H.L.A. Hart’s “The Concept of Law” (1)

As I mentioned in the preceding post, the MTSP discussion has moved from discussing George Sher’s Desert (my choice) to HLA Hart’s The Concept of Law (Roderick’s). Since I’m not even close to done summarizing and commenting on Sher, I’m obviously not going to commit to writing a series of essays on Hart. But I don’t want our discussions to disappear into the Zoom void, either, so I thought I’d just mention some of the themes of the discussion, using this post as a placeholder for any further discussion that might take place (whether among the Zoom discussants or anyone else who wants to join in).

At Roderick’s suggestion, we read the first two chapters of The Concept of Law–the first on “persistent questions” that arise in defining the concept of “law,” the second on “laws, commands, and orders.” Unfortunately, each one of us had a different edition of the book, which made “citation” difficult, but for this post, I’ll be using the Second Edition. As I see it, three basic issues came up. Continue reading

Retributivism, Its Discontents, and Some Malcontents

Chapter 5 of Sher’s Desert, “Deserved Punishment,” is a desert-based defense of retributive punishment intended to defend the claim that “persons who have acted wrongly…deserve to be punished.”

All of the participants in our Zoom discussion agreed that this was the weakest of the five chapters we’ve read so far, and all of us (I think) agreed that Sher’s argument failed to establish its intended conclusion.  But as half of the group consisted of retributivists, and the other half of anti-retributivists, we ended up disagreeing about the exact nature of the failure, and then ended up disagreeing with one another about punishment itself. The retributivist-friendly participants were apt to say that Sher failed to establish a claim that happens to be true, or at least plausible; the anti-retributivists were apt to say that it was no surprise that he failed to establish a claim that happens to be unmotivated and false. We then ended up disagreeing about how to define retributivism, and about the plausibility of the motivation behind retributivism, however understood. The two camps divided in predictable ways.

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Liberty Isn’t Free

This is to think, that men are so foolish, that they take care to avoid what mischiefs may be done them by pole-cats, or foxes; but are content, nay, think it safety, to be devoured by lions.

Locke, Second Treatise, para. 93. 

A case from Ohio making the rounds:

Cops Arrest Mom Working Evening Shift at Pizza Place for Leaving Kids, Ages 10 and 2, Alone

An Ohio mom has been arrested for leaving her kids, a 10-year-old and a 2-year-old, in a motel room while she worked her shift at a pizza shop.

A tip to the police led officers to a Motel Six in Youngstown at about 6:15 p.m. on Thursday night. The 10-year-old explained that her mom was working and would be home at 10:00 p.m.

The officers went to the pizza shop where the mom, Shaina Bell, 24, told them she usually has someone look in on the kids every hour. She was booked into jail on two counts of child endangerment and the kids were sent to their father. She got out on bail.

There may be more to the story, but as reported, this is a sad excuse for law enforcement. Continue reading

Solidarity with Nathan Jun

The following is an open letter by Professor Nathan Jun, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Midwestern State University Texas (ht: Roderick Long). Please distribute widely. 

Dear Comrades:

As many if not most of you are already aware, I was subjected to an intense campaign of doxing, harassment, threats, and vandalism this past summer owing to comments I had posted on social media in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. Although this campaign had waned significantly by August, it has since resumed with a vengeance this past week following a speech I delivered at a campus rally for Breonna Taylor on Thursday, 24 September. Within 24 hours of that event I had already received several death threats. The situation quickly escalated after fascists (acting in concert with local media) disseminated a comment I posted on a friend’s Facebook page.

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Mask Up or Drop Dead

Some readers may remember the dispute I had here back in April with Jason Brennan and Phil Magness over the use of lethal force to enforce social distancing orders. The issue was: are there any circumstances such that lethal force would be justified in enforcing such orders?

