Activism Recap

 Posted by on 30 June 2013 at 4:40 pm  Activism Recap
Jun 302013

This week on We Stand FIRM, the blog of FIRM (Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine):

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This week on The Blog of The Objective Standard:

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This week on The Blog of Modern Paleo:

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On Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Radio, I’ll discuss what’s right (and wrong) with Aristotle’s defense of eudaimonia as the final end that’s given in Chapter One of the Nicomachean Ethics. I’m really excited to discuss the topic, as I think that his argument is (1) radically different from that given by Ayn Rand in “The Objectivist Ethics” (in The Virtue of Selfishness), yet (2) important and powerful and basically right.

In preparing my notes, I’ll draw on my teaching notes from my days as a graduate student instructor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Hence, I thought I should post the selections from Chapter One of the Nicomachean Ethics that I assigned to students, as background context. It covers more ground than I’ll discuss on Sunday. (FYI: The translation is that of W.D. Ross, with some revisions made by Gregory Salmieri.)

Without further ado… I present you with Aristotle:

Chapter 1 [goods as ends of actions]

Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, seems to aim at some good. For this reason the good has rightly been described as that at which all things aim.

But a certain difference is found among ends: some are activities, others are products apart from the activities that produce them. Where there are ends apart from the actions, it is the nature of the products to be better than the activities.

Now, as there are many actions, arts, and sciences, their ends also are many. The end of the medicine is health, that of shipbuilding a vessel, that of generalship victory, that of economics wealth. But where such arts fall under a single capacity–as bridle-making and the other arts concerned with the equipment of horses fall under the art of riding, and this and every military action under generalship, in the same way other arts fall under yet others–in all of these the ends of the master arts are to be preferred to all the subordinate ends. For it is for the sake of the former that the latter are pursued. It makes no difference whether the activities themselves are the ends of the actions, or something else apart from the activities, as in the case of the sciences just mentioned.

Chapter 2 [the good as the ultimate end of action]

Then what if there is some end of the things we do, which we desire for its own sake (everything else being desired for the sake of this), and that we do not choose everything for the sake of something else (for at that rate the process would go on to infinity, so that our desire would be empty and vain)? Clearly this end must be the good and the chief good. Will not the knowledge of it, then, have a great influence on life? If we have it, won’t we, like archers who have a mark to aim at, be more likely to hit on what is right? If so, we must try, in outline at least, to determine what it is, and of which of the sciences or capacities it is the object.

It would seem to belong to the most authoritative art and that which is most truly the master art. And statesmanship appears to be of this nature; for it is this that ordains which of the sciences should be studied in a state, and which each class of citizens should learn and up to what point they should learn them; and we see even the most highly esteemed of capacities to fall under this, e.g. strategy, economics, rhetoric; now, since statesmanship uses the rest of the sciences, and since, again, it legislates as to what we are to do and what we are to abstain from, the end of this science must include those of the others, so that this end must be the good for man. For even if the end is the same for a single man and for a state, that of the state seems at all events something greater and more complete to attain or to preserve; though it is worthwhile to attain the end merely for one man, it is finer and more godlike to attain it for a nation or for state. These, then, are the ends at which our inquiry aims, since it is statesmanship, in one sense of that term.

Chapter 3 [the methods of statesmanship]

Our discussion will be adequate if it has as much clearness as the subject-matter admits of, for precision is not to be sought for alike in all discussions, any more than in all the products of the crafts. Now fine and just actions, which statesmanship investigates, admit of much variety and fluctuation of opinion, so that they may be thought to exist only by convention, and not by nature. And goods also give rise to a similar fluctuation because they bring harm to many people; for before now men have been undone by reason of their wealth, and others by reason of their courage. We must be content, then, in speaking of such subjects and with such premises to indicate the truth roughly and in outline, and in speaking about things which are only for the most part true and with premises of the same kind to reach conclusions that are no better. In the same spirit, therefore, should each type of statement be received; for it is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits; it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician scientific proofs.

Now each man judges well the things he knows, and of these he is a good judge. And so the man who has been educated in a subject is a good judge of that subject, and the man who has received an all-round education is a good judge in general. Hence a young man is not a proper hearer of lectures on statesmanship; for he is inexperienced in the actions that occur in life, but its discussions start from these and are about these; and, further, since he tends to follow his passions, his study will be vain and unprofitable, because the end aimed at is not knowledge but action. And it makes no difference whether he is young in years or youthful in character; the deficiency does not depend on time, but on his living and pursuing each successive object, as passion directs. For immature men, like the incontinent get no benefit from their knowledge. But men who desire and act with reason will get a great benefit from knowing about these things.

These remarks about the student, the way our claims should be received, and the purpose of the inquiry, may be taken as our preface.

