Monthly Archives: March 2009

If Humans Have Free Will, Then Subatomic Particles Do Too

So say a couple of Mathematicians from Princeton, John Conway and Simon Kochen. Conway will present the theorem supporting this view during a six week lecture series.  The two define free will as the lack of necessary and sufficient conditions in any previous state to determine (or to help us predict) the present state of conditions. From the Princeton press release

“It’s not about theories anymore — it’s about what the universe does,” said Kochen, a professor of mathematics and the associate chair of the Department of Mathematics. “And we’ve found that, from moment to moment, nature doesn’t know what it’s going to do. A particle has a choice.”



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Gary Hart on Liberalism

In this Sunday’sTimes book section Hart reviews both Alan Wolfe’s new book and Purdy’s Tolerable Anarchy.  He uses the review as an opportunity to wax stupidly on his own understanding of liberalism.  For instance: 

The closest Wolfe comes to a core liberal principle is this: “As many people as possible should have as much say as is feasible over the direction their lives will take” (somewhat a definition of democracy itself). 

Of course this bears no resemblance to a definition of democracy.  When voters in the Mid-West can decide how people in California love each other, that is a democratic decision.  When voters in Michigan and Ohio and Montana decide whom I can pay to help me in California, that is a democratic decision.  All of these electoral issues–and a thousand others–erode liberty.  In fact, Hart seems oblivious to the inherent tensions between liberty and democracy.  Nevermind his “as is feasible” proviso. Who determines that?

Hart continues:

…neither socialism on the one hand nor the ruthless markets of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman on the other guarantee any degree of equality of opportunity… 

Ruthless? Does not “guarantee any”? Hyperbole, I suppose, but these are the very points that classical liberals debate against the modern liberals of the Donk. Besides, Hart writes as if Obama weren’t elected. He writes as if the Donk didn’t control both houses of Congress. Was he assigned this review last September?

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Moral Philosophy as Rationalization

Tyler Cowen links to a very insightful article on the theology of the young John Rawls.  It seems Rawls’s disciples are looking under the couches, beds, and rugs for anything written by the hierophant of social democracy.  I am reminded of a story the Harvard philosopher Warren Goldfarb once told a friend of mine about his own career. He said (or is said to have said) that he was downtrodden, worried about continuing on for his PhD, regretting a woefully written term paper he had just handed in to Rawls.  Apparently–I, without a doubt, have no way of verifying this–Goldfarb expressed his concerns to Rawls and Rawls told him not to worry about it. Well, fast forward a few decades, after Rawls has passed away, and the philosophy department is cleaning out Rawls’s office in Emerson Hall. Once they moved his couch…surprise!….that woeful paper Goldfarb wrote was moldering away underneath the furniture. It turns out Rawls never read it.  The paper was left ungraded.

Apocryphal, yes. But two things I know for sure: after Rawls died, many of the books from his office were left up for grabs in the copier room on the third floor of Emerson.  There wasn’t much left when I got there, but I happily snatched Rawls’s copy of Charles Peirce. (Unfortunately there are no passages underlined in it.) The other thing is that one of the offices on the third floor became known as the death office because a string of philosophers died while occupying it.  That couldn’t have been Rawls’s office, but I’m fairly certain that Quine used it, followed by Nozick.  Runaway! 

Thomas Pogge has a book out on Rawls which has a chapter or two devoted to biography.  Along with this paper on religion, it offers some insight into the moral education of the young man as philosopher.  The book mentions an episode during Rawls’s WWII stint.  He and some other officer were approached about driving a jeep into hostile territory.  Since it was dangerous, the commander told the two young men that they could flip a coin to see who’d have to take the mission.  They flipped, Rawls won, and he stayed behind.  His friend’s bad luck didn’t end there, however. He died on the mission. Perhaps this explains why Rawls rejected the equal chance of being any one in society once the veil of ignorance is lifted?

My friend also told me Rawls’s daughter didn’t like the way he dressed.  She said he dressed behind a veil of ignorance.

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Anti-Immigration: The Argument From Labor Quality

Some who oppose immigration appeal to immutable poor labor quality as a reason against easing U.S. immigration policy.  For instance, in the comments to an earlier post on immigration, The Utilitarian writes

North African immigrants in the E.U. exploit the welfare states at much higher rates, commit more crime, underperform in education, do badly economically, etc. Some of these problems are exacerbated by bad policy, e.g. rigid labor laws that boost unemployment, but the basic issue is differences in ability and attitudes tied to cultural markers for tribal feelings.

Even Roissy floats the hypothesis

Hypothetically speaking, if average human population group differences in aptitude, temperament, personality and decision-making exist and are immutable over generational timespans, and those group average differences are greater when the population groups being compared are larger (i.e. ethnicity versus race), would anything change about principal economic theories and concepts (e.g. free trade, externalities, free movement of labor…

The most important element of these arguments involves the means of plunder–which is to say, democratic institutions.  The thought is that the misguided enfranchised poor will vote for redistributive policies.  These policies will then suck the soul out of any wealth producing economy. But even if we assume that labor quality is immutable, how is this an argument against immigration?  Isn’t it instead an argument against a system that provides the means of plunder? 

Furthermore, what historical examples demonstrate that labor quality is immutable? If the quality of labor among immigrants increased in the past–witness the first 200 years of American growth–then why wouldn’t it continue in the future?


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As Jon Stewart is to Jim Cramer…

…so Leno should have been to Obama. Alas!  My favorite Leno interview:

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Cowen Vs. Singer

The brain drain from philosophy couldn’t be demonstrated better than on this BloggingHeads: Tyler is clearly the more competent philosopher, the more playful, the more far ranging…and yet, he’s an economist.  Singer comes across as dull as a public monument and as silent.  Also, I love Cowen’s argumentative strategies, his chess moves, pushing Singer to accept certain points, leaving them, moving other pieces, then coming back to the earlier steps to settle the checkmate.  Compare this debate with the debate Cowen had with Robin Hanson, where his arguments are more tepid, confused, speculative.  Cowen likes to play Devil’s Advocate with his GMU colleagues, but it’s fairly certain he’s much better when he truly disagrees with his oppenent.

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How To Use Wallicizors

Jason Kottke presents a how to guide for learning how to forge a David Foster Wallace sentence.  It’s a primer written by James Tanner. From soup to nuts! You can do it, too!  My favorite gobbit: 

Adjectival phrases: lots of them. (Note: apprx. 50% will include the word ‘little’):

It’s obvious someone helped with the script, but Mario did the choreography and most of the puppet work — his little S-shaped arms and curved fingers are perfect for the standard big-headed political puppets — and it was, without question, his little square shoes on the pedal, the camera mounted on a tripod, mops and dull-gray janitorial buckets moved out of frame.

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