Link blog: brexit, olaf, may, story

A very British dream | Richard Seymour on Patreon
“Problem number one for the Conservatives is that they no longer have any idea how to administer capitalism. No viable long-term growth strategy avails. They can’t address the financial sector without hurting their allies in the City. They can’t address the crisis of productivity and investment without more state intervention than they’re willing to accept. They can’t address the housing crisis or the precarious debt-driven economy without harming the interests of home owners. They can’t build new support in the rustbelts on an anti-immigrant basis, without sacrificing affluent swing voters and particularly ethnic minority voters in big cities and marginals.”
(tags: Politics conservatives may brexit)
We Don’t Do That Here
A neutral-sounding way to inform someone that they’ve crossed a line.
(tags: community morality)
A Bluer Shade of White Chapter 1, a frozen fanfic | FanFiction
Do you want to build a self-modifying snowman?
(tags: Singularity fiction story frozen olaf)
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Under His eye or The Harrowing of Farron

On Facebook, I ran across a couple of Christian responses to the recent resignation of Tim “Nice-but-Evangelical” Farron as leader of the Liberal Democrats.

A worrying sign

A post by John Stevens, Director of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, argues that Farron’s resignation is a worrying sign: Farron’s actions as a friend to LGBT people were not sufficient, people were worried about “what Tim thinks” and wouldn’t leave him alone about it.

As Nick Spencer writes, there are two sorts of liberalism. Farron was an example of liberalism as a way of living (or modus vivendi, as we say in the New Statesman) in a pluralist society, but fell victim to people who saw liberalism as a system which itself provides the right answers to moral questions. But taking liberalism as such as system, as Stevens says, opens its followers to the same sorts of criticism that Farron got: can a follower of a system fairly represent the interests of those who disagree with it?

(Unfortunately, Stevens does get dangerously close to using the phrase “virtue signalling”, which should worry him, for is it not written whosoever shall say to his brother, “thou art virtue signalling”, shall be in danger of being a huge arsehole, and that goes double for “snowflake”.?)

The burning of Latimer and Ridley at OxfordStevens has an interesting argument for liberalism as a way of living: if idolatry is the greatest sin, yet Christians do not want religion imposed by the government as this has historically not ended well (pic related), how much more so (or a fortiori, as we probably say in the New Statesman) ought Christians to allow freedom in law for people to commit lesser sins?

Public reason

With his mention of a “substantive, even comprehensive” liberalism, Nick Spencer in the New Stateman is gesturing at Rawl’s ideas of public reason. From what I read of this, a liberalism which is what Rawls calls a comprehensive doctrine can’t legitimately be the sole basis for arguments in favour of a fundamental right (such as gay marriage), any more than the religious comprehensive system can be the sole basis for an argument against. As Mariel Johns’s summary puts it,

It is important to remember that secular comprehensive doctrines are not allowed – the same way that philosophical and religious comprehensive doctrines are not allowed. These fall outside the domain of the political. This can be seen if we consider what each type of doctrine might ask with regard to making homosexual relations among citizens a criminal offense. A secular doctrine might ask, “Is it precluded by a worthy idea of the full human good?” A religious doctrine might ask, “Is it a sin?” A political conception would ask, “Will legislative statues forbidding those relations infringe on the civil rights of free and equal democratic citizens?”

I’m not an expert in political philosophy, but this seems to get something important right, namely that sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. “What Tim thinks” can only be of political concern if we’re reasoning from a comprehensive doctrine which says our thoughts can be wrong in and of themselves (such as Christianity, or liberalism of the second sort), or if we can show that what he thinks is somehow relevant in reasoning which is not unique to any such doctrine. Only the latter is legitimate, if I’m reading Rawls right.

So, what should Farron have said? Perhaps “What I think is What The Bible Says1, but look at my voting record and see that I don’t seek to impose my views on others, because (insert Stevens’s a fortiori argument here)”. Note that Rawls doesn’t think people cannot bring forward religious reasons (in fact, he thinks they should, in a “cards on the table” sort of way), only that they should then be backed by public reasons (such as “enforcing religion infringes on the civil rights of citizens”, presumably).

