Thursday, February 25, 2010

Palin Birtherism

Well, there's this.

I must regretfully admit that I've long thought that Andrew Sullivan was not obviously a kook for pushing these questions. I hope I'm separated from the Obama birthers by the fact that (a) I think that the prior probability of some kind of shenanigans of this sort is low, low, low, and (b) I don't want it to be true. In fact I want it to go away. I want to be able to say that the Palin birthers are nuts. I hope these pics are fake, or that there is some obvious explanation. I want to be able to say that Sullivan is nutty about this. But I can't. That is, I can't rule out some kind of weird, warped switcheroo. I don't think there was a switch. I'm fairly sure that there's a perfectly reasonable explanation here. But I must regretfully admit that I can't rule it out.


Just let it rest already I'm a reasonable kind of guy, and I don't want to be the guy who thinks this might even possibly be true.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Stanley Fish: There Are No "Secular" Reasons

Fish was a lightweight when he was in academia...and he turned the Duke English department into a PoMo joke. But I've been surprised how clear and interesting some of his stuff has been since he started writing for the NYT. I mean, it's not astounding, but it's perfectly competent.

This is kinda sorta interesting, though the response to Fish (and to Steven Smith) is obvious:

1. This is a misuse of the term 'secular.'

2. Adding God to the picture doesn't help.

I'm inclined to agree that we need something like final causes to make sense of the world, though that's only an inclination. But God is not necessary for final causation. The error that people like Fish and Smith make is to deploy what are basically skeptical arguments against non-theistic views of the world, and then to simply assume that adding God will Needless to say, that is an error.

The fact of the matter is, we're not sure how to make sense of either theoretical or practical reason. We are, that is, not sure how to make sense of reason at all. Personally, I'm skeptical of the contemporary scientistic/"naturalistic" view of reason and the universe--that is, the view that pretends that science is philosophically unproblematic, and that we can make sense of everything in terms of science narrowly construed and efficient causation. And I suspect that what has to be added to the picture will not be popular among the
Skeptical Inquirer set. But what has to be added is more along the lines of final causation than it is along the lines of God. God, whatever other theoretical work he might do, doesn't help us make sense of reason or reasons, and he's not necessary for making sense of or defending final causation. But what's really wanted here is a discussion of final causation. But that's not going to be possible in the two minutes I have remaining to finish this post...

(h/t Sharif)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Intellectual Dishonesty, John Yoo and the Nature of Reasoning

Reasoning cannot be bent into any shape at will, despite sophomoric claims to the contrary. Reason pushes back, urging us toward more sensible conclusions and away from less sensible ones, and resisting our efforts to make of it what we will. But reason's powers over us are far from perfect, and we can resist its influence if we so choose--and we often do. Reason is, in the short term, frequently no match for the human will. Although most of us cannot simply and directly will ourselves to believe that black is white, or that 2+2=3, we do not ordinarily fight reason in such direct ways. When we want to believe something contraindicated by reason, we skulk around and nip and tuck and spin and massage the data until we can kinda sorta make the evidence look like we want it to look. When we're thinking about something complicated and interesting, there's usually enough nuance and complexity that we have a lot to work with. Squint and tilt the thing, talk yourself into ignoring this or that point, exaggerate the strength of the evidence over there--you know how to do it.

There is, perhaps, no more important point to learn than that it is almost always possible to cheat when we reason. Intellectual dishonesty is always an option. If we are clever enough and dishonest enough, we can put together a minimally convincing argument for just about anything. And minimally convincing is all it takes if one wants to believe...and is short on scruples.We can usually fool ourselves if we want to; and that is why good reasoners--honest reasoners--minimize the role of their own will when they reason, allowing themselves to be guided by their logical conscience, the voice of which is sometimes every bit as weak and hard to discern as the voice of our moral conscience sometimes is. (This is one of the lessons Charles Sanders Peirce had to teach us, though the point is not unique to him.)

None of this is new. These are pervasive facts about the human condition.

Yoo and Bybee's sophistries are just the most recent manifestation of the particular form of this particular form of human evil and irrationality--sophistry, intellectual dishonesty, bullshitting. It's a pity there's no logical hell for people like them to rot in.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Kick Ass

Now that's a superhero movie.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Obama Puts Feet On Desk
Wingnuts Furious

These people are batshit crazy.

In case you hadn't noticed.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Corporation Runs for Congress

I mean, they're persons, right?