Chapter 4 [the disputed nature of happiness]

Let us resume our inquiry and state, in view of the fact that all knowledge and every pursuit aims at some good, what it is that we say statesmanship aims at and what is the highest of all goods achievable by action. Verbally there is very general agreement; for both the general run of men and people of superior refinement say that it is happiness, and identify living well and doing well with being happy; but with regard to what happiness is they differ, and the many do not give the same account as the wise. For the former think it is some plain and obvious thing, like pleasure, wealth, or honor; they differ, however, from one another–and often even the same man identifies it with different things, with health when he is ill, with wealth when he is poor; but, conscious of their ignorance, they admire those who proclaim some great ideal that is above their comprehension. Now some thought that apart from these many goods there is another which exists on its own and causes the goodness of all these as well. To examine all the opinions that have been held were perhaps somewhat fruitless; enough to examine those that are most prevalent or that seem to be arguable.

Let us not fail to notice, however, that there is a difference between arguments from and those to the principles. For Plato, too, was right in raising this question and asking, as he used to do, “are we on the way from or to the principles?” There is a difference, as there is in a race-course between the course from the judges to the turning-point and the way back. For, while we must begin with what is known, things are objects of knowledge in two senses: some are known to us, some without qualification. Presumably, then, we must begin with things known to us. Hence any one who is to listen intelligently to lectures about what is fine and just, and generally, about the subjects of statesmanship must have been brought up in good habits. For the fact is the starting-point, and if this is sufficiently plain to him, he will not at the start need the reason as well; and the man who has been well brought up has or can easily get starting points. And as for him who neither has nor can get them, let him hear the words of Hesiod:

Far best is he who knows all things himself;
Good, he that hearkens when men counsel right;
But he who neither knows, nor lays to heart
Another’s wisdom, is a useless man

Chapter 5 [three common views of the good]

However, let’s resume our discussion from the point at which we digressed. To judge from the lives that men lead, most men, and men of the most vulgar type, seem (not without some ground) to identify the good, or happiness, with pleasure; which is the reason why they love the life of enjoyment. For there are, we may say, three prominent types of life: that just mentioned, the political, and thirdly the contemplative life. Now the mass of mankind are evidently quite slavish in their tastes, preferring a life suitable to beasts, but they get some ground for their view from the fact that many of those in high places share the tastes of Sardanapallus.

A consideration of the prominent types of life shows that people of superior refinement and of active disposition identify happiness with honor; for this is, roughly speaking, the end of the political life. But it seems too superficial to be what we are looking for, since it seems to depend on those who bestow honor rather than on him who receives it, but the good we divine to be something proper to a man and not easily taken from him.

Further, men seem to pursue honor in order that they may be assured of their goodness; at least it is by men of practical wisdom that they seek to be honored, and among those who know them, and on the ground of their virtue; clearly, then, according to them, at any rate, virtue is better. And perhaps one might even suppose this to be, rather than honor, the end of the political life.

But even this appears somewhat incomplete; for possession of virtue seems actually compatible with being asleep, or with lifelong inactivity, and, further, with the greatest sufferings and misfortunes; but a man who was living so no one would call happy, unless he were maintaining a thesis at all costs. But enough of this; for the subject has been sufficiently treated even in the current discussions. Third comes the contemplative life, which we shall consider later.

The life of money-making is one undertaken under compulsion, and wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking; for it is merely useful and for the sake of something else. And so one might rather take the aforementioned objects to be ends; for they are loved for themselves. It is evident that not even these are ends; yet many arguments have been thrown away in support of them. Let us leave this subject, then.

Chapter 7 [Aristotle's own account of the good]

Let us again return to the good we are seeking, and ask what it can be. It seems different in different actions and arts; it is different in medicine, in strategy, and in the other arts likewise. What then is the good of each? Surely, that for whose sake everything else is done. In medicine this is health, in generalship victory, in architecture a house, in any other sphere something else; and, in every action and pursuit, it is the end; for it is for the sake of this that all men do whatever else they do. Therefore, if there is an end for all that we do, this will be the good achievable by action, and if there are more than one, these will be the goods achievable by action.

So the argument has by a different course reached the same point; but we must try to state this even more clearly. Since there are evidently more than one end, and we choose some of these (e.g. wealth, flutes, and in general instruments) for the sake of something else, clearly not all ends are complete; but the chief good is evidently something complete. Therefore, if there is only one complete end, this will be what we are seeking, and if there are more than one, the most complete of these will be what we are seeking. Now we call that which is desirable in itself more complete than that which is desirable for the sake of something else; and, if something is desirable in itself and never desirable for the sake of anything else, we call it more complete than things that are desirable both in themselves and for the same of something else. Therefore we call something “complete without qualification” if it is always desirable in itself and never desirable for the sake of something else.

Now happiness, above all else, is held to be such a thing; for we always choose happiness for itself and never for the sake of something else. While we do choose honor, pleasure, reason, and every virtue we choose for themselves (for if nothing resulted from them we should still choose each of them), we also choose them for the sake of happiness, judging that by means of them we shall be happy. Happiness, on the other hand, no one chooses for the sake of these, nor, in general, for anything other than itself.

From the point of view of independence the same result seems to follow; for the final good seems to be independent. Now by independent we do not mean that which is enough for a man by himself–for someone who lives a solitary life–but also for parents, children, wife, and in general for his friends and fellow citizens, since man is born for citizenship. But some limit must be set to this; for if we extend our requirement to ancestors and descendants and friends’ friends we are in for an infinite series. Let’s examine this question, however, on another occasion. For now we define the independent as that which when isolated makes life desirable and lacking in nothing; and we think happiness is like this. Further we think that it is the most desirable of all things, without being counted as one good thing among others. If it were counted as one good amongst others, it would clearly be made more desirable by the addition of even the least of goods; for that which is added becomes an extra good, and of goods the greater is always more desirable. Happiness, then, is something complete and independent, and is the end of action.

