February 24, 2017

Promiscuous Blogging

Filed under: Philosophy,Politics — camcintosh @ 12:16 pm

My poor failing blog. To add an insult to the injury of neglect, I’ve engaged in a bit of promiscuous blogging this month. It would be indecent not confess by unchaste escapades here.

pimpThanks to the editors at Rightly Considered, who asked me if I wanted to write a guest post for them. I wrote about whether it is rational to carry a gun. The numbers in the post could be tightened up, but the rough estimates, I think, sufficiently justify the philosophical point I tried to make. (Note: I understand that Rightly Considered is a bloga non grata among philosophers, so I hasten to add that I do not agree with other things written there.)

Thanks also to Kenny Pearce, who asked me to be a contributor to Prosblogion‘s Virtual Colloquium. I am looking forward to (potentially) receiving feedback on that post, which exposes the conceptual heart of my dissertation to the surgical minds of other philosophers. (Note: I understand that Prosblogion is not a bloga non grata among philosophers, so I hasten to add that I agree with everything that’s ever been written there.)

November 15, 2016

What do Philosophers Have to Add to the Political Discussion?

Filed under: Life,Politics — camcintosh @ 3:48 pm

The title of this post is the question my students asked me at the beginning of class the day after Donald Trump won the election. I thought about the question for a moment, decided I didn’t really have anything to say about that, and moved on. But I continued to think about the question over the weekend and shared a few of my thoughts with class yesterday. The following is roughly what I said.

My basic instinct was right: I didn’t have anything to say because, well, philosophers don’t have that much to add to the political discussion, at least as it takes place on the front lines. Academics generally, but philosophers especially, are pathologically inclined to think their opinions are worth astronomically more than they are, especially on matters about which they do not specialize. Their very livelihoods come from publishing their opinions on very specific things, which can easily create the impression in oneself and others that their opinions on things generally carry more weight. But they don’t. So be wary of, for example, the English (and, yes, philosophy) professor who waxes eloquent on politics in class. That being said, take the following with an extra grain of salt.

As a general rule, I believe instructors should aspire to teach in a fair and balanced manner, and conceal as honestly as they can their own personal beliefs on controversial topics. Students can be very impressionable, and a likable or charismatic professor can have an enormous influence on what students come to believe. Instructors, therefore, ought to take special care to respect their students’ epistemic autonomy in what they say and the way they teach. Many professors are so certain of their moral and intellectual superiority that they intentionally exploit their position of influence to manipulate students into believing what they do. Witness, for example, philosopher Richard Rorty [“Universality and Truth,” in Robert B. Brandom (ed.), Rorty and His Critics (Blackwell, 2000), pp. 21-22]:

I, like most Americans who teach humanities or social science in colleges and universities…try to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic, religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own … The fundamentalist parents of our fundamentalist students think that the entire ‘American liberal establishment’ is engaged in a conspiracy. The parents have a point. Their point is that we liberal teachers no more feel in a symmetrical communication situation when we talk with bigots than do kindergarten teachers talking with their students … When we American college teachers encounter religious fundamentalists, we do not consider the possibility of reformulating our own practices of justification so as to give more weight to the authority of the Christian scriptures. Instead, we do our best to convince these students of the benefits of secularization. … You have to be educated in order to be a participant in our conversation … So we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable. We are not so inclusivist as to tolerate intolerance such as yours … I think those students are lucky to find themselves under the benevolent domination of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents … I am just as provincial and contextualist as the Nazi teachers; the only difference is that I serve a better cause.

Many professors agree with Rorty’s modus operandi in teaching, if not with the content of what he teaches, although I suspect they wouldn’t be as honest as Rorty in acknowledging their manipulation. So what, if anything, can students themselves do to respect their own epistemic autonomy and resist being manipulated, especially with respect to their political and religious beliefs?

I think it’s absolutely crucial for young people to try to put their finger on the contemporary zeitgeist: become aware of the popular moral, intellectual, and political theories of one’s day as popular moral, intellectual, and political theories of one’s day. Some degree of susceptibility to groupthink can be resisted simply by becoming aware of what one’s group thinks, as opposed what others think and have thought. Obviously, what is popular is not always wrong, but it ain’t always right, either, and we shouldn’t underestimate the power of peer pressure in a culture that is able to enforce conformity and punish dissent in unprecedented fashion with mass media.

