‘S’ is for Slander

Below the fold, I’ve reproduced (with permission) the text of a letter regarding the P Is for Palestine controversy by Michael Lesher of Passaic, New Jersey, addressed to the Trustees and Director of the Highland Park Public Library, in Highland Park, New Jersey. More on the controversy from Jewish Link of New Jersey: Rochelle Kipnis (May 9), Elizabeth Kratz (May 17). From the Newark Star Ledger: Rachel Kleinman (May 9). From ABC News. From Fox News.

The library will be holding a public meeting on Wednesday, June 5th at 7:30 pm to discuss the matter. Continue reading

The Premature Demonization of Scot Peterson Revisited

The Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting, aka the Parkland shooting, took place on February 14, 2018. At the time, I wrote four blog posts posing unanswered questions about the shooting, questions that (it seemed to me) weren’t being asked or answered by press reporting at the time. Here are the first, third, and fourth. I could well have written another four, but lost track of the issue for lack of time and initiative.

The second of those posts was on what I called the “premature demonization of Scot Peterson.” Peterson, you’ll recall, was the police officer assigned to the high school as security (the “SRO,” or School Resource Officer), and accused of “cowardice” for his “failure” to enter the building where the shooting was taking place. In my original post on the subject, I raised questions about the appropriateness of both of these judgments. It wasn’t obvious, at least from the facts reported at the time, that Peterson had “failed” at anything, nor was it clear that he was guilty of “cowardice.” Continue reading

Pedagogical Failures

A dialogue, paraphrased from reality:

Me: Ok, so we agree that this character was in part causally responsible for the death. But should we think that he bears some moral responsibility, too? Isn’t he in part to blame for it?

Student 1: Wait, what do we mean by ‘morally responsible’?

Me: I intended it as equivalent to blameworthy, at least in this context; maybe if he were morally responsible for a good thing, he’d be praiseworthy, so they’re not equivalent, but they come to the same in this case. But maybe we should distinguish them?

Student 2: Well, wait, I don’t think it makes sense to think of ‘responsibility’ as anything other than that. Like, to be responsible is to be morally responsible. It’s weird and confusing to say that someone is responsible when they just helped cause a thing but can’t be blamed for it.

Me: Ok, what if we describe him instead as a ‘causal contributor’? Can we agree that being a causal contributor might or might not be necessary for being morally responsible or blameworthy, but it isn’t sufficient?

Student 2: Yeah, I just think it’s weird to talk about ‘causal responsibility.’

Me: I think I agree with you; it’s a bit odd to call it a kind of responsibility when you aren’t really answerable for the outcome because you can’t be blamed for it.

Student 2: Well then why did you write the term ‘morally responsible’ on the board? Phhbbbbt.

Me: Oh, because that’s the terminology that people often use in philosophical and legal contexts.

Student 2: Hrmp. That’s stupid.

I’m not sure my students understand that part of what I try to do with them is help them understand the language and concepts that educated people actually use. Come to think of it, I’m not sure Student 2 thinks of her participation in class as aimed at learning anything. Nor am I at all sure that she differs wildly from her classmates in this respect.

But hey, at least sometimes we talk seriously about serious things, occasionally even the things I have assigned for them to read.


The following is an attempt at pulling the “disagreement” thread (as against the “respect for conscience” thread) of political liberalism.  And doing so at what I take to be a general, fundamental starting point. Let’s see what I’ve got!

(I) When a group of people are trying to come to a collective decision together, they often aim, not at making the objectively (or rationally) best decision but rather at making the objectively (or rationally) best decision that is also acceptable to all (except those who are wicked or foolish in a way that is relevant to the decision at hand, acceptability thus being qualified acceptability or acceptability for qualified individuals).  In this way, we often aim not at what is (objectively or rationally) best but rather at what is “consensus-best.” Continue reading

See Something, Swat Someone

Robert Anzilotti is, as far as I can tell, a good man and an honorable cop. Not that I claim to know him that well: I’ve only met him three times in recent memory. Once was when I visited the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office at the invitation of his boss, Gurbir Grewal. A second time was when he came to visit Felician University with that same boss. And a third time was when he interrogated me in the back room of the Lodi Police Station on suspicion of planning to engage in mass murder. That time, if memory serves, he locked me in a room and left me there for a couple of hours before he let me out, something that hadn’t happened to me since I was about eight years old. Continue reading

“Philosophical Vices,” A Discussion Continued

This is a contribution to the exchange David Riesbeck, Stephen Boydstun, and I are having below about the excerpt David posted from Alasdair MacIntyre’s essay, “Philosophy Recalled to Its Tasks: A Thomistic Reading of Fides et Ratio,” in Alasdair MacIntyre, The Tasks of Philosophy, Selected Essays, Vol. 1. My response to David was too long for the combox (and too hard to edit there), so I’ve pasted it here. The block quotes are all from David. “You” refers to David. The post is probably not intelligible unless you’ve read the rest of the exchange.

I take the essential issue to be this: the claim of MacIntyre’s that we’re disputing is implicitly (but obviously) a criticism of liberalism as a culture, and implicitly (though less obviously) a comparative claim about liberalisms merits relative to some unspecified ideal. But every element of this procedure, and thus of the claim itself, is objectionably tendentious, polemical, and under-argued. He doesn’t specify the target of the criticism at all, much less specify it with the degree of precision that his criticism requires. He doesn’t specify in conceptual terms what it would mean for something to be a culture of questioning. He gives no examples in this essay of what he means by a culture of questioning, and contrary to what you’ve said in defense of him, he gives no relevant examples in anything of his that I’ve read of such a culture. (I haven’t read everything MacIntyre has ever written, but I’ve read at least a thousand pages of his work, so admittedly I’m generalizing across what I have read, not every last word he’s ever written or uttered.) Continue reading