Presumably, however, to say that happiness is the chief good seems a platitude, and a clearer account of what it is still desired. This might perhaps be given, if we could first ascertain the function of man. For just as for a flute-player, a sculptor, or an artist, and, in general, for all things that have a function or activity, the good and the ‘well’ seems to reside in the function, so would it seem to be for man, if he has a function.

Have the carpenter, then, and the tanner certain functions or activities, and has man none? Is he born without a function? Or as eye, hand, foot, and in general each of the parts evidently has a function, may we likewise ascribe to man a function apart from all these?

What then could this be? Life seems to be common even to plants, but we are seeking what is peculiar to man. Let us exclude, therefore, the life of nutrition and growth. Next there would be a life of perception, but it also seems to be common even to the horse, the ox, and every animal.

There remains, then, an active life of the part that has reason. Of this, one part has reason in the sense of obeying reason, the other in the sense of having reason and thinking. And, since “life of the rational part” also has two meanings, we must state that we mean life in the sense of activity; for this seems to be the more proper sense of the term.

So, man’s function is an activity of soul with reason. We say that the function of a thing is the same in kind as the function of a superb thing of the same type. For example, the function of a lyre player and of a superb lyre player are the same in kind. The same goes for all cases without qualification, if we add superiority with virtue to the function (for the function of a lyre player is to play the lyre, and that of a superb lyre player is to do so well). We say that man’s function is a certain kind of life, and that it is activity or actions of the soul involving reason, so the function of a superb man is to do these actions well and finely. And, if any action is done well when it is done with the appropriate virtue, the human good turns out to be activity of soul with virtue, and if there are more than one virtue, with the best and most complete.

But we must add “in a complete life”. For one swallow does not make a summer, nor does one day; and so too one day, or a short time, does not make a man blessed and happy.

Let this serve as an outline of the good; for we must presumably first sketch it roughly, and then later fill in the details. But it would seem that any one is capable of carrying on and articulating something, once it’s been outlined well and that time is a good discoverer or partner in such a work–this is how the arts have improved, for any one can add what is lacking to the outline. We must also remember what we said before, and not look for precision in all things alike. Rather, in each class of things, we should look for the sort of precision as accords with the subject-matter, and for the amount that us appropriate to the inquiry. For a carpenter and a geometer investigate the right angle in different ways; the former does so in so far as the right angle is useful for his work, while the latter inquires in to what it is or what sort of thing it is; for he is a spectator of the truth. We must act in the same way, then, in all other matters as well. This way we’ll avoid subordinating out main task to minor questions. And we shouldn’t demand the cause in all matters alike; it is enough in some cases that the fact be well established, as in the case of the principles; the fact is the primary or the principle. Now we study some principles by induction, some by perception, some by a certain habituation, and we also study others in other ways. But we must try to investigate each set of principles in the natural way, and we must take pains to state them definitely, since they have a great influence on what follows. For the beginning seems to be more than half of the whole, and many of the questions we ask are cleared up by it.

Chapter 8 [kinds of goods]

We must consider it, however, in the light not only of our conclusion and our premisses, but also of what is commonly said about it; for with a true view all the data harmonize, but with a false one the facts soon clash.

Now goods have been divided into three classes, and some are described as external, others as relating to soul or to body; we call those that relate to soul most properly and truly goods, and psychical actions and activities we class as relating to soul. Therefore our account must be sound, at least according to this view, which is an old one and agreed on by philosophers. It is correct also in that we identify the end with certain actions and activities; for thus it falls among goods of the soul and not among external goods.

Another belief which harmonizes with our account is that the happy man lives well and does well; for we have practically defined happiness as a sort of good life and good action. The characteristics that are looked for in happiness seem also, all of them, to belong to what we have defined happiness as being. For some identify happiness with virtue, some with practical wisdom, others with a kind of philosophic wisdom, others with these, or one of these, accompanied by pleasure or not without pleasure; while others include also external prosperity. …

With those who identify happiness with virtue or some one virtue our account is in harmony; for to virtue belongs virtuous activity. But it makes, perhaps, no small difference whether we place the chief good in possession or in use, in state of mind or in activity. For the state of mind may exist without producing any good result, as in a man who is asleep or in some other way quite inactive, but the activity cannot; for one who has the activity will of necessity be acting, and acting well. And as in the Olympic Games it is not the most beautiful and the strongest that are crowned but those who compete (for it is some of these that are victorious), so those who act win, and rightly win, the noble and good things in life.

Their life is also in itself pleasant. For pleasure is a state of soul, and to each man that which he is said to be a lover of is pleasant; e.g. not only is a horse pleasant to the lover of horses, and a spectacle to the lover of sights, but also in the same way just acts are pleasant to the lover of justice and in general virtuous acts to the lover of virtue. Now for most men their pleasures are in conflict with one another because these are not by nature pleasant, but the lovers of what is noble find pleasant the things that are by nature pleasant; and virtuous actions are such, so that these are pleasant for such men as well as in their own nature. Their life, therefore, has no further need of pleasure as a sort of adventitious charm, but has its pleasure in itself.

