A rough-and-ready guide to what the deal is with philosophy, sort of

I agree that a lot of people have misconceptions of what philosophy does, or should do, or what its methodology is. This isn't helped by some philosophers who are arrogant (although this problem can be found all across academia and beyond), or write obtusely (especially in the "continental tradition" and "critical theory"). But a lot of the problem comes from the way in which philosophy is apparently either (1) unreasonably difficult or (2) remote from a potential student's actual life. These latter problems probably arise because philosophy, the real stuff, is difficult, and serious study is required to grasp the subtleties involved---but then electrical engineering is also difficult and requires intense study, and I don't hear anyone complaining about that---and because you have to care about something other than half-baked sophistry when grasping that what matters to your life is more than prescriptions for behavior in everyday situations.

So for instance meta-ethics is important because its subject matter is the foundations of ethics, and we care about ethics, so we should care about meta-ethics (a formalizable ethical theory would have to begin from axioms the existence and discovery of which is part of the meta-ethical subject matter). But not everyone has the time or interest to study meta-ethics; this doesn't make it not worthwhile. Again, this stuff is hard; you don't see people demanding that electrical engineers be required to provide brief and---because of their condensed size---inaccurate tidbits of useful electrical engineering knowledge.

The first point is that there are topics in philosophy that are valuable whether or not it's to your taste to study them.

Humans aren't by nature particularly good at deductive logic; nor are they quick with any sort of complicated statistical reasoning (Bayesian induction with lots of priors made explicit, say). Doing good philosophy requires learning how to understand and make good arguments, and that by itself takes a good deal of time. The fact that good arguments are hard doesn't take away from their effectiveness except in a practical sense. The subtlety and complexity of most good (philosophical) arguments makes them appear to people not equipped to handle them, that is, most people, obtuse, but that does not mean that the arguments aren't cogent. Nor does the difficulty imply that philosophers are doing something wrong; the reason that deep questions don't have easy answers is that the questions are hard and require a lot of work to even understand properly. To think otherwise is simply to demonstrate superficial knowledge of the subject.

The second point is that difficulty in doing philosophy does not in any way make it less than a legitimate research paradigm.

As to what philosophy should do, as a third point, all I'll say is that at the most general level, philosophy attempts to understand and answer questions that can't be answered by the special sciences.

That relationship is interesting. Historically, all branches of inquiry fall under philosophy until an area of investigation is singled out for investigation by empirical means ---philosophy is, broadly, not different from the sciences in that it seeks answers to questions, or truths. (IIRC, Kant was the "Queen of the sciences" guy, and he said it of philosophy, not mathematics.) More recently, probably due in part to positivism, philosophy has come to be seen to be divorced from the physical sciences, but this was not always the case (see for instance that astrophysicist Malcolm Longair is a chair of "Natural Philosophy" at Cambridge). Aristotle did physics and biology as well as ethics and metaphysics; after the Renaissance the "scientific method" was more or less introduced and a priori inquiry was suddenly less relevant to physics, chemistry, and so forth. But note that for example thought experiments are still a methodology philosophy employs in common with these fields. Similarly, psychology began in the 19th century to diverge from philosophy (James might be the last point of genuine convergence). Despite these separations, philosophy is still relevant to understanding the underpinnings of the physical-scientific endeavor; example problems are with respect to physics the problem of induction and the nature of natural laws, and regarding biology the study of natural kind concepts. The latter are interesting because it shows there are topics that can yield truths that the special sciences can't themselves answer. I think these considerations indicate that philosophy in general is not sui generis but is better regarded as one of the sciences, if a peculiar one in some regards.

But because the questions remaining to philosophy are often of an a priori nature, it may seem that the subject matter of philosophy is different from that of the other sciences. I posit that the strongest reading of such a claim is obviously false, since mathematics and logic overlap with philosophy in such a way as to make any distinction among them arbitrary. MPhil has suggested that the subject matter of philosophy is concepts, or perhaps more broadly language and concepts, exclusively. I've suggested to him that he read Timothy Williamson's The Philosophy of Philosophy, and I recommend it to anyone else interested, although you should be aware that it's directed to an audience of philosophers and addresses them as tending to isolate themselves; the introduction and first chapter are a fair taste of what he's up to, if you haven't the time or inclination to slog through the whole of the book. It seems to me fairly straightforward, however, that if philosophy of science is relevant to our understanding of how "the world" is, and if our epistemology is relevant to what we can know about the world, and most especially if our ethical theories are supposed to ultimately issue in prescriptions for action in the world, then the subject matter isn't clearly bounded by what are "the conceptual questions" or to "relations between concepts" or to metaphysical questions, or ones about "analytic truths", just as the special sciences are not clearly bounded but blend into one another, even if there are some (many) questions that clearly belong to one or another of them.

So a fourth point is that it's not clear to me why I should regard a science/philosophy dichotomy as legitimate for any but purposes of crude approximation.

Finally, the purpose of what looks like verbal gymnastics is for the most part either (in good philosophy) required for accuracy, or (in poor philosophy) just as annoying to philosophers because it hides poor arguments. Telling the difference takes work (I think MPhil mentioned the example of P. Churchland's demonstration that the (original) Mary case involves equivocation). "What do you mean by ___ ?" is a perfectly legitimate method for clarifying what's at issue; surely no one advocates beginning a discussion the topic of which one doesn't understand.

[Context: crossposted over here (mostly).]


Causes and effects: some reminders

There's much made of two arguments for the existence of a god. The first is the argument from design. This nefarious piece of bad reasoning is behind the immensely silly intelligent design "science" (lies) "movement" (insurgency). The idea is supposed to be that the world displays such intricate order that it must have a designer. Yet there is no reason to suppose this is true. Why couldn't matter at high energies self-organize? It doesn't require a will in order that regularities and patterns should arise. A variant of this denies the weak anthropic principle (that clearly we are in this universe because if it were otherwise we couldn't exist, which implies nothing about how "likely" it is that our universe could exist), claiming that we must be living in a designed universe, for how else is it that things could be so supposedly friendly to us? Part of the answer is to point out that almost the entire universe is inhospitable to humans. Another part is simply to point back to the weak anthropic principle: in universes where observers can't exist, they don't. And finally, ask yourself how the universe would look if there had been no designer. (I borrow from Wittgenstein, who once asked how it would look if, instead of the sun going around the earth, the earth rotated.) If you think the universe is designed, then you can't say what a nondesigned universe would be like: you've never seen a nondesigned thing. But if that's the case, why suppose it would be somehow different than what we do see? If you can't make sense of the alternative, there's agood chance you're working with a tautology or circular reasoning, and indeed the assumption that order requires a designer functions in such arguments as just such an implicit circularity-generating premise.

The second argument is the supposed cosmological argument, according to which, briefly, there must be an ultimate cause to the universe, and that cause is God. Let's set aside the obvious question why, just because there is a cause, that cause is anything like what major religions claim God is like. (You just can't get, for example, Allah or JHWH or Vishnu out of "ultimate cause".) The argument goes like this: every event has a cause, therefore there must be a cause of everything, the only thing that could cause everything is an omnipotent being, therefore God exists. Let's ignore the fallacious use of definition to support the reasonableness of the third premise, since if the universe isn't infinitely large it doesn't need an omnipotent cause, and if it is in fact just one thing ("a universe") you would only need a cause that can cause one thing; similarly we ignore the gerrymandering of the definition of "omnipotent" since it's not at all clear what that would be, if coherent. Instead focus on the second and first premises. The logical form of these two items is: (1) for all x, x has a cause; (2) there exists some y such that for all x, y causes x. (I'm ignoring intervening causes for simplicity, but that makes no matter.) But this is just terrible logic, for the (1) does not support (2): this is like saying, "There are three things, and all of them have a cause, therefore there is one thing that caused all of them." It just doesn't follow, unless "has a cause" really means "is caused by the original cause", but that would be circular. So, even if we grant that everything has a cause (and it's not clear we should, in light of the facts,e.g. quantum mechanics), the argument falls at the first fence. Now we might question whether something can come from nothing. Fair enough, but this truth, if it is one, says nothing about God, since it might be that there is some non-god causal chain that goes infinitely in both temporal directions. If on the other hand Hawking is right that there is a beginning to time, then it's not clear what it would mean for the Big Bang event to have a cause. If it means a nonphysical cause, then this will end up being question-begging again.

The problem with both arguments is reliance on some principle about the willing of Creation as an implicit premise of the argument, in each case one that makes the argument turn out circular and so worthless. Clearly the causal order of things is nothing to which we can appeal in discussing the positive evidence for the supernatural. Note also that improbability in a very large universe over a large time scale in addition to various other factors such as human gullibility and a misunderstanding of probability explains the occurrence of supposed miracles, and these too can therefore not be thought of as anything like positive evidence of the supernatural.

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Always good to know...




Weather Report

Depression, like a stalker, waits impatiently in the dark alleys behind everyday life; the brain, unable to cope with its own processes and products, turns inward, criticizing; like hot stale phosphoric rain, smelling of burnt hardboiled eggs, it faintly sickens and permeates each nook and cranny of thought; there is an 80% chance that a chance encounter will induce panic, and the panic self-recrimination, and the self-recrimination obsession, and the obsession loss of focus; rapidly dropping barometer readings indicate a high likelihood of hangovers in the near future, assisting in no positive way; self-destructive behavior to follow on the weekend accompanied by showers of meaningless gestures, posturing, and other hypocrisies; next week, expect a cold comfort front accompanying renewed but hollow work-related successes.


Long-awaited non-update

Hello internet. We've been neglecting you. We promise we might publish something here in the near future. That is all.

(Twitter: internet crack.)


Eau de toilette: because you haven't bathed in months


There Is No Reason to Believe a Reason Is a Reason


The views of H. A. Prichard and Philippa Foot are compared in regard to their responses to a certain type of skeptical problem apparently central to metaethics: the problem of giving reasons sufficient to show or justify the claim that moral reasons are, in fact, reasons for everyone to act. Both authors do not address the question directly but rather aim to show that the skeptic has not asserted anything about the ground, or lack thereof, ultimately justifying the reasonhood of moral considerations. I agree that such a question cannot be formulated, and trace the problem to a need for certainty, rather than the pointing out of some heretofore obscured fact.
The purpose of this essay is to compare two disparate ethicists in the hope of finding an appropriate general answer to the question “Why ought I to act morally?” Whether the question is asking for a reason to do what is right or a reason to aim at the good, or something along these lines, whatever the answer to the question it must not be given on moral grounds, for that threatens to become circular immediately. The question in the form I want to ask it here does not rely on a particular formulation; the question is the one that arises when our self-interest indicates acting contrary to what is morally correct, and it requests some fact or argument that will convince the interrogator that she has most, overriding, or even only reason to do the morally correct action.[1]

Let us call the problem rising from a request for such rational persuasion the
“justification problem.” It is formulated by H. A. Prichard as a request for proof that one has reason* to do what is morally correct (to do “what one ought”). Prichard’s intuitionism holds that a primitive moral sense is the origin of our regarding an action as right; and he accepts a negative answer to the justification problem: no proof could be given. The discovery of what is, in fact, morally correct to do informs the development of the moral sense, which may be more or less correct in normal adults, presumably according to the quality of their moral education, but this is a question whether an act is really right—obligatory—not whether one has reason to do right. (We shall assume that agents are correct in their judgments of the rightness, or goodness, of actions.) Philippa Foot formulates the justification problem in terms of how it can conform to practical rationality to do what is morally correct when this conflicts with self-interest. Her solution positive in that properly a functioning faculty of practical rationality recognizes relevant reasons for acting virtuously rather than otherwise; but she, too, does not aim at providing a proof that one really has reason to act as one ought. It is my contention that Foot’s response is superior to Prichard’s in that it provides an explanation of reasons for acting rightly rather than appealing to a primitive, motivating moral sense triggered by the recognition of the rightness of an action.

In the next section I will examine Prichard’s version of the justification problem, then compare his argument with Foot’s. I conclude that their responses, which
dissolve or remove the question rather than treating the justification problem as a
genuine problem, are appropriate. The worry behind the genesis of skeptical formulations of this nonproblem is, I suggest, one about confidence or a sort of psychological causation that will result in rational agents hearing the answer to the question actually acting well or aiming to do right. I begin with a well-known and notoriously difficult paper of Prichard’s, “Does Moral Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?” (1912).


Prichard’s formulation of the justification problem is one about knowledge. Specifically, the knowledge that one really has reason to do what one feels obligated to do. Assume for the sake of argument that we happen always to be correct that what we feel obligated to do is in fact the morally right action, so that “what one is obligated to do” carries also the claim that one feels so obligated. A morally right action is contrasted with a good or virtuous action. An act of charity may be good an virtuous, for instance, but it is not moral unless it is also what one is in fact obligated to do and one does it because of a feeling of obligation to do that act. That is, an act is done morally when it is the right action in the circumstances and it is done from a sense of duty or obligation. In actual circumstances it may turn out that we feel obligated to A-ing, while our self-interest or “happiness” (1912: 2) apparently gives us a prima facie reason for B-ing. Upon reflection we might ask whether what we are obligated and feel obligated to do is something that we have most, only, or as I shall say overriding reason to do. The question “Is that really a reason?” is supposed to push past morally significant facts (e.g. that A-ing is just, or that it is the only thing everyone would assent to) and require as answer something that appeals to rationality: a “proof ” (see e.g. 1912: 1 and 16). Such a proof, it would seem, proceeds from some self-evident premises and by deduction shows that what one has reason to do is what is morally right whenever doing the right conflicts with pursuit of happiness. A reasonable conjecture seems to be that one might begin by analyzing the notion of a reason for action in searching out the premisses for such a proof; the knowledge that one really has overriding reason to A-ing consists in it, if there is one, which according to Prichard there is not.

The central negative claim of Prichard’s article “there is no such knowledge”
(1912: 16) because the very formulation of the problem is confused: the question
is “Illegitimate.” He explains via an analogy with an apparent regress problem in
epistemology, the question how one knows whether a state of knowledge is really a
state of knowledge. A clearer formulation of that problem shows that what is at issue is really “doubt whether our previous belief was true, a belief which we should express as the thinking that [Φ(α)]” (1912: 15). It makes no sense to question whether a state of knowledge is a state of knowledge, but it does to question whether a certain state was one of knowledge, and the former question is illegitimate, which is to say not a question at all. Similarly, the demand for a proof that one has reason to do what one is obligated to do is no demand at all: the question cannot be formulated. In short, there is no justification problem. I want now to turn to Foot’s version of the justification problem.


The exposition in Natural Goodness is plainly not aimed at the exact problem—or nonproblem—that Prichard addresses. In fact, she is concerned most centrally with “subjectivism” and the views of those who have good reason to be in sympathy with Prichard on the question of the source of reason to act correctly: emotivists and prescriptivists (2001, see Chapter 1 “A Fresh Start?”). For an intuitionist like Prichard claiming the moral rectitude of A-ing would proceed from an expression of a feeling of obligation to A. Unlike the later sub jectivists Prichard would back up the having of such a feeling by pointing to publicly available facts to be taken into consideration in the circumstances; in other words, it can be ob jectively correct that one is in fact obligated to do as one feels one is obligated. The subjectivists on the other hand would claim that since feelings (or attitudes, or other psychological features) cannot be justified on rational grounds, there is a point beyond which one has nothing to appeal to in order to prove that one’s expression of approbation or prescription for action is ob jectively correct. The similarity between the views ends after the claim that moral motivation proceeds from a feeling or attitude with an ethical or moral character. Still, the subjectivist position can be interpreted as rejecting the possibility that one can give reasons of a nonmoral kind which constitute knowledge that one ob jectively has reason to do right.

Moreover, that is the sort of objection behind this problem, which arises out of pseudo-anthropological considerations yielding information about what sorts of things are conducive to human flourishing—i.e. excellence qua human being or eudemia—that provides the objective standard grounding evaluation of behavior: that “human beings as rational creatures can ask why what has so far been said should have any effect on their conduct” (2001: 52). When we ask this why-question, what is asked for is some consideration that, if rationally accepted by an agent, constitutes knowledge that what she has reason to do is what all things considered she ought to do. Morally good actions in Prichard’s sense, duties done from a motivating feeling of obligation, are only a small subset of actions that are good (virtuous) in Foot’s sense, constituting actions displaying the virtue of dutifulness. Right actions on Foot’s view are a function of “full practical rationality” (2001: 14); they are what one ought to do “all things considered” (2001: see 56-59).[2] Full practical rationality will never yield, all things considered, reason to act viciously, and so to act contrary to dutifulness when duty is, in fact, the relevant virtue in the circumstances (circumstances in which no virtue is to be or can be expressed we leave aside). So is Foot’s claim that there is something that goes on with full practical rationality, some process of reasoning about what to do, that yields knowledge that what one has in fact overriding reason to do is what is “right” (trivially), what is good, whenever that conflicts with self-interest? If so, her view would conflict with the considerations Prichard brought to bear.

The answer to that question is, in a word, no: she, like Prichard, uses limits on the intelligibility of the skeptical question to show that there is in fact no demand for reasons being made. The argument runs parallel to the claim that one has overriding reason to do what one ought whenever this conflicts with self-interest. For Prichard grasp of the relevant considerations yields via “moral thinking” the conclusion that A-ing is right, and this produces the motivating feeling of obligation. Feeling a moral obligation is a product of apperception—of immediate, which is to say un-reflective, even “unconscious,” reaction to information processed by the general reasoning faculty. A properly functional moral thinking faculty therefore in its nature produces a motivational[3] state. For Foot grasp of the relevant considerations yields via “practical rationality” the conclusion that A-ing is not vicious; prudence—a virtue sometimes considered one of self-interest—may sometimes trump other virtues. So the precise question Prichard is concerned with turns out for Foot’s view to be a question which of the virtues is the one that all things considered should be exemplified in the circumstances. I do not examine how she would handle the possibility of such a conflict. Rather I mean to have her view address a related problem brought by a “skeptic”: why one should do what the virtuous person “must” do (2001: 64). The skeptic rejects that she must accept that she has reason to do right—i.e. to act well—because she sees no fact treated as a relevant consideration, from which to conclude that she has overriding reason to act well.

Foot does not claim that there is a way to gain knowledge, or proof, that one really has reason to do right; she, like Prichard, treats the relevant question as unintelligible, that is, as no question at all. The skeptic’s demand for reasons, that is for justification, might be answered with (M) facts in light of which a certain act is virtuous or vicious in the circumstances, which is not really skeptical in that it is looking for mundane information: moral reasons such as that A-ing redresses a wrong done and is thereby just, or (R) facts about why acting fully practically rationally just is acting well, or (P) something else, perhaps a proof in the transcendental, Kantian sense. Foot provides R by pointing out that practical rationality is the sort of thing that takes relevant features of the circumstances as practical considerations (call them prima facie reasons, see 2001: 58-9), so there is no need to give “reasons” for taking relevant facts into consideration. If one has the faculty of practical rationality at all one will be taking facts into consideration. It follows from examination of the concept of practical reason that if one’s practical reasoning is working properly, it will not (in ideal circumstances) leave things out, consider irrellevancies, or mis-“weight” the prima facie reasons. That is what practical reasoning consists in. Further skepticism, however, becomes senseless, for to “ask for a reason for acting rationally is to ask for a reason where reasons must a priori have come to an end.” There is no non-rational and non-irrational standpoint from which to ask for rational justification of acting rationally; acting more or less rationally is the mode of action for humans. If another type of justification is required, i.e. non-moral and non-rational “justification,” the burden will be on the skeptic to explain what this might be a demand for.


So far we have seen two views aiming to answer a single type of problem. These
two views reply to that problem in the same fashion: by dissolving the apparent problem rather than attempting to answer a non-question. I shall for convenience
call it a skeptical question regarding the ultimate “justification” for doing what one ought. Both Prichard and Foot address skeptical questions, and give similar answers. Prichard answers a narrower skeptical question than Foot; his topic can be seen to be subsumed under hers. Prichard’s skeptic appears to request justification of type P, that is a proof of some kind and not a mere fact, while Foot’s skeptic appears to ask for reasons that are perhaps M, perhaps R, perhaps P. The similarity betweenthe views becomes more apparent if Prichard’s skeptic is rephrased as asking why her moral sense is reason-giving. Their replies to the skeptic are the same in that both regard demands for P not as demands at all but as failed attempts to pose a

Prichard denies that it is possible to give a relevant non-moral justification. The
ought of moral judgments must come in as part of a premiss of a moral justification (it does not appear in the conclusion ex nihilo). But no such justification is necessary since obligation isn’t the sort of thing that demands independent justification; the feeling of obligation is motivating and thereby a reason—it makes no sense to request a reason to accept that a reason is a reason. In her (1977) Foot put forward the claim that all moral judgments take the form of hypothetical imperatives; in effect, claims that one ought to do this or that take the form “If you aim to be virtuous, and A-ing is the virtuous action in the circumstances, then do A.” That is, there is nothing that will cause one to aim at virtue, as it were, that constitutes a justification for doing so. Foot’s (2001) method of getting around this apparent difficulty is, like Prichard, to accept that there is no non-moral justification for doing right, for again there does not need to be. It makes no sense to request a reason to act on reasons; one accepts a reason as such as soon as one notices that it is a reason.[4] Asking for a reason to do so would not be to engage in a regress of the kind Prichard disparages in the theory of knowledge, but rather not to ask a question at all. One might as well ask whether the piece of paper in our hands as a piece of paper.


There may still be skeptical tendencies amongst moral philosophers, expecially those of a Kantian bent, because they may have been trained to attempt a priori proofs, and so are perhaps persuaded that one can show why someone who rejects that one has overriding reason to do what one ought has simply missed out on something. I regard the denial of the existence of a problem in this connexion as the correct response. It is difficult to imagine some way to prove that the premisses of such a proof should be accepted, and so forth. Rather, we should see that it is a part of human action, that complex, however theoretically described, of considering facts, concluding that some action is what one will do and doing so, that we think there are justifications to which we can appeal which make our actions “rational”—reasons. We might for instance notice that Anscombe’s analysis of the intentionality of action (1963) in terms of a possible appeal to reasons allows for a variety of mechanisms by which facts come to be taken as reasons and to be weighed against each other. It does not seem disputable that intentional actions, the kind for which we are most often morally culpable, essentially involve reasons (even if these turn out to be “mere” facts that explain only a causal relation between a past event and an action).

The quest for reasons to accept that one has overriding reason to do right in most circumstances (if not all) is, I think, misguided. At least some of the skeptics have confused a justificatory relation for a causal one. That is, the request for “reasons” to believe that one has reason to act well is in fact a request for something that will actually cause the skeptic to believe that she has such reasons. One can imagine a pathology the symptom of which is claiming to accept some fact as a reason for A-ing but nevertheless claiming that she does not have reason to A. The skeptic, similarly, wants something to make her certain, and this we need not supply, for such facts as we have at our command are not “a sort of medicine which is taken in the hope that it will work” (Foot, 1977a: 104). Our best strategy, then, will be to give everyone a proper moral education, so that by the time a child reaches an age where she can formulate the skeptical pseudo-question, she does not feel the worry which prompts it.

[1] In the interest of avoiding unnecessary complication I shall waive discussion whether moral reasons (i.e. the immediate reason prompting a particular action) are overriding, decisive, greater in some magnitude, or exclusive. I adopt the terminology ‘overriding’ with the caveat that I regard it as neutral on the question (once one has accepted that one has reason to do what is morally correct) what the relation is in which one’s reason to do what is morally correct is more than one’s reason to pursue one’s self-interest.“What one has reason to do” may be cashed out in any of those ways without turning the thrust of the present argument, since it is concerned with the question whether one really has reason to do what is morally correct rather than how that reason stands to one’s reasons to do otherwise. I take “self-interest” not to include some ultimate self-realization or telos of which the agent is not (and often could not be) aware of; it has to do with such mundane things as love, money, and power.
[2] Here Foot appeals to Davidson’s “How is Weakness of the Will Possible?” (2001) in her account of what it means for all things to be considered.
[3] That is not yet to say "reason-constituting."
[4] I take it that accepting a reason is a sort of “mental act” not dissimilar to mentally, which is to say without speaking or using pen and paper, adding two and two.

* Anscombe, G. E. M. 1963. Intention, second edition. Cambridge, Massachusetts:
Harvard University Press.
* Davidson, D. 2001a (1980). “How is Weakness of the Will Possible?” reprinted in
Essays on Actions and Events. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
* Foot, P. A. 1958. “Moral Arguments” reprinted in (Foot 1977), pp. 96-109. Origi-
nally published in Mind, vol. 67.
* —— 1972. “Morality as a System of Hypothetical Imperatives” reprinted in (Foot
1977), pp. 157-73 with additional material. Originally published in The Philosophical
Review, vol. 81, no. 3, July.
* —— 2001. Natural Goodness. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
* —— 1977. Virtues and Vices, and Other Essays in Moral Philosophy. Oxford:
Clarendon Press.
*Mackie, J. L. 1998. “The Sub jectivity of Values” reprinted in J. Rachels (ed.) Ethical Theory 1: The Question of Objectivity, pp. 59-84. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
*Prichard, H. A. 1912. “Does Moral Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?” Mind, vol. XXI,
no. 81, January. Repinted in Prichard, H. A. 1968. Moral Obligation, and Duty and
Interest, pp. 1-17. Oxford: Oxford University Press. References are to the 1968

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You can tell it's good 'cause it gets all milky when you leave it out overnight.

_Kant_ and the Exact Sciences

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04:30 woke me to spattering
furtive rain
low clouds and the aftermath of a
storm someone else experienced
to the North. Late.
Dad says, she looks gray as gray.

I had to book another flight
the distance to the first one was now
out of reach by car. So I
spent, lifted, drove, checked
slid through security.
Not even my buttons are metal.
(They say the Sidhe abide neither
iron nor tune, and a pitchfork's
handy at a New Oleanian wake.)

After these rusted hours
I saw my matriarch in her
cloud pale green bedsheets
like a punctured volleyball her skull
stands out from the pillow
flesh laid back by planetary mass
liquid inside the skin, her arms bones
wavering as she gestures.

She waves at her guests, their words
low hollow loud over the blow
of O2
and hers thin like river rushes
an oboe playing Taps
when she says she's
bored (tired)
in this place without even
televisual hypnotic medication.

So this, I think, when looking down
––Mother and pastor praying with her––
on her supine grace, slate eyes
overwhelmed and lungs
near to giving up wind and psuché,
is what staring ten thousand miles into an
uncertain reward is. Jehovah I wish
I believed in you so my curses
would have a chance to prick and pierce.

She and I have naught to discuss
as we have not been so close
as we use to be, but
still she is, lying there, my ancestor
and besides even if I didn't owe her
something I oblige myself
to try magic for loved ones.

Her flesh is warm and dry, feels
like a soft tortilla over hard
veins, pushed by ever-increasing heartrate
as gas exchange fails
and the antibiotics may save her
long enough for tumors
to finally
do her in. And if I want to
scream at the sky
that's nothing beside what
boils behind her slate colored
eyes, hair, skin.

If I could pray, I would pray for her
to go before it's too late.
If I could cry, I would shed sugary
water on the drooping blooms of a
lily growing from a mound of limestone gravel.

She has a tray with cold tea,
a styrofoam ice cup and pencil.
On the counter by the wall, a small
jar of baby food: apple sauce,
eaten just down to the label
no spoon in sight.

Cytotoxic chemicals yellow flowing
from one of four IV bags
and piss dripping yellow-brown
from a catherter,
these tubes are now outside
vessels and veins
for the water between her hair
and toes, her lymph––blood––
mucus––sweat system;

all regulated
filled to overcapacity
to saturate her tissues
with life-preserving elements
just long enough
to enter hospice,
where it's a little nicer to die than
here overlooking a parking lot
and thunderheads
from the top floor
no one wants
to pass by the terminal
elderly on their way
to visit their

It's time's falling quarter rainbow
––in a fading daguerreotype––
a piebald horse leaping from a whitewashed
platform under wet skies
while a street orchestra
blasts its horns drunkenly,
to the tune of Bachhus' suicide,
and sounds like watching a rocket fall
on a child in a gods-forsaken desert,
and emotional stability
approaches Ø. But the horror
of it stays behind the eyes
out of lips' reach.

Her hand is still warm
I grasp it to make my goodbyes
at the end of visiting hours the sun
sets temporarily while the solstice approaches
she smiles so sweetly that I can't help but fly
away inside while my face cracks and cleaves.
My eyes convey happiness in seeing her
before I laid eyes that wax simulacrum
recumbent in a ponderously floating box
on its way downstream into
black northern soil where the giants live
and her husband waits with a cigarette.

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driven by a tempest, or at least a rainstorm, writing strikes

hello words
you are appearing like auto-
magic beneath my eyes and finger-
tips, like kisses' lips
in my mental space
I'm a basket case
but at least my hips
support and trace a graceful swell
between myself and
whatever else
like sleeping, tucked
birds, these words
slip slowly smoothly sinisterly
from my right
---in the rearview---
onto a timy page where,
unpaper though it may be
a shy mystery from my wine-
softerned grip falls
and splashes
kohl-coloured and fine
precious as well
into these thirty (?) lines
in glyphs so familiar
the semiotics can never be parsed
to the root, for a pillar
stands over them stone
and standing and ever
over, for never over it tips
but, having fell,
slips itself into erotic
imagery brought about
by speech through a screen
labial and soft bending
out of these electrons bursting forth
like Her Wisdom from
and unworthy brow
to enter in and once gaining purchase
reverse, guage, and magnify
all the thoughts I allow
and do not allow
will come by and by
back to words



Your inner nerd needs to change inner underwear...



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Your pre-existing beliefs influence your attitude toward allowed levels of coercion falling short of Date Rape.

This study suggests that having certain beliefs and attitudes toward women and sex, specifically relating to justifications for interpersonal violence and levels of trust toward women as a generalized group, is strongly correlated with acceptance of behavior norms that are (arguably, if you're an ass) conducive to perpetuation of the patriachically-approved culture of rape in this country: the "she wanted it" (secretly, once I had forced myself on her) because "she didn't complain" (because she was terrified of me) excuse.
Sexually aggressive men who reported a cognitive style that distrusted women and justified interpersonal violence (i.e., calloused sexual beliefs) took significantly longer to stop the date rape than either sexually aggressive men without this rape supportive cognitive set or nonaggressive men, who did not differ significantly on decision-making. Laboratory judgments also corresponded with naturalistic decisions as the sexually aggressive group was nearly 3 1/2 times more likely than the nonaggressive group to delay stopping the tape [simulating a date rape] until it reached intervals containing verbal threats and forced intercourse within the scenario. Although this study did not manipulate character alcohol consumption per se, it suggests that dispositional and cognitive factors, such as sexual aggression history and rape supportive cognitions, are important determinants of judgments and decisions in sexual encounters.
Yes, Virginia and Victor, there are such things as rape-supportive cognitions. One wonders whether any of the gentlemen in the study stopped the tape at the first sign of coercion? Via Jill at Feministe.

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Slaughterhouse Life

R.I.P. Kurt Vonnegut. One of the most sapient of Homo. Now that he's dead, I'm sure you'll all be more willing to take his advice.

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'Ware the ides of Avril

Listening to Explosions In The Sky's new one: "All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone." It's no "The Earth is not a Cold Dead Place." But then it isn't clear anything could be. To use a widely recognizeable analogy: the argument is somewhat like questioning whether the white album is better than Sgt. Pepper.

It does, however, have its good (better) points. It's more diverse in instrumentation, something Explosions has grown into quite appropriately. It's also more subtle in terms of the emotional content. "The Birth and Death of the Day," the first track, will certainly remind listeners of the previous album. That's not to say it's a rehash––far from it: the work is far more ambiguous, and as such works as a piece of art to be admired far more than the previous album. "The Earth..." had the admirable but limiting quality of sucking the listener into an emotionally devastating, potentially revelatory, repoire with the band. "All of a Sudden..." on the other hand sets out a more mysterian, and to some extent more remote, series of sounds that speak both to universal experience and to dislocation, without quite keeping its feet grounded in the tangible reality of the audience. One has the feeling that the album is doing as much as it can to allow the audience to bring to conscious contemplation the warm agony of contemporary ennui without pandering or resorting to that most plebian of pop devices, the lyric. I'm not knocking Explosions for this, far from it. I want to point out the relative difficulty of grooving on this album. "The Earth..." is the musical equivalent of Ecstacy: a blasting, wailing catharsis and outpouring of love, far greater than any auditor's anticipated reaction, and thankfully so. By way of contrast, we can say that "All of a Sudden..." is much more a listener's album, much more a work of art in the gallery exhibition sense. It still, finally, has the ability to draw one in as a musical analogue to an intense short story, with a vague, but powerful, psychic insight, and in doing so shows the band to be maturing––or at any rate, mastering––through its third full album.

And yes, I do have a vast, muted, expanding pain in my chest and in the base of my skull, a pain caused by the entirely unnecessary but unfortunately ubiquitous alienation and unwanted chrysalis of solitude imposed by any attempt to bridge the gap between material striving and the Outer Darkness that is true counterculture, a pain familiar to everyone who loves someone that can't be reached, just now, a pain familiar to everyone with a heart in a world made for spendthrift automatons, the same degree and intensity of bittersweet ache one grasps and gasps at knowing when one's fondest wish and worst nightmare are one and the same, and true.

Lorca said:
El olvido estaba expresadoo por tres gotas de tinta sobre el monóculo,
el amor por un solo rostro invisible a flor de piedra.
Médulas y corolas componían sobre las nubes
un desierto de tallos sin una sola rosa.

Yet this will be a good year.