Thursday, December 12, 2013

End of Semester

Thank you all for a lively semester and some good conversations. I will post grades to Banner in a few days, when I have finished calculating the scores. When you retrieve them, let me know if you think they might be in error by sending me a polite query via email. Doing so within thirty days preserves your right to challenge the grade administratively, in case you find my reply unsatisfactory.

I wish you all a pleasant and intellectually stimulating semester break.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

(LE) Rawls and Toleration

I take Sebastian's point about the reasons for Rawls's emphasis on toleration over justice and equality in the short term. And it is perfectly credible that Lincoln's own Whiggish gradualism inspired that particular balance. Remember that Rawls used to team-teach a seminar on Lincoln with David Herbert Donald at Harvard. Bad as he knew slavery was, Lincoln was willing to tolerate it so long as it could be contained and eventually die a natural death, in the interest of preventing war and preserving constitutional legality (which he may have thought were demonstrably greater evils). Without necessarily agreeing, we can well understand such a choice, harsh as it is on millions of human beings who must suffer infinite indignity in the meantime.

Kant would have a very hard time accepting such a choice. Mill might agree to it, with considerable reluctance, if the numbers worked out overwhelmingly in its favor (remember, he's a rule Utilitarian, so slavery is out prima facie). Aristotle (updated with a bit of Kantian egalitarianism to acknowledge owning other people as a vice) might be more willing than the others to support the extreme tolerant approach, especially if we conceive it (a Lincoln did) in terms of culture and community. Both A. and L. understand how resistant ways of life (and their operating systems) are to dramatic change, and both accept the critical importance of polis for the formation of personhood.

It would be helpful, however, as we contemplate the moral acceptability of such a compromise, to have historical examples showing how and whether it works. When has the tolerance and containment of a great, soul-crushing evil actually led to its demise?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Krugman Joke

Has anyone else noticed how much the G.O.P. position on Obamacare resembles the classic borscht belt joke about the two ladies at a Catskills resort?

Lady No. 1: "The food here is so terrible, it's inedible!"
Lady No. 2: "And the portions are so small!"

Republican No. 1: "Obamacare is slavery!"
Republican No. 2: "And it's so hard to sign up!"

Monday, December 2, 2013

(LE) Language and Values

We have talked about Lincoln's moral operating system, and how it differs in its fundamental commitments from those of both his Southern and Northern adversaries. The attached article by philosopher and cognitive scientist George Lakoff summarizes the relationship between values and political language that he has been working on for many years (specifically in light of the health-care debate). It is fairly long, but I would like you all to read it, so that we can discuss how we might analyze Lincoln's speeches in light of it.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

(LCR) A Blogging Low

Fewer than half the class participated to any degree in blogging for the course this week, which may be a new low. Apart from my disappointment about the loss of educational opportunity (the blogging you did was good quality), I'm concerned about course performance. Most of you can't really afford to give up the blogging points for the course, and yet some of you have seriously let it slide.

So I'll allow make-up blogging for LCR this coming week -- it's not required, but if you do it I'll count it towards your total blogging score.

Friday, November 15, 2013

(LCR) Krugman on Appeals to Authority

Here is a very sharp, short column by economist Paul Krugman, in which he discusses the virtues and limits of credentials. It well demonstrates, in case such demonstration were necessary, how widely applicable logical and epistemological principles are, even to practical matters such as economics.

Friday, November 8, 2013

(LE) William Knox poem

The poem Miller mentions on p. 69 is evidently by William Knox (1789-1825). Here's a link:

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Camus at 100

In a piece on NPR this morning, I heard that the French/Algerian novelist and philosopher Albert Camus would be 100 years old today (he died at 46 in an automobile accident). A sidebar made an interesting point about Camus' retelling of the myth of Sisyphus and the paradox of boring employment. It's worth a listen:

Friday, October 25, 2013

(LCR) Midterm surprises

There were a couple of questions that many of you missed which surprised me. For example:
"'Thus,' 'since,' 'so,' and 'therefore' can all serve as conclusion indicators" is clearly false ('since' can only be a premise indicator). Yet all but one of you marked it "True."

Almost as many of you marked "True" the claim that "I was late because my car broke down" is an argument, the conclusion to which is "I was late." But the broken car is not offered as evidence for the truth of the claim "I was late" -- the fact of your lateness is a given, and the broken car is offered as an explanation.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Why Study Philosophy?

Here's a nice news story from Purdue University (where, as it happens, I got my Doctorate):

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Saturday, October 19, 2013

(LCR) Socratic Reasoning

Consider the following passage from Plato’s dialogue Crito:
Socrates:  …wrongdoing or injustice is in every way harmful and shameful to the wrongdoer. Do we say so or not?
Crito:  We do.
Socrates:  So one must never do wrong.
Crito:  Certainly not.
Socrates:  Nor must one, when wronged, inflict wrong in return, as the many believe, since one must never do wrong.
Crito:  That seems to be the case.
Socrates:  Come now, should one do harm to anyone or not, Crito?
Crito:  One must never do so.
Socrates:  Well then, if one is oneself done harm, is it right, as the many say, to do harm in return, or is it not?
Crito:  It is never right.
Socrates:  Doing people harm is no different from wrongdoing.
Crito:  That is true.

One consequence of taking this reasoning seriously would be that punishment -- harming someone in retribution for having done something wrong -- would be indefensible. What do you think?

