Sago Boulevard

Friday, December 30, 2005

Philosophy and Dating

More philosophy humor:
A boy is about to go on his first date, and is nervous about what to talk about. He asks his father for advice. The father replies: "My son, there are three subjects that always work. These are food, family, and philosophy."

The boy picks up his date and they go to a soda fountain. Ice cream sodas in front of them, they stare at each other for a long time, as the boy's nervousness builds. He remembers his father's advice, and chooses the first topic. He asks the girl: "Do you like potato pancakes?" She says "No," and the silence returns.

After a few more uncomfortable minutes, the boy thinks of his father's suggestion and turns to the second item on the list. He asks, "Do you have a brother?" Again, the girl says "No" and there is silence once again.

The boy then plays his last card. He thinks of his father's advice and asks the girl the following question: "If you had a brother, would he like potato pancakes?"

Some Proofs That p

Philosophy humor from David Chalmers' collection:
Proofs that p:

Some philosophers have argued that not-p, on the grounds that q. It would be an interesting exercise to count all the fallacies in this "argument". (It's really awful, isn't it?) Therefore p.

It would be nice to have a deductive argument that p from self- evident premises. Unfortunately I am unable to provide one. So I will have to rest content with the following intuitive considerations in its support: p.

Suppose it were the case that not-p. It would follow from this that someone knows that q. But on my view, no one knows anything whatsoever. Therefore p. (Unger believes that the louder you say this argument, the more persuasive it becomes).

I have seventeen arguments for the claim that p, and I know of only four for the claim that not-p. Therefore p.

Most people find the claim that not-p completely obvious and when I assert p they give me an incredulous stare. But the fact that they find not- p obvious is no argument that it is true; and I do not know how to refute an incredulous stare. Therefore, p.

Outline Of A Proof That P (1):
Saul Kripke

Some philosophers have argued that not-p. But none of them seems to me to have made a convincing argument against the intuitive view that this is not the case. Therefore, p.

(1) This outline was prepared hastily -- at the editor's insistence -- from a taped manuscript of a lecture. Since I was not even given the opportunity to revise the first draft before publication, I cannot be held responsible for any lacunae in the (published version of the) argument, or for any fallacious or garbled inferences resulting from faulty preparation of the typescript. Also, the argument now seems to me to have problems which I did not know when I wrote it, but which I can't discuss here, and which are completely unrelated to any criticisms that have appeared in the literature (or that I have seen in manuscript); all such criticisms misconstrue my argument. It will be noted that the present version of the argument seems to presuppose the (intuitionistically unacceptable) law of double negation. But the argument can easily be reformulated in a way that avoids employing such an inference rule. I hope to expand on these matters further in a separate monograph.

If not p, what? q maybe?

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Gil on Wikipedia

King of the Jewish blogosphere, Rabbi Gil Student of Hirhurim, has made it to Wikipedia!

The RCA on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design

According to the Rabbinical Council of America, (1) evolution isn't heresy and (2) evolution and intelligent design need not stand in opposition. (Hat tip: Hirhurim)
[T]he RCA notes that significant Jewish authorities have maintained that evolutionary theory, properly understood, is not incompatible with belief in a Divine Creator, nor with the first 2 chapters of Genesis.
As Rabbi Joseph Hertz wrote, "While the fact of creation has to this day remained the first of the articles of the Jewish creed, there is no uniform and binding belief as to the manner of creation, i.e. as to the process whereby the universe came into existence. The manner of the Divine creative activity is presented in varying forms and under differing metaphors by Prophet, Psalmist and Sage..."
[R]ecent Rabbinic leaders who have discussed the topic of creation, such as Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, saw no difficulty in explaining Genesis as a theological text rather than a scientific account.
Judaism has always preferred to see science and Torah as two aspects of the "Mind of God" (to borrow Stephen Hawking's phrase) that are ultimately unitary in the reality given to us by the Creator. As the Zohar says (Genesis 134a): "istakel be-'oraita u-vara 'alma," God looked into the Torah and used it as His blueprint for creating the Universe.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Jewish Orthodoxy Quiz

If you're an Orthodox Jew and believe that we aren't already overly subdivided by ideology and life-syle, Lamed Zayin's quiz offers to pigeon-hole you even further. Here's how I scored. It's actually not too far off. User Test: The Orthodoxy  Test.
Left Wing Modern Orthodox: 59%
Right Wing Modern Orthodox: 93%
Left Wing Yeshivish/Chareidi: 54%
Right Wing Yeshivish/Chareidi: 13%

What does it mean?

