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Pithy analysis

I read an article on Unherd by Tim Bale and was struck by what a great example of mainstream herd thinking it was. I quite like Unherd and subscribe, but it also has some very much in-the-herd stuff like this one.

But then in the comments I saw pithy analysis of Tim Bale’s views by ‘Mikey Mike‘…

The Devil’s Dictionary [a translator]

economic rationality – policy solutions that everyone except economists agree with.

let’s look, first, a little closer at the Conservative Party under Cameron – “would you like to impale a straw man” (sung to the melody from Frozen)

ethnocentric, not particularly well-educated, intensely patriotic voters – citizens who become dumb racists when they stop voting Labour

commit…to net zero – Assure the public that we’ll make it a lot more expensive for the working poor to heat their homes and drive their cars without the climate ever noticing the difference.

draconian policies – stuff that a slogan can dismantle before a paragraph can defend.

austerity – whenever the annual increase in spending drops below 10%

NHS – A wonderful system for treating the healthy

Perfect comment is perfect.

40 comments to Pithy analysis

  • Paul Marks

    The high government spending policies of Western governments are fine – if one believes that bankers creating-money-from-nothing (which is what finances these policies) is fine. As I do not believe that, I am outside the mainstream of Western economic thought.

    As for the National Health Service – the British government has spent years telling us that it is wonderful, that we should applaud it (literally). So they can not, politically, now turn round and complain about the vast amounts of money going into the NHS not producing better health outcomes. Of course the last couple of years has shown that the public-private partnership that is American health care (about half the money spent on health care in the United States comes from various layers of government, and this subsidy spending vastly inflates costs – just as tuition “loans” inflate tuition fees, and “private” medical care in the United States is also saturated with regulations which also massively inflate costs) has shown itself no better in dealing with Covid – indeed the death rate is higher in the United States.

    Not engaging in Early Treatment for Covid 19 (indeed the demented chant of TINET – there-is-no-early-treatment) has cost a vast number of lives – in both the United States and Britain. One can go down the ivermectin road (as, for example, the Dominican Republic and wide areas of India did), or one can go down the hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin and zinc road (Honduras and other countries). Or one can just chant TINET (there-is-no-early-treatment) at people, till they die. For some reason most advanced Western countries (including some that did not lockdown – such as Sweden) opted for door-number-three.

    On the origins of Covid 19 – an interesting example of international cooperation. Yes it was created in the Wuhan lab (People’s Republic of China), but the research was funded by Tony Fauci (American bureaucracy) and Peter Daszak (“Eco Health Alliance” and World Health Organisation) who is British.

    All working together to (no doubt accidently) provide another justification for the political agenda sometimes called Agenda 21, Agenda 2030, or just “Sustainable Development”. The accidental international games in Wuhan in very late 2019 also helped, accidently, spread the disease around the world.

  • Bruce

    Were not those “international games” in Wuhan “The World Military Games”?

    So, the first “bulk’ infections were among elite service personnel from around the world.

    What a coincidence!!

  • Nemesis

    Was looking for an opportunity to post a YouTube video I’ve just watched.
    https://youtu.be/jINoiYbfHK4
    An interview with Ralph Harris and Anthony Seldon on the ideas behind the IEA.
    It has few views and may appear a little dated but my first thoughts…
    Plus ca change….etc.

  • Sam Duncan

    “otgmccarthy1979uk” has a good one too:

    The “Tories” have been acting like the Socialists since 1990. Anyone who’s “surprised” by that must be a Professor of Politics.

  • APL

    Bruce: “So, the first “bulk’ infections were among elite service personnel from around the world.”

    Not only that, but the whole pandemic thing, we watched the disease ravaging fifteen cities in China, which burst onto our screens in late January 2020. But the disease had been in the Western population long before that and thus probably spread much more widely in the West than was the conventional ( lying media ) wisdom.

    What with Chinese students in every Western city, and all those competitors and spectatators and tourists at the World military games in October 2019. I speculated that COVID-19 was more widely spread through our population ( and thus natural immunity already well established ), speculation that was confirmed by various quaters.

