Up, Up, and Away!

Jul 222002

At some ungodly hour of the morning tomorrow, I’ll be flying east for my sister’s wedding. I won’t be back until August 1st. I don’t expect to be blogging much while I’m away. Be sure to write lots of comments while I’m gone!

Oh, and the Titan Toastmasters web site is finally up and running. (Toastmasters is an organization devoted to developing public speaking and leadership skills. It has made a huge difference in my skills and confidence in public speaking.) Denver-area bloggers are particularly welcome to visit the club!

Radiology in a Nutshell

Jul 222002

This quote, from a satire, has got to be the best summary of radiology ever: “Look, radiology is a stressful profession. You’re sitting all day looking at films. It’s dark. Did I mention you’re sitting all day?”

A Tidbit or Three

Jul 212002

Tidbit #1: Camp Indecon was great! I’ll have to blog more on that later. (Perhaps much later, as I’m headed out of town for 9 days on Tuesday.)

Tidbit #2: Alex Baia, a friend up at Boulder, read my reasons for switching from ethics to epistemology and wrote me this delightful response:

I’m glad that you have decided to join the darkside once again. Why be concerned with an uninteresting issue like whether abortion is right or wrong, when you can write an abstruse treatise for or against the logical possibility of time travel through backwards causation? I can see no reason.

Tidbit #3: To get to Camp Indecon today, I drove down Highway 67, though some of areas burned by the Hayman fire. It was a mind-boggling mixture of destruction and beauty, often all in a single view. I hope to take some pictures on my drive down tomorrow.

Off to Camp!

Jul 212002

I’m off to spend the day at Camp Indecon! I’ve heard great things about the camp over the years, from instructors, parents, and the kids themselves. Since I’m interested in teaching kids about philosophy, I wanted to see the curriculum in action with my own two eyes. As you can see from the statement of philosophy below, this isn’t any ordinary camp!

If we don’t formally teach our children how to think — society will teach them not to.

The staff of Camp Indecon has created a curriculum to formally teach children how to think for themselves and be responsible for their decisions based on their nature as human beings.

Our campers learn the skills of independent thinking through the Montessori Method of Education, which stresses following life’s natural path of development and maintains that (i) anything presented to a child should meet his/her developmental needs at the time, (ii) each child’s own pace and style of learning should be followed, and (iii) the child should be free to choose his/her own work within the limits and structure of the program.

Montessori’s emphasis is the child’s preparation for life, not just the exam. By considering the whole child’s development and individual interests and personality, it fosters independence, self-direction, self-discipline and self-motivation while providing superior preparation in academic areas.

For our campers, increased self-confidence is the natural outcome of recognizing that they are capable of creating their own life plans. Through hands-on activities, they learn about the nature of the world, especially their own nature as human beings. Through working examples, they discover the consequences of listening to peers with incorrect thinking habits and witness the positive results of healthy ones.

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected in this electronic age, the social structure for people of all ages is expanding. Camp Indecon provides a new avenue for children to communicate that is not be limited to the neighborhood or school. Through e-mail and fax, our students are able to keep these new friends for life — sharing not only their memories of Camp Indecon, but also the values for which it stands.

Equipped or not, the children of today will become the decision-makers of tomorrow. Let us help to equip them.

Cool, eh?

Tips and Tricks

Jul 212002

I love Miss Manners, not just because she is wry and witty, but because she is committed to a wall of separation between etiquette and state:

Rudeness is not illegal, nor should it be, even though it would save Miss Manners a great deal of trouble to be able to back up her persuasive powers with police action. The law has quite enough to do without nosing into every case of petty irritation.

But her comments on tipping from this same column left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, as a former waitress, I appreciate the incentive to good service that my tips offered me. The best of the waitstaff did deservedly make more money than average thanks to their tips. And I suspect that it would be difficult for management to monitor customer service in a restaurant (and certain other professions) without intruding upon the privacy of the customers. On the other hand, I despise the proliferation of tip jars and the expectation of tips for minor niceties of customer service. So tipping does seem appropriate in certain limited professions.

