engaging for everyone, driving participation still lower. Below a certain threshold of activity (and I'm afraid we may be just on the cusp of that threshold) the interaction can't sustain itself, and everyone's learning suffers.

What do you all think?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

(LE) Strange Fruit

Here's link to a U-Tube video of Billie Holiday singing "Strange Fruit," which she first performed in 1939. If I can figure it out, I'll put the clip itself up.

(LE) Another Thought about Racism

It's quite true that etymology is not destiny, but the era in which we coin a word for something is one measure of the point at which it becomes possible to focus on it, and address it politically. Unlike an armchair moralist, a political actor like Lincoln must be centrally concerned with the issues he can see a way to affect in his own circumstances. If he speaks of slavery (but not racism) as a great evil, while at the same time personally steering clear of most of the standard antipathy toward blacks in his violently racist society, are we really interpreting charitably to assume he would not have been anti-racist had he lived today?

(LE) Unjust,, AND Bad Policy

One hint that Lincoln may have had a nuanced sense of moral-theoretical issues -- and that he grasped a plurality of moral principles -- is this line in his joint protest with Dan Stone of the legislature's condemnation of abolitionism in 1837:

"...that the institution of slavery is founded on both injustice and bad policy..."

Here Lincoln alleges that justice, a deontological notion owing as much to Aristotle as to Kant, aligns (as it may not always do) with the pragmatic, Millian consequences of policy.

Monday, October 10, 2011

(LCR) How to Spell 'Argument'

By this point in a logic course, it would perhaps be judicious for students to notice the more conventional spelling of the word 'argument.' The 'e' in 'argue' drops out when you form the compound noun.

(LE) Paper Topics

I trust you will each communicate with me very shortly concerning your proposed topics for the mid-term essay.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

(LE) Some Brief Thoughts on Moral Theory

Aristotle is surely correct that individual habituation and character are crucial to happiness and worthiness to be happy, but (as Aristotle himself says in book five, discussing justice) this can hardly be the whole story – one can for example be kind and gentle with friends and family and still be a moral monster -- take Hitler, for example.

Kant is of course right that a theory of morality must posit both the freedom of moral agents and their inherent dignity. Normative ethics itself is a non-starter unless we grant this. His apriorism, however, and austere insistence on purity of intention for an act to count as moral, present some serious difficulties in applying the Categorical Imperative as such to messy, real-world moral challenges.

We must grant Mill’s insistence that consequences matter morally, and this serves as a corrective to Kant. But to present utility as what makes actions moral is reductive and circular.

So an adequate moral theory and practice must attend, at the least, to all three: character, dignity, and results.

Monday, October 3, 2011

(LE) What Was the Civil War About?

There is a first-rate short article in the current (October 10th) Nation magazine by the eminent historian Eric Foner, explaining how the civil war has been remembered by historians and citizens in the intervening century and a half. It seems not to be open source on the web, but you can always go read it in the (gasp!) library.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

(LE) Blogging Protocol

Please turn off the "word verification" feature on your blogs, so that the rest of us may post comments less inconveniently. At some point we may need to turn them back on if there is a rash of spam, but it's not normally a problem.