This is easy to say in hindsight, of course.


G J Shearer writes that “Arguing that Christians shouldn’t ‘impose’ their views on society is simply a tacit way of saying that someone else should.” But this ignores the distinction between liberalism of the first, Rawlsian, sort, and liberalism of the second, comprehensive, sort. Perhaps Shearer thinks that such a distinction can’t be maintained, and everything must collapse into a fight between competing comprehensive doctrines. But why think that? It seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy: if nobody makes the effort to maintain it, it certainly won’t be maintained. Farron’s pursuers harmed our political life by making it harder to maintain it.

Shearer argues that secular liberalism is illogical:

What, in effect, is the logic of secular liberalism? We live in a world heading towards extinction, our consciousness created by blind physical laws and driven by a ruthless will to reproduce and survive, therefore… What? Love each other? Look after the poor, the lame, the vulnerable? A moment’s consideration shows that these conclusions do not flow from the premise.

Hume lives! But his guillotine is a multi-purpose tool (it slices! it dices! it cuts both ways!). Suppose the facts are these: we live in a world ruled by an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent creator, therefore… what? What conclusions about morality follow from these premises? You need to add some other premise (like “we ought to do what God wants/commands of us”), and if you need that, why fault secular philosophers for needing to add theirs (like “we ought to do that which leads to human flourishing” or “the greatest good of the greatest number” or whatever)? All moral systems, including theistic ones, are “illogical” by these lights.

He also wonders whether atheist politicians could explain how “their belief that human life is merely ‘an accidental collocation of atoms’, to use Bertrand Russell’s phrase, fits with the various moral imperatives that drive their politics”. Probably not, because politicians, unlike Hume, are generally crap at philosophy. But, as we’ve just seen, Shearer hasn’t explained why his premises about God lead to his moral conclusions, either.

Offred from a Handmaid's Tale, with the caption "But her emails"Shearer ends with a call to Christians to get more involved getting Christian values into law: “it is time that Christians began to unapologetically argue that society is best served by Christian, rather than secular, values shaping the public sphere.” This doesn’t seem likely to end any better than it did historically (pic related).

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  1. This is an evangelical term of art, so should be taken with the usual caveat 

Link blog: politics, election, whig, britain

Whig Party | Britain’s original progressive political party is back
Crikey. It’s like a Neal Stephenson novel: “The Whigs are returning to British politics. We are going into the 2015 General Election to provide a fresh choice to the British people, and to show that everyone can get involved in politics. Our campaign will be positive and optimistic, both online and in the streets. The Whigs are back. Come and join the party.”
(tags: whig politics election history uk general-election)
David Hume and the sensible knave | Ask a Philosopher
Is there a response to Hume’s “sensible knave”, who does evil only when he can be reasonably sure of not getting found out?
(tags: david-hume hume morality knave philosophy glaucon)
Why I Don’t Read The News Anymore | Thing of Things
I don’t, either, for roughly the same reasons.
(tags: news ozymandias psychology availability politics)
A fixed-term hung Parliament? | British Government and the Constitution
Prof Adam Tomkins explains the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. Points out that, while a defeat which is not a motion of no confidence does not allow an early election, nothing compels a Prime Minister to stay in office: Labour could hold the threat of Milliband’s resignation (and the Tories being invited to form a government) over the SNP in order to pass a budget, for example.
(tags: constitution government politics election confidence)
The British press has lost it – POLITICO
Even the broadsheets don’t bother to hide the fact that they’re rooting for the Tories because their oligarch owners told them to (except the Graun, of course). No one in my liberal bubble actually reads print newspapers, they just share links to the Graun’s “Comment is Dumb” section on Facebook. Still, I might not be typical, so it’s all a bit worrying.
(tags: press newspapers journalism politics britain election)
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Link blog: subjective, scott-aaronson, morality, programming