For, besides what we have said, the man who does not rejoice in noble actions is not even good; since no one would call a man just who did not enjoy acting justly, nor any man liberal who did not enjoy liberal actions; and similarly in all other cases. If this is so, virtuous actions must be in themselves pleasant. But they are also good and noble, and have each of these attributes in the highest degree, since the good man judges well about these attributes; his judgment is such as we have described. Happiness then is the best, noblest, and most pleasant thing in the world, and these attributes are not severed as in the inscription at Delos–

Most noble is that which is most just, and best is health;
But pleasantest is it to win what we love.

For all these properties belong to the best activities; and these, or one–the best–of these, we identify with happiness.

Yet evidently, as we said, it needs the external goods as well; for it is impossible, or not easy, to do noble acts without the proper equipment. In many actions we use friends and riches and political power as instruments; and there are some things the lack of which takes the luster from happiness, as good birth, goodly children, beauty; for the man who is very ugly in appearance or ill-born or solitary and childless is not very likely to be happy, and perhaps a man would be still less likely if he had thoroughly bad children or friends or had lost good children or friends by death. As we said, then, happiness seems to need this sort of prosperity in addition; for which reason some identify happiness with good fortune, though others identify it with virtue.

Chapter 13 [virtue and the soul]

Since happiness is an activity of soul with complete virtue, we must consider the nature of virtue; for perhaps this will enable us to study happiness better. Plus the true student of statesmanship seems to have studied virtue above all things; for he wishes to make his fellow citizens good and obedient to the laws. As an example of this we have the lawgivers of the Cretans and the Spartans, and any others of the kind that there may have been. And if this inquiry belongs to statesmanship, clearly the pursuit of it will be in accordance with our original plan.

But clearly the virtue we must study is human virtue; for the good we were seeking was human good and the happiness human happiness. By human virtue we don’t mean virtue of the body but virtue of the soul; and we also call happiness an activity of soul. But if this is so, clearly the student of statesmanship must know somehow about the soul, as the man who is to heal the eyes or the body as a whole must know about the eyes or the body. All the more so, since statesmanship is more prized and better than medicine; but even among doctors the best educated spend put a lot of work into acquiring knowledge of the body. The student of statesmanship, then, must study the soul, and must study it with these objects in view, and he must do so just to the extent which is sufficient for the questions we are discussing; for further precision may take more work than our purposes require.

We have made some points about the soul adequately even in our popular works, and we must use these. For example, we said that one part of the soul is non-rational and one has reason. Are these parts separated like the parts of the body or of anything divisible are, or are they distinct in definition but inseparable by nature, like convex and concave in the circumference of a circle? It does not matter for our present purposes.

One part of the non-rational part seems to be widely distributed and is plantlike in its nature. I mean the part that causes nutrition and growth; for we can assign this capacity to nurslings and to embryos, and also assign this same capacity to full-grown creatures (since this is more reasonable than assigning some other capacity to them). Now the virtue of this part seems to be common to all species and is not specifically human; for this part or capacity seems to be most active during sleep, when goodness and badness are at their least distinct (that’s why people say that “happy people are no better off than miserable people for half their lives”). This isn’t surprising, because sleep is inactivity of the soul insofar as it is called great or base, unless perhaps some of the movements actually penetrate a little so that the dreams of great men are better than those of ordinary people. Enough of this subject, however; let us leave the nutritive part alone, since it has by its nature no share in human virtue.

There seems to be also another non-rational part in the soul–one which in a sense, however, shares in reason. For we praise the rational part of the continent man and of the incontinent, i.e. the part of their souls that has reason, since it urges them correctly and towards the best objects; but we also find in them another part naturally opposed to reason, which fights against it and resists it. It’s just like when we try to turn paralyzed limbs to the right and they do the contrary and move to the left. That’s how it is in the soul: the impulses of incontinent people move in contrary directions. But in the case of the body we see the part that goes astray, and in the soul we do not. Nevertheless, we must suppose that there is something in the soul contrary to reason, resisting and opposing it. In what sense it is distinct from the other parts does not concern us. Now even non-rational part his seems to have a share in reason, as we said; at any rate in the continent man it obeys reason and presumably in the temperate and brave man it’s even more obedient; for in him it speaks, on all matters, with the same voice as reason.

Therefore the non-rational part also appears to be two-fold. For the plantlike part in no way shares in reason, but the appetitive and in general the desiring part in a sense shares in it, in that it listens to and obeys it; this is the sense in which we speak of “listening to reason” from your father or your friends, not that in which we speak of “give reasons” in mathematics. Our practices of giving advice and admonishing and exhorting people also indicates that the non-rational part is persuaded by reason in some sense. And if we must say that this part has reason, then the part that has reason (as well as the part that doesn’t) will be bipartite: one subdivision will have it in the strict sense and in itself, and the other will have it in the sense of obeying, like one does with one’s father.