    So, now we know, a sizeable fraction of the Population has already been exposed to COVID-19 by March/April 2020

  • John B

    The “Tories” have been acting like the Socialists since 1990. Anyone who’s “surprised” by that must be a Professor of Politics.

    They’ve been acting like Socialists since 1951 when they took over from Labour who had nationalised and socialised the economy, and subsequently went along with it and did nothing to de-socialist it.

    They could have strangled the hideous NHS and welfare state in its infancy.

    There was a modest reversal during the Thatcher years but the Cons (which is what they are) reverted to type once the Lady was ousted.

    Conservative policy both sides of the Atlantic is to outsocialist Socialists. The Socialists dish out the candy and promise more and alleged Conservatives haven’t the guts or gumption to take it back and explain their better alternative – buy your own candy by working to get it!

    That’s why voting doesn’t actually bring any change no matter who gets in.

  • bobby b

    If “something happened” and a government – ours or theirs – found that they had somehow unleashed a perhaps existentially-scary plague within their own country, it would surprise me if they didn’t then silently push to make sure the plague was globally distributed.

    Whether we did it here or China did it there, enfeebling your own superpower country cannot be allowed to happen lest the other superpowers decide they must take advantage and safely finish you off, or just take you over. As soon as authorities became terrified at what they were seeing – there was substantial evidence at the beginning (for a short time) that this could be the new Black Death – it was inevitable that MAD went into play and the sharing-trigger was pulled.

    But it is as likely that we did this as it is that China did it.

  • Sam Duncan

    True, John B, all true. “Managing socialism better than the socialists” and all that. But I think the modest hiatus during the Thatcher years renders “since 1990” fair enough.

  • Stonyground

    On the subject of herd immunity. If this illness has been endemic for eighteen months at the very least, would it be true to say that those of us who haven’t succumbed so far are by now highly unlikely to succumb at all? I know that new variants are constantly emerging, how different are they, and how different do they need to be to bypass someone’s already established defences?

  • staghounds

    “ethnocentric, not particularly well-educated, intensely patriotic voters – dumb racists who vote Labour

  • Paul Marks

    Yes indeed Bruce and APL – just a coincidence.

    Just as it was an accident that people were later not allowed to go to other Chinese cities from Wuhan – but the international airport remained open for some time and the happy residents of Wuhan were free (indeed actively encouraged) to go all over the world. Meanwhile the World Health Organisation and Tony Fauci said there was no threat to the United States and the rest of the world – till they suddenly changed their tune and started demanding “lockdowns” (designed to do as much HARM to the West as possible – another coincidence).

    There was lots of United Nations and Agenda 21 Agenda 2030 stuff at the games – Klaus Schwab (“The Great Reset” is a book of his – not a “conspiracy theory” as the media claim), was so happy. The last time I watched Dr Schwab (via the wonders of the internet) he was gushing over the sadistic dictator of the People’s Republic of China (who he was introducing to an on-line conference) – Dr Schwab was like a teenage girl with a crush on a Pop Star, it was strange to watch a mature man behaving that way.

    But then even Pope Francis is like this about the People’s Republic of China – the underground church of real Catholics in China has been betrayed (thanks to Cardinal McCarrick – almost certainly a Soviet agent-of-influence as far as the 1940s, as well as sexual predator targeting boys, when the Soviet Union fell he just looked around for a new master – as long as they were Satanically evil, he did not really care about anything else). Remember, the “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs) are what matters – and “you can not make omelette without breaking eggs”.

    The “omelette” is the totalitarian society that the international establishment dream of, and the “eggs” are people such as ourselves – we are to be destroyed.

    “Social Justice” in action.

  • Paul Marks

    Nemesis – I did not really know Arthur Selden, but I liked Lord Harris.

    Yes I am older than sin and twice as ugly.

  • Snorri Godhi

    John B:
    It is true that, starting in 1951, the Tories “could have strangled the hideous NHS and welfare state in its infancy.”

