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.