Thursday, June 30, 2011

On some alleged quantifier shift fallacies, Part I

If every reader of this blog owns a computer, it doesn’t follow that there is some one computer that every reader of this blog owns.  To think otherwise is to commit what is known as a quantifier shift fallacy.  A reader asks me to comment on the following passage from the second edition of Harry Gensler’s Introduction to Logic:  

Some great minds have committed this quantifier shift fallacy.  Aristotle argued, “Every agent acts for an end, so there must be some (one) end for which every agent acts.”  St Thomas Aquinas argued, “If everything at some time fails to exist, then there must be some (one) time at which everything fails to exist.”  And John Locke argued, “Everything is caused by something, so there must be some (one) thing that caused everything.”  (p. 220) 

Such claims about Aristotle, Aquinas, and Locke are often made.  Are they true?  The answer, in my view, is that they are not true – certainly not in the cases of Aristotle and Aquinas, and arguably not in the case of Locke either.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Routledge Handbook

The Routledge Handbook of Human Rights, edited by Thomas Cushman, will be published this summer.  The book includes my essay “The Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Rights.”  If you have a spare $180, do pick up a copy.  Otherwise, you might look for it in your nearest academic library.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Nozick’s Tale of the Slave

While on the subject of Robert Nozick, we might note that he’s been written up this week in Slate, in an article by Stephen Metcalf.  It’s a pretty feeble piece – gratuitously snotty, philosophically shallow, and lame even as mere journalism insofar as its central “hook” is just wrong.  Contrary to what Metcalf supposes, Nozick did not renounce libertarianism.  In fact he explicitly denied doing so in an interview with Julian Sanchez given not long before Nozick’s death in 2002 (as Sanchez reminds us in responding to Metcalf).  Like too many critics of Nozick, Metcalf also focuses exclusively on his famous “Wilt Chamberlain argument” (and, as Sanchez notes, badly misses the point of it).  That argument is indeed important, but Nozick gave other arguments too, some of them no less interesting.  Consider, for instance, the argument implicit in his thought experiment “The Tale of the Slave.”

Monday, June 20, 2011

Meyer and fusionism

“Fusionism” is the label usually applied to Frank Meyer’s project of harmonizing freedom and tradition in a modern conservative synthesis.  (Meyer actually disliked the “fusionist” label, since it seemed to imply that freedom and tradition did not form an organic unity and needed therefore to be “fused.”  In his view, they naturally go together.)  If by “freedom” we mean respect for the rule of law, limited and decentralized government, and a general preference for market solutions over state action, and by “tradition” a respect for religion and the family, then any modern conservative ought to be a fusionist, and most probably are fusionists.  But Meyer himself had more than this in mind.  In particular, he seems to have been committed to a strict libertarianism of the Ayn Rand or Robert Nozick sort on which any governmental action over and above the police, military, and judicial functions is always and in principle unjust.  And he thought that this extreme position followed from a respect for traditional morality.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Blogging note

There’s an old John Callahan cartoon of a line of people exiting through a door marked “Hell” only to enter through another door marked “Sheer Hell.”  That pretty much sums up what it’s like to go from grading a gigantic stack of papers (as I did last week) to grading a gigantic stack of final exams (as I’m doing now).  Good thing I’ve got some assistance.  Posting may be light for a few days. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

On Aristotle, Aquinas, and Paley: A Reply to Marie George

My article “Teleology: A Shopper’s Guide” (now available online) appeared in Philosophia Christi Vol. 12, No. 1 (2010).  Prof. Marie George’s article “An Aristotelian-Thomist Responds to Edward Feser’s ‘Teleology’” appeared in the next issue, and was critical of what I said in my article about the relationship between the Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) understanding of teleology and the conception of teleology implicit in William Paley’s “design argument.”  Philosophia Christi is published by the Evangelical Philosophical Society, and my reply to George has now been posted at the EPS website as part of their online article series.  (By the way, in case anyone is tempted to turn this into yet another episode in the never-ending debate between A-T and Intelligent Design theory, don’t bother.  Like me, Prof. George has been critical of ID.  She and I agree that ID has nothing to do with what Aquinas is up to in the Fifth Way.  What we differ over is whether Aquinas ought also to be distanced from what Paley is up to: Like many other Thomists, I say Yes; she says No.)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

O’Brien and Koons on metaphysics and morality

Over at Public Discourse, philosophers Matthew O’Brien and Robert Koons have posted a three-part series on metaphysics and morality: “What Does it Mean to be a ‘Political Animal’?”; “Moral Absolutes and the Humpty Dumpty Fallacy”; and “Who’s Afraid of Metaphysics?”  Give ‘em a read.  (By the way, if you haven’t seen The Waning of Materialism, an important recent anthology edited by Koons and George Bealer, you should check that out too.)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Les Paul contra Scruton

As you’ve no doubt figured out from the latest Google logo, Thursday was the birthday of the late Les Paul, pioneer of the electric guitar and related musical innovations.  Should we be thankful for what Paul gave us?  I certainly am.  Roger Scruton (whom I have also always admired) might disagree.  In An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture, Scruton tells us that:

The electric guitar… [is] a machine, which distorts and amplifies the sound, lifting it out of the realm of human noises.  If a machine could sing, it would sound like an electric guitar.  Techno-music is the voice of the machine, triumphing over the human utterance and cancelling its pre-eminent claim to our attention…. However much you listen to this music, you will never hear it as you hear the human voice… You are overhearing the machine, as it discourses in the moral void. (p. 107)

If you are tempted to regard that as anything but over-the-top… well, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Les Paul and Mary Ford.  Just try to find a “moral void” here, or anything other than something delightfully human:

Friday, June 3, 2011

Singer “in a state of flux”

The Guardian reports that Peter Singer is having second thoughts about some aspects of his moral philosophy.  In particular, he now has doubts about whether preference utilitarianism provides satisfactory moral advice about climate change.  (As the reporter puts it, “preference utilitarianism can provide good arguments not to worry about climate change, as well as arguments to do so.”)  Singer is also now open to the idea that moral value must be grounded in something objective; and though he is still not inclined to believe in God, he acknowledges that a theologically-oriented ethics has the advantage that it provides the only complete answer to the question why we should act morally.