Character-Based Voting Revisited Yet Again

Readers of this blog know of my obsession with the topic of character-based voting. Suppose that we accept some workable distinction between matters of character and matters of policy with respect to politicians and political candidates, each a potential consideration for or against their continued stay in office or their candidacy.* What role should judgments of character play? Is it ever justifiable to vote for or against a candidate (or support or remove a sitting candidate) on grounds of character abstracted from considerations of policy? Clearest version of the question: can a person’s moral character ever be bad enough to disqualify him or her from office independently of anything we know about their views on policy, or even in defiance of the knowledge that they have the “right” views on policy?

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The Life She Saved

I was cleaning out some computer files when I came across the folder from my old Felician University office laptop containing all (or most) of my student letters of recommendation. On a lark, I decided to look some of my former students up. Some might call this “stalking”; I call it Pedagogical Outcomes Analysis.

Here’s one of them, an RN-to-BSN student for whom I wrote a letter back in 2010, when she was applying for a position as a school nurse. I’m pleased to say that she got that position, and then some:

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The Ontology of Everyday Life (1)

Well, “everyday” for me. Yes, believe it or not, this is the first installment in yet another one of my series that never quite sees completion. I have no idea how, or if, this one ends, but it was inspired (or counter-inspired) by a footnote on the definition of “table” in Michael Huemer’s Ethical Intutionism (p. 280, footnote 6, keyed to text in chapter 8, around p. 201). Huemer is not responsible for my wholesale rejection of his views on this matter. But I’ll get to that disagreement in a future installment. This post is mere philosophical groundclearing for the construction of that forthcoming “promenade among the grandeurs of the mind.”*

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Those Riots in Jerusalem, Tho

It’s that time of year again: warm weather is back, so it’s time for rioting in Jerusalem–also time for American journalists to write the usual uninformative stuff designed to mislead their audiences without coming out and writing literal falsehoods. This piece in The New York Times about recent riots in Jerusalem is a case in point, as informative for what it doesn’t say, and for the questions it fails to ask, as for any information it conveys.

My aim here is not to pick it apart. I’m in Jersey rather than Jerusalem right now, so there’s no way for me literally to contest the claims it makes. Nor is there any particular reason to do so. But having watched American correspondents misrepresent the Al Aqsa riots of 2017 while I was there, and then misrepresent the January 2019 anti-Orban demonstrations in Budapest when I was there, I’ve at least come to develop a sense of what questions to ask of any American news item purporting to describe such an event.

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The ABC’s of Occupation Redux

Casually-asserted aside in an article on Israel’s vaccination program and its effect on the Palestinians:

The Palestine Authority governs the semiautonomous West Bank…

This is PBS, no less–Flat Earth political geography of a kind that makes no pretense of accuracy or even minimal coherence. How can a “semiautonomous” territory be governed at all? What does “semiautonomous” even mean? Is it a legitimate synonym for “under (military) occupation,” which is how the United Nations and most human rights organizations characterize the West Bank and Gaza? Doesn’t seem like it could be. No, what we’re dealing with is outright nonsense, doublespeak worth of Orwell’s 1984, but presented to the American public as uncontroversial fact, and as the basis of PBS’s reporting on the subject.

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Why They Wrote Such Good Books

I’ve just finished up my seminar (the teaching portion, not the grading portion – oh, not remotely the grading portion!) on Nietzsche and Modern Literature, where along with various readings from Nietzsche we also read works by Thomas Mann, André Gide, D. H. Lawrence, and Ayn Rand. I created an “audiovisual companion” website for the course to illustrate the various people, places, and works of art and music that are discussed by all five authors; and I’m posting the link to it here in case my broader readership is also interested.

As many of my readers are likely to have a particular interest in Rand, I’ll note that the pages where I discuss Rand are Weeks 9-14. See the four “horse tamer” statues that Rand describes at the beginning of Part II of We the Living! Hear the “John Gray” song (misidentified by Michael Berliner) that pervaded the streets of Kira’s Petrograd! See the theatres that Kira attended with Andrei, and the restaurant where they ate! Hear clips from the Kálmán operetta that inspired her, and the swingtime version of Wagner’s “Evening Star” that Gail Wynand suffered through during his late-night walk through the streets of New York! See the real-life models for Leo Kovalensky, Essie Twomey, Ellsworth Toohey, Lois Cook, Lancelot Clokey, Dominique Francon, Henry Cameron, Ralston Holcombe, and Austen Heller – as well as the real-life models for the buildings of Roark and Cameron, the coffee shop where Peter says goodbye to Katie, and much much more!

And check out similar sights and sounds for the works of Mann (Weeks 1-4), Gide (Weeks 4-5), Lawrence (Weeks 5-9), and of course Nietzsche (passim).

EVS Journal (3): Mr Clean and the Politics of Disinfection

From an article in yesterday’s New York Times, “U.S. Regulators Find More Flaws at Plant Where Doses Were Ruined”:

WASHINGTON — Federal regulators have found serious flaws at the Baltimore plant that had to throw out up to 15 million possibly contaminated doses of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine, casting doubt on further production in the United States of a vaccine that the government once viewed as essential in fighting the pandemic.