Virtue is also divided this way; for we say that some of the virtues are “virtues of thought” and that others are “virtues of character”. Theoretical wisdom, comprehension, and practical-wisdom are virtues of thought, and generosity and temperance are virtues of character. For in speaking about a man’s character we do not say that he is wise or comprehending but that he is mild or temperate; yet we praise the wise man also because of his state, and we call praiseworthy states “virtues”.


As I mentioned in my radio discussion of recommended works of Aristotle, I recommend the W.D. Ross translation of Nicomachean Ethics — or its derivatives.

The version in the epic two-volume set of The Complete Works of Aristotle (Volume 1 and Volume 2) edited by Barnes has been modified slightly by J.O. Urmson, and I like that one too. Also, Urmson has a nice little book on Aristotle’s Ethics. I’ve not read the whole book, but his discussion of Aristotle’s theory of moral responsibility is quite good.

Finally, I definitely recommend reading the Nicomachean Ethics with Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics on hand. I don’t always agree with my friend Tom, but he’s reading Aristotle straight — not with any Christian gloss — and he’s remarkably accurate and insightful.

Update: Now that the 30 June 2013 episode of Philosophy in Action Radio is complete, you can listen to or download the relevant segment of the podcast here:

For more details, check out the question’s archive page. The full episode – where I answered questions on Aristotle on the final end, dealing with a morally corrupt sibling, studying philosophy in academia, the legality of DDoS attacks, and more – is available as a podcast too.

Jun 282013

Howdy! I recently fixed up the “posts-by-email” feature for NoodleFood, its comments, and podcasts. So if you’d like to receive any or all of that content via a once-per-day email, check out:

You can also subscribe using some kind of RSS reader:

As for the comments, remember that you can view all recent comments. Also, if you register with Disqus and post with that account, you can edit your comments — and thereby fix any formatting problems, typos, or other minor errors.

If you want a once-per-week round-up of all that I do, subscribe to Philosophy in Action’s Newsletter. Here are more ways to keep up, including the Calendar of Events and Social Media.


 Posted by on 28 June 2013 at 1:00 pm  Link-O-Rama
Jun 282013


Forbes has just published my latest OpEd, “4 Questions To Ask During The Upcoming ObamaCare Public Relations Blitz“.

Here is the opening:

The battle over ObamaCare will reignite soon, and the next front will be the war for public opinion. The American public remains deeply skeptical of the new law. Many Americans say they will not sign up for insurance in the new “exchanges” scheduled to open October 1, 2013. As a result, the Obama administration is preparing a high-profile public relations blitz to again sell the law to the public.

Here are 4 talking points ObamaCare advocates will attempt to promote — and 4 questions Americans should ask in response…

I cover 4 topics, including:

1) “Free” benefits

2) “Coverage”

3) “Rights”

4) “Reform”

Plus there’s a 5th bonus question at the end!

For more details, read the full text of “4 Questions To Ask During The Upcoming ObamaCare Public Relations Blitz“.

Report on SnowCon 2013

 Posted by on 27 June 2013 at 10:00 am  SnowCon
Jun 272013

(Whoops! I can’t believe that I forgot to post this months ago… but, as I often say, better later than never!)

First and foremost… I’ve set the dates for SnowCon 2014… so mark your calendars! SnowCon 2014 will start in Denver on Friday, February 28th with lectures and social gatherings. It’ll move to Frisco on the morning of Monday, March 3rd for play in the snow and socializing, wrapping up on Friday, March 7th. For further announcements, subscribe to the low-volume SnowCon Email List.

I’m pleased to report that SnowCon 2013 was superduperwonderfullyfabulous!

Let’s start with the pictures… and don’t miss the video of Arthur Flipping a Ginormous Omlet!

Update of 6/27: Unfortunately, I had to remove most of the pictures because I forgot that they were taken and hence owned by … well … a person that I’d not touch with a ten-foot pole today.

We had a small crowd of eight people staying at the SnowCondo in Frisco from Monday to Friday, mostly the same crowd as last year. We skied and snowboarded. We snowshoed. We ate yummy breakfasts and dinners together. We played Cards Against Humanity. We talked. We laughed like crazy. We had a damn good time.

On Friday, SnowCon moved to Denver. 30 people — mostly from Colorado — attended the weekend events. We began with a social gathering (plus dinner) Chez Hsieh on Friday evening. On Saturday, we enjoyed five excellent lectures, then dinner at a local restaurant in the evening. (I particularly enjoyed Howard’s lecture on frac’ing and Pablo’s lecture on opera… and I was not alone!) On Sunday, we had brunch Chez Hsieh, with me making yummy paleo-banana pancakes, and Arthur making omelets to order… shirtless, of course. (See the video!) People stayed and chatted through the afternoon.

For me, this third SnowCon was the most enjoyable and least stressful for me to produce. The schedule was pretty relaxed, particularly in Frisco. For the Denver portion, hosting events at our house and nearby made the work much easier. I was particularly impressed with how well our neighborhood clubhouse worked as a venue for the lectures. We had plenty of space, comfortable chairs, a good wall to display the PowerPoint, and a full kitchen. I was very pleased by the catered (and delivered) lunch provided by Garbanzo too. The meals and snacks I provided got rave reviews too.