    But, i suspect, it is only theoretically true.
    Anybody is welcome to correcting me, but i suspect that the Tories would not have been elected if they had not accepted the welfare state. And once elected, it would have been a betrayal of the electorate (not to mention, a disaster for the Tories at the following election) to attempt to “strangle” the welfare state.

    And let’s not forget that the welfare state was (arguably) not the main problem with the Labour agenda: the main problem was the nationalization of industry. And of the Bank of England.

  • And let’s not forget that the welfare state was (arguably) not the main problem with the Labour agenda: the main problem was the nationalization of industry.

    In the short to medium run, nationalisation was indeed the most baleful thing about Labour policies (& Tories under Heath were no better). But in the long run, whilst denationalisation of industry was possible under Thatcher because it had manifestly failed, the welfare state is pretty much impossible to halt this side of a Mad Max style societal & economic collapse.

  • Michael Gillespie

    This is one of those times when I wish I had written down what I said and posted it somewhere for posterity. There is no reason for anyone here to believe the following, but it happened.
    In late February 2020 I was in Seattle; in early March, in San Francisco – in fact on the precise week when SFO locked itself down. When i returned to my then-home in Minnesota (hello, bobby b!), my wife and I discussed my adventures standing in the kitchen. I made the following observations.
    1) By the time COVID was officially “noticed”, it had likely been in circulation in the USA for months (I think I said October or November of 2019).
    2) That meant that LOTS more people had already been exposed to and contracted it with no noticeable increase in deaths.
    3) Which in turn meant that it was likely more transmissible and less lethal than we were being told.
    4) Any official statistics that failed to take those points into account were lies.

    It seemed blindingly obvious to me that the above were true statements. I think all of those points have been more or less proven true.

    I remain both perplexed and disgusted at just how manipulative and venal world governments have been on this subject.

  • Paul Marks

    “the welfare state is pretty much impossible to halt this side of a Max Max style societal and economic collapse”.

    So that is the next few years then Perry?

    I agree that it goes beyond economics – the CULTURE has been changed (deliberately undermined), the working class culture that Arthur Seldon and Ralph Harris (the English one) knew is gone – the culture of strong families, saving and mutual aid societies.

    How do people rebuild a culture once it has been so horribly undermined? Well “not like this”.

    However, I believe that humans are people – persons. I believe in Free Will (contrary to Hobbes, Hume and the rest), people can (with a great effort) use their reason and change their lives – in line with changing circumstances.

  • Snorri Godhi

    whilst denationalisation of industry was possible under Thatcher because it had manifestly failed, the welfare state is pretty much impossible to halt this side of a Mad Max style societal & economic collapse.

    “Pretty much” is perhaps a bit too strong, given how it is being trimmed back in some Nordic countries. But broadly speaking i agree. And Paul is also right that the problem is the change for the worse in culture.

    Leaving aside Paul’s obsession with Hobbes and Hume: the best that i can suggest to build back a culture of self-reliance is to encourage people to read John Locke and Algernon Sidney. And of course the Sagas of Icelanders.

  • Paul Marks

    Snorri, if humans are not persons (if we are just human shaped robots, as Hobbes and Hume taught) then what does it matter if we are enslaved or exterminated? It does not matter at all – if we are not people. That is why, sadly, Hayek undermined his own message – his philosophy (which he gets for Hobbes and Hume – and others) undermines his politics and economics – for if there are no persons (no human BEINGS) then politics and economics is utterly meaningless. But on the other hand…. in the late early 19th century very large numbers of people had their lives changed by following the words (and personal example) of John Wesley (and men like him).

    The Wesleyan Methodists (and others – for they were certainly not alone) were not just teaching that people could help in the Salvation of their souls – but were also teaching that people could turn their lives on this Earth around. Thrift, hard work, avoiding waste and vice – looking after their families and other people. In our age it is fashionable to mock all these things – but they are vital.

