Archive is up

July 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

Several folks have asked me to put up an archive from my old blog. I deleted the Blogger account because of a change in the terms of service along with the requirement that I either “upgrade” or lose control of the blog.  I didn’t have time to do a lot of due diligence, so I just deleted the blog at the time.  All of the old posts and comments are here, although unfortunately some of the links inside the posts are broken.  I’ll try to fix some of the obvious ones.


July 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

My time in blogland has been enriching, including my temporary return to make a small contribution to systematizing the waterboarding debate; and I’m thankful for it and for all of you. Farewell, wherever you fare.


July 25, 2010 § 17 Comments

Homophobia is real. Let me explain.

Fear is not, in itself, irrational. It may be a-rational, but it isn’t irrational. Fear is a natural, human, emotional response to a threat; and the world is filled with threats. In fact that one of those threats will take each of us out of this world at some point is a virtual certainty.

A phobia is a radically disproportionate, overwhelming fear of something. It is perfectly rational to be afraid of, say, heights. I am sure there are even acrophobes who have died or been injured by falling from a height. What is irrational about the acrophobe is not that he fears heights, but that his fear of heights is disproportionate, overwhelming, debilitating. His emotional response to a real danger is vastly disproportionate to the objective nature of the danger.

I have no doubt that somewhere in the world there is a homophobe: a person who sees homosexual acts as a unique transcendent threat to such an extent that it causes an emotional reaction leading to psychological debilitation. I don’t know any such person, but I am sure he exists. I expect that should we encounter such a person, we ought to be able to agree that he suffers from homophobia; that he has… issues.

The reason leftist/libertine polemicists use the term homophobia is, of course, to paint adherents to traditional sexual morality as, not merely wrong, but as having… issues. Often as not this seems to be, shall we say, a projection on the part of folks who themselves seem to have… issues.

Musings on PC tyranny, ruling classes, and empty formalisms

July 23, 2010 § 10 Comments

Our country does have a ruling class. All countries always have a ruling class. There isn’t anything outrageous or objectionable about this. There are doubtless objectionable things about the content of our ruling class: who they are and what they do. But there isn’t anything objectionable about having a ruling class. Every community of any significant size throughout all of history has had and will have a ruling class.

The big difference in America is that our country is founded on the idea that ruling classes are illegitimate: that just powers of government do not by nature inhere in a ruling class, but rather derive from the consent of the governed. This is demonstrably false. As a result, we Americans spend a tremendous amount of energy telling lies to ourselves and pretending that things are different than they are in reality.

We put great stock in ignoring substantive content and leaning on empty formalisms. So for example we invoke a formal “right of free speech” – independent of the substantive content of our speech – as the reason why we should be permitted to protest at abortion clinics; not realizing that by invoking this empty formalism we are making the same kind of error as those we protest against. The “pro-choice” advocate asserts a right to “free choice” divorced from evaluating the actual content of that choice, much as we insist on a right of “free speech” divorced from evaluating the actual content of that speech. We could defend our right to protest murder specifically because it is murder, acknowledging at the same time that not all speech is acceptable nor should all speech be legal in every context. “Pro-choice” speech is not morally acceptable, and arguably – as incitement to commit murder – ought to be illegal. But we don’t do that; so we end up undermining ourselves. Socially conservative protest in a modern polity, because of the particular forms it takes, does little more than reinforce the foundations of the very things protested.
Generalized, the principle behind content-agnostic “equal rights” seems to be the formalization of agreeing to disagree. Agreeing to disagree is something civilized people often do: indeed agreeing to disagree is a basic feature of the civilized as contrasted to the barbaric. The problem with making “agree to disagree” the foundation of politics though is that it mostly works for things which aren’t politically important: the more crucial the exercise of political power is to a particular subject of dispute, the less “agree to disagree” works. After all, pro-choicers simply want pro-lifers to agree to disagree that abortion is murder.
As a result of all this a mature liberal society like ours is founded on PC tyranny: at one and the same time we have to pretend to support free speech and – because the content of speech actually does matter, despite the lies we tell ourselves – ruthlessly punish un-PC speech. PC tyranny isn’t an unnatural abberation. It is the natural, adult stage of a polity founded on empty Enlightenment formalisms. And the only way to fight it is to reject its foundations.