Alas, this was the most difficult and stressful SnowCon for me to plan, thanks to our various major house repairs. The house was under construction, without heat downstairs, and a complete wreck until just a few days before we left for Frisco. Next year, we won’t have anything like that going on… I hope!

Mostly, I plan to keep SnowCon 2014 very similar to SnowCon 2013. I’ll likely rent the same condo in Frisco. I’ll host the Friday Social and Sunday Brunch Chez Hsieh. I’ll rent our neighborhood clubhouse for the lectures on Saturday. I have a three major improvements to make too:

  • The weekend in Denver will happen before the week in Frisco, as you can see from the schedule at the top of this post. That way, people from out-of-town will be able to acclimate more easily to the altitude. Also, I won’t be obliged to do any last-minute planning for the Denver portion while in Frisco. (That’s always a drag.)
  • I’ll start planning and promoting the conference far earlier. That way, more people from Colorado and elsewhere might be able to join us.
  • I want to make the lectures even more keenly focused on positive, useful, interesting topics — like awesome new technology, practical ethics, appreciating art, and so on. The lectures were darn good on that score this year, but I want to do even better next year.

If you might be interested in attending SnowCon 2014, please feel free to email me with any other suggestions that you might have. Don’t forget to join the low-volume SnowCon Email List too.

Efficient Unpacking with Merlin

 Posted by on 26 June 2013 at 2:00 pm  Animals, Funny, Personal
Jun 262013

If you wish to unpack a suitcase Chez Hsieh, you must take the following steps:

  1. Remove all items from the suitcase.
  2. Put Merlin in the suitcase and shut the lid, so that he can party like it’s 1999.
  3. Put all your stuff away.
  4. Open up the suitcase, carefully so as not to get attacked, and gently extract Merlin.
  5. Put away the suitcase.

Note: If you do not follow these steps, Merlin will have a party with all your things on the bed, and unpacking will require at least twice as much time.

Alas, I didn’t get a picture… but here’s a picture of a not-so-happy Elliot in my suitcase, apparently attempting to prevent me from packing to go on another trip.

The Effect of Bombing Berlin

 Posted by on 26 June 2013 at 10:00 am  Foreign Policy, Military, World War 2
Jun 262013

Here’s an fascinating little story from The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (available in paperback, kindle, and audible). It’s from pages 777-8.

And then suddenly Goering made his second tactical error, this one comparable in its consequences to Hitler’s calling off the armored attack on Dunkirk on May 24. It saved the battered, reeling R.A.F. and marked one of the major turning points of history’s first great battle in the air.

With the British fighter defense suffering losses in the air and on the ground which it could not for long sustain, the Luftwaffe switched its attack on September 7 to massive night bombings of London. The R.A.F. fighters were reprieved.

What had bappened in the German camp to cause this change in tactics which was destined to prove so fatal to the ambitions of Hitler and Goering?

The answer is full of irony.

To begin with, there was a minor navigational error by the pilots of a dozen German bombers on the night of August 23. Directed to drop their loads on aircraft factories and oil tanks on the outskirts of London, they missed their mark and dropped bombs on the center of the capital, blowing up some homes and killing some civilians. The British thought it was deliberate and as retaliation bombed Berlin the next evening.

It didn’t amount to much. There was a dense cloud cover over Berlin that night and only about half of the eighty-one R.A.F. bombers dispatched found the target. Material damage was negligible. But the effect on German morale was tremendous. For this was the first time that bombs had ever fallen on Berlin.

The Berliners are stunned [I wrote in my diary the next day, August 26]. They did not think it could ever happen. When this war began, Goering assured them it couldn’t … They believed him. Their disillusionment today therefore is all the greater. You have to see their faces to measure it.

Berlin was well defended by two great rings of antiaircraft and for three hours while the visiting bombers droned above the clouds, which prevented the hundreds of searchlight batteries from picking them up, the flak fire was the most intense I had ever seen. But not a single plane was brought down. The British also dropped a few leaflets saying that “the war which Hitler started will go on, and it will last as long as Hitler does.”

This was good propaganda, but the thud of exploding bombs was better. The R.A.F. came over in greater force on the night of August 28-29 and, as I noted in my diary, “for the first time killed Germans in the capital of the Reich.” The official count was ten killed and twenty-nine wounded. The Nazi bigwigs were outraged. Goebbels, who had ordered the press to publish only a few lines on the first attack, now gave instructions to cry out at the “brutality” of the British flyers in attacking the defenseless women and children of Berlin. Most of the capital’s dailies carried the same headline: COWARDLY BRITISH ATTACK. Two nights later, after the third raid, the headlines read: BRITISH AIR PIRATES OVER BERLIN!

The main effect of a week of constant British night bombings [I wrote in my diary on September 1] has been to spread great disillusionment among the people and sow doubt in their minds … Actually the bombings have not been very deadly.

That story, of course, made me think of John Lewis’ excellent book, Nothing Less than Victory: Decisive Wars and the Lessons of History, available in hardcover and kindle.