You're shteiging away in the YU beis medrash and really enjoying that Kant class in the afternoon. You've achieved shiurvanna - the perfect synthesis of frumkeit and the outside world. Everyone to the left is way too modern and everyone to the right is too rigid and machmir. Sometimes you feel guilty about not wearing a hat.

Economics and Capital Punishment

In light of the recent execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams, Richard Posner offers an economic perspective on capital punishment. I have to think about it more before passing judgment but it's worth reading and considering.

As a rule, I think a purely economic approach to such a loaded ethical and political issue will be, at best, insufficient. Posner seems to take for granted that the State may kill those to deserve to die. While this may be true, it is far from obvious. The value of a life is much harder to pin down than he would have us believe.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Reasonableness and Truth

It's important to distinguish between two concepts that are too often conflated in popular discourse. Confusing reasonableness with truth breeds rhetorical shouting matches where level-headed debate is appropriate and far more useful. Bill Vallicella draws attention to this distinction as it regards an issue particularly prone to this very confusion:
I maintain that atheism is reasonable. Calling a position reasonable, I simply mean that reasons can be adduced in its favor, reasons that are plausible and consistent with what we can claim to know. Of course, I also maintain that theism is reasonable since all sorts of arguments can be given for it, arguments that are valid in point of logical form and that feature premises that are plausible and consistent with what we can claim to know.

Since a position and its contradictory can both be reasonable, but cannot both be true, it follows that truth and reasonableness are distinct properties.

Taking to heart this relatively simple point would go a long way towards improving popular discourse - and probably even scholarly discourse as well.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Rabbis Who Give Torah a Bad Name

Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein's article in today's LA Times opens with a misleading and irresponsible mention of a few biblical prohibitions.
Did any of us insult our parents? If so, according to the Torah, death by stoning is the decree. Women, did you wear pants last year? If so, according to the Torah, death by stoning is your decree too.

You don't need to be a Reform Jew to realize that these ancient laws are beyond the pale. Among them is the infamous ayin tachat ayin — an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. To modern Western culture, this is simply barbarism.

A rabbi should know better. First, ayin tahat ayin is understood as requiring reparations in the amount of the value of the damage inflicted. There is absolutely no evidence that biblical or rabbinic courts ever did otherwise.

The rabbis make a tremendous effort to avoid capital punishment, making it near impossible for a halakhic court to execute anybody. For Rabbi Stein to flippantly suggest that the Torah would demand stoning in these cases in an article addressed to an audience largely unfamiliar with the nuances of halakhic discourse is disrespectful to the Torah itself and incredibly foolish.

And women being stoned for wearing pants?! Are you kidding? Now of course, if Rabbi Stein cited the appropriate texts, it would be clear how strained of an interpretation this is - even if there are some who may understand it this way. To mention it as he does, without qualification, is simply dishonest.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Meaning and "Pointless Indifference"

Richard Dawkins in River out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life:
The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but pointless indifference.

In this interview, though, he "thank[s] goodness" for exactly those things which he denies are properties of the universe:
[Darwin] said "What a book a Devil's Chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low and horridly cruel works of nature." Darwin realized that natural selection produces cruel results. He looked at predators and prey, parasites and hosts, and saw how there is an immense amount of suffering and cruelty out there in nature.
We can seek more altruistic, sympathetic, artistic things that have nothing to do with the preservation of our selfish genes - and thank goodness we can.

One way to resolve these two sentiments is to suggest that what makes "altruistic" laudable and "cruelty" undesirable aren't properties of the physical world per se, but rather part of man's effort to create his own meaning in the world.

But how exactly do we create meaning from "pointless indifference" without conceding some version of relativism?