    Perhaps that can be done without religious faith, the Objectivist followers of Ayn Rand (who also believe that humans are beings – they believe in human personhood) believe that the the human population can turn their lives around without religious faith – but this remains to be seen in practice.

    The key point is that the Objectivists (the followers of Ayn Rand) do not deny the existence of human personhood (the soul – the “I”), they hold that the human person (the soul) dies with the body. A possibility raised by Alexander of Aphrodisias (the great Commentator on Aristotle) almost two thousand years ago.

    In the end – we just do not know.

  • Paul Marks

    Freedom does not matter if it does not (and can not) exist – if it is logically impossible. If all human actions are predetermined (if we can not CHOOSE to do other than we do), then there are no persons (no beings).

    The “freedom” of water to gush out when a damn is blown up is of no moral value – as the water does not CHOOSE to gush out, it can not choose NOT to gush out.

    Something Erasmus of Rotterdam tried to explain to Martin Luther.

    When Dr Luther said “here I stand, I can do no other” this might be supposed to be a brave statement of moral conscience – but it was nothing of the kind. Dr Luther denied that humans were capable of such a moral stand (i.e. that humans are beings), when he said “here I stand, I can do no other” he meant it literally – i.e. that he had made no choice to stand there and could make no choice not to stand there, so (properly speaking) there was no “I”.

    The denial of moral choice (of the very capacity for moral choice) was expressed in non philosophical language (“that whore reason” and so on), but it is clear enough in such works as the “Bondage of the Will”.

    Mr Hobbes takes this line of Dr Luther to its extreme conclusion – although Mr Hobbes still formally claimed to believe in God. Indeed some Calvinists (like some extreme Sunni followers of the Islamic faith) combine belief in God with Determinism. In this position – God is a being (i.e. has the capacity for real choice), but humans are not beings (have no capacity to choose to do other than they do).

    George Whitfield (the person who brought slavery to Georgia – overturning the founding documents of the colony) took this view. He spent much of his life preaching – which seemed inconsistent as his philosophy held that it was predetermined who would be saved and who would not be saved (Predestination – so why preach?) – however Mr Whitfield did have an answer against people who made this point.

    Simple – he (Mr Whitfield) was predestined to preach (he had no choice in the matter – or in any other matter). Philosophically very consistent. Of course this also meant that he had no choice about owning slaves (as he had no choice about anything) – so it must be part of God’s plan (so he had done nothing wrong).

    A serial killer could made the same argument. And I do not deny that it would be philosophically consistent.

    Does “Compatiblism” cast any light on these matters? No it does not – as it is a squalid fraud, Kant and William James may have been wrong about many things, but they were correct about that. These things, agency and determinism, are NOT “compatible”, they are patently not compatible (they are diametrically opposed concepts).

    Can one have Predestination without Determinism?

    Technically YES – as one could hold the position that God decides (on an arbitrary basis) who will be saved, regardless of what they do (thus leaving moral agency).

    In which case there could be many evil people in Heaven and many good people in Hell (however one defines Hell).

  • Paul Marks

    By the way – on the actual article of Professor Bale.

    I do not want to pay “Unherd” 90 pence (or anything) so I will just make a couple of points here.

    David Cameron and George (Gideon) Osborne never “balanced the books” or even came close to doing so. Professor Bale seems to have accepted a Public Relations campaign as a real roll back of the state – a roll back which did not happen.

    As for the general point about Conservative Party people having no principles – well it depends who you are talking about.

    The late Professor Greenleaf wrote on these matters in his “The British Political Tradition” (which sadly appears to be out of print – which shows that universities are not teaching from it, as the should), the section “The Libertarian Strand” (I think it was in the 2nd volume) is instructive.

    Some Conservative Party people have chosen (and kept to) limited government principles – and some Conservative Party people have not chosen these principles.

    I think it is now clear which camp Prime Minister Johnson belongs to.

  • Paul Marks

    I almost forgot….

    There is also a position that DEFINES moral good and moral bad (moral right and moral wrong) as simply “what God commands” and “what God forbids” – the former being moral right, the latter being moral wrong. So no need for moral reason at all – just a series of arbitrary commands DEFINING what moral good and moral bad are.

