Tuesday, November 27, 2012

CD: Chenoweth & Stephan on Values

After reading King, Gandhi, and others who undertake change through nonviolent action, as well as a number of philosophers who think about it deeply, it is interesting to notice the different intellectual style these political scientists bring to the issue. While they are not uninterested in morality -- noting for example that one reason nonviolent movements can gather more active supporters is that so many people have moral qualms about participating in violence -- they treat morality simply as another sociological fact, and studiously avoid making any value-claims themselves. They seem to be arguing that their objective analysis shows nonviolent action to be superior for one reason only: that it tends to be more effective.

Powerful as such reasoning seems on the surface, in its vigorous avoidance of any (subjective or objective) assessment of the rather different values underlying violent and nonviolent choices of method, it feels oddly dissociated from the intentions that motivate most campaigns. This work might well encourage people to undertake nonviolent campaigns who would otherwise be doubtful of its efficacy, but it's hard to see how it can inspire the sort of commitment to nonviolence that Gandhi thought was so important.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

LCR: Alan Turing and Deductive Logic

This year is the centenary of the birth of Alan Turing, the British logician and cryptographer who cracked the Nazi "Enigma" code and almost certainly shortened WWII, perhaps by several years. Turing happened to be gay, and after the war was persecuted for it, which probably led to his death by accidental poisoning (or suicide, as some people think). Here is a short article on the role of deductive logic in his work, and its under-appreciated value for biomedical research.
An excerpt:
"Even though all deductive conclusions are logically implicit in the premises, they are not necessarily obvious, and they can require immense intellectual effort to generate. For example, in order to successfully decipher encrypted Nazi dispatches, Turing and his WWII colleagues had to make virtually every deductive inference permitted by the information in hand, what I call “maximum deduction.” As an ideal, maximum deduction is of potential relevance to today’s biomedical researchers, as deeper reasoning could help avoid fruitless lines of investigation while pointing to previously unrecognized but potentially valuable experiments. But as cognition expert Daniel Kahneman recently noted, rigorous reasoning is energy-intensive and the default choice for many individuals is to minimize cognitive effort.  Biomedical investigators frequently fail to make all of the inferences that are possible with the data available to them, whether derived from their own investigations or from studies by others."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

CD: Raz on legal protest

I'm struggling with Joseph Raz's analysis of the right to civil disobedience, and a piece of what's bothering me shows up in this paragraph:  "Liberal states do not make the legitimacy of political action dependent on the cause it is meant to serve. People may support political aims of all complexions. But the right to political action is circumscribed in such states by limitations as the form of the permissible actions. Given that we are used to thinking in this way of lawful political action, it is only natural to extend the same approach to unlawful political activity."
But this seems seriously to miss the point. The "form of the permissible actions" is, precisely and reductively, a legal form. Illegal action, by definition, departs from legality, so it seems to me we really would be correct to hold it to a different, and presumably higher, moral standard. Thoughts?