New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 26 June 2013 at 9:00 am  Question Queue
Jun 262013

As you know, on Sunday morning’s Philosophy in Action Radio, I answer four questions chosen in advance from the Question Queue. Here are the most recent additions to that queue. Please vote for the ones that you’re most interested in hearing me answer! You can also review and vote on all pending questions sorted by date or sorted by popularity.

Also, I’m perfectly willing to be bribed to answer a question of particular interest to you pronto. So if you’re a regular contributor to Philosophy in Action’s Tip Jar, I can answer your desired question as soon as possible. The question must already be in the queue, so if you’ve not done so already, please submit it. Then just e-mail me at [email protected] to make your request.

Now, without further ado, the most recent questions added to The Queue:

When should I respect a person’s request to keep information secret?

Often, people ask me to keep something they’ve told me (or will tell me) to myself. Or, they’ll ask me not to share it with anyone other than my spouse. Such secrets might consist of happy news that will soon be known, such as future career plans or a pregnancy. That’s no problem. However, when the matter is more serious – like psychological struggles, personal wrongdoings, marital troubles, and conflicts with mutual friends – I feel like I’m caught in a bind. Often, I have reason to fear that other people I care about might be hurt, and I feel an obligation to warn them. Is that right? Or am I obliged to keep secrets scrupulously?

How should I respond to people who think that homosexuality is an immoral or neurotic choice?

I’m straight, but I have many gay friends. From years of experience, I know that they’re virtuous and rational people. Moreover, their romantic relationships are not fundamentally different from mine. Also, I’m a strong believer in gay rights, including gay marriage. So what should I do when confronted with seemingly decent people who think that homosexuality is an immoral choice, based in neurosis, or otherwise unhealthy? These people often present their ideas in polite and seemingly respectable ways; they’re not just flaming bigots. Yet still I find them appalling, particularly when used to justify denying rights to gays. Should I be more tolerant of such views? How should I express my disagreement?

What’s wrong with thinking about the virtues as duties?

My parents taught me ethics in terms of “duties.” So being honest and just was a duty, along with “sharing” and “selflessness.” They were simply “the right way to be,” period. Now, I tend to think of the Objectivist virtues – rationality, productiveness, honesty, justice, independence, integrity, and pride – as duties. I have a duty to myself to act in these ways. Is that right or is that a mistake?

How can I learn to act on principles that I know to be true?

I believe in reality, rationality, individualism, self-interest, and self-esteem. Yet I don’t act on these beliefs. Right now, I don’t have any self-esteem. Once I act upon believing in reality, instead of merely believing in it, I will develop self-esteem. But I’m really lost as to how to apply reality in my life. I don’t know what that would mean. How can I act on my beliefs?

Is “self-ownership” a valid concept?

Libertarians sometimes stress “self-ownership” – the principle that you rightfully own yourself – as a basis for political liberty. However, some criticize the concept of self-ownership is a stolen concept. This criticism says, “If you own X, then it means X is external to yourself. Therefore you cannot own yourself. To say you own yourself is to say that you are external to yourself. That doesn’t compute!” But I thought rightful ownership referred to “rightful control.” The law recognizes that people own their own hair and gametes and bone marrow, and therefore have a right to sell hair and sperm and eggs and marrow. These organs aren’t always external to the body but are part of the body, and ownership of them refers to rightful control over them. If I should have rightful control over my own body and decisions, then do I not rightfully own myself?

Does the lack of respect for rights among some Muslims immigrants justify banning all Muslim immigrants?

Sometimes, I hear people say that immigrants from Muslim countries are so illiberal (in the classical sense) that they ought to banned from entering the United States and Western Europe. The anti-immigrationists say that when people from Muslim countries are allowed to reside in the West, such immigrants remain committed to political Islam, honor-kill their own daughters, rape native-born women, and plot to impose sharia law on the West through “stealth jihad.” Is the illiberalism of some (or even many) Muslim immigrants grounds for limiting immigration from Muslim countries? What is the proper response to this problem?

Should institutions divest themselves of racist traditions?

Some Native Americans and other Americans take offense to the name “Redskins,” as in the “Washington Redskins.” Sports writer Tony Kornheiser recently made an excellent point that one wouldn’t go onto a reservation and ask “How you redskins doing today?” So should team owner Daniel Snyder change the name? Does it matter that many Native Americans don’t care about the issue? Similarly, Clemson University has a statue and other honors for the fiery defender of slavery and secession, John C. Calhoun. Should those be eliminated?

Can a person be a racist yet still a morally decent person?

Paula Deen has been in hot water – with her shows and sponsorships cancelled – because of allegedly racist comments that she admitted to making in a deposition. (The lawsuit was brought by Lisa Jackson – a former manager of a restaurant owned by her and her brother. She alleges sexual harassment and tolerance of racial slurs at the restaurant.) Based on Paula Deen’s admissions in the deposition, is she racist? If so, can she still be a moral person? Do matters of race trump all other moral convictions?

Is it wrong to have sex when you’re not in the mood?