    I am really not interested in having a conversation with anyone who actually holds this position.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Paul: there is no point in discussing Hobbes and Hume with me, because i am not interested in what you have to say about them — actually i am not interested in what anybody has to say about them. I am not even much interested in what they have to say for themselves.

    But let me be clear on a few things.

    A. You should be really concerned about your obsession with “flesh robots”. Your way of thinking about free will and its relation to politics is grossly misguided.
    As a corollary, Hobbes and Hume have nothing to do with this thread.

    B. My understanding is that Hobbes had an extremely restricted view of “Freedome”, basically equivalent to the concept of ‘free fall’. In other words, according to Hobbes, stones could be just as free as humans.

    I believe (contrary to Quentin Skinner) that there is room, in fact there is a need, for several different concepts of freedom. (Including the concept of free fall.)

    B. Between Hobbes vs Bramhall, and Hume vs Reid, there was another debate in British philosophy about agency, or liberum arbitrium: it was between Samuel Clarke and Anthony Collins.

    Both Clarke and Collins seem to have had a better understanding of agency than Hobbes, Hume, or Reid. They understood that to make a free choice is to choose what one thinks best: not to choose randomly.

    I have never shoplifted. That does not make me less free than an occasional shoplifter.

    I have never smoked. That does not make me less free than an occasional smoker.

    C. For completeness, let me say that I broadly agree with what Hume wrote about “liberty and necessity”. But Hume did not really write about agency: he wrote about what people implicitly assume about other people’s agency.

    D. Finally, let me be provocative:
    Liberum arbitrium (agency) exists and makes us free.
    Libera voluntas (free will) also exists and is a mental illness.
    To choose, occasionally, what one does not think is best, is a mental illness.
    I admit to suffering from this illness; although, of course, most of the time i choose what i think is best.

  • Paul Marks

    We are objects – but we are also subjects, we are persons (beings). We can, with great effort, choose to do other than we do.

    That is the point of the distinction between a subject and just an object.

    Freedom of choice is not randomness – and nor is it predetermined by some sequence of prior causes and effects.

    Liberty (choice, agency – the “I”) is itself, it can not be reduced to some other thing or things.

    Efforts to “explain” it are efforts to explain-it-away.

    The human person (the soul) may die with the body – but that is not the same thing as personhood never existing.

    I do not mind whether which term is used, free will or agency, as they mean the same thing (trying to draw a distinction between the terms is an error) as for your claim that liberty is a “mental illness” – I disagree.

    This effort to try and “explain” liberty by saying that a person chooses what they think best and what they think is best is predetermined by prior causes and effects, is wrong.

    It is wrong, and it is also unfortunate. It is unfortunate because it is an in bad faith – an effort to explain-away liberty.

    I prefer an open enemy to a false friend. Better the open determinist, rather than the stab in the back from the compatibilist. The compatibilist being someone who claims to believe in agency – but then “explains” it, by saying that people choose what they think best and what they think best is predetermined by prior events (which is determinism in a smiley mask).

  • Paul Marks

    The human person (the “I”, the soul, free will, agency – whatever term is used) can not be reduced to something else. Our personhood (our freedom of choice) is not to be “explained” – i.e. explained away.

    I am well aware of the Behaviour Modification Teams (“Nudge Units”) that are employed by modern governments – and I also well aware of what should be done to such compatibilists.

    I do not deny their power (any more than I deny their evil) – but with great effort of mind, it can (at least sometimes) be resisted.

    The human person (the soul) does exist – although, yes, it may die with the body. We just do not know.

  • Paul Marks

    In political philosophy Thomas Hobbes and Rousseau are sometimes seen as opposites – but they are really much the same. They are much the same because the “Lawgiver” of Rousseau acts on what he (or she) holds to be the “General Will” – and this General Will is NOT what individual persons say they believe, it is what the Lawgiver holds they should believe (if they were following their true interests).