Feminism and The Search for Truth | The Merely Real
Chana Messinger’s response to the Scott Aaronson thing (on whether feminism hurts geek guys) is the best one. I learned the term “scrupulousity”.
(tags: scott-aaronson nerds feminism laurie-penny chana-messinger)
Hume and subjective/objective moral values
A Twitlonger page (which I guess is what we used to call a blog post) about Hume and the varied meanings of “subjective” and “objective” wrt morality.
(tags: hume david-hume subjective objective morality)
What Color is Your Function? –
Interesting stuff about asynchronous programming.
(tags: async programming)
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Link blog: william lane craig, psychology, iain-m-banks, metaethics

Robot makes people feel like a ghost is nearby | Science/AAAS | News
You can induce sensed presences by having a robot poke you in the back.
(tags: emotions ghosts robots psychology)
Philosophical Disquisitions: Is there a defensible atheistic account of moral values?
Maybe, or at least, it’s as good as a popular theistic account.
(tags: morality metaethics atheism william lane craig)
Strange Horizons Articles: A Few Questions About the Culture: An Interview with Iain Banks, by Jude Roberts
An old, but recently published, interview with the Iain M Banks. Via andrewducker.
(tags: iain-m-banks culture interview sci-fi science-fiction)
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Link blog: fiction, google, twitter, bookshop

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? The Uncertain Biological Basis of Morality – Robert Wright – The Atlantic
“Squaring recent research suggesting we’re “naturally moral” with all the strife in the world.”
(tags: morality science evolution utilitarianism joshua-greene trolley-problem)
Djina Unchained
A social justice blogger. I think it’s a parody, but it’s hard to be sure.
(tags: sjw social-justice privilege tumblr patriarchy feminism)
The cult of Cthulhu: real prayer for a fake tentacle | The Verge
Someone published a Necronomicon. I never knew that.
(tags: necronomicon h.p.-lovecraft fiction magic horror aleister-crowley)
Waterstones’s social stories · Storify
Turns out Twitter is useful for something after all. Waterstones (the bookshop) in Oxford Street have been writing short stories with theirs. I liked “Quantum Leap”.
(tags: twitter waterstones oxford-street books bookshop funny fiction storify)
Burkhard Bilger: Inside Google’s Driverless Car : The New Yorker
The engineers behind Google’s driveless car.
(tags: google cars robots automotive driveless artificial-intelligence)
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Elsewhere: Atheism and objective rights

Back in August, Clark at Popehat did a slightly confusing posting on how some atheists are confused about rights because they speak as if rights exist while also saying that nothing but matter exists. Clark seems to be one of those theists who thinks that gods are be required to exist for objective rights to exist, but he doesn’t really say why he thinks that. (The real trick in all these arguments is specifying quite what you mean by “objective”. I enjoyed John D’s quote from Richard Joyce: “So many debates in philosophy revolve around the issue of objectivity versus subjectivity that one may be forgiven for assuming that someone somewhere understands this distinction.”)

I argued that Clark had got materialism wrong. Someone asked how any atheist can avoid the conclusions of Alex Rosenberg. I slightly facetiously replied “by not being an eliminative materialist”, but I can do better than that, I think. Rosenberg gets a lot of counterargument from people who are avowed naturalists and philosophically respectable. It doesn’t seem unreasonable for an atheist, especially one who isn’t an expert on philosophy, not to share Rosenberg’s conclusions.

Typically, Christian apologists ignore any distinction between varieties of naturalistic worldview (see Luke M’s interview with John Shook) and go with something like “if atheism is true, we’re nothing but matter in motion, chemical fizzes like soda spilled on the ground”. They then make an argument which uses the fallacy of composition to “show” that properties which matter and energy don’t have can’t be real on atheism (by which they mean some kind of materialism). This is all bunk, but pretty popular bunk, at least in the blogosphere, if not in philosophy journals.