I said yes: if someone refuses compliance, and then not only resists an order to comply, but escalates resistance to the point of serious physical danger to others, it can be justifiable to shoot them dead. I say “shoot them dead” because under the rules of engagement that apply in police work, every shot is intended to be a kill shot: if an officer draws a weapon, it’s understood she had no choice but to do so; if she fires, she aims at the subject’s torso, which is the largest and most easily-hit target; and given the nature of standard police firearms, and the likelihood that the officer will fire more than once, the subject’s death is highly likely, whether literally intended or not. Continue reading

The Bullets and the Battle: A Dialogue

Imagine a person A who confronts a complete stranger, B, and shoots B out of pure malice. A now encounters C and gets ready to shoot her from the same motivation, but is prevented by D, a police officer, who shoots A before A can shoot C.

Who has initiated force in this scenario, and who has engaged in retaliatory force? It’s an interesting question. Walking through a neighborhood park, I overheard a discussion on the subject, carried on by two interlocutors, Simpleton and Overthinker. Continue reading

Bloomberg on “Stop and Frisk”: (Part 2 of 2)

I wrote this post back when Michael Bloomberg was still a presidential candidate. He dropped out of the presidential race on March 4. Soon after that, the pandemic struck. Consumed in the latter issue, I forgot that I’d written the second half of my “Bloomberg on Stop and Frisk” series. In some ways it’s dated, but in other ways not, so for whatever it’s worth, I’ve decided to run it now, six months after the fact. Sue me. 

In my last post on this topic, I distinguished between two different senses of “stop and frisk,” ordinary and Bloombergian, and argued that the distinction between them matters to our assessment of Michael Bloomberg as presidential candidate. On the one hand, it makes no sense to attack Bloomberg for his support of ordinary stop and frisk. To attack ordinary stop-and-frisk is to attack police work as such. On the other hand, it makes perfect sense to attack him for the specific version of it that prevailed when he was mayor of New York City. To attack Bloombergian stop and frisk is to attack a perversion of the real thing. Continue reading

Bloomberg on “Stop and Frisk” (Part 1 of 2)

I can’t stand Michael Bloomberg. I don’t intend to vote for him, and regard his entry into the presidential race as a net loss for liberty and justice. That said, I also think that some of what’s been said in criticism of him is confused, and in some cases downright childish. Unfortunately, this is particularly true of the policy that most obviously redounds to Bloomberg’s discredit: stop and frisk. If we’re going to nail Bloomberg on stop and frisk, we need to get the issue right, or at least avoid getting it wrong. But “we” haven’t. Continue reading

Colleagues, Tramps, and Thieves

A colleague of mine went to India over Christmas break, and gifted me a box of Indian sweets–laddu, barfi, and the like. I gluttonously consumed two-thirds of the box a few minutes after receiving the gift. I then put the box in the fridge of our faculty lounge, thinking I’d eat the rest the next day. I open the fridge just now, and it’s gone. And no, it can’t be a mistake. So yeah, it was stolen–as in theft, larceny, crime. It was in a distinctive gift box, and was virtually the only thing in the fridge. And it had to have been stolen by a faculty member, because the door to the lounge has a combination lock known (or presumably known) only to faculty. I guess Maintenance has access as well, but I simply don’t believe Maintenance would do something like this.

What manner of depravity is this? What kind of colleagues would steal a gift out of the faculty lounge–at a Franciscan school? Is nothing sacred?

MLK: “Believe Women,” Rape, and the Worst-Case Scenario

Yesterday, I wrote a post arguing that the supposedly woke slogan “Believe Women” has some odd implications for the recent Sanders-Warren controversy. It implies that we should believe Elizabeth Warren’s accusation that Sanders is a sexist, or at least presume his guilt until he can conclusively prove his innocence. Because I take this consequence to be a reductio, I take “Believe Women” to be an absurdity. Put charitably, the original, unqualified version of the slogan has to be modified. Put uncharitably, it has to be rejected. To split the difference, it requires a bit of both. Continue reading