Now, don't throw back at me "well religion doesn't do any better of a job!" That's not the point. It seems clear to me, for entirely logical reasons, that if morality is to have any force, it must be, in a deep sense, built-in to the fabric of the universe.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Natural Creation and Revealed Covenant

From Rav Soloveitchik's Out of the Whirlwind:
[Man's] position in the world, his existence, his worth and destiny, his duties and prerogatives can all be seen in two perspectives - either in light of the event of creation or in relation to the event of the God-man confrontation. Neither experience must be rejected.
Can a complete harmony be achieved? Certainly not, since the natural and the covenantal belong to different and incommensurate orders! They must engender in man conflict and strife... Yet this schism in the personality is indicative not of a sick soul but of a great one that sees God in both the flames of the rising sun and the fire of the Sinai apocalypse.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

What's Racism?

Take the poll.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Another Meme

Romach has summoned me to "shuffle" all the songs on my playlist and post the top 15.

1. The Devil Went Down to Georgia - Charles Daniels
2. John Barbour - Great Big Sea
3. Turn, Turn, Turn - The Byrds
4. Hard Day's Night - The Beatles
5. Here Come's the Sun - The Beatles
6. The Night Pat Murphy Died - Great Big Sea
7. Hook - Blues Traveler
8. Imagine - John Lennon
9. Stairway to Heaven - Led Zeppelin
10. Beautiful Day - U2
11. Something Beautiful - Great Big Sea
12. Scenes from an Italian Restaurant - Billy Joel
13. Dream On - Aerosmith
14. The Boxer - Simon & Garfunkel
15. The Rising - Bruce Springsteen

I'm not tagging anybody for this one. If you'd like to list 15 random songs from your playlist, go right ahead.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Ten Random Things

I've been tagged by Seth. Ten random things about myself:

1. I'm an excellent doodler.
2. I'm very aware that what I like to read and talk about are of little interest to almost everybody else.
3. I have a terrible sense of direction.
4. I wish I were one of those people who has good taste in music but I'm not.
5. I tend to walk in circles around my apartment when I'm deep in thought.
6. I started this blog in part because, while writing my senior thesis, I needed a way to waste time without leaving the library.
7. I'm addicted to caffeine.
8. I've never been to Europe.
9. I don't like salad.
10. After finishing this post, I'm planning on taking a shower.

I tag Romach (yes, I know I still haven't done your meme; I'm getting to it), Jewish Atheist, Orthoprax, and Nephtuli.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Pure Mathematics And Man's Kinship With Nature

R. Soloveitchik in The Emergence of Ethical Man, p. 61n5:
The epistemological problem that baffled the minds of the greatest philosophers finds its solution in the communion of man with nature. "How is pure mathematics possible?" asked Kant. In other words, how can mathematical principles that were conceived by man in his seclusion from nature (a priori) be applied to the chaotic manifold of reality? Apparently man is equipped with a faculty of divination. Because of his kinship with the cosmos, he reads the inner workings of nature.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Dershowitz vs. Chomsky

If you have an hour and half to spare and the patience to sit through a lot of bad arguments, here's a link to a debate between Alan Dershowitz and Noam Chomsky on the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations. The debate was last week at Harvard's Kennedy School. To be honest, I was a litle disappointed by the quality of presentations but it's interesting nonetheless. The fact that simple points of fact are disputed sheds light on just how complicated Middle East politics are.

Thanks to Jeremy for the link.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

If It Looks Like a Duck

Antisemitism rears its ugly head, once again, this time in the form of our best friends, the Christian conservatives. From Henry Ford's The International Jew:
Under cover of the ideal of Liberty we have given the Jews liberty to attack Liberty. What America has been tolerating is intolerance itself. Let us look rapidly down the years and see one phase of that attack. It is the attack upon Christianity. Here are a few items from the record. They are recorded over a period of years following the rise of Jewish power in America:

1899-1900. The Jews attempt to have the word "Christian" removed from the Bill of Rights of the State of Virginia.

1906-1907. The Jews of Oklahoma petition the Constitutional Convention protesting that the acknowledgment of Christ in the new State constitution then being formulated would be repugnant to the Constitution of the United States.
1907-1908. Widespread demand by the Jews for the complete secularization of the public institutions of this country, as a part of the demand of the Jews for their constitutional rights.

Supreme Court Justice Brewer's statement that this is a Christian country widely controverted by Jewish rabbis and publications.