Finally, I got into Yudkowsky’s belief in moral absolutes, which is interesting as Yudkowsky’s an atheist. Massimo P had a post about that back in January, where he sort of disagreed with Yudkowsky but then actually seemed to agree with him if you stripped away the layers of words a bit. My most significant comment on that is here. Yudkowsky’s transition from what looks like mathematical Platonism to the claim that morality is absolute deserves a post of its own, which I might get around to at some point. There’s a lesson for atheists, though: atheist appeals to evolution as a moral justifier are confused. Evolution might be a (partial) answer to “why do I care about X?” but not “why should I care about X?”

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Is leading and following in partner dances sexist?

Rebecca Brightly did a couple of posts on connection and sexism in lindy recently. I found it via the discussion on Reddit.

Brightly’s stuff is getting so much comment because it combines thoughts on how to enjoy dancing more (which is good) with an Internet-feminist deontology (which is wrong, as any respectable consequentialist could tell you). She’s now at the Defcon 3 stage of talking about “de-railing”, deleting comments, and closing down threads when people disagree with her premise. So I thought I’d put my response here.

Context: in partnered dances, there are usually two roles: one person leads, another follows. Quite what each role entails is a settled question for some dance cultures and a matter of intense mass debating in some corners of others. Traditionally, the leader is a man and the follower is a woman.

Brightly seems to say that followers should take more initiative while dancing, in part because this will combat sexism. Now read on.

Stuff I agree with:

In lindy, (most of?) the really good leaders can handle the follower initiating movements, and (most of?) the really good follows do so. You can tell this is true because there are so many videos of it on YouTube.

If you’re both into it, this can increase the fun, and is therefore a good thing.

The tradition that the man leads and the woman follows arose out of a sexist (and homophobic) culture.

Having the tradition enforced (whether by teachers or by the disapproval of other dancers) such that people feel they cannot choose to dance the non-traditional role limits fun and is therefore bad.

Stuff I’m not convinced there’s much reason to believe:

Everyone should be taught both roles from beginning of their dancing career (the premise of the Ambidanceterous blog).
Everyone should learn both roles.
(I mean these either for a categorical or hypothetical “should”, Kant fans, with the hypothetical being “if you want to be a good dancer”).

The mere fact that the traditional association between roles and sexes is still common today is a moral wrong that ought to be righted.

Stuff I disagree with:

There’s a moral duty for followers to take the initiative more and for leaders to learn to deal with that. This duty arises because:
1. The idea that follows should not initiate movements is sexist.
2. There’s a moral duty to eliminate anything which could be labelled “sexism”.

I disagree with 1 and 2 jointly and severally.

2 is the Internet-feminist deontology I mentioned. It’s usually either just asserted (as Brightly does) or advanced by deploying the worst argument in the world. As commenter Devonavar says, it’s not clear that there are bad consequences of having non-initiatory followers, so even if it is sexist, it’s not clear we should care, or at least, that we should care more than we care about other stuff, like having fun (we can reasonably assume that some people dance like that because they enjoy it).

1 is correctly challenged by commenter Josephine, who identifies the problem as the enforced association of roles with sexes. At most, the idea that followers should rarely initiate is indirectly sexist while the enforcement continues, but seeing as the enforcement does more harm, why not just work on that directly?

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Link blog: euthypro-dilemma, philosophy, Euthyphro, william-lane-craig

The Euthyphro Dilemma –
Nice survey of the arguments and counterarguments, in relation to William Lane Craig’s Moral Argument for the existence of God.
(tags: religion william-lane-craig euthypro-dilemma Euthyphro philosophy morality)
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Link blog: science, scientism, philosophy, scie

Interview: Russell Blackford on Atheism, Philosophy and Morality – Rational Hub Blogs
Longish (written) interview with the philosopher Russell Blackford. I enjoyed the bits about the supposed incompatibility between science and religion, and the stuff about moral error theory.
(tags: scientism science scie error-theory religion morality ethics philosophy russell-blackford)
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