The problem with this recommendation, however, is like the problem of how a fish can know it’s wet. How can we become aware of, and honestly assess, the moral and ideological trends of our day when our thinking is so much a product of them? But there is a solution to the fish problem: the fish can know it’s wet by jumping out of the water. So how do we, as metaphorical fish, jump out of the metaphorical water of our own culture?

Here is a twofold proposal. First, unplug. Radios, TVs, the Internet, video games, music, movies, and other forms of popular electronic media are 5% educational, 5% personally enriching (e.g., soul-building art, valuable social networking, etc.), and 90% entertainment-propaganda (one category) whose subliminal messages are the ectoplasm of the zeitgeist, the source of the stream you swim in. This point is forcefully made by authors like Alan Bloom in The Closing of the American Mind and Neil Postman in Amusing Ourselves to Death. So, jump out of the stream on occasion. How? By reading good books (idem), especially good old books or good books about good old books. This is the second fold of the proposal. Reading such books allows us, albeit temporarily and imperfectly, to swim in a stream different from our own, so that when we jump back into ours we bring something of someone else’s perspective with us. To that effect, I recommended these books:

  • Plato, The Republic
  • John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
  • Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations
  • Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
  • Will Durant, The Lessons of History
  • Alan Ryan, On Politics: A History of Political Thought: From Herodotus to the Present
  • Thomas Sowell, Wealth, Poverty, and Politics
  • Morton White, The Philosophy of the American Revolution
  • Alan Bloom (ed.), Confronting the Constitution

Afterward a student asked, “If you could recommend just one of these books, which would it be?” And another followed, “Are there Sparknotes on these?” I love my students. :-)

May 4, 2016

Pipe Sesh 5.0: Flashback

Filed under: Life,Pipe Sesh Post,Politics — camcintosh @ 12:29 am

Once upon a time there was a man named Joseph Smith. Joe was a very charismatic man. But he was also a treasure-seeking, duplicitous, sexist, power-hungry, moderately intelligent, manipulative, swindling scumbag. For all his vices, Joe managed to convince many credulous Christians that he was not just a Christian, but a timely Christian prophet. He wasn’t, of course. He was, in reality, just a treasure-seeking, duplicitous, sexist, power-hungry, moderately intelligent, manipulative, swindling scumbag. Sadly, though, many believed in his message. So they gave him treasure, power, and license to change accepted standards of Christian morality. OSBTrue Christians saw him for who and what he was, which forced him to start a new sect. Non-Christians also saw him for who and what he was, which reinforced their rejection of Christianity for what it wasn’t.

Today’s reflection was brought to you by Old Shenandoah’s Bootlegged. It is described as wonderfully aromatic and bite-free, with soft, nutty Burleys blended with good portion of silky black Cavendish and accented by the addition of some lemon Virginia.

March 22, 2016

Juicy Quote XIV

Filed under: Juicy Quotes,Politics — camcintosh @ 11:51 am

thomas-sowellWhether in Europe, Asia, Africa or the Western Hemisphere, a common pattern among intellectuals has been to seek, or demand, equality of results without equality of causes—or on sheer presumptions of equality of causes. Nor have such demands been limited to intellectuals within the lagging groups, whether minorities or majorities. Outside intellectuals, including intellectuals in other countries, have often discussed statistical differences in incomes and other outcomes as “disparities,” and “inequities” that need to be “corrected,” as if they were discussing abstract people in an abstract world.

The corrections being urged are seldom corrections within the lagging groups, such as Hume urged upon his fellow Scots in the eighteenth century. Today, the prevailing tenets of multiculturalism declare all cultures equal, sealing members of lagging groups within a bubble of their current habits and practices, much as believers in multiculturalism have sealed themselves within a bubble of peer-consensus dogma.

There are certain possibilities that many among the intelligentsia cannot even acknowledge as possibilities, much less try to test empirically, which would be risking a whole vision of the world—and of themselves—on a roll of the dice. Chief among these is the possibility that the most fundamental disparity among people is in their disparities in wealth-generating capabilities, of which the disparities in income and wealth are results, rather than causes. Other disparities, whether in crime, violence and alcohol intake or other social pathology, may also have internal roots. But these possibilities as well are not allowed inside the sealed bubble of the prevailing vision.

One of the consequences of this vision is that blatant economic and other differences among groups, for which explanations due to factors internal to the lagging group are not allowed inside the sealed bubble of the multicultural vision, must be explained by external causes. If group A has higher incomes or higher other achievements than group B, then the vision of cosmic justice transforms A’s good fortune into B’s grievance—and not a grievance against fate, the gods, geography or the cosmos, but specifically a grievance against A. This formula has been applied around the world, whether turning Czechs against Germans, Malays against Chinese, Ugandans against Indians, Sinhalese against Tamils or innumerable other groups against those more successful than themselves.