Pondering for a moment, Miss Manners may well have a point that the proliferation of tips as a method of paying employees is attributable to their being largely unreported income. But the solution to that problem is to lessen our absurd tax burden, not to allow the IRS to extrapolate what tips employees likely received.

Rants and Raves

Jul 202002

Ah, I must have been possessed by the devil to write the following small rant on agnosticism in response to these comments on belief in God from Eric Olsen:

Okay, I’m going to be blunt here. Agnosticism of any variety is damn stupid.

Eric writes, “I agree with Andy that there is no compelling logical reason to believe in God, but there isn’t any compelling logical reason not to believe either.”

Do you believe every wolf-boy story pictured on the cover of the Weekly World News too? Why not? I mean, sure the advocates haven’t proven their case. But the skeptic hasn’t disproven the existence of the wolf-boy either… How about elves? goblins? invisible pink elephants?

Agnostics (whether theist-agnostics, atheist-agnostics, or just plain old agnostic-agnostics) carve out a special exception for God. But the burden of proof applies just as well to God as it does to unicorns, goblins, and wolf-boys.

If people wish to believe in God, I don’t care much, so long as they are honest about the lack of rational justification for their belief. But to distort the rules of reasoning used so well everyday for the sake of putting a rational veneer on that belief is wrong — and, well, stupid.

I’m usually nicer than that.

Perhaps my cantankerous attitude is the result of reading Eve Tushnet’s blog this afternoon. In writing about Christian forgiveness, she quotes extensively from an e-mail from Kairosperson, a portion of which is reproduced below:

Of course, an extraordinary person in the final seconds of his life may forgive his killer, but most ordinary people need at least a little time to reflect on something before offering forgiveness. That we are called to forgive unconditionally and automatically, but often do not, makes it very much worse, as a moral matter. Though I don’t for a moment believe it to be true, it is possible within our theology (because there are so many mysteries in it) that the bank teller gunned down swearing at the thief would be damned on the spot for not forgiving the killer. The victim of rape or torture at least has the time and opportunity to consider forgiveness. (I believe–hope–that the merciful God can create a way in which the victim of a murder is really given a chance to forgive, but there is little comfort on this sunject [sic] to be found in Scripture.)

What sort of monstrous perversion of a morality would damn the victim of a murder to hell because of insufficient time (here, measured in seconds) to forgive the (unrepentant) murderer? Augh! Evil, evil, evil!

In 2001, I gave a lecture on forgiveness and redemption, so I’ve thought a fair amount about the issues surrounding moral wrongs. Oh, and while I’m not exemplifying the non-virtue of humility, I may as well mention that I’ve lectured on arguments about the existence of God before too.

More on Objectivists and Libertarians

Jul 202002

Ari Armstrong has some excellent comments on the recent blogosphere debates about Objectivism and the Libertarian Party. Being completely unobjective, my favorite bit was:

In terms of presenting new material that advances libertarian theory, Diana’s speech was far and away the best presentation at the convention. Her views are not “rigid” — they are sophisticated and insightful. They are “rigid” only in the sense that they are intellectually consistent and they adhere to the forms of good argument.

Walter and everybody else should read Diana’s excellent speech — it is at http://www.dianahsieh.com/philosophy/politics/meta-politics/philosophical_underpinnings_of_capitalism.html.

Oh, I always like being “sophisticated and insightful”!

Not So Quick Quickies

Jul 192002

Much thanks to various folks for interesting and thoughtful comments about my report on the Colorado LP Convention. Here are a few quickies in response, some not so quick.

1. In the comments, Noho-missives asks: “Is it not rational for me to give money to the government in exchange for setting and enforcing fair rules of trade?” Well, I’m not an anarcho-capitalist, so the question really boils down to what is meant by “fair rules of trade.” Governments certainly do have a legitimate role in banning fraud, enforcing contracts, prosecuting theft, protecting property rights, and so on. But as for all the rest of government regulations of business, the answer is a short and sweet but forceful “No!” All people have the capacity to determine what sorts of trades with others are or are not in their best interests. Poor people are not made stupid or helpless as a result of their poverty. No government bureaucrat (or army thereof) has special knowledge or understanding of the world that makes his interference in the voluntary trades of others legitimate. So the “fair rules of trade” are pretty limited in my view.