    Hence the “Lawgiver” of Rousseau (really Rousseau himself) is much the same as the “Sovereign” of Thomas Hobbes (who may be a ruling group – it need not be a King). Rousseau is Hobbes in a smiley mask. The smiley mask being the endless talk of “freedom” from Rousseau – which is insincere because he has redefined the term freedom (or liberty) to mean the absolute power of his Lawgiver.

    In reality Rousseau is an apologist for tyranny (just as Hobbes was openly “tyranny is but the name of sovereignty” and Hobbes was also fond of sucking out the traditional meaning of such terms as “law” and “justice” turning them into commands from the ruler or rulers), this is why the French Revolution turned out as it did – some of its IDEAS were false and bad because they were from Rousseau and others like him. The Revolutionaries could have chosen to break with this evil, and some did, but not enough passed that moral test.

    This is also the relationship between the open determinist and the compatibilist – the open determinist reduces humans to objects, thus exterminating any possibility of individual rights (for, to the open determinist, the concept of the individual PERSON is without real meaning) or natural justice – but exterminating it openly. The compatibilist proclaims belief in human agency, but then “explains” it away (as predetermined by prior causes and effects) – thus ending up at the same place as the open determinist (with the very concepts of individual rights or natural justice made into absurdities – exterminated).

    So just as Rousseau is Hobbes wearing a smiley face mask – so the compatibilist is the open determinist wearing a smiley face mask.

    As for David, Euthanasia of the Constitution, Hume – any effort to get the politics of the Bill of Rights from the philosophy of David Hume is an error. And, to be fair to Hume, he would have been amused by such an effort himself – as he, in his gentle and polite way, mocked such political principles.

    In short – when F.A. Hayek tries to keep the politics of the “Old Whigs” whilst getting rid of their philosophy (getting rid of human personhood – as he does near the start of such works as the Constitution of Liberty in 1960) he cuts the ground out from under his own feet.

    You can not keep the politics to the Old Whigs (such things as the Bill of Rights – British or American) and throw away their philosophy – throw away the human soul (free will, agency, the “I”, whatever you wish to call personhood).

    By the way….. changing the language to “natural justice” rather than “rights” does not help here. As there can only be justice in relation to persons – destroy personhood (as the determinist does openly and the compatibilist does indirectly) and natural justice goes as well.

    A person may have many bad desires (I most certainly do) – but a person can also RESIST these desires, if they are unjust. And we can tell moral good from moral evil (moral right from moral wrong) – whether we have that ability (the ability of moral reason) by accident or by the gift of God is another matter (which is above my pay grade).

    The difference between the just person and the unjust person is not that the former can tell moral right from moral wrong and the latter can not (they both can) – the difference between them is that in the struggle between good and evil within ourselves (a struggle all of us face every day – in large or small ways) the just person chooses to do what is morally right – no matter how much he suffers for that. We all fail (there are no perfect people), but we have to pick up ourselves up out of the dirt and get back into the struggle between good and evil that we all face (again in small ways if not in big ways) every-day-of-our-lives, in the agony of human freedom. And it often is agony – for the burden of responsibility (moral responsibility) is very great. But we can, with great effort, sometimes succeed in doing what is morally right.

    This is because the human person EXISTS – and can not be just reduced to some sequence of prior events.

  • Paul Marks

    Hat tip to the late Ralph Cudworth – the inventor of many terms that are still in use.

    Cudworth warned against chopping up human personhood into different things (will, reason….) as it was all really one thing – the human person (the soul).

    It really does not matter if you say “agency” or “free will” – if the term “free will” offends then-to-Hell-with-the-term. As long as it is understood that agency means freedom of choice – that choice is NOT predetermined. It must not be “explained” away with talk of how people choose what they believe to be best and what they believe to be best is explained by…

    It is not random – and it is not predetermined (it is choice – which is neither random nor predetermined) – . Agency (personhood) is itself – it is not to be reduced to some other thing or things.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    Going OT here.

    I’ve been wondering – regarding the nature of saving in economics, I’m beