Monday, December 11, 2006

General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte

Jara sang, his song a weapon, in the hands of love,
You know his blood still cries from the ground

-U2, One Tree Hill.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Postcards from the Occupation II

Please pray for the parties involved in this war.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Logician's Liberation League Manifesto

Logicians Liberation League Manifesto
whereas logic is the essence of philosophy,
and logic is the organon of philosophy,
and logic is the form of philosophy and
coaches, assistant coaches, managers, trainers and fans
of the IU philosophy team have
made frequent and insinuating remarks about the number of
logicians recruited for this year's philosophy team,
have discouraged the recruitment of outstanding out-of-state
prospects solely on the ground that they are logicians,
have refused to recognize the right of logicians to their
own unique cultural heritage, acquiescing in particular in
the denial to them of such treasured items as blackboards,
erasers, chalk, and old napkins,
performed acts degrading to logicians as human beings,
performed acts degrading to logicians as individuals,
performed acts degrading to logicians as men,
performed acts degrading to logicians as manifestations of God, collections of atoms, free spirits,
misery, suffering, pain, affliction, and one severe case of philosopher's foot,
We the members of
do hereby announce our intention, if attention to our fair
grievances is not forthcoming,
to boycott Friday practice sessions,
to howl and jeer when the name of an ethicist, metaphysician,
epistemologist, aesthetician, or any other kind of
Establishment jerk is proposed for addition to the team, to root for the political science department in competition for the coveted Ewing Bowl,
to reveal that other members of the team are mere symbol
pushers and hawkers of uninterpretable calculi,
to prove the existence of God, the relativity of moral judgments,
the identity thesis, and the truth of neo-Pythagorean skeptical hedonism,
thus leaving other members of the team with nothing to talk about.
Do not be deceived, Establishment pigs (this means you too, Establishment dogs).
The subservience of past generations of logicians does not mean that we shall bear forever our treatment as animals (you barnyard fowl).
We are human beings (you swine). You are living in a day when logicians
will not any longer endure your taunts, your slurs, your
insults (you filthy vermin). In the name of A. N. Whitehead
and B. Russell we gather; in the spirit of R. Carnap
and A. Tarski, we march; by the word of W. V. O. Quine, we shall prevail.
Beware you snakes of the Philosophical Power
Structure, which you have created and which you maintain to
put down the logician; you have caged the eagle of reason,
the dove of wisdom, and the lark of a definite, precisely
formulated formal system, with exact formation rules,
a recursive set of axioms, and clear and cogent rules of inference,
and you have made them your pigeons. Oh, you filterable viruses,
we will shake you off and fly once more.

All my love, Robert K. Meyer Maximum Leader Logicians Liberation League
Presented at the close of a Philosophy seminar given by Professor Paul Eisenberg, to the Department of Philosophy, Indiana University, in the (northern) autumn of 1969. The Maximum Leader was attacked during the presentation of this manifesto, with a banana cream pie, by Mrs. Marianne Tienson.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Blessed John Duns Scotus

As Gerard Manley Hopkins said of him:

Of realty the rarest-veined unraveller; a not

Rivalled insight, be rival Italy or Greece;

Who fired France for Mary without spot.

Also, the only truly great medieval philosopher/theologian who wasn't Italian!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Our Lord and Master speaks

There's full video of Saul Kripke's recent talk, (and some video of post-talk comments and questions) on the first person here.

True believers in the causal theory of reference, unite! You have nothing to lose but your senses...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Aristotle as he was

A bust of Aristotle found beneath the Acropolis in Athens is the first to show the Greek philosopher with a hooked nose.

Archaeologists said that the 46cm (18in) marble bust, which dates from the 1st century AD, about 400 years after Aristotle lived, was “the best-preserved likeness ever found”. Alkestis Horemi, who supervises digs at the Acropolis, said: “This is the only bust portraying the philosopher with a hooked nose in line with ancient descriptions.” (AFP)

Times, October 25 2006.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Exceptionally good news

The National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) will henceforth pay the full cost of members’ inpatient bills.

And this comes at no extra cost to contributors of the medical insurance scheme.

The programme will be implemented in some 380 accredited hospitals, it has been announced. Further, the fund announced it would also offer comprehensive cover for expectant mothers who deliver by caesarean section.

More here.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Pigs glide lazily across the sky...

In a statement issued after the meeting, Rev Paisley said his party had had a very good and useful exchange of views with the Northern Ireland Catholic Council for Social Affairs delegation across a range of issues.

More here.

Friday, October 06, 2006

LRB symposium on the Mearsheimer/Walt paper, and other things

Lots of clever people sit down and chat about something important. Here.

Averroës was the subject of this week's In our Time. Good stuff; listening to Kenny is a bonus. (via Philobiblion)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Monday, September 25, 2006

Nonsubstantial weirdness

Creationists protest the hominid display at the National Museum of Kenya. (via the Sanity Inspector)

The Great Stemwedel Nerd-Off.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

B16's noble Humility

B16 is apparently wrong about the age of the Surah in question, the Western philosophical tradition is not short of proponents of absolute omnipotence (Descartes,) or deniers of various foundational bits of Aristotelian logic (such as Aristotle himself), and sometimes both together (d’Autrecourt),

1. The Palaiologos passage has clearly been taken out of context; B16 did say that Manuel was brusque, and it should be obvious that the emperor wasn't in an ideal position for rational debate.
2. There is such a thing as freedom of speech after all; B16 was well within his rights to make the case against the narrow concept of reason now regnant.
3. That Catholics haven't always lived up to their obligations to reason in the past doesn't disqualify them from making their case now.
4. Anyway, B16 has, nobly, twice apologised, each time specifically disavowing what'll no doubt come to be known as the Palaiologos position.

B16's just not the bad guy here.

Tariq Ramadan has a response to B16 here, and again, here.

Saturday, September 16, 2006


Science has an authoritative estimate of deaths in Darfur. It's between 170 and 250, 000. (via the BBC)

Tomorrow, September 17th, is the international day for darfur. Please consider getting involved; you might want to read up on things here, here, and here. Check out Daniel Davies' slightly contrarian take on things here and here. And these two articles by Alex de Waal are lucid and informative, if a little old.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Reason # 310976887 to not buy the Times, ever (or: Property rights, but only for whites)

William Rees-Mogg examined South Africa’s land issue in yesterday’s Times. The column was poor stuff.

Rees-Mogg failed to distinguish the restitution and redistribution programmes. The restitution programme is intended to return land to those who can prove it was taken from them or their relatives following the 1913 Land Act. The redistribution programme is intended to widen land ownership. Rees-Mogg runs together both programmes.

Black South Africans do not ‘believe’ that their land was stolen from them – they know it. The theft was expressly legislated for, starting with the The Natives Land Act, No 27 of 1913, which confined blacks to less than 8 percent of South African land.

The South African government is doing what any reasonable government ought to do – protecting the property rights of the majority of its people by forcing the beneficiaries of stolen possessions to return them to their rightful owners when the rightful owners can be identified. The Constitution of South Africa grants it that power, so it is acting within its mandate. Governments the world over have the power of compulsory purchase, and often exercise it; similar policies have been carried out in the ex-Communist countries.

White large-scale farming was more productive because apartheid governments forbade African competition, and guaranteed, by force, a cheap labour supply. White farmers have had the opportunity to make good the injustices of the past, too few have taken it. If it is true that greater efficiency in the use of some resource grants one the right to own that resource, why hasn’t Rees-Mogg handed all his property over to some German? (racial stereotyping for brevity and vividness only, honest!)

It's extremely naïve to hope that, in a democracy, a minority landowning class which achieved its position by racially-motivated violence and fraud can continue to hold onto that land. And it's instructive to see what value the overseas defenders of property rights place on the property rights of black Africans.

Owen Barder, who's well worth several minutes of your time by the way, has a nice post about this.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Hits, not Homework.

  • Jonathan Rée's new blog is here. (BBC)
  • Jason Stanley has a nice report on Kenya in the news here. (Leiter)
  • Obama in Kenya, here and here (Youtube).
  • A university degree is still a good investment after all. (Guardian Education)
  • Scary stuff; China is supplying surveillance technology to Zimbabwe. (BBC)
  • Martin Amis turns into his Dad. (Observer)
  • More Brits take out Irish citizenship. (Guardian)
  • Koigi wa Wamwere on self-hatred. (Standard)
  • World fails to end. General disappointment. (BBC)

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Ramin Jahanbegloo II

Ramin Jahanbegloo is out of jail, thank God. (Al Jazeera, NYT, Google)

Apparently he was released yesterday on bail, and the Iranian authorities refuse to confirm that he won't be re-arrested. Canadian diplomats, and Michael Ignatieff, seem to have done their bit.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Omniscience and self-knowledge

Reposted from comments here.

a. Bits of knowledge are differentiated at the level of sense (or description if you like), while objects of knowledge are differentiated at the level of reference. There's a nice bit in Aquinas (at least, I think its Aquinas) where he points out that knowledge of the road from Thebes to Athens is different from knowledge of the road from Athens to Thebes, even though the object of knowledge is, of course, identical to itself.

b. There are bits of knowledge that can be known only by their knower. Consider the sentence I am married to N, where N is some proper name. The only person who can truthfully assent to the statement usually expressed by that sentence is the spouse of the person named by N. Probably, God knows this as So-and-so is married to N. Plainly, the two bits of knowledge have the same object (the marriage relation between So-and-so and the referent of N). Equally plainly, they're distinct bits of knowledge. That's basically all that's required to get the case off the ground. It's easy to produce a bit of self-knowledge that a knower once had which he now lacks and can't regain.

To borrow John Perry’s example, suppose I’m walking around a supermarket shelf following a sugar trail, when suddenly I realise that the sugar-trail I’m following is my sugar trail. The truth that it is my sugar trail I’m following is a truth that only I can know. (everyone else knows something like: Cirdan is following his sugar trail.) If I then became amnesiac, then for as long as I was an amnesiac, there would be a truth nobody could know.

If that case, or a similar one, survives, then there are unknowable truths in a strongr-than-usual sense. This is not particularly a problem for omniscience, for omniscience is knowledege of everything that can be known - if it's impossible to know something, then omniscience doesn't require that it be known.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

How not to give in to despair.

Jonathan Edelstein:

The next task in the Middle East is to rebuild what has been destroyed and to headl what can't be rebuilt: to restore the houses and the roads, to comfort and provide for the bereaved families. Rebuilding northern Israel is an urgent priority, reconstructing southern Lebanon much more so. Lebanon sustained more damage than Israel - environmental as well as structural - and it has fewer resources to rebuild. Lebanon, has also been under a blockade for the past month and is running short on humanitarian supplies in addition to its longer-term needs.

Some, Shimon Peres included, have proposed a massive international effort to rebuild Lebanon - a Marshall Plan of sorts. It's important, for both political and moral reasons, that this happen and that Israel take part in it. Such a program would be both a way to ensure that the south is rebuilt by someone other than Hizbullah, and a chance to make good on the promise that Israel is not at war with the Lebanese people. But aid programs, especially major ones, always take time to plan and implement, and there's a great deal that can't wait for the international community to get its act together.

For this reason, I will match up to US $1250 in reader donations for reconstruction of southern Lebanon and up to US $750 to rebuild northern Israel. I strongly encourage Israeli and Jewish readers to donate to Lebanese charities and vice versa, but that isn't mandatory; I will match all donations to non-extremist-controlled charities up to the stated sum. For those who may not be sure where to contribute, this portal, which links to charities helping both countries, may provide a starting point.

This is a marvellous thing to do, and I'll be giving what little I can in the suggested ratio. Jonathan points to a list of safe charities. Please give whatever you can. It's the right, as well as the self-interested, thing to do.

Hilzoy of Obsidianwings has already run a similar drive.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Notes from all over

Diane Stinton, who teaches at Daystar, has a new book out on African christologies; here's a review. (via Commonweal)

Billmon coins a word, punditburo, that needed coining.

The BBC has a dedicated Pronunciation Research Unit; three full-time pronunciation linguists (orthoeptists, they're called) who maintain and update a 200,000-entry database of pronunciations. More here, greatest hits here. (via languagehat)

Me, sparring with Deogol, over at his.

Google tries to stop people using google as a verb, looks ridiculous. (slashdot, via Yglesias)

Friday, August 04, 2006

every whole is smaller than its parts

Either there's an infinite hierarchy of composition for concrete objects, or there isn't. If there are basic parts of concrete objects, themselves without parts, then the basic parts have real magnitude, for if they didn’t, then neither would composite concrete objects.

Now, suppose A is a composite concrete object. A has at least three parts: its proper parts and at least one improper part (A itself). But the improper part is identical to A and hence has the same magnitude as A. However, all the proper parts have real magnitude and are each distinct from the other, as well as the whole and the improper part. Hence, for any composite object built out of basic parts, the sum of the magnitude of its parts is always greater than the magnitude of the object. So, either there is no end to composition, or every composite object has a magnitude smaller than the the combined magnitude of its parts.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Lebanese Christians

Here's a Lebanese-American Christian blog; the writer has family in both places. (via politicaltheory, and this interesting article).

Reason # 310976886 to not buy the Times, ever.

This wonderful editorial.

Friday, July 28, 2006

A bench of bishops, and another.

From the USCCB statement:
...Israel has a right to defend itself, but we cannot support its sweeping counterattacks on civilian areas, civilian infrastructure, blockades and other acts of war in Gaza and Lebanon. Punishment of an entire population for the indefensible acts of extreme armed factions is wrong and causes unjustified harm to noncombatants. Such actions are also counterproductive because they deepen hostilities and widen the circle of violence. Israel must act with restraint. Otherwise we fear that Israel could isolate itself, undermine its long-term security interests and play into the hands of extremists who seek a wider confrontation and an unending battle with Israel....

From the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem:

...As I write to you, I am preparing to leave with other bishops for Nablus with medical and other emergency supplies for five hundred families, and a pledge for one thousand families more.

On Saturday we will attempt to enter Gaza with medical aid for doctors and nurses in our hospital there who struggle to serve the injured, the sick, and the dying.

My plan is that I will be able to go to Lebanon next week - where we are presently without a resident priest - to bury the dead, and comfort the victims of war. Perhaps as others have you will ask, “What can I do?” Certainly we encourage and appreciate your prayers. That is important, but it is not enough. If you find that you can no longer look away, take up your cross. It takes courage as we were promised.

Write every elected official you know. Write to your news media. Speak to your congregation, friends, and colleagues about injustice and the threat of global war. If Syria, Iran, the United States, Great Britain, China and others enter into this war - the consequence is incalculable. Participate in rallies and forums. Find ways that you and your churches can participate in humanitarian relief efforts for the region. Contact us and
let us know if you stand with us. I urge you not to be like a disciple watching from afar.

2 Corinthians 6.11:
“We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians, our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return - I speak as to children - open wide your hearts also.”

In, with, and through Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Riah H. Abu El-Assal
Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Routley's defense of Cannibalism

Never let it be said that philosophers are silent on the burning questions of the age. Here, Richard Routley (of nonexistent objects fame) defends cannibalism:
The claim staked is accordingly this: where the human eaten is dead, and certain other conditions are satisfied, cannibalism is admissible. The other conditions may comprise such things as the following: that the whole thing is done decently (in ways, that is, to be spelled out specifically); that the person eaten consented (or, differently, would consent) to being eaten, perhaps by the parties concerned, or more strongly that the person directed that he or She be eaten (or otherwise used); or differently again, that the consumption was necessary for survival or well-being, etc.
(via Greg Restall)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Iceman Goeth

In the early 90's, in my part of the world, they used to show Italian football on the telly. A feast for the imagination (of this little boy anyway). I remember seeing Bergkamp play for Inter, and even then knowing that he was enduring a crap time, and deserving of the respect and sympathy due to the master craftsman forced to work in inferior material.

So what was he thinking moving to Arsenal

Dunno, but without ever making the fullest possible use of his talent, he prospered mightily. I'm grateful to have seen him play*, and for this absolutely sublime goal, thanks.

*For all the usual reasons but also because he was a particularly pure instantiation of the form of the flair player willing and able to stick an elbow in when invention was insufficient. But this was difficult to spot unless you were watching at relatively close quarters.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Ramin Jahanbegloo

Ramin Jahanbegloo, an Iranian-Canadian philosopher, (articles, cv, interview) has been held in solitary confinement in Iran since April 27th 2006. He hasn't been publicly charged. Many well-known scholars have signed an open letter to the President of Iran calling for his release:

"Significantly, as director of the Cultural Research Bureau in Tehran, he has conveyed to myriad readers, students and scholars the complexity of Iranian civilisation and its rich contributions to humanity. Dr Jahanbegloo's effort to illuminate and share Iran's culture and history with others has earned him deep respect and admiration among both intellectuals and laypeople from diverse corners of the globe. Not surprisingly, those who follow his work, both in Iran and abroad, are shocked and disappointed by this unlawful treatment of Dr Jahanbegloo. Scholars travelling to and from Iran are especially concerned about this matter and contend Dr Jahanbegloo's arrest will deter such exchanges and scientific research."

Recently, an Iranian newspaper has suggested that Jahanbegloo confessed to planning to participate in a revolution supported by the USA. It is unlikely that this confession was freely made.
Please pray for Ramin Jahanbegloo and support him in any way you can.
(via Philos-L, aldaily, logosjournal.)

Monday, July 10, 2006

On Zidane

Head-butting Materazzi was a bad idea. But until we know, or have better evidence of, what was said, to judge it 'unpardonable' is simply premature. (Especially since Materazzi has previous.*)

As for Zizou's career, apotheosis came in 1998. Indeed, when all's said and done, he twice led goodish teams to World Cup finals, and managed to win one of them almost single-handedly. He's scored as many goals in World Cup Final matches as Pele has, is easily the best European player since Cruyff, and is responsible for the best goal ever to win a Champions League Final. Merci Zizou!

*(via xanax))

Friday, July 07, 2006

New, African bible commentary launched. And other randoms

New, African bible commentary launched. Rafael Nunez's surprising paper on Aymara models of times is here. But isn't this similar to Gikuyu?

Cornel West, here: you've got a brotha of infinite value calling himself '50 Cent...'

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Khadambi Asalache passes

Khadambi Asalache (February 28, 1935 - May 26, 2006) Poet (Sunset in Naivasha: 1973), novelist (The Calabash of Life: 1967), philosopher (MPhil. Philosophy of Mathematics: Birkbeck in the 70's), artist, Mangu OB, civil servant, and Kenyan-in-exile.

Obit: Times.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Alaa is freed.

Alaa, whose jailing I blogged is now out. More from Al-Jazeera and the Belfast Telegraph.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

GK Economic Survey 2006

The 2006 Economic Survey is now out. Uncharacteristically, it has lots of good news. Kenya is officially in boom. I pun, as does the Nation...


  • The economy grew 5.8 percent last year, the best annual rate since 1995-6.
  • 458,900 jobs created. (this, if true, is the best number for years, maybe ever.)
  • Total public debt down by ~KSh1 billion, from KSh697.8 billion to KSh687.9 billion.
  • Inflation down to 10.3% from last year's 11.6%.
  • Health spending up from KSh17.6 billion to KSh19 billion, clinics up 3% from 4,767 to 4,912, and immunisation coverage from 59 to 63 per cent.
(All figures from the Nation rather than the report itself. I can't find the report on the Ministry site)

OK. So these are administration figures, so ipso facto dodgy (especially the jobs created number, which is suspiciously close to the 500,000 promised in the manifesto.) Also, I imagine the rise in health spending has a huge donor component. And the failure to get a medical insurance bill passed really is a hanging offence. As is the pathetic response to the drought, only more so. I could go on. Still, if the improvement is anywhere near the survey's findings, there's cause for celebration.

PS. Check out Mzalendo: "keeping an eye on the Kenyan parliament". An M and Ory collaboration.

UPDATE: Wow, I surfed over to Bankelele's to see what he had to say, and came across this. Full disclosure indeed. That, it's got to be said, is a very healthy-looking stable.

A reductio of NFP?

Luc Bovens has a new paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics*, wherein he claims that the rhythm method causes lots of embryo deaths. Enough of them to make it as bad as prohibited forms of birth control. Here, but the link is probably not permanent. (via Unfogged, Hit and Run)

*J Med Ethics 2006; 32: 355-6

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A little-known rule of Indie success...

...cover Love Will Tear Us Apart. This guy has 25 covers, from U2 to the Frames. (via muthecow at Metafilter)

Also, check out Mattgy's Ben Loxo du Taccu. He podcasts carefully chosen African mp3s; he recently had one of Samba Mapangala's finest. Definitely worth your time.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

One of the good guys.

It's JS Mill's birthday today. Randoms:

1. Mill, it's often forgotten, was of Scottish descent. Probably all the really great British philosophers except Russell have been Scottish.

2. "The Conservatives, as being by the law of their existence the stupidest
party..."[1] = the shortest refutation of conservatism I know of.

3. Mill was the subject of this week's In Our Time.

4. Roger Scruton does the outraged authoritarian conservative howl here; Andrew Sullivan's retort is pitched just right:
Think of a Tory squire hunting foxes, muttering about Jews, before attending Evensong. When all is said and done, that's Scruton's idea of the "sacred and the prohibited.
[1] footnote 4 of Representative Government(pdf), via Stumblingandmumbling.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A defence of internalism

Timothy Williamson[1] argues[2] (against internalism) that:

‘the search for a purely operational standard of evidence is …vain. It can be argued on quite general grounds that no standard of evidence is such that we are always in a position to know what our evidence is (Williamson 2000, 93-113; 147-83).’
One central argument for the claim proceeds as follows:

  1. Facts about S’s present mental states aren’t always cognitively accessible to S. In particular, how is S to judge whether S’s present conscious inclination to judge that P is strong enough to count as an intuition that P?
  2. Either all inclinations are strong enough to count as intuitions or not all are.
  3. If all such inclinations count, then very weak and very strong intuitions will be lumped together. (i.e. they’ll have the same evidential impact.)
  4. But a theory of evidence must distinguish the evidential impact of very weak and very strong intuitions.
  5. If the evidential force of an intuition varies with its strength, then we need a way to measure the strength of the intuition.
  6. To do so, we need a common scale of strength.
  7. But then, there will be scope for misjudging the strength of one’s intuitions, because, given human nature, there will be a temptation to overestimate the strength of one’s intuitions, even unconsciously.
  8. But then, if one looks to correct for this, one might underestimate the strength of one’s intuitions.
  9. S cannot always know the strength of S’s inclination to consciously judge that p.
  10. So, S doesn't always know what S's intuitions are.

That argument is perhaps not irresistible. The description a theory of evidence in (4) is ambiguous. It could mean: ‘A theory of the nature of evidence’, or ‘a theory of how evidence works’ (how it justifies). If Williamson is using it in the first sense, then premiss (4) is not obviously true. A theory explaining what sorts of things count as evidence doesn’t have to say what sorts of things count as good evidence. If Williamson is using it in the second sense, to mean a theory of how evidence justifies beliefs, the internalist can reply that his aim is to give a theory of the nature of evidence. And maybe, if one has a theory of evidence one is warranted in using that evidence even if one is ignorant of the strength of the evidence.

The internalist could say that any conscious inclination of S’s to judge that P is an intuition that P. Now, if S has a conscious inclination to judge that P, typically S is aware that he has a conscious inclination to judge that P[3]. If I intuit that P, P seems true to me, for, surely, judging that P means representing to myself that P is the case. If P seems true to me, then I’m defeasibly justified in believing that P. If P’s seeming true to me defeasibly justifies me in believing that P, then P’s seeming true to me is (defeasible) evidence for P (for me) [4]. So, if S judges that P, S typically knows that he has evidence that P. One can know that e is evidence for P without knowing exactly how good e is as evidence for p. Therefore, if S judges that p, S has evidence for P, even if S doesn’t know exactly how much credence he ought to attach to it.

[1] Williamson, Timothy (2003) “‘Philosophical 'Intuitions’ and Scepticism about JudgementDialectica 58: 109-153.

[2] Williamson (2003) p. 12

[3] It’s unlikely that a healthy alert observer would be mistaken about whether he was judging that P.

[4] If I judge that P, then P seems true to me. This will usually mean that my personal Pr (P) has increased.

Blogging for Alaa

Egypt is a wonderful place. Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt is probably Africa's hottest holiday destination. There's trouble in paradise Egypt though. The government of Egypt has detained Alaa Abd-El-Fataa. He's now blogging from his cell in Egypt. Bloggers need to stick together, so a googlebomb to make Alaa the top result in Google for 'Egypt' is cooking, even as we speak about Egypt. Spread the 'Egypt'.

via Keguro.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Kenya's first test-tube babies

Nation story. (subscription only)

UPDATE: The photo is Arthur Okwemba's and appears on the Nation website.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

An Odd Implication

Consider the Tory election poster of 1987 with the legend: Labour say he's Black, we say he's British. The second clause is supposed to contrast the first. More precisely, the sentence implies that the property P2 attributed by the second clause excludes the property P1 attributed by the first clause, at least for the subject of the sentence, at the time of utterance. The sense of exclude I have in mind here is something like: if P1 and P2 exclude each other, then P1 and P2 are not jointly true.

An example: John says it's margarine, Peter says it's butter. I think Peter clearly means to rule out the possibility that John is now spreading margarine on his toast.

A possible objection is that this implication will only work for some P1 and P2 that can't be coinstantiated anyway. I don't think so. Consider the example: Ali says it's sweet, Sophie says it's sour. Even in this case, where the pork could be both sweet and sour, the clear implication is that the pork is either sweet or sour, and it's not both sweet and sour.

I think the implication is true of most (or all) sentences of the same form.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A bad argument for (hereditary) Monarchy II

Here's Deogol's reply to my post. This is a response to his reply - you might want to read that first.

It's unlikely that the (alcoholic, teetotaller, alcohol) relation and the (desirer of power, indifferentist to power, power) relation are identical, for the teetotaller is averse to alcohol where we want someone who is indifferent to power. Besides, the object of the alcoholic’s desire is not obvious. It seems reasonable to ask whether the alcoholic desires alcohol in any serious way at all, or whether he desires the state of mind that comes from drinking alcohol, or even the state of mind that comes from drinking too much alcohol, or something else altogether. But let that pass.

I think that the counterexample you present is compelling only if one holds that the alcoholic acts as he does because he desires alcohol inordinately. If he acts as he does for some non-desire reason, then my premiss is unharmed. So the model of addiction (or weakness of will – call it akrasia hereafter) you’re working with is this: an addict (or akratic) is one whose will is defeated by the strength of his desire.

I’ll argue that that is an implausible understanding of addiction: the pathology is located elsewhere, so your analogy fails, and with it, your argument. Actually, I think it’s likelier that the alcoholic is not an alcoholic because of an excessive desire for alcohol, but because of a deficiency or pathology of the will – addiction is rather a defect of the will, than of the appetite. Maybe this is why addict and weak-willed are so close in meaning.

The obvious way to distinguish the desires associated with addiction from those that aren’t is by their strength. But that simply won’t work. We have many very strong desires which are non-addictive (any normal person will have strong and persistent desires for food etc.), and weak desires that are addictive. (An alcoholic might very strongly desire to give up alcohol and only very weakly desire to continue drinking, yet continue to be an alcoholic). Indeed, one can become addicted to the object of almost any desire.

Again, suppose that addiction is the defeat of one’s will by some desire D due to the strength of D. If that were true, then one would expect other desires of the same strength as D to defeat the will equally regularly. But, typically, the addict is addicted to some things but not to others, even when his desire for them is just as strong as D.

But if there’s no reliable way to sort out desires associated with addiction from desires not associated with addiction, then it’s unlikely that addiction can be explained in terms of desire. If so, then the analogy you want won’t run, because the problem (I suggest) shifts to the will. For your criticism to stick, you need a pathology of desire to be the cause of addiction or akrasia. But there are reasons to deny that, and so to deny your argument.

Now to your other point:

I wrote ["Suppose it is true that those who do not desire power are likeliest to be responsible in its use. So we need a method of choosing a ruler which maximises the chance of the ruler being indifferent to power. The most reasonable way of doing so is to choose a ruler at random from the class of all adult members of the population"]

You replied:All things being equal, indeed so. But there are other matters that weigh in favour of monarchy, not least the distinct possibility that the monarch has been trained from an early age in the responsible use of it.

As we saw earlier, you need some additional premiss to justify confining the eligibility class to those descended from some arbitrarily chosen person. That the monarch needs training from an early age is insufficient to justify that move, even if were true. Couldn’t one be trained just as well in the use of power by wise non-relatives?

Monday, April 24, 2006

A bad argument for (hereditary) Monarchy

Deogolwulf’s train of thought is this: Typically, in a (hereditary) monarchy, the person who gains power didn't seek that power. In a non-monarchical republic or democracy, the ruler is usually someone who did. So, the hereditary monarchical method is likelier to produce a good ruler than the non-hereditary monarchical. What is common to those who seek power is a desire for power, whether as a means or as an end. So, the crucial premiss, which one rather has to winkle out, is something like this: All else being equal, a person who desires power is less likely to use it well (if he gets it) than one who doesn’t.

I maintain that the premiss is false as it stands, and that it is, anyway, irrelevant to the argument for monarchy.

Some preliminaries: It isn’t true that heredity ensures that the monarch is someone who didn’t seek power. History abounds in examples of the hereditary principle abused and manipulated by those who most certainly desired power. Second, it isn’t true that only hereditary monarchies have rulers who did not seek office. Late 5th century Athenian democrats chose the members of their executive council (the boule) by lot; every man over 30 was eligible.

To show that Deogol’s premiss is false, I need to show that its negation is true. I’ve already given some argument for that, but suppose I try to show that David Duff's rebuttals don’t overturn my argument.

David first argues as follows: Most people do not desire political power; in fact, most people view politics with feelings that range from utter boredom to complete detestation. Therefore, the odds on a hereditary ruler actually wanting the job are fairly small.

Even if one grants the premiss, the conclusion doesn’t follow, because the argument is an instance of the fallacy of division : from the fact that most members of a class share some property, it doesn’t follow that most members of a subclass of that class share that property. After all, most animals cannot speak, but it doesn’t follow that most humans cannot. From the fact (if it is a fact) that most people do not desire political power, it doesn’t follow that a hereditary ruler doesn’t desire political power. It would help if David pointed to some fact about people that accounted for their supposed indifference and aversion to power, and then showed that that fact was just as well-distributed in the class of hereditary monarchs.

Second, David's argument, if true, proves too much. If one believes that most people do not desire political power, and that those who do not desire political power are likelier to exercise it responsibly than those who do; then isn’t the most reasonable course of action to randomly choose one’s ruler from the class of most people? But that isn’t really compatible with hereditary monarchy.

David’s second argument: The likelihood of A being responsible in the use of power depends on his character, a deep desire for political power is already an indication of a character fault, so it’s not the case that the person who desires power is likelier to be responsible in its use than the person who is indifferent to power.

First, I deny the second premiss. That A desires political power is insufficient to establish that A’s character is flawed. Commonsense suggests that one judge A's desire for power only after one has inquired into the motives for that desire.

Second, I was careful to include a ceteris paribus clause in my (original) argument from commonsense. That argument proceeds thus: take two people, A with a desire for X, and B who is indifferent to X. Assume that all else is equal between them. Commonsense suggests that A is likeliest to be responsible in the use of X if his desire is satisfied. This is only to be expected, since what one desires is valuable to one, and one is likely to be responsible in the use of what one considers valuable. My argument isn’t refuted by the suggestion that a desire for political power is in itself a character flaw. For that is false. Even if it were true that a desire for political power is a character flaw, the ceteris paribus clause absorbs its force: A and B are now equally flawed in character, but it’s still true that the one who desires X is likelier to use X responsibly when his desire for X is satisfied.

Let me now try to show why Deogol’s premiss is irrelevant to the argument.

Suppose it is true that those who do not desire power are likeliest to be responsible in its use. So we need a method of choosing a ruler which maximises the chance of the ruler being indifferent to power. The most reasonable way of doing so is to choose a ruler at random from the class of all adult members of the population, à la the ancient Athenians. No hereditary monarchist ever accepts this consequence of his position. Indeed, the hereditary monarchist confines the class of eligibles to that of (usually male) people related to some arbitrarily chosen person. All of which suggests that the power-indifference premiss isn’t what is doing the real work in the monarchist argument, hence its irrelevance.

Gukira: Hetero-Affirmative?

Gukira: Hetero-Affirmative?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

links, lovely random links...

Google Video documentary on the French Foreign Legion (via metafilter) . Very good, though Thomas Kadish is the very model of military stupidity (check out his comments on the Legion's actions in Algeria).

Keguro on hetero-normativity.

Jason Stanley in defence of Baroque Specialisation.

Tom Morello's related to Kenyatta. His dad was Ng'ethe Njoroge, Kenya's High Commissioner to the UK in the 60's and 70's, and later ambassador to the UN. I may have blogged this before - but this time there's better evidence here. If OO's source is to be believed, Njoroge was a brother of Njoroge Mungai, who was a cousin of Jomo Kenyatta.

Dvořák by the Columbia University Orchestra.

LanguageHat and LanguageLog on Suri Cruise.

Bryan Frances and commentators on what to do when you disagree with your philosophical superiors.

Timothy Williamson has lots of new papers up. Tennant's Troubles looks like a fatal brutalisation of Neil Tennant's attempt to defuse Fitch's Paradox.

*UPDATE* No, not the Pet Shop Boys Neil Tennant, silly, I meant this one.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

God, Gays, Africans & Anglicans

The center of gravity of the faith is now squarely in the Global South. If the new Christendom had a world capital based on the location of its believers, it would be somewhere south of the Sahara.

An examination of some of the early consequences of that fact for the Anglicans. (via Commonweal)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The beautyful ones are already born

In his April 8 column in the Nation, Peter Mwaura forcefully put the case for the inferiority of Sheng. He claimed that it was linguistic garbage: that it lacked a stable syntax, form or grammar. That claim is just false.

Suppose a language's syntax is the set of rules for distinguishing the class of things that are expressions of that language, and a language's semantics is the set of rules for assigning meaning to those expressions. A language is a language if and only if it has a syntax and a semantics. Linguistic communication can only occur in a language. So, if Sheng lacks a syntax and a semantics, then it is not a language, and linguistic communication cannot occur in Sheng, or between Sheng and non-Sheng speakers. But linguistic communication does occur between Sheng and non-Sheng speakers, as Mwaura proves by giving examples of various bits of regularly-formed Sheng that he understands and disapproves of. It follows that communication between Sheng and non-Sheng speakers occurs, so Sheng has a syntax and semantics. Now, the grammar of a language is, very roughly, the set of rules for communicating meaningfully in it. So, it's reasonable to suppose that if Sheng has a syntax and semantics, it has a grammar.

This is just as one would expect. Indeed, recent research by the linguist Chege Githiora* has decisively established that Sheng is a proper dialect of Standard Swahili and that it shares Standard Swahili's grammatical structure.

*Githiora, Chege (2002) "Sheng: peer language, Swahili dialect or emerging Creole?", Journal of African Cultural Studies, Vol. 15:159-193.

UPDATE: Potash was already on the case. Check out his hilarious post:
...My parents were brought up on Shakespeare and the bible. The Shakespeare just in case assimilation, of the Kaffir, could be achieved but the bible mostly to tame the heathen- you cannot sjambok a vodoo priest quoth the Native Commissioner. No limey.No.

Monday, March 20, 2006


I'm going to have to give up blogging for the moment. Too much work, too little time. I'll see you all, all five of you, in a month's time.

ps. A peaceful Lent and a happy Easter to those who go in for that kind of thing.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Some Criteria for philosophical views

This is version 2.0 of a list of sufficient conditions for applying the label bad-ass to a philosophical thesis, which endeavour was inspired by this wonderful person (Please visit for the canonical statement of these matters).
Naturally, any single view ought to accumulate as many of them as possible.

1 - denying commonsense beliefs, extra points for skepticism about other people/other minds/material objects, x10 extra points for denying a law of logic. (see: Unger's skeptical denial of the existence of his children, Quine-style indeterminacy, Dummett's denial of the law of excluded middle, Berkeley 's denial of material objects - badassness made thesis).
Subcategory: denying commonsense beliefs for logical/linguistic reasons. (see: David Lewis's move from 'take existential quantifications in ordinary language literally' to 'there are carnivorous unicorns')

2 – dazzling metaphysical conclusions from purely a priori premisses. (see: Pythagoras:'the world is made of numbers', but see also Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Anselm, David Lewis, Saul Kripke, and every other philosopher worth anything)

3 - armchair metaphysics that anticipates the latest empirical discoveries, extra points for every millennium before the theory is empirically vindicated (see: Empedocles & evolution!)

4 - dazzling metaphysical conclusions from minimal empirical facts, extra points if the empirical facts are already widely-known (see: Chomsky, Frege, see also Chomsky entry in Dennett's of philosophy, Fodor?)

5 - dazzling metaphysical conclusions from negative premisses, (see: Aquinas: 'nothing causes itself to move, therefore God exists')

6 - dazzling metaphysical conclusions from conceivability premisses (see: Chalmers: 'zombies are conceivable, therefore materialism is false', see also Descartes)

7 - dazzling metaphyical conclusions from a single, highly contentious, and impossible to verify premiss. It is essential that the crucial premiss is not (directly) verifiable. (see: 'there are uninstantiated universals so naturalism is false')

8 - dazzling (and unwelcome) metaphysical conclusions following only from premisses the opposition already accepts (see: some iterations of Aristotle vs. Plato?, some iterations of Berkeley vs. Locke?).
A particularly important subspecies of this species is dazzling (and unwelcome) conclusions about the existence of God following only from the opposition's premisses (see esp. the Ontological argument & the atheistic Ontological argument, both exemplary instantiations of bad-assness)

9 - honourable mention: dazzling metaphysical conclusions from everyday semantic facts (see: Aristotle, the Law of noncontradiction, all metaphysics?)

10 - honourable mention: accepting the opposition's reductio as the point of your argument. see Unger again:
'Even if my arguments should terminate in genuine paradoxes, and in plain contradictions, that may be no fault of the arguments; indeed, it may make clear their whole point.'

(Ignorance: A Case for Skepticism p.6)

11 – honourable mention: a body of work combining two or more of the strategies in (1-10) above (see van Inwagen's arguments for incompatibilism(4), AND the denial that everyday inanimate material objects exist(1))

Applying the Criteria:
1. There can only be one winner: the Ontological argument, in both its theistic and atheistic forms. The baddest of all possible badasses. Such concentrated badness that Russell invented the theory of descriptions to escape its theistic form.

UN Women's Day

Women's Day was like a week ago. I had intended to honour two or three Kenyan women, but didn't get round to it. I'm going to now.