Monday, October 14, 2013

(LCR) Spam Logic -- Fuggetaboutit!

I just received an email that announced:  "Someone Develops Alzheimer's Every Sixty-Eight Seconds." I suppose we can only feel sorry for that poor person, whose life must be a relentless series of repeatedly forgotten lapses of memory.

(LE) The Struggle Continues

One or two of you have noticed some similarities between the civil war era and current events. In an article in Salon, Michael Lind argues that the current shenanigans in Congress are part of a deliberate strategy on the part of Southern elites (he calls them "neo-Confederates") to preserve their wealth and control over labor. In other words, what we are witnessing is merely the latest economic and political battle of the civil war.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

(LE) Student Ethics

I have just posted the next phase of the essay assignment to Canvas. Doing a good job on this assignment, and in a timely manner, is overdetermined by all the moral theories available to us:  
  • diligence and timeliness are qualities of virtuous persons in a good polis;
  • the maxim of a slacker could never serve as a universal law of nature in a realm of ends; 
  • the aggregate balance of utility (happiness and fulfillment over pain and suffering) would be undermined by the unpleasant consequences of missed deadlines or sloppy work.
So have at it!

Monday, October 7, 2013

(LCR) Truth-Functional Operator Issues

Friday's quiz revealed, for some of you, a residual weakness in your grasp of truth-functional operators. To begin with, remember that when translating an argument into standard form or symbolizing it, identifying the argument's intended conclusion is fundamental. If you get that wrong, fuggetaboutit. Once you identify the conclusion correctly, pay close attention to the operators: in logic as in English, 'and,' 'if-then,' 'or,' 'not,' and 'if and only if' mean different things (which is why we symbolize them differently). Because natural language is very flexible, you have to examine each statement carefully to determine which operator is operative.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

(LE) Lincoln's flaws

As we catalogue Lincoln's character, it is important not to neglect his limitations and shortcomings. One reason for this is that a virtue in a personal context can sometimes turn into a vice in another situation, such as a leadership role. For example, Lincoln's intelligence and ability to learn are admirable in themselves, but could cause problems. On page 333, Donald notes John Hay's observation of Lincoln's "intellectual arrogance and unconscious assumption of superiority" which offended many legislators even in his own party.

You may perhaps have heard analogous criticisms of Barack Obama over the past five years.

Clearly one of the qualities one needs in public life is a very thick skin!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

(LE) Corporate Humor

As you are aware, Lincoln had a rather broad sense of humor, and was prone to tell silly stories (sometimes with a serious purpose, often not). Not everyone appreciated this propensity, and some were driven crazy by it. Lincoln was not above using others' lack of appreciation for his humor to his advantage -- people who thought him an unsophisticated hick, with his southern Indiana drawl and homey analogies, tended to misunderestimate him (as a later president would actually say of himself).

An excerpt from Dave Eggers's new novel, published in Sunday's New York Times, brilliantly captures a certain earnest corporate humorlessness: "...she swept her arm around, indicating about a dozen offices surrounding the open space. Each was walled in glass, revealing the occupants -- all of the supervisors slightly older, a bit more polished, preternaturally calm.
     'The architects really like glass, eh?' Mae said.
     Renata stopped, furrowed her brow and thought on this notion. She put a strand of hair behind her ear and said: 'I think so. I can check. But first we should explain the setup and what to expect on your first real day.'"

Friday, September 27, 2013

(LCR) Protocol for formal proofs

Many of you lost points on today's quiz, not because you couldn't solve the problems but because you were sloppy about protocol. I'm going to be an absolute control freak about this, for when proofs start to get complicated any deviation from procedure can lead to mistakes in the proof. So NUMBER ALL STEPS IN A PROOF, and JUSTIFY EVERY LINE. If a proposition is a premise, you must write "Prem." after it. Following the last premise (properly so labeled), put a forward slash, three dots indicating "Therefore," and the conclusion which you are attempting to demonstrate. Each subsequent step requires a justification (the numbers of relevant previous steps and the rule(s) of inference you are using to justify the step).

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

(LE) Lincoln 2.0

I’d like to say a little more about the moral operating systems we discussed yesterday: the ‘Stern Father Model’ and the ‘Nurturing Parent Model’. I propose this family-relations metaphor advisedly, because we actually tend to think about government and our relationship to it in precisely these terms, as though the nation were a sort of extended family. (There are dangers to thinking this way – family finances are really not usefully analogous to federal budgets, for example – but it is often an informative image, and is readily available.)

I also employ the ‘operating system’ metaphor deliberately, because these two contrasting models operate mostly below the level of cognition. Like Windows or Mac OS, they undergird and support programs and apps without the user having to think about them, and subtly but powerfully condition what those apps can do and how they work. (Those of you who have used both systems will be frustratingly aware of the deep differences.) Likewise the Stern Father and Nurturing Parent models represent not so much the values and ideas that we openly subscribe to, as the unspoken, underlying assumptions that determine how we understand and value everything else. Only rarely in ordinary life do we even think about them directly.

One last point for now. Although the two models are largely incompatible, most people actually contain elements of both systems. For example, a person might well be attentive and nurturing in relation to her children, but operate in authoritarian command mode in her corporate-management job, without necessarily even noticing the switch. The two really are irreconcilable, however, so when one is activated the other shuts down. One of the things that follows from this is that it matters very much how a politician speaks to us – which system her words, style, and images activate and reinforce in us. Watch for such choices in Lincoln’s speeches.