Monday, May 30, 2005

Blog meets Real World: A Second Opinion

Blog met real world for Thorgersen in several ways this last month.

I had the end of term madness that Burglar is now caving under, and then in an unprecedented real world encounter, internet got cut out of my old apartment, and the new apartment has now been a week sans internet due to the great customer service at Cal's residential computing offices. And yes, we are all going through withdrawal.

I do not intend to "continue posting" as I have been. My summer goal is to post something meaningful (relatively of course) once a week. I look forward to resuming the honorable endeavor of this website with my two accomplices in the near future. Until then, I await a real internet connection and continue to bemoan the travesties of the real world. May our faithful viewing public grant us patience.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Blog World Meets Real World

Well, my postings haven't exactly been prodigious, but lurking around the blogosphere eats up more of my time than I'd like to admit. I suppose I could just limit myself to posting, but for some reason I haven't been able to separate the minimally time-consuming posting here from the maximally time-consuming blog reading elsewhere. So I'm going to have to go on hiatus for a few weeks. I've got some very important deadlines (i.e., if I don't work to meet them, I'll end up out of grad school and in the real real world) and I need to dedicate my time to them. Though there may be some occasional Republic translations, since they correspond to some of my deadlines, this is it from me for a few weeks. Whether the other two burglars will "continue" to post, I do not know. I think Thorgerson and Le Complice must have gotten fingered and picked up.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Republic 330c9-d3

"You speak the truth," he said.

"That's entirely so," I said. "But tell me a bit more: Of the many things you have earned, what do you suppose is the greatest good you have benefited from?"

Stay tuned for Cephalus's answer.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

New Pollock Paintings Found

Jackson Pollock is one of my favorite painters, and I'm excited to see what will come from this somewhat startling find.

Pollock in person could be a real jerk, just like Edna St. Vincent Millay. Since I'm quite keen on (as the British say) both of them, I'm now trying to reassure myself that all the artists I like aren't jerks: T. S. Eliot (could be crabby), Ezra Pound (either insane or fascist or both), W. H. Auden (relatively nice guy; insecure), Mark Rothko (suicidal). Hmmm. With the exception of Auden, it's not boding well. Wait! Robert Pinsky.

Suspended Student Sues University

He was caught cheating on a corporate ethics quiz. Joanne Jacobs calls it "Corporate Prep."

This strikes me as similar to something a friend of mine once told me. He worked in a Christian bookstore, and he said the books most shoplifted were Bibles. Doh! You shouldn't steal Bibles, nor cheat on ethics assignments.

HT: Joanne Jacobs

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Republic 330b8-c8

"I bring this up," I said, "because you did not seem to me to care very much for money, and this is what many people will do about whatever they have not earned themselves. But those having earned it really cling to it twice as much as the others. For just as poets are fond of their poems and fathers of their children, so also those who have made money are serious about money, as their own handiwork, yet serious for the same reason as other people: for its advantages. Accordingly, it is difficult to be with them: they are willing to approve of nothing but wealth."

This is Socrates speaking to Cephalus. The grammar at one point is slightly ambiguous and leads to different senses of the passage. The sticking point is understanding the preposition kata at 330c6. With the accusative (th\n xrei/an) the best option in this context is to translate it as a purpose clause. Most translations go this way. However, Grube/Reeve (it's Reeve's revision; Grube originally translated it as "besides") translate the phrase as "they don't just care about it because it's useful, as other people do." Their translation implies that there is a difference between the place given to money by those who have made money and those who have not. Since this is the accusative case, translating kata as "against" is out. The only way to get a sense of opposition is by using the spatial sense of kata metaphorically. I'll just say that this seems unlikely since the genitive case is available.

So the grammar is against Grube/Reeve, but perhaps the sense is not. The analogy running through the paragraph is that poets and fathers treat their respective creations differently than others do. By extension, one would think that Socrates' point is that money makers treat their money differently than others do. But using the purpose sense of kata seems to go against the analogy: it's saying that money makers and non-money makers alike are serious about money because of its advantages.

However, I think that the analogy works if we limit its sense to the idea that people are fond of their own creations in ways that others are not. The point is that poets, fathers, and money makers all give pride of place to their "offspring." It is just that in the case of money, the money makers are serious about money for the same reason as others.

Reading Plato, or old books in general, reminds us that nothing much changes. There are still people who make money and think of nothing else, and it remains just as difficult to be around them.

Volokh on Facts and Values

Eugene Volokh, of the Volokh Conspiracy, writes:

Even if one believe[s] that certain things are objectively immoral, one should recognize that such a judgment is not the sort of thing that one should label "fact"; if anything, we should be teaching students to better distinguish facts from value judgments, even while recognizing that value judgments may be very important and even objectively right.

To my mind, this statement is a mess, but perhaps I'm not seeing clearly. There's a few things clouding my vision.

If I only believe something, I could be wrong. If I know something, I cannot be wrong. (This is not the same as saying that if I think I know something, I cannot be wrong.) For example, I can never know that I had oatmeal for breakfast this morning because it's false that I had oatmeal for breakfast this morning. Note that this is different from saying that I can never know the details of what happened in the duel between Hamilton and Burr. In the first case, I cannot have knowledge because the claim is false. In the second case, I cannot have knowledge because the evidence does not rise to the level of knowledge. (After examining the evidence available, I might lean one way or the other, but not enough to say that I know what happened.)

So when Volokh writes that "Even if one believe[s] . . ." I don't know whether he's playing on the distinction between believing and knowing. If he means that "Even if one knows that certain things are objectively immoral . . . one should [not label them as fact]," then I think he's wrong. If what Volokh means is that "Even if one only believes [i.e., doesn't know] that certain things are objectively immoral . . . one should [not label them as fact]," then he's right to say that we shouldn't label our judgment a fact. If we want to be responsible in our labeling, we should wait until we know that something is a fact before we label it as fact. Which of these Volokh has in mind is the first thing that is unclear to me. Here's the second.

What is the difference between a fact and an objectively correct value judgment? I take "fact" to mean the way things are. Not very illuminating, I know. The point is that facts are basic. A fact is the way the world is. So, if grass is green, then it's a fact that grass is green. If F=MA, then it's a fact that F=MA. Sometimes people use "fact" and "correct" or "right" or "true" synonymously. That's misleading. We say that a judgment about a fact is correct or incorrect, right or wrong, and that statements about facts are either true or false. If I judge that grass is green, then my judgment is correct. If I say "Grass is green," then my statement is true.

Volokh wants to distinguish between facts and "value judgments." In a trivial sense, I agree. A judgment is a mental act. A value judgment, then, is a mental act about values. A fact is the way the world is. Clearly, mental acts are not the same as the world's being a certain way, and though there are facts about mental acts, this should not lead us to conflate the two. To be precise, we should speak of judgments about value and judgments about facts. (Maybe Volokh thinks that one does not make judgments about facts. I disagree, but I'll save that for another day.)

But I do not think that Volokh meant to state the obvious that mental acts are not the same as the way the world is. Here are two possible further interpretations.

(a) He might mean that judgments about facts are not the same as judgments about values. In some cases this is true; in others, false. It is true in cases where the value judgment is nonnormative, for example, in the claim that I prefer strawberry icecream to vanilla. In this case, I can make no legitimate claim to normativity, that is, that everybody ought to prefer strawberry to vanilla. So in cases where the distinction is between judgments about facts and judgments about nonnormative values, Volokh is right to insist on a difference between fact and value.

But in cases where the value judgment is normative, for example, that one ought to be courageous (or, controversially, that one ought not engage in homosexual acts) then it is in the same boat as judgments about facts. Why? Because normative judgments depend upon there being a fact of the matter in order to be normative. Normative value judgments are significantly like judgments of fact: they are either right or wrong (and the corresponding claims based on the judgments are either true or false). What makes both of them right and wrong is the world's being a certain way.

(b) He might mean that facts are scientific or empirical or some other such thing and that values are nonempirical or nonscientific. This claim can only be supported by arbitrarily restricting our use of "fact." Facts are the way(s) the world is. Some facts are facts about the way the world is scientifically. They tell us about the chemical or biological parts of the world. Now the question is Is there a fact of the matter about the way the world is morally? If so, then let's call those ways facts. If not, then we can call them something else. The important point is that we can't say that we need to limit our use of "fact" prior to discovering whether there is a fact of the matter about the way the world is morally.

So here's why I'm confused. Volokh says that we can recognize that "value judgments may be . . . objectively right"; here he seems to think that there might be a fact of the matter about morality. But he also says that judgments about value are not the same as facts (or, to be precise, judgments about facts). These are incompatible claims.

Now, in both (a) and (b) there are issues of whether there are any normative value judgments and whether there are moral facts of the matter about the way the world is. I think that these are essentially the same issue. Since I haven't given an argument that there are any normative value judgments, one might think that my critique of Volokh is pointless. But, on the other side, in order to show that the usual (but false) distinction between fact and value is real, one has to give an argument that there is a difference. Volokh hasn't done this, and so my critique of his claims doesn't require that I show there isn't one.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Should Be Studying; Doing This Instead

From Jonathan and Thorgerson and Matt.

1. You are stuck inside Fahrenheit 451. What book would you be?
Aquinas's Summa Theologiae.

2. Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
Maybe I had a crush on Nancy Drew. Can't remember.

3. What was the last book you bought?
Philosophical Writings of Descartes (three vols.)

4. What are you currently reading?
Language, Proof, and Logic, Jon Barwise and John Etchemendy
Aristotle East and West, David Bradshaw
Plato's Sophist, trans. Nicholas White
Ethics in Finance, John Boatright

5. What five books would you take to a deserted island?
(Again, assuming the Bible and Shakespeare are already there)
Complete works of Plato (with Greek facing)
Iliad and Odyssey (with Greek facing)
Beowulf (Heaney trans. with Old English facing)
Divine Comedy
Logical Investigations, Edmund Husserl (contrary to Matt, this work, not Barth, is the culmination of modern thought)

6. To whom are you going to pass this book meme and why?
No one. Why not?