The regulators for the Food and Drug Administration said that the company manufacturing the vaccine, Emergent BioSolutions, may have contaminated additional doses at the plant. They said the company failed to fully investigate the contamination, while also finding fault with the plant’s disinfection practices, size and design, handling of raw materials and training of workers.

The F.D.A. has not yet certified the plant, in Baltimore’s Bayview neighborhood, and no doses made there have gone to the public. All the Johnson & Johnson shots that have been administered in the United States have come from overseas.

The report amounted to a harsh rebuke of Emergent, which had long played down setbacks at the factory, and added to problems for Johnson & Johnson, whose vaccine had been seen as a game changer because it requires only one shot, can be produced in mass volume and is easily stored.

Right, “harsh rebuke.” As someone who works in the field–health-care environmental services (EVS), tasked with cleaning and disinfecting health care-related spaces–let me let you in on a little trade secret. If every health-care related facility were put under fine-grained regulatory scrutiny of the kind described in this article, the shortcomings ascribed to this one plant would suddenly become forthcoming just about everywhere you looked.

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“The Fourth Amendment as a Core Text”

I just learned that a paper of mine was published a few months ago in an online-only format, “The Fourth Amendment as a Core Text: A Pedagogy for the Citizen-Philosopher,” in Liberal Arts Education and the World, ed. Patrick Flynn, Alfred Martin, and Anthony Wisniewski. I submitted it back in 2012 or 2013 (!), so while I still agree with it, it’s an early version of my views. My paper is at p. 139 of the manuscript, which is p. 152 of the PDF. Semi-timely, given the Derek Chauvin verdict.

Here’s a PDF of the whole volume, proceedings of a conference by the Association of Core Texts and Courses (ACTC). I’ve previously posted a version of it on the blog as well (haven’t compared them to see how they line up). To save time and money, ACTC seems to have dispensed with print publication of their proceedings, and gone to online PDFs instead.

Zombies Are Impossible

Nonphilosophical Zombies

No, not those zombies! They aren’t merely possible, they are actual, as you can see.

Rather, our topic today is philosophical zombies, beings that are physically identical to us but without conscious experience. Thus, a zombie version of yourself, for instance, would be atom-for-atom identical to you. It would share all of your behavioral dispositions: it would walk like you, talk like you, have the same tendencies to be angry, happy, or sad as you, report any information that you are able to report, and perform any tasks that you are able to perform. It would also remember everything that you can remember, know everything that you know, and it would have all the same politics and cultural attitudes and biases as you. At least, it would do all these things as near as we could tell. It would be behaviorally and neurophysiologically identical to you. There would be no way for another person to tell that your zombie twin was not you merely by comparing you with it, no matter what tests he might arrange. Nevertheless, your zombie twin would not be the same as you, because it would not have consciousness. That is, it would not have subjective experience. In the phrase widely adopted from Thomas Nagel’s well-known essay, “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?”, there would be nothing it is like to be your zombie twin.

Philosophical zombies are a way to make vivid an old philosophical argument, going back at least to Descartes, known as the Conceivability Argument. In the present version, the idea is that it is conceivable that the world could be just as it is physically down to the last elementary particle, but without conscious experience. That is, we could have had the Big Bang and the evolution of the universe just as it is, including the evolution of life on earth and the human species, and physically everything would be just as it is today, including all of us having discussions just like this one, although none of us nor any other beings have conscious experience. By conceivable, I mean there is no contradiction in this scenario and no reason that science can discover, whether physical, psychological, or otherwise, why it could not have happened. If this scenario is conceivable, then it seems we must conclude that consciousness is epiphenomenal: it is nonphysical, it cannot be explained by the physical, and its presence or absence makes no difference to the causal, functional, or physical order of nature.

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Virtual Molinari Society Panel on Rights: The Reboot


This coming Monday, April 5th, the Molinari Society will be holding its mostly-annual Pacific Symposium in conjunction with the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association via Zoom (5-10 April).

This panel has some overlap, both in personnel and in content, with the one we did in January for the Eastern APA, but it’s not identical.

Only those who cough up the hefty registration fee will be able to access the session, so no chance of free-riding this time around (the APA’s decision, definitely not ours; the APA is both pragmatically and morally confused about the costs and benefits of allowing free-riding at its conferences, but that’s another story). But there’s a substantial student discount, verb. sap. Anyway, here’s the schedule info:

Molinari Society symposium:
Radical Rights Theory

G2A. Monday, 5 April 2021, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Pacific time

chair:
Roderick T. Long (Auburn University)

presenters:
Jesse Spafford (The Graduate Center, CUNY), “You Own Yourself and Nothing Else: A Radical Left-Libertarian Solution to the Self-Ownership Thesis’ Pollution Problem
Jason Lee Byas (University of Michigan), “Stolen Bikes & Broken Bones: Restitution as Defense
Zachary Woodman (Western Michigan University), “Extended Cognition as Property Acquisition
Gary Chartier (La Sierra University), “Natural Law and Socioeconomic Rights
Cory Massimino (Center for a Stateless Society), “Two Cheers for Rothbardianism
Roderick T. Long (Auburn University), “How to Have Your No-Proviso Lockeanism and Eat It Too

See the full schedule here.

I’ll be chairing the panel from the road, so let’s hope my motel’s wifi is up to the challenge. Still, can’t be worse than the Eastern session, when my power actually went out in the middle of it.