The contribution of the intelligentsia to this process has often been to verbally conjure up a vision in which A has acquired wealth by taking it from B—the latter being referred to as “exploited,” “dispossessed,” or in some other verbal formulation that explains the economic disparity by a transfer of wealth from B to A. It does not matter if there is no speck of evidence that B was economically better off before A arrived on the scene. Nor does it matter how much evidence there may be that B became demonstrably worse off after A departed the scene, whether it was the Ugandan economy collapsing after the expulsions of Indians and Pakistanis in the 1970s, the desolation in the Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia after the Germans were expelled in 1945, or the continuing urban desolation of many black ghettoes across the United States, decades after the riots of the 1960s drove out many of the white-owned businesses that were supposedly exploiting ghetto residents.

Not only is empirical evidence that A made B poorer seldom considered necessary, considerable evidence that A’s presence kept B from being even poorer is often ignored. In Third World countries whose poverty has often been attributed to “exploitation” by Western nations, it is not uncommon for those indigenous people most in contact with Westerners in port cities and other places to be visibly less poor than indigenous people out in the hinterlands remote from Western contacts or influence.

To think of some people as simply being higher achievers than others, for whatever reason, is a threat to today’s prevailing vision, for it implicitly places the onus on the lagging group to achieve more—and, perhaps more important, deprives the intelligentsia of their role of fighting on the side of the angels against the forces of evil. The very concept of achievement fades into the background, or disappears completely, in some of the verbal formulations of the intelligentsia, where those who turn out to be more successful ex post are depicted as having been “privileged” ex ante.

—Thomas Sowell, Intellectuals and Race (Basic Books, 2013), pp. 50-52.

November 12, 2015

Pipe Sesh 2.0: The Welding Relation

Filed under: Philosophy,Pipe Sesh Post,Politics — camcintosh @ 7:56 pm

You’ve heard of “grounding” and “glue” and “compresence” and even “consubstantiation” as special relations that bind objects and layers of reality together. I now propose a special relation of welding. Metaphysical welding (not to be confused with metaphysical soldering).

Two (or more) objects x1, x2, … xn are *welded* together iff (i) each of x1, x2, … xn are of the same substance S, (ii) x1, x2, … xn are fused into one object, X, of substance S, and (ii) x1, x2, … xn’s fusion into X occurs without material from another substance, S*, used as a fusing agent. Welding seems to be symmetric and transitive: if x1 is welded to x2, it’s also true that x2 is welded to x1, and if x1 is welded to x2 and x2 is welded to x3, then x1 is welded to x3. Although it’s not obvious at first that welding is reflexive, consider: possibly, for some substance S (steel, say), S could be stretched out rectilinearly, then the ends of S could be curved to meet each other and welded together. So, welding is reflexive: possibly, x1 is welded to x1. But can the two ends of our rectilinear-shaped substance really be considered distinct objects? Do we need a distinction between objects and entities, or perhaps just between objects generally and individual (i.e., disjoint) objects? I won’t weigh in on that important question here. Suffice it to say that the two ends are not identical to each other. Whether the pre-welded rectilinear-shaped substance is identical to the post-welded circular-shaped substance is reminiscent of the problem of the material constitution. So maybe we should say when x1, x2, … xn are welded into X, the relation that obtains between x1, x2, … xn and X (i.e., welding) is very much like identity. But this gets complicated. When x1 gets welded to x2, does x1 and x2 cease to exist and a new object, X, come into existence? Or does X have x1 and x2 as proper parts? (Or perhaps improper parts? One thing having more than one improper part—there’s an odd idea.) In what sense can they be said to be proper parts if they literally fuse together to make X, an object of the very same substance as x1 and x2? And…

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 6.46.54 PMSo much for philosophy of welding. I’m playfully riffing on the facetious call for philosopher-welders by many in response to Marco Rubio’s remark that “Welders make more than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.” See the video clip here.

Philosophers (among others), predictably, went into their drone-like counterexample mode impervious to the broader point Rubio was making, citing Bureau of Labor Statistics that allegedly show his statement about the respective incomes to be false. Forget that “fact-checking” that statement is more complicated than simply citing mean wages from the BLS. The broader point Rubio was making was not about philosophers and welders specifically. His point, which was obvious, was that trade jobs have more immediate social utility than do liberal arts educations, and that learning a trade will make you generally more employable than earning a four-year humanities degree. That is a cold hard fact—sad as it might be for a philosopher to hear—and, ironically, has been argued before by philosophers (See Matthew Crawford’s wonderful book, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work). The reality is that many students who get liberal arts degrees leave university with more debt than education. It is neither feasible nor desirable that everyone go to university. There is a more pressing need for people to enter the work force than higher education. Hence, the absurd stigmatization of pursuing trade school instead of university.

But there is another mistake I see these philosophers making. In addition to arguing that Rubio’s statement, taken strictly and literally and out of context, is false, they are stooping to defend the usefulness of philosophy, thereby assuming the misguided premise that what justifies philosophy is its usefulness. Sure, philosophy can be useful. And I’m not talking about that philosophically flaccid social justice politics crap that masquerades as “philosophy”, however popular it is among the philosoactivists. And I’m not talking about Slick Willie’s weaselly use of the distinction between different senses of ‘is’, ingenious though it was. Real philosophy is useful. But its usefulness is incidental to its purpose. The practice of philosophy is intrinsically valuable and is its own reward, and so needn’t be—and, arguably, oughtn’t be—justified on grounds usefulness. Lady Philosophy stands quite well on her own, thank you.
Tonight’s reflection was brought to you by Drew Estate’s Central Park Stroll. The description on the label reads, “We really cherish the days when we’d stroll through Central Park on a lazy summer afternoon. The sweet aroma makes you feel like your [sic] standing outside a bakery; notes of chocolate, vanilla, caramel blend harmoniously whit [sic] mellow tobaccos.” Most salient, I found, was the hint of vanilla and the blend’s mellowness. I could smoke this stuff all day long.

June 10, 2014


Filed under: Politics — camcintosh @ 5:34 pm

I wrote this a while back for an Onion-spoof blog that has since been decommissioned. I don’t often write satire or on politics, and so repost it here, against my better judgment, for posterity.

Obama Under Fire for Wielding Imaginary Guns

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 5.17.20 PMWASHINGTON–Just as the fires surrounding the gun control controversy seemed to be cooling down, recent actions of President Obama has reignited them.

Shirley Knott contacted the authorities during a local Democratic convention in Washington, D. C., reporting to have felt threatened by the president’s hand gestures, which she said looked as though he was pretending to hold a gun. “There were concerns for peoples’ safety,” said chief of staff Jim Compupe. “In the wake of the recent spate of shootings, people have a right to be disturbed at the imagery.”

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 5.18.03 PMKnott isn’t the only one. Others have come forward with similar complaints. According to Lt. Doug Bischoff, head of Presidential Security, one Eileen Leftinal claims to have been shaking in terror as the president spoke at one press release, pointing and waiving his gun-poised hand emphatically. “What really got me was that his finger looked like it would have been on the trigger, if there were one,” Leftinal said. “Even more disconcerting is that at one point it looked like he switched from a handgun to a 50cal” she said. Leftinal is referring to the mounted M2 .50 caliber machine gun recently featured in Rambo, more commonly known as an assault rifle.
Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 5.15.08 PMSome democrats are outraged, calling for disciplinary action to be taken against the president. Incidents like the school expulsions of Josh Welch, 7, who made a pastry into the shape of a gun and Carin Read, 11, who mimicked a firearm with his hand, raise other questions, such as whether equal disciplinary action against the president would call for impeachment.

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 5.18.21 PMBut not all Democrats seem as troubled as Compupe. Senator Stu Pidas (MA, D) was quick to defend the present’s actions, claiming Knott and others are only reinforcing the myth created by Republicans that Democrats are hoplophobic. “The Democratic position has never been that no one, ever, should be allowed to wield guns, real or imaginary,” he said. “We only want them in the hands of people in power.”

Leftinal is suffering from PTSD, but has been forced to stop treatment after her health insurance plan was cancelled earlier this month. Her new plan, Obamacare, doesn’t cover it.

December 15, 2013

Institutions of Higher Performance

Filed under: Life,Politics — camcintosh @ 3:47 pm

I recently filled out a course evaluation. Most of the questions wanted my assessment of the instructor’s “performance” in some area. Assessment of the instructor’s ability to instruct seemed peripheral at best. It was nauseating. By the time I encountered the final question “How would you evaluate the instructor’s overall performance?” I couldn’t resist responding: “Overall, I was not very impressed with the instructor’s performance. It could have been a lot better had he instructed class on roller skates or while hulahooping.” It is as deplorable as it is understandable. A performance, after all, is what most students must expect from their instructors now days, right? (If you have any doubt, just watch a few “TED talks”.) And how else should an instructor be evaluated but by whether they meet students’ expectations?

An “institution of higher performance” sounds more like a car-testing site; the instructor-machines are put through crash courses and are then subjected to performance ratings.

September 23, 2013

Craig and the BGV Theorem

Filed under: Arguments for God's Existence,Natural Theology,Politics — camcintosh @ 3:49 pm

Those familiar with William Lane Craig’s work on the kalam cosmological argument will know that since 2006 or so he has appealed to the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem, published in 2003, as support for the premise that the universe began to exist.

Perhaps because the theorem seems to lend especially powerful support to the premise, Craig’s use of it has been embroiled in controversy. There has been no shortage of cyberpunk sec-web goonies eager to torpedo Craig’s scholarly integrity and arguments by questioning the accuracy of his presentation of the BGV theorem. If you have stood witness to this controversy, this is very significant.

June 21, 2013

Symptoms of Scientism

Filed under: Life,Philosophy,Politics — camcintosh @ 1:45 pm

Over the past few years I’ve noticed an increasing number of “Recent studies show…” articles where the ellipsis is filled by something so painfully obvious and commonsensical that it hardly deserves colloquial mention, much less a “study” to confirm.

For example, consider the recent groundbreaking study showing that infants are comforted when held by their mothers, or the mind-blowing study indicating that a sedentary lifestyle may contribute to obesity. And, surprisingly, we now have evidence suggesting that parents can influence their children’s decisions on drug-use! Equally surprising, a new study has found that sibling aggression can lead to an increase in depression and anxiety in children! Who knew?! (Examples could be multiplied ad nauseam, if you’re not experiencing nausea already).

Who knew? We all did. Except that we didn’t. What we are seeing are symptoms of crass scientism cancerously rampant in the social sciences. The aforementioned and other items of conventional knowledge aren’t considered knowledge until “Science sez so.” We need that good ol’ time Science, the great Arbiter of Knowledge, to give us permission to know what we already know. There is no item of commonsense that’s common or sensical enough to be immune to infection.

And while bullshit studies like these are fecklessly funded, humanities departments are pinched or chastised for not being science or math departments, effectively being treated as sickly for not having the disease.

May 9, 2013

An Eye Roller

Filed under: Philosophy,Politics — camcintosh @ 12:36 pm

Professional philosophy is not always professional or philosophical. Anyone who has made it to or through graduate school in philosophy knows it has a dark and sad side, morally, politically, and intellectually. Much of it is on display in this thread (indeed, the whole website).

facepalmFrom the initial post itself, the puerile comments comparing theism to astrology, to the scoffing at allowing “religion” a seat at the table of enlightened philosophical discussion, there is a betrayal of philosophy. A true philosopher, I should think, would not even deny astrology a seat. Both the assumption that astrology is the paradigm of something that can be blindly dismissed and its comparison with theism should be rejected. Whatever happened to C. S. Lewis’s old adage “good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered”?

A few years ago I had a friend who was in danger of being hoodwinked by phenomena that occult and astrology often lay claim to. Rather than dismiss him with some overly cocksure and equally contentless nod to the omnipotence of Science, I showed him the respect any friend and fellow truth-seeker would: I researched what scholarly philosophical and scientific literature there was on the subject in order to have an informed discussion. There is actually very little. It basically came down to one book edited by Patrick Grim, Philosophy of Science and the Occult (SUNY, 1982). The essays in that book, my friend and I agreed, showed that many of the things he was taken in by were demonstrably naturalistic. True, this is probably precisely why there is little scholarly discussion of astrology and the occult. If theism is so comparable, one wonders why someone hasn’t yet done the history of Western philosophy the favor of pointing it out so it can die a similar death.

No one was able to answer Tim Maudlin’s simple request for examples. And, of course, not one example was given to substantiate the fear of “apologetics” material supposedly infecting reputable philosophy of religion journals.

The dogmatic ideologies that underlie some of the attitudes in that thread (proven by the amount of backpedaling, qualifying into oblivion, and deflated rhetoric that eventually ensued) are anti-philosophical and—like much the rest of Leiter’s blog—shed as much light on the current state of the profession as What is it like to be a Woman in Philosophy.

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