First, Wangari Maathai. She's fought a 30-year battle against environmental degradation in Kenya, during which she's had to overcome truly frightening obstacles, not least among them the violent thuggery of Moi's clowns. Dr. Maathai's struggle was rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. Appropriately enough, she was Kenya's first Nobel Laureate.

Second, Margaret W. Kenyatta, who was one of the very first women to take a major political role in Kenya. She was a Nairobi city councillor for years, and then Mayor of Nairobi 1970-76. Nobody who has recently been resident in Nairobi can truthfully say that things have not deteriorated since. Ms. Kenyatta was also Kenya's ambassador (1976-86) to the United Nations Environmental Programme. She made a success of that too. I've met her twice, I think, and she was wonderful - warm, powerful, wry, and at ease with the world.

Third, my Mum. Who, for many years, managed to run a successful business and make sure her kids got to school on time. Surely there can be no tougher task given to humankind. Love you, Mum.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Commentisfree is unloosed!

The new Guardian megablog is up. Looks good, although there's a slightly downmarket-Huffington-Post feel to it. Yalla.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

how could possible possibly be ambiguous?

reposted from coments here.

The Baudrillard passage at the centre of the rumpus:
"Before the event it is too early for the possible. After the event it is too late for the possible. It is too late also for representation, and nothing will really be able to account for it. September 11th, for example, is there first—only then do its possibility and its causes catch up with it, through all the discourses that will attempt to explain it."

BigSecretDog's conclusion:[2]What he seems to be telling us is that prior to an event there are no possibilities or causes, that the possibilities and causes of an event come to be only through the discourse that places them prior to that event, and thus that discourse is prior to the possibilities and causes of the event that it describes or explains.

My response: I’ll argue that there's a reading of the passage in question that vindicates Baudrillard. The maxim of charity is (roughly) that one ought to attribute to one's opponent the most reasonable construction of his views. There's a construction of B's passage available that keeps it consistent. So, we ought to adopt that view. That, however, requires an appeal to epistemic possibility. You don't like that. So I'm going to try and defend the notion.

Your crucial inference is from :
[A]'Before the event it is too early for the possible'
[B]'What he seems to be telling us is that prior to an event there are no possibilities or causes.'

You take B in the metaphysical sense i.e. there are really no causes… etc. That reading of B is justified if A is a metaphysical proposition, otherwise not. A is a metaphysical proposition if the notion picked out by the word ‘possible’ is a metaphysical one. You clearly think so. So, your case relies at a crucial point on the thought that the modal adjective 'possible' univocally refers to metaphysical possibility.

Let a statement S be epistemically possible if, relative to some knower’s knowledge at some time, S could be true. Let metaphysical possibility be absolute possibility, i.e. only what is possible to be (in the 'to exist' sense). Suppose a statement S describes a state of affairs SA. SA is metaphysically possible if it is the case that SA could come to be. Epistemic possibility and metaphysical possibility do not coincide - something can be metaphysically possible without being epistemically possible, and something can be epistemically possible without being metaphysically possible. Note that there's no decisive reason to think that we have exhaustive knowledge of what is absolutely possible.

Now, your claim about the meaning of the word 'possible' is false, as a matter of easily-ascertainable fact. Modal verbs (I'm thinking about your use of the word 'can') and adjectives are often ambiguous between their epistemic and primary (e.g. normative) uses, as you'll discover if you google. Thus, when one says, 'X is possible', there usually remains the question – what sort of possibility have you in mind?

A vivid case: [G] It is possible that God can damn an innocent man.
If 'possible' in G is read as metaphysical possibility then the sentence is false. If 'possible' means consistent with God's omnipotence, and supposing that to mean that God can bring about any consistently describable situation, then it is true.

Another example: Suppose I solve a complicated sum, and someone asks me whether it is possible that I'm wrong. If I'm wrong, then I'm necessarily wrong; if right, I'm necessarily right. Either way, it's a matter of necessity. So what sort of possibility is in question here? epistemic possibility.

Yet another example (the modal fallacy): If I know p, it is not possible that p is not the case. But if it is not possible that p is not the case, then p is necessarily the case. The sort of possibility that is required to defuse the difficuly is epistemic, not metaphysical possibility

Example: It is possible that I don’t exist. If I say this, I’m not asserting of myself that I don’t exist (or else it is necessarily false). Rather, it means that for all I know, it could have been the case that I did not exist.

Yet another example: Someone comes up to you at a ball and says: ‘That masked man is your father’. You say: ‘That’s not possible!’ In fact, the masked man is your father. And given that necessarily your father is identical to himself, and that necessarily your father is your father, it looks like you had something like epistemic possibility in mind.

Examples could be multiplied.

The point is that the word 'possible' often expresses different modalities. One can't deduce from the fact that a sentence has the form 'X is possible' that it makes a statement about metaphysical possibility. [You might (!) like to see this note on modal confusions]

Now, suppose that there's a fact, F, such that at a given time, for some person, or group of people, F is epistemically inaccessible. There is no reason to think that that F is not also metaphysically possible. Further, actuality implies possibility. If F should now become the case, then it was always metaphysically possible that F, and it is now (let us suppose) known and hence possible to know that F is the case. But then, one can truly say that there was a time in the past when it was epistemically impossible that F. A fortiori, B, exploiting the ambiguity of 'possible', can say that "impossible things can . . . happen", and all the rest of it.

So, we've established that 'x is possible' doesn't always mean 'x is metaphysically possible'. And we know that there's a perfectly intelligible notion of epistemic possibility. B's extract, read in that light, is not only coherent, it is rather banal. I suggest we attribute banality rather than vice.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Nobody deserves to have their duly elected govenment let this happen to them.

May they eat the bread of sorrow.

le maire du niafunké est mort

Ali Farka Toure, a pioneer in bringing African music to global attention, is dead. Via the BBC, obit.

UPDATE: Guardian obit.
UPDATE II: Timesonline obit.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Unexpected support for descriptivist theories of naming

Support freedom of the press in Kenya.

Dear President Kibaki:

On March 2, 2006 government forces raided the headquarters and printing plant of the Standard Group. In addition to destroying equipment and newspapers, they shut down the KTN news station.

This latest attack follows the jailing of three journalists from Standard Newspaper, attacks on Citizen Weekly, and ongoing harassment of journalists by government-sponsored forces.

I urge you to condemn these attacks and to support freedom of the press.

**Please copy and paste this letter on your blog, or disseminate it in any other way you can. Change wording to suit your needs.**

- Campaign initiated by Keguro. More information here, here, and here; pictures here.

UPDATE: Govt. of Kenya email contact form here. (Via MadKenyanWoman)

UPDATE: Tim Burke points out a nice parallel, here.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Woe to the downpressor II

IN A defiant courtroom confession Saddam Hussein admitted yesterday ordering the trial of 148 Shias who were subsequently executed but insisted that he was acting within the law.

Addressing the evidence against him for the first time, the former dictator said the Shias from the village of Dujail were suspects in an assassination attempt against him in July 1982. “Where is the crime? Where is the crime?,” he asked.

Nick Meo in the Times, today.

OUP has a blog

You need to visit the new OUP (USA) blog.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Yeah, and some of my best friends are moral philosophers...

Faced with a moral dilemma, would you ask a moral philosopher for advice? Actually, sharpen that a little:
If you wanted someone to aid you in making a difficult ethical decision about medical treatment for your child would you be better off consulting a moral philosopher, or a physician who has dealt with similar cases for 30 years.

Gerald Dworkin had a go at answering the question he`posed, here's Jason Stanley's reply, and DJ Velleman has a slightly different take.

Gado gets it (with apologies to Giles Foden)


Steve Tikolo (our every own Siva) destroys Zimbabwe.

UPDATE: Via Mentalacrobatics (who's to be congratulated on successfully moving house).

Monday, February 27, 2006

the craziest columnist in East Africa now has her own website.

Betty Caplan is bonkers. I know this because we've (non-pseudonymously) exchanged rude emails in the past. You might want to go over here and see what all the fuss is about.

Ex-Catholic-School boy in massacre shock.

It's difficult to belive that there won't be many more to come.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Woe to the downpressors/They'll eat the bread of sorrow !

You'd think that genocide and civil war would satisfy any government's evilness quota. You'd be wrong. The Sudanese govt. is intensifying border clashes with the Chadians as a result of its continuing attempt to cleanse Darfur of the Fur, Zaghawa, et. al. Chad's none too stable, so there's the possibility of an intra-Chadian war...You can read all about it here.

May they eat the bread of sorrow indeed. The sole good thing (maybe) about this is that it's another proof that colonial borders are no longer taken seriously - surely a sign that everyone's overcome their sovereignty fetish?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Against Factivity

Counterexamples to the following principle are invited:

S knows that p only if either p or it is impossible to know that not-p.

Masolo on African Sage Philosophy

DA Masolo's Stanford Encyclopaedia entry on African sage philosophy is now out. It's a good overview of the main positions, and has some interesting things to say about the ethnophilosophy debate.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Philosopher's Carnival

The new Philosopher's Carnival is here.

I especially liked Jonathan Kvanvig's 'indicatives and warranted assertibility', and RadGeek's nice post about the impiety paradox.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Thursday, February 09, 2006

aristotle and germany

My Sloth! and the Laodiceans! - a deadly mix ! I've been turning over a potential post in my mind - inspired by one of them, but something seems to get in the way every time. This post for example, which reminded me of Aristotle's bit about contary predications only going through for the same object if the object is not actual (or something like that - I'm too lazy to look it up now) In short, on good metaphysical authority, there's no actual object that instantiates both prussian militarism and austrian cuddliness.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Buchan's bite: A rant

Re: this post of Boeciana's, and reposted from comments there.

"That meant that we had a cool detached view and did even-handed unsympathetic justice "

Not only is Buchan talking rubbish, he was actually closely involved in some of the dodgy goings-on, so he really ought to known better.

First, colonial legal regimes tend to be brutal and stupid. The Brits are no exception.
2 examples, both from Africa:

Kenya first, where legal arrangements were wildly unjust ab origine and remained so throughout the colonial period. Sentences varied according to race (unbelievably, this was actually legislated for - a less stupid regime would have done it by convention), black Africans were routinely subject to extra-legal punishment by whites, etc. All this is quite well documented: see among others: Correspondence Relating to the Flogging of Natives by Certain Europeans in Nairobi around 1907/08, the Report of the Native Labour Commission, 1912-13, and David Anderson’s Master and Servant in Colonial Kenya, 1895-1939 which is especially good on the variation in sentencing by race (his phrase is ‘racially determined’), and on the legitimisation of extra-legal punishment.

And Kenya is only one, rather minor, example.

South Africa was much worse, and had been so throughout the previous century, when most of the colonisation and settlement was done. The Making of South African Legal Culture 1902–1936 is good on this, while AA Mawby’s utter monster of a monograph has a nice explanation (in Vol. 1) of the history of, and motives for, the legal situation of non-whites in SA at the beginning of the XX century.

Buchan must have known all this. He had qualified as a lawyer before he went to SA as Lord Milner’s attaché (after the Boer War), and, once in Africa, he travelled widely. Furthermore, he served on Lord Milner’s land board, set up to carry out post-war reconstruction by settling British farmers on rural land stolen (partly) from the Boers (who had only just finished stealing it from the Africans), and partly from SA Africans. The land board, under his direction, did lots of extra-dodgy stuff, such as issuing compulsory purchase orders for less than market value and then seling at a massive profit, selling land to friends and loyalists for peanuts, hiding the identity of buyers from sellers to ensure that Brits got the best land, etc.
(Lord Milner distinguished himself in at least two ways: First, as one of the triumvirate that established concentration camps for Boers and Africans during the Boer War. More than 40,000 Boer and African POWs died in them. Second, in permitting white SA employers to beat their non-white employees, for which he was censured by Parliament. Again, Buchan cannot have been inculpably unaware of this).

Such, then, is the man who would prate about ‘even-handed unsympathetic justice’.I'd suggest that his equanimity about the Anglo-Scotch alliance is not unconnected to the fortunes he made therefrom.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Next week, I shall be outlining my client’s compensation claim.

LADIES AND gentlemen of the jury, the case for the defence can be summed up in three words: Judas was innocent. He was not just misunderstood, he was framed.

Ben MacIntyre makes the case for Judas' rehabilitation.

More here, and here.
(Danny Kruger in the Telegraph is mad - he spots the free-will issue, which hardly anyone else does. On the other hand, he ends by saying nice things about universalism)

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The incredible disappearing Queen. (Not original, alas)

The Queen gave her usual Christmas speech at [whatever time this past Christmas]. But that presupposes that the Queen can speak as she did, whereas it is a truism that nobody could possibly speak like the queen. So, in fact, the queen didn’t give her Christmas speech.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Strawson's (delightful) first proof for the existence of cognitive experience.

Proof 1. Life would be fabulously boring if this were not so. Life is not fabulously boring.
(at p. 7 of the pdf, in case you haven't followed the title link.)

All part of an entertaining, enlightening and generally Dennett-inhibiting paper.

SOTD: Adrian, Abbott.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year everyone

And so we're told this is the golden age/And gold is the reason for the wars we wage...