2. Noho-missives also comments on whether the Right and the Left do actually hate capitalism. Ah, clarification seems to be in order. Neither the Right nor the Left defend consistent and principled capitalism, which is of the laissez-faire variety. The Left is openly hostile to it for the most part. The Right appears to defend some form of capitalism, but does so with arguments that only give ammunition to the critiques by the Left. Of course, some people from both sides of that political spectrum have a better grasp of the delights and wonders of freedom of trade than their compatriots, but they are rarely (if ever) consistent defenders of laissez-faire. Just as an example, politicians on both the Left and Right support government schooling, the welfare state, environmental regulations, and so on. They might quibble over the details, but the underlying support for these programs never questioned. However, none are consistent with genuine capitalism. QED.

3. While I still would say that the income tax and all its accoutrements is the greatest violation of rights we suffer here in the US, I’ve at least been convinced that the Drug War likely comes in second. Having known too many druggies and drug dealers, I’m still not too concerned about people’s right to get high, but the Drug War does certainly serve as a convenient justification for all manner of tyranny. Pondering the matter from my comfy philosophical armchair, I would guess that the various regulation of business (through the EPA, OSHA, licensing, the FDA, minimum wage laws, and so on) probably comes in third. These burdens are obviously unevenly distributed onto business owners, leaving the rest of us blind to their likely substantial effects upon prosperity and innovation.

4. Walter in Denver posted some interesting commentary on my report too. I agree with his comments about the need for activists. Philosophers like me tend to like to stay in our cushy armchairs, thinking about the public good problems of political activism. However, I do have qualms with the following objection to the basic premise of my speech:

There are many ways that a person can come to a generally libertarian viewpoint, that people have the right to do as they please, as long as they don’t interfere with others’ right to do the same.

Well sure, people can come to a libertarian viewpoint from all sorts of ways… but will they stay there? Let me explain…

Speaking philosophically, people’s new ideas about politics tend to be abandoned over time as they come into conflict with more fundamental philosophical views. So a person might initially gravitate towards ending welfare based on economic arguments about poverty and private charity, but return to their original position as moral considerations of fairness (“everyone has to pay their fair share”) and universality (“we can’t let anyone fall through the cracks”) reassert themselves. This scenario is particularly likely if the person encounters any one of the multitude of arguments for statism designed to pump people’s (misguided) underlying philosophical intuitions, like that kindness means supporting welfare or that opposition to racism means supporting affirmative action.

That being said, I have absolutely no problem with people coming to the libertarian ideal from any number of directions. I’m not arguing that a person must start in a rational metaphysics, work their way through epistemology, then ethics, and finally derive their political conclusions. That would be silly. I’m not even saying that Libertarians ought to be Objectivists. That’s an unnecessarily deep philosophical commitment as far as politics are concerned. Rather, I’m saying that Libertarians need a basic understanding of the philosophical foundation of libertarianism. They need to make sure that their underlying philosophy is not at odds with their political ideals. If they don’t, those libertarian political ideas are unlikely to endure.

Such a process of philosophizing isn’t onerous, as there are just four key philosophical ideas that I identified in my talk: reason, egoism, mind-body integration, and harmony of interests. (David Kelley made a good case that arguments for liberty are untenable without the first three in his famous lecture Objectivism and Struggle for Liberty.) Gosh, it is really a big problem for people to ponder questions like “Are people fundamentally irrational? Do they have the capacity to determine their own best interests?” and “Is pursuing my own happiness a moral and worthy goal? What should I do when others object that I’m being selfish?” on their commute to work? Given that these issues come up in daily life all the time anyway, I hardly think so.

Now, someone might object to this line of reasoning, as Walter in Denver so presciently did in arguing along the following lines: Neither Democrats nor Republicans really have a deep understanding of their own underlying ideology, so why should the Libertarians? Or, in his own words:

Go to a gathering of Democrats and poll them on the theories of Keynes. See how many respond, “Who?” Try a similar experiment at a Republican convention. Ask them if they’ve read Goldwater’s ‘Conscience of a Conservative.’