July 15, 2010 § 8 Comments

In the presence of a proportionate reason, it can – if additional double-effect conditions are met – be morally licit to engage in remote material cooperation with evil.

In politics, this means that it is possible, in specific circumstances, to licitly support a particular imperfect candidate (or imperfect law) while opposing those policies of his (or provisions in the law) which are wicked.
Of course this does require that one actually oppose those wicked policies or elements in word and deed. The difference between remote material cooperation and formal cooperation – all the difference between Heaven and Hell – is made manifest in other words and deeds which precede and follow that cooperation.

Beelzebub’s Earl Grey

July 15, 2010 § 23 Comments

A nice herbal infusion of “only three terrorists waterboarded”, redux.

Or, in this case, just a few trivial “non-elective” abortions funded.

This is all a “major storm in a tiny teacup”, of course, part of a Calvinist-Republican conspiracy on the part of people (like the USCCB) who hate health care reform for other reasons. It isn’t consequentialism when leftist Catholics support state-funded murder as a regrettable “necessary evil” in the pursuit of their good ends. Really. And anyway, leftist Catholics aren’t “supporting” state-funded “non-elective” abortions. They are just refraining from criticizing it, and launching attacks on anyone who does criticize it. Not the same thing at all.

What it is, though, is participation in a propaganda campaign in favor of not just legal abortion but funding of abortion. Which, as we know, is – participation in such a propaganda campaign is – never licit.

Leftist Catholics have it all wrong in my view (not that any seem interested in my opinion). I think there is a lot of truth to the notion that right-wing criticism of abortion funding and other wickedness tends to be partisan: that funding of abortions through private insurance plans is a vile wickedness which has been largely ignored, for example. That makes this a “teaching moment”: a good leftist Catholic could in theory be first in line to vocally oppose the wickedness perpetrated by the Obama administration, and could tie in criticism of private funding.

But that is just a theory. The “good leftist Catholic” seems to be a mythological creature.

A cup of sewage plus one drop of tea: sewage. A cup of tea plus one drop of sewage: sewage.

I’ve said this before in so many words, and I’ll say it again. It seems to me that when you elect a guy and engage in years-long public advocacy of his policies, you bring upon yourself certain very grave obligations. One of those grave obligations is to be first in line to criticize the wicked and despicable elements of his policies. Spending every public word attacking criticisms of those wicked elements is just knock-knock-knocking on Hell’s door.

I hear the tea there is pretty tempting.

He’s opened up a can of something, anyway

June 11, 2010 § 1 Comment

(HT: The American Catholic)

Narrow-mindedness is for everyone

June 3, 2010 § 10 Comments

Every now and then, someone suggests that my understanding of what is morally permissible is that it – what is morally permissible – is more narrow than what the Church explicitly requires.

That is absolutely true.
What is more, your understanding of what is morally permissible should be more narrow than what the Church explicitly requires, because what is morally permissible is in fact more narrow than what the Church explicitly requires.
This is simple to demonstrate.
Observe that there are many moral questions, specific moral questions, which the Church does not explicitly adjudicate for us. Observe further that the possible answers to some of these moral questions are mutually exclusive: some particular answers being right necessarily entails others being wrong.
Therefore, the space of what is true morally is narrower than the space of what the Church explicitly requires morally.

Miracle on Page 11

April 28, 2010 § 11 Comments

So, I don’t intend to live blog my reading of David Oderberg’s Real Essentialism. But it does seem that right out of the gate, on page 11, where Oderberg is arguing against modal “possible worlds” versions of essentialism, there is some confirmation of a view I already expressed: that an ID account of historical biological origins is, from an A-T perspective, an argument for miraculous special creation – an argument that nature on its own could not make the first prokaryote out of nothing (ID contra abiogenesis), nor could it “breed” a gorilla from a paramecium (ID contra evolution by purely natural causes). Oderberg distinguishes between two types of “metaphysical impossibility”: the sort which means “X can occur, but requires a miracle” and the sort which means “X cannot occur in principle”:

Does this mean an animal couldn’t just spring into existence without natural parents (maybe from a rock?) or be zapped into existence, Adam-and-Eve-like, without parents? Or that it couldn’t, say, be synthesized in a lab? I will discuss such scenarios in Chapters 7 and 8 [Looking forward to it -Z], but the first two cases do not invalidate the point: for them to obtain would require some sort of miracle. To say that Socrates’s nature requires that he have parents must be taken to mean that in the natural order of things he must have parents. (For more about the laws of nature and the natural order of things, see Chapter 6 [Ditto]). This should be distinguished from a metaphysical impossibility in the absolute sense: for instance, that nothing can come into existence wholly uncaused is metaphysically impossible in the absolute sense – not even by a ‘miracle’ could it happen. Socrates nature is of a kind of thing that comes into existence via a biological generative process, whether or not the process involves some degree of human artifice beyond or instead of normal sexual procreation. Moreover, since Socrates might spring into existence without parents – or so I claim – it is not the case that he has parents in every world in which he exists.

So far, it seems to me that by jimmying a little terminology we can make A-T as compatible with a ‘compatibilized’ ID as it presumably is with the investigation of miracles for causes of sainthood (ignoring the “make life in a lab” thing, for now). The ID conclusion (whether warranted or not is a different subject) that nature on its own is incapable of producing a gorilla starting from a world where nothing lives but prokaryotes is a probabilistic inference to either the intervention of some intelligent cultivation (like a dog breeder breeding a new kind of dog) or a miracle.

If it isn’t in the nature of bacteria to selectively breed “in the wild” until their progeny are giving birth to gorillas, then the historically verified geological transition from a world of bacteria-only to bacteria-and-gorillas can only be explained by some additional outside factor: intervention by super space aliens or miracle of God, say. If the facts on the ground lead to that conclusion, why would the A-T philosopher have any objection? So far I haven’t seen any reason why; but hey, there are 249 pages to go, and it looks like chapters 7 and 8 will be the fun stuff.

We’ve established that you are a reductionist, and are just haggling over the price

April 28, 2010 § 38 Comments

Aristotlean criticisms of an “intelligent design” approach to biology are all the rage now, and the main criticism seems to be that an “intelligent design” approach to biology is reductionistic in a way that an Aristotlean approach wouldn’t be. I’ve started reading Real Essentialism by David Oderberg, a text my Aristotlean friends assure me actually addresses modern science from an Aristotlean perspective. I hope so, because if in that text an Aristotlean metaphysician actually addresses the facts of modern science it will be the first time I’ve personally seen it. Certainly none of the blogospheric commentary I’ve seen bothers to take into consideration, you know, the facts and stuff.

One of the things I was alluding to in a previous post is that there is another possibility: it is possible that those ID characters are the real holists, and the Aristotlean understanding articulated by some folks is reductionist when it comes to objects put together or cultivated by human beings. To a certain kind of A-T philosopher, apparently, the Mona Lisa, because it is an artifact produced by a human being, is “nothing but” some greasy residue on a piece of canvas. Francis Beckwith quotes Ed Feser:

Take a few bits of metal, work them into various shapes, and attach them to a piece of wood. Voila! A mousetrap. Or so we call it. But objectively, apart from human interests, the object is “nothing but” a collection of wood and metal parts. Its “mousetrappish” character is observer-relative; it is in the minds of the designer and users of the object, and not strictly in the object itself. “Reductionism” with respect to such human artifacts is just common sense. We know that cars, computers, and cakes are objectively “nothing but” the parts that make them up – that their “carlike,” “computerlike,” or “cakelike” qualities are not really there inherently in the parts, but are observer-relative – precisely because we took the parts and rearranged them to perform a function we want them to perform but which they have no tendency to perform on their own.

As I said to the commenter who pointed out the article, someone needs to tell the mouse that the mousetrap has no objectively mousetrappish character.

(HT: Cathorick)

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