Jews agitate in many cities against Bible reading. Christmas celebrations or carols in Philadelphia, Cincinnati, St. Paul and New York met with strong Jewish opposition.
And so it goes on, year after year, right up to the present day. The incidents quoted are typical not occasional. They represent what is transpiring all the time in the United States as the Jews pursue their "rights." There is no interference with Jewish ways and manners. The Jew may use his own calendar, keep his own days, observe his own form of worship, live in his own ghetto, exist on a dietary principle all his own, slaughter his cattle in a manner which no one who knows about it can approve-he can do all these things without molestation, without the slightest question of his right in them. But, the non-Jew is the "persecuted one." He must do everything the way the Jew wants it done; if not he is infringing on Jewish "rights."

Bill O'Reilly on Neil Cavuto's Show:
I say that Muslims are less than 1 percent of the population, and Jews are less than 3 percent of the population. They're entitled to their opinion, they're entitled to their opinion and they are entitled not to shop in places that say "Merry Christmas," just as I'm entitled not to shop in places that don't. That's what I say. But the bottom line on this is this: Secular progressives which are driving this movement, OK, don't want Christmas. They don't want it as a federal holiday, they don't want any message of spirituality or Judeo-Christian tradition because that stands in the way of gay marriage, legalized drugs, euthanasia, all of the greatest hits on the secular progressive play card.

More from Henry Ford:
The warning has already gone out through the colleges. The system of Jewish procedure is already fully known. How simple it is ! First, you secularize the public schools -"secularize" is the precise word the Jews use for the process. You prepare the mind of the public school child by enforcing the rule that no mention shall ever be made to indicate that culture or patriotism is in any way connected with the deeper principles of the Anglo-Saxon religion. Keep it out, every sight and sound of it ! Keep out also every word that will aid any child to identify the Jewish race. Then, when you have thus prepared the soil, you can go into the universities and colleges and enter upon the double program of pouring contempt on all the AngloSaxon landmarks, at the same time filling the void with Jewish revolutionary ideas.

Bill O'Reilly on his radio show:
Now the reason this is happening is because of the ACLU and George Soros, Peter Lewis. Just a reminder: George Soros and Peter Lewis are the far-left, secular progressive billionaires who have funded -- they pour money into the ACLU, they pour money into the smear websites, you know, they buy up a lot of the media time. And they basically want to change the country from a Christian-based philosophical country to a secular progressive country like they have in Western Europe. OK? Now, the ACLU is their legal arm, and the smear websites are their media arm. And they pour a lot of money into both. And the ACLU runs around the country suing everybody and intimidating people.

Self-hating Jew Burt Prelutsky:
It is the ACLU, which is overwhelmingly Jewish in terms of membership and funding, that is leading the attack against Christianity in America.
You may have noticed, though, that the ACLU is highly selective when it comes to religious intolerance. The same group of self-righteous shysters who, at the drop of a "Merry Christmas" will slap you with an injunction, will fight for the right of an American Indian to ingest peyote and a devout Islamic woman to be veiled on her driver's license.

Update: DovBear does a great job ripping Prelutsky a new one.

Catholic League President William Donohue:
Who really cares what Hollywood thinks? All these hacks come out there. Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. It's not a secret, okay? And I'm not afraid to say it.

Put the pieces together yourself.

Thanks to Jill and Steve Gilliard for the links.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Philosophy Humor

Excerpts from The Philosophical Lexicon:
buber, v. To struggle in a morass of one's own making. "After I defined the self as a relation that relates to itself relatingly, I bubered around for three pages." Hence buber, n. one who bubers. "When my mistake was pointed out to me, I felt like a complete buber."

derrida. From a old French nonsense refrain: "Hey nonny derrida, nonny nonny derrida falala."

heidegger, n. A ponderous device for boring through thick layers of substance. "It's buried so deep we'll have to use a heidegger."

hume, pron. (1) Indefinite personal and relative pronoun, presupposing no referent. Useful esp. in writing solipsistic treatises, sc. "to hume it may concern." v. (2) To commit to the flames, bury, or otherwise destroy a philosophical position, as in "That theory was humed in the 1920s." Hence, exhume, v. to revive a position generally believed to humed.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Light Blogging This Weekend

I'm taking the LSAT on Monday, so this weekend I'll be busy with some last-minute practice. Blogging will resume next week.