Well, sure, Democrats and Republicans might not be well-versed in the literature. But, as I’ve said, I’m not arguing that Libertarians need to read Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. But more to the substance of the prescient objection, Republicans and Democrats (respectively) do tend to share a core ideology. The driving force behind the Right is the pre-Enlightenment ideals of faith, family, duty, and tradition. The driving force behind the Left is the anti-Enlightenment ideals of subjectivism, communal self-expression, emotionalism, egalitarianism, ludditism. Of course, not every Republican or Democrat agrees with all of these ideals. (But then again, the Republicans and Democrats are more interested in attracting the necessary numbers to get elected than in being consistent or principled.) Nevertheless, these pre-Enlightenment and anti-Enlightenment ideas are definitely the dominant themes in the ideologies of the Left and Right. In contrast, the dominant theme of the Libertarians ought to be the same Enlightenment ideals of reason, happiness, individualism, progress, and so on that gave rise to limited government in the first place. And yes, the unjust expansion of government power can be fairly clearly traced to failures to understand and defend these core Enlightenment ideals adequately. (The “three cultures” idea comes from David Kelley and is explained in this interview.)

So the basic point of all that was simply that people do need at least a basic understanding of their philosophical premises in order to remain committed to libertarian ideals. Such understanding is also essential for convincing others of the validity of those ideals — in other words, for political activism. After all, people are not convinced of libertarianism by mere assertions that people ought to do as they please, so long as they leave others free to do the same. There needs to be some argument, some rationale for adopting that proposition. So people who can articulate clear reasons for that libertarian ideal, both moral and economic, will be in a much better position to actually win over others to their viewpoint.

Looking at the darker side of this issue, we can see that bad justifications for libertarian ideals may lead others to the erroneous conclusion that there is no decent philosophical justification for liberty. For example, many libertarians rely upon the skeptical subjectivist argument for liberty. That argument says that we can’t ever be certain that an idea is true or false or that an action is moral or immoral, so we ought to leave people alone to make up their own minds and choose their own actions, so long as they don’t interfere in the liberty of others to do the same. But this argument is self-defeating in a very important way: If we are genuinely ignorant about truth and morality, then there can be no reason for me to refrain from initiating force with whomever I please. Who is to say that initiating force is wrong if we can’t know right from wrong in the first place? The skeptical subjectivist libertarian might attempt to argue for parity between people, but if I’m mighty and you’re weak, why should I care about any sort of parity? A thinking person will see through these self-defeating skeptical subjectivist libertarian arguments — and probably not bother with libertarianism again. So bad philosophical foundations for liberty can inhibit the spread of libertarian ideas.

Whew! That’s all my musings for the moment!

Update: My views on libertarianism changed substantially since I originally wrote this post. The details can be found on my web page on The Many False Friends of Objectivism. In particular, see the second half of my blog post Stinky Garbage on Islam and my husband’s essay The Fable of the Cardiac Surgeon and the Organization of Health Practitioners or Why I Don’t Support Libertarian Organizations.

A Small Thought About Academic Philosophy

Jul 182002

Tom Stone (of Episteme Links) sent me a thoughtful note about my blog entry about switching my focus from ethics to epistemology, pointing out some the upsides and downsides of either choice. While writing my reply, I came up with this pithy formulation:

The danger in ethics (and politics, to some degree) is that the Objectivist ideas are regarded as obviously false and evil. So we hear stupid objections like that egoism can’t be a moral theory since moral theories concern restraining self-interest or that the egoist would want everyone else to be altruists, and so on.

The danger in metaphysics and epistemology is that Objectivist ideas are regarded as passé, as already having been considered and rejected. Debates about realism in perception or about grounding knowledge in experience often take this form, even though the Objectivist view is similar to, but not the same as, those viewed discarded by history.

That’s hardly the whole story of Objectivist ideas in academia, but it is an important part, I think.

Powerpuff Girls!

Jul 172002

Part of my luxurious vacation has involved watching the surprisingly delightful and funny Powerpuff Girls on the Cartoon Network. So I just had to take the quiz.

Of course, I wanted to be Buttercup, so I wasn’t exactly objective.

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