Assume that you’re in a long-term romantic relationship with another person. You will not always going to feel the desire to have sex. If your lover wants sex, is it wrong to do so? Might you have sex anyway, perhaps because you want to do something nice for your lover – perhaps in the hope that your lover might do the same for you later? Many people seem uncomfortable with sex under those circumstances, i.e. absent a strong physical desire. Some claim that if you’re truly in love, then your physical desires will fall into line. Hence, if you don’t want to have sex, you might not really be in love – or you might have other philosophical or psychological problems. Others think that to have sex even if not in the mood isn’t right: it’s degrading and might lead to resentment. Which of these views is right?

How do emotional desires and intellectual judgments motivate actions?

Is desire merely feeling a physical or emotional urge to have or do something? Or is it an intellectual judgment that to have or do something would be good? Or is it the combination of the two of them? Many people seem to mean just the first (i.e. the physical or emotional urge) when speaking of desire: an intellectual judgment is neither necessary nor sufficient for desire. Yet they seem able to act on merely intellectual judgment. For example, people will say or think “I don’t want to take the trash out” or “I want to eat that entire cake” – while nonetheless ttaking the trash out and refraining from eating the cake. In such cases, the emotional desire is opposite to the intellectual judgment. In such cases, is the action motivated purely by the intellectual judgment? Is emotional desire not required for action? Or is the intellectual judgment a kind of desire?

How can President Obama’s apparent contradictions be understood?

From a na?ve viewpoint, President Obama seems to be acting and thinking very erratically and self-contradictorily. For example, he praised whistle-blowers and promised the “most transparent administration in history” in the past. Now he persecutes whistle-blowers and even journalists who report leaked information. Similarly, Obama is now conducting drone warfare with little apparent regard for innocents, he’s continued to use Gitmo, and he’s escalated attacks on privacy, freedom of speech and other civil rights using the Patriot Act. Yet he condemned the Bush Administration for similar (or lesser) offenses in his 2008 campaign. Why has this happened? Was Obama just scheming and lying to gain power? Did he simply change his mind once he got into office? Or can some deeper moral core be found to integrate his words and deeds into a coherent ideology?

Should I end my friendship with a persistent and devout Christian?

I am an atheist who has been befriended by a very devout Christian (read: an ex-missionary). I often find that our philosophical differences prevent me from expressing myself the way I would like. However, this friend has been very devoted to pursuing a deeper friendship with me despite my attempts to keep the relationship very casual. She calls me her “best friend” to others and goes out of her way to forge a deeper bond by regularly telling me how “special” I am to her and reiterating how close to me she feels. She will often say that she regards me as a “sister.” I am puzzled by her persistence, given that she has so many friendship options within her Church and the rest of the Christian community. I am also increasingly uncomfortable with our interactions, given their necessarily narrow breadth and depth: we tend to focus our discussions mainly on a shared hobby we enjoy that has nothing to do with religion or philosophy. I really value time spent engaging in philosophical discussions with my other friends, and this is simply not possible with her. The dilemma is that she has been admirably non-judgmental toward my lifestyle, at least outwardly. She does not proselytize or try to “convert” me. (I have made it clear to her that this is not possible.) Still, our friendship feels vacant to me. I have tried to express my concerns to her at various times but her response is always that she loves me and accepts me “no matter what.” I think she is being sincere, but it feels like a manipulation or, at least, an evasion of our many differences. Still, I always end up feeling guilty for keeping her at a distance while she works so hard to be my friend. Should I end this friendship once and for all?

What’s so bad about the philosophy of Immanuel Kant?

In academic philosophy, Kant is often regarded as the culmination of the Enlightenment. According to this standard views, Kant sought to save reason from skeptics such as Hume, he aimed to ground ethics in reason, and he defended human autonomy and liberty. In contrast, Ayn Rand famously regarded Kant as “the most evil man in mankind’s history.” She rejected his metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, saying that “the philosophy of Kant is a systematic rationalization of every major psychological vice.” Who is right here? What’s right or wrong with his philosophy? Are Ayn Rand’s criticisms justified?

What is the meaning and value of a central purpose?

In “The Objectivist Ethics,” Ayn Rand says that “productive work is the central purpose of a rational man’s life, the central value that integrates and determines the hierarchy of all his other values.” I find that confusing. What constitutes a central purpose? How does it function in a person’s life, particularly in relation to other values like a spouse, children, and hobbies? Should I be worried if I don’t have a clearly-identified central purpose?

To submit a question, use this form. I prefer questions focused on some concrete real-life problem, as opposed to merely theoretical or political questions. I review and edit all questions before they’re posted. (Alas, IdeaInformer doesn’t display any kind of confirmation page when you submit a question.)

The Onion Is Not Satire

 Posted by on 25 June 2013 at 4:00 pm  GLBT, Law, Marriage, Politics, Rights
Jun 252013

… not this piece, anyway: Impatient Nation Demands Supreme Court Just Get To The Gay Stuff:

WASHINGTON—Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in an ongoing affirmative action lawsuit Monday, the impatient American public reportedly demanded that the nation’s highest court stop jerking around with all these other cases and just get to the gay stuff already.

The last line put me into stitches of laughter, such that Paul had to remind me to breathe:

At press time, the nation had thrown up its hands in frustration upon learning that the Supreme Court was currently preparing a 46-page opinion addressing the jurisdictional conflicts raised by Mutual Pharmaceutical Co. v. Bartlett.

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha