Saturday, November 21, 2015

How bad should we feel about how bad college protesters feel about how inadequately bad the rest of us feel?

The nation's colleges and universities have been roiled by demonstrations by minority groups protesting insensitivity toward minorities by college officials who have given inadequate demonstration of how badly they feel about how badly minority students feel about how inadequately bad college officials feel about the feelings of minority students, resulting in the resignations of many college officials who have openly admitted the inadequate level of guilt they feel about the state of the protester's feelings.

Meanwhile, many normal Americans who are watching all of this are feeling bad about the fact that these students are squandering all their time feeling bad about how insufficiently bad other people are feeling, partly because it is making everyone feel bad.

We should all feel very badly about this. In fact, we do, which is really bad.

One of the things that made minority students feel bad at Harvard University recently is the fact that the university was founded by a slaveholder, making Harvard a White supremacist institution which is now, in consequence, under the obligation to feel bad about itself.

Of course, it has never been a secret that Harvard was founded on the basis of a bequest from Isaac Royall. So why it is that none of this has mattered until now?

Some observers (i.e., me) think that it is the result of a whole generation of students who have spent so much of their lives worrying about their feelings that they are completely ignorant of history, about which, if they had known anything, they would be even more upset than they already are.

In fact, other observers (i.e., also me), think that it is probably a good thing that these students are so wrapped up in feeling bad about how inadequately bad other people feel that they don't know very much history.

"What you have to realize," said one expert on the subject (me), "is that history is filled with bad things. And because these things are bad, they make people feel bad. And this, of course, is even worse. So it is perhaps best that people who feel bad about bad things that happened in the past--and who get upset when people in the present don't feel badly enough about them--should be careful about their exposure to what actually happened in the past."

"In fact," he continued, "the past is the last place you want to investigate if you don't want to feel bad."

This particular observer (me) wondered what would be the end result of all the bad feelings if more people knew about their own history. "We would all have to resign," he said.

"And just imagine how bad that would make everyone feel."

Monday, November 16, 2015

"It's all about me" vs. "It's all about Allah"

Maybe it's just the fact that we are in the middle of a presidential campaign—and one taking place in the midst of a "War on Terror"—but we hear a lot these days about "American values" or "Western values" and how they are under siege from groups like ISIS.

What I'd like to know is exactly what values we are talking about. The assumption, after all, is that there is some well-agreed upon set of cultural principles that we all think should be protected. Is this assumption true, and if it is, what does it consist of?

Are we talking about the traditional Western values of wisdom and virtue that comes from reflection on the Good, the True, and the Beautiful? Are we talking about the belief in a divine order that reflected in nature itself that was reflected in the Declaration of Independence's invocation of "unalienable rights" and that we ignore at our peril? Do we mean the body of soul-nourishing wisdom that was handed down to us by the great thinkers of the Western tradition?

Or do we mean the debased ideological prejudices that now dominate the two poles of our national discourse, one in the form of political correctness and multiculturalism that preaches tolerance and diversity but marginalizes anyone who disagrees, and another in the form of a right-wing liberalism that views every cultural entity in terms of a materialistic commercialism? The latter gives lip service to religion, but doesn't really practice one, and the former disavows religion, but practices a secular one.

When we talk about "American values" do we mean the misogynistic rap music and pornography that constitute America's chief cultural export to the rest of the world? Or do we mean the literary heritage embodied in the works of authors like Nathanial Hawthorne, Herman Melville, John Steinbeck, and Flannery O'Connor, and the political philosophy behind our form of government that we find in the Federalist Papers and that was lived out by the likes of George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson—a heritage that our own academic class now sneers at?

It would be nice to know exactly what the people who use these political slogans actually mean by such expressions.

As for me and my house, we abide by the principles as set forth by the great conservative thinker Russell Kirk, who, in his book The American Cause, discussed the three orders: the Political, the Economic, and the Moral Orders that constitute American civilization.

The Political Order
America's Political Order is one of ordered liberty closely tied to a belief in a federal republic. The history of political philosophy has been a chronicle of the tension between order and freedom, and most political heresies have clustered at one or the other end of this spectrum: The right has often overvalued order, and the left freedom. Today, however, order is out altogether. There are two forces in politics, both of which are on the same side of the battle field.

We have liberals who believe in unconstrained freedom, and so-called "conservatives" who believe basically the same thing--as Allan Bloom once put it, left-wing liberals, and right-wing liberals. Like the left-wing liberals before them, the right-wing liberals have basically abandoned the "ordered" part of "ordered liberty."

Self-professed conservatives still voice their support for a decentralized form of government (which is what federalism means), but many of them will look the other way when the U. S. Supreme Court dictates the debased values of elite culture by fiat from the bench on issues like same-sex marriage on the radical individualistic grounds that it "doesn't affect my family."

The Economic Order
American conservatives (but not liberals) still support a free economy, but at the same time they have acquiesced in the distortion of the free economy by large corporations who, allied with the federal government and grown fat on corporate welfare, have aggrandized power unto themselves at the expense of economic freedom. They are Monsanto capitalists. And they're not conservatives.

The Moral Order
"The United States is a Christian nation," says Kirk, and he's right--in the sense that the values we have traditionally practiced in this country are derived directly from the Christian tradition and the teachings of the Christian Church. The people who point to Thomas Jefferson's attempt to eliminate the miracle accounts from the Bible (with an actual pair of scissors, producing what is now called the Jefferson Bible), forget the part he didn't clip out: the Christian system of ethics, which he fully accepted, as did basically everyone else involved in America's founding.

Kirk also believed (with T. S. Eliot, another great conservative thinker) that "civilization grows out of religion." Our traditional moral order is derived exclusively from the Old Testament teachings of Moses and the New Testament teachings of Jesus. And although the secular technocratic elite of today purport to possess a more enlightened ethic, all they have really done is to take certain specific aspects of the Christian ethic and isolated them from the rest. Charity and brotherly love (although focused on government, rather than individual action) are still valued, even if they are now isolated from traditional beliefs about sexuality, marriage, and the family.

As Chesterton pointed out, it isn't the vices that are wandering loose, causing damage, but the virtues, isolated from each other and out of balance with the whole of Christian teaching.

That's what I think "American values" means. That's what I think most people would fight and die for. What values these other people champion, I am not sure. Do they think people would go die in a ditch in some third world country for someone's right to protest at a college because others are not giving their ideology enough sympathy? Or for someone's right to change their gender? Or, other end of the spectrum, for the right purchase the consumer goods they would like to have.

I really don't know. And I wonder if the people who reject the traditional beliefs about what our culture consists of do themselves.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Why Traditional Logic Doesn't Employ Truth Tables

One if the interesting things about this blog is that, while most of what I talk about is politics and culture, the post with the most continuing popularity is an older post I did on the difference between traditional and modern logic. I was going to continue that discussion in later posts but not only got rather busy, but ran into some conceptual problems in the next section of what is basically a pamphlet I wrote a few years ago that I have yet to resolve to my satisfaction.

In the meantime, here is a discussion of the differing views on truth conditionality that address some of the same issues I addressed in the earlier article.

One of the questions I get rather often from students and logic instructors about traditional logic is why it doesn't teach truth tables. Modern logic, the most common kind of logic encountered in high school and college, uses them, so why does traditional logic ignore them?

Many people encounter a smattering of logic in high school math courses, which teach a few of the rudiments of modern logic. Here, more than likely, they will encounter simple truth tables. Truth tables were invented by Ludwig Wittgenstein, perhaps the the 20th century's most influential modern philosopher. He invented them to accompany the calculus into which modern analytic philosophers had transformed logic. They were seen a way to quickly solve for the truth of simple and complex logical propositions in the modern system.

Let's take the statement, "There are seven days in the week and twenty-four hours in a day." In the modern system of logic we would want to immediately reduce this down to its formal elements. Let's say that P = "there are seven days in the week" and that Q = "there are twenty-four hours in a day." If we did this, then we could represent the statement as follows:

P and Q 

How do we find out whether the statement "P and Q" is true? In modern logic, the truth value of this statement is determined by its elements--in this case, the statements signified by "P" and "Q". We know as a matter of simple common sense that the statement "P and Q" is true only when both the statements represented by "P" and "Q" are themselves true--in other words, if it is true to say that there are seven days in the week and if it is true to say that there are twenty-four hours in a day. If either one or both of these statements are false (in other words, if a week is made up of something other than seven days or if a day is made up of something other than 24 hours--or both), then the statement would be false.

Using truth tables, we would set forth all of the truth possibilities of P and Q so we could see clearly when "P and Q" is true and when it is false:

P     Q     P and Q
T     T           T
T     F           F
F     T           F
F     F           F

We don't really need to go to all this trouble to verify that a simple statement like "P and Q" is true. But what if you had a statement like "P and (Q or (If R, then S))"? When statements become this complex, truth tables can be an easier way to calculate their truth value.

So if truth tables make the determination of the truth of statements more easy to calculate, then why doesn't traditional logic teach them?

There are several answers to this question. The first is practical, the second is theoretical.

The Practical Usefulness of Truth Tables is Overstated
The first reason is that, although truth tables have certain technical applications, they are not practically useful in actual argument or discussion, since most statements used in everyday speech and even in academic conversation never get to the level of complexity that would require a truth table to figure them out. They are certainly helpful in certain scientific applications and for computer computer programming (modern logic's most practical application), but outside those fields, they are seldom needed.  

I have not only taught logic, but engaged in private and public debate for over 25 years. While I have made use of William of Sherwood's traditional mnemonic verse of the 19 valid syllogism forms and the procedure for backing into missing premises repeatedly (both of these are covered in my Traditional Logic, Book II), I have never had to resort to a truth table. 

This is partly the result of the fact that most real life argumentation is conducted in or reducible to categorical reasoning on which you cannot use truth tables anyway. This is because categorical reasoning operates on the basis of the relations between individual terms (which are neither true nor false, since only full statements can be true or false) and truth tables work only with hypothetical reasoning, which operation on the basis of relations between statements. In addition, even though modern logical techniques were developed primarily to deal with complex philosophical and scientific problems in an academic context, the vast majority of the reasoning you encounter even there consists simply in chain arguments (strings of simple arguments strung together) that don't require any advanced calculus to solve.

The Faulty Metaphysics Behind Modern Logic
The second reason for the absence of truth tables from traditional logic has to do with the philosophical differences between the traditional and modern systems of logic. To state it baldly, traditional logic doesn't believe in truth tables.

The reason they are used in one system and not the other has to do with a concept called truth functionality.  What is truth functionality?  “A compound proposition,” said Edward Simmons, “is said to be truth-functional when its truth as a whole depends solely upon the truth values of its component parts.”  In other words, the truth or falsity of its parts will tell us the truth or falsity of the whole.

In the statement above, "P and Q", we can tell its truth from its component parts. "P and Q" is called a "conjunctive proposition"--it conjoins P and Q. Traditional logicians believe that conjunctive statements are the only kind of statements whose truth can be "solved" in a truth table--the only kind of statements, in other words, that are truth functional. No other kinds of logical statements ("P or Q", "If P, then Q", etc.) are truth functional in this way.

The reason traditional logicians deny the truth functionality of hypothetical propositions has to do with the underlying assumptions about language and reality.  To illustrate this, let's take another simple statement, this time a conditional statement (This is where the problem with modern logic's assumptions become very clear):

If it rains, then my dog will get wet

In modern logic, we would "solve" for the truth of this statement using a truth table:

P     Q     If P then Q
T     T           T
T     F           F
F     T           T
F     F           T

This kind of statement is considered true in every possible case except when P is true and Q is false (the second line). Let's say my dog is an outside dog and has no protection from the rain. In that case, when it rained my dog would get wet--both P and Q would be true, and therefore it would be true to say (as on the first line of the truth table) that the entire statement, "if it rains my dog gets wet" is true.

But let's say it was raining, but my dog was in the garage, dry and cozy. In that case, it would be true to say that it was raining, but false to say that if it rains, then my dog gets wet (as indicated on the second line of the truth table). It rains, but my dog does not get wet. The statement would therefore be false.

But what about the other two possibilities, in other words, when it is not raining at all (when P is false and Q is either true or false--the last two lines of the truth table)? Why, as indicated in the truth table, do modern logicians say the statement would be true in those cases? 

As someone who has heard the explanations of why this is the case--as well as having tried to explain it to his own students in class--I can testify to the difficulty in trying to understand this. 

But the fact is that modern logic's treatment of the conditional statement (particularly its treatment of conditional statements in which the antecedent is false) is problematic not because it is complicated; it is problematic because it is problematic.

In the traditional system a conditional statement is considered true only if the fact that your dog gets wet really occurs as a result of the rain—in other words, if the statement asserts what is called a valid sequence.  To put it another way, there must be a real logical relation between the rain and your dog getting wet.  The fact of it raining must, in some way, materially imply that your dog will get wet.

In the modern system, however, there need be no real connection all.  All that is required is that, as a matter of fact, the consequent (my dog will get wet) is not false when the antecedent ( it rains) is true.  Unless this is the case, the statement is considered true.  Therefore, in the modern system, statements such as:

If the moon is made of green cheese, then ducks can swim

are considered true statements, since their antecedents ( in this case, "the moon is made of green cheese") is false at the same time that the consequent ("ducks can swim") is false.  In fact the antecedent is false and the consequent true, therefore (according to the modern logician) it is a true statement.

While modern logic considers this statement true, traditional logic sees it, again, for what it is: nonsense.  The moon being made of green cheese clearly has no relation (logical or otherwise) to the fact that ducks are able to swim.

In the traditional system, conditional statements are considered to assert a necessary connection between their elements (the antecedent and the consequent), while in modern logic the only connection has to do with the happenstance coincidence of the truth or falsity of the elements. There must be either a cause and effect or ground-consequent relation between the antecedent and the consequent. The rain and the dog getting wet are to be seen as having a fundamental metaphysical relation (in this case a cause-effect relation) to one another. The assumption behind modern logic is that such necessary connections either do not exist or that they do not need to be accounted for in our system of logic.

The underlying problem here is that modern logic is concerned with the attempt to quantify reality. It wants to turn logic into a kind of calculus. This was the dream of philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, who hoped that one day man could create what he called a "calculus ratiocinator"--a logic machine for the "solution" of logical problems. In many ways Leibniz was Aristotelian in his thinking (traditional logic is Aristotelian), but he would have had to have had very non-Aristotelian assumptions in order to believe that this was even possible.

Traditional logic does not attempt to reduce logic to a quantitative calculus, largely because it views logic as a linguistic and metaphysical art, not a technical mathematical calculus. Traditional logicians recognize a distinction between what is called extension and comprehension--on other words, that any comprehensive view of human reasoning would have to recognize both the quantitative aspects of human language, but also the qualitative. It rejects modern logics reduction of all human reasoning to extensionality.

Traditional logicians reject the idea that language can be quantified in the way that modern philosophers believe it can. Logic, according to the traditionalists, is inherently qualitative and logocentric (centered on the Word), and attempts to quantify logical language can only serve to distort the process of reasoning.

Behind the idea of such a calculus is a view of the world fundamentally at odds with traditional metaphysical beliefs. Ultimately, the only way logic can be made into a calculus is by denying the essential metaphysical nature of the world that logical language attempts to portray.

This, of course, is not a problem for the logical positivists who developed modern logic because they did not believe in traditional metaphysics, although, of the three people who wrote the book that put modern logic on the academic map (Bertrand Russell, Alfred North Whitehead, and Wittgenstein, the latter of whom greatly influenced, but did not actually author the book) both Whitehead and Wittgenstein later repudiated it--for different reasons. 

Their progenitor is David Hume, the 18th century British empiricist philosopher who went so far as to question the rationality of the belief in cause and effect. What modern logic has done is to create a system of logic that honors Hume's positivism by ignoring metaphysical reality: You can "solve" an "If P then Q" statement by ignoring the metaphysical implication in it and taking account solely of the "truth value" of its elements. 

In the modern view, in other words, "If, ... then" statements do not posit either a cause/effect or ground/consequent relation. They operate basically like conjunctive statements, ignoring the very relation that those who use them actually mean to assert (cause/effect or ground/consequent).

It is logic for Humeans.

In other words, the question over truth conditionality--in addition to anything else that might be wrong with it--is the logical consequence of a faulty view of metaphysics.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

John Silber on the proper attitude toward protesters on campus

Thanks to Ed Driscoll at Instapundit for this one, from John Silber, then-president of Boston University, who had to deal with protests in the 1970s similar to those at Mizzou:

... Because one point I want to get across to these students is, I do not take them seriously. This is not some very deeply felt, high moral cause on their part; this is showboating of a very insincere kind by most of these students, and I want them to understand that I see through their pretensions.

Read more here.

The #KimDavis Vote: Why putting your opponents in jail is a bad election strategy

Of all the people Republican candidates thanked in their acceptance speeches last Tuesday night, one name was noticeably missing. It was the name of the person most responsible for their victory: Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk who went to jail rather than violate her religious beliefs by issue same-sex marriage licenses now required under our unconstitutional judicial oligarchy.

In fact, Kim Davis won the gubernatorial election. And don't let anyone tell you different. Matt Bevin and the others simply rode her coattails into office.

This isn't to say anything negative about the candidates themselves. By all accounts Bevin won the debates with Conway, and his ads in the last two weeks of the campaign were clearly effective. And his decision to oppose the persecution of Davis was not only the right thing to do (and in consistent alignment with Bevin's practice of being transparent about his Christian faith), but was good politics.

Under any other circumstances, Jack Conway's devastating negative ad campaign would have been telling. But Kentucky voters were clearly more concerned to put someone in office who reflected their more conservative beliefs than anything else.

To borrow an expression from sociologist Peter Burger (who was speaking about the country as a whole), Kentucky is a commonwealth of Indians ruled by Swedes. In other words, while many of their leaders are secular liberals, the majority of Kentuckians are conservative.

Every once in a while political circumstances produced an impetus for these voters to turn out. This is what happened in the debate over same-sex marriage in 2004. And this is what  happened last week.

Putting your political opponents in jail is just not good politics.

There were certainly other issues in the race, most importantly Bevin's repudiation of Obamacare and KY Connect, its Kentucky manifestation. But this latter issue is just as likely to have hurt Bevin as to have helped him (this may have been the one thing Democrats were right about).

Not every election is a values election, but this one was, as Bevin's late campaign appeal testified: "Vote your values, not your party." That slogan not only appealed to Kentucky's many conservative Democrats to switch party loyalties at the polls: It was a signal to Republicans that, finally, there was a candidate who shared their beliefs about the visceral issues that, contrary to many political analysts, voters really do care about and was willing to do something about it.

The Democrats know this, which is why they wear their social beliefs on their sleeve. In the last presidential election, they wore their liberal beliefs about same-sex marriage on their sleeves. Republicans didn't lose because they didn't believe in these things: They lost because they never made their case for believing differently.

In places like Kentucky socially liberal Democrats win not because more people necessarily agree with them, but because they are the only ones willing to make their case.

Republicans lose when they cede the moral high ground to Democrats by dissimulating on their core values issues. The Romney campaign was the quintessential national example of the misguided belief that voters will turn out for you if you limit your appeal to abstract economic reasoning. People sometimes vote their pocketbooks, but more often they vote their hearts. And when only one party seems to have one, that's the one they vote for.

When Republican candidates abandon their socially conservative beliefs, they do it at their own peril.

And that is the lesson of last week's Republican victory: Conservatives will support people who support them.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Marco #Rubio vs. the Philosophers: Why #Rubio2016 is confused about what education is

In last night's Republican debate, Marco Rubio said, "We need more welders and less philosophers." 

Oh, c'mon. 

For one thing, it's "fewer" philosophers, not "less" philosophers. Even a literate welder knows that. "Less" philosophers means you want smaller philosophers. Now there may be a crisis of over-sized philosophers (I have seen a few), but, if so, I'm not aware of it. 

But then, I'm just a guy with a philosophy degree. What do I know?

Why is it that every time we go looking for places to cut our education budgets, we go hating on philosophers? Particularly since one of the things we say we want out of our education system is to teach students how to think? Do these people not get that that's practically all they do in philosophy departments?

I heard a law professor say recently that when he was on his law school admissions committee, he gave students with philosophy degrees extra points. I asked him why, he said, "because every philosophy major I ever met was brilliant."

I'm not sure, but I'm thinking that a degree in welding would not have impressed him quite as much.

And why is it that when we go looking for places to cut in college curricula, we go after legitimate disciplines like philosophy instead of, say, "women's and gender studies"? Is learning how to think about important ideas less important than the ideological goose-stepping of radical gender ideology?

Why didn't Rubio go after Black studies departments (another fake discipline) instead of a discipline with a 2,500 year history that is the only field in which the most important human questions are the exclusive concern (and in which you learn, not only how to think critically, but how to read difficult and complex readings and how to write technically)?

In fact, Rubio even got his facts wrong. He said, "Welders make more money than philosophers." As Talking Points Memo points out, that doesn't jibe with the findings from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Postsecondary philosophy and religion teachers earn an average annual wage of $71,350 while welders pocket $40,040 annually, according to the agency's May 2014 survey.

Rubio could have made his point about stigmatizing vocational education (about which he is right) without stigmatizing a legitimate discipline. Rubio isn't the only one who thinks the two are in competition when they are not. And this, in turn, is the result of the confusion between training and education.

Education aims at wisdom and virtue through mental discipline and the mastery of ideas and values. Training aims at functional competence in specific practical skills through manual or technical training. This is why, if you had only a philosopher and welder at your disposal, you would put the philosopher in charge--because, while the welder knows how to weld, the philosopher is better equipped to decide what should be welded and why, and for what purpose.

The problem with our schools is not that we have too little of one and not enough of the other, but that we think we have to judge between the two in the same institutions. We should have separate and distinct institutions for these separate and distinct goals (this is the whole point of technical colleges). And we should stop thinking that the training of welders requires an education. It doesn't. It requires training, which is a very different thing.

And I'll qualify that by saying that even welders--who are trained, not educated to weld--should have an education too. While not everyone needs to know how to weld, everyone needs to be able to think and to know. Mortimer Adler once said that not everyone is a scientist, or a construction worker, or a teacher. "But everyone is a citizen and everyone is a philosopher."

We live in a democratic republic, a form of government which requires an education (though not trained) citizenry because we are supposed to be able to govern ourselves. And we are human beings, which just means that we are more than merely physical beings. We are beings who aspire to the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. And if those are the things to which we aspire, we ought to know a little about them.

And besides, doesn't he understand how important the philosophy vote is in this election? Sheeez.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Jake's World: KY Democrats too right-wing

I love Jake (seriously). Here is his analysis of Tuesday's election:

This is how Kentucky voted, like it or not. It’s not some liberal utopia. The Commonwealth is where a majority of Democrats admit to voting on the basis of race. The state where Democrats made the 2004 anti-gay marriage amendment a reality. Kentucky is where Jack Conway ran as teabagger-light twice and got his ass handed to him by actual teabaggers both times.

My theory is that he also wrote the script for Greg Stumbo's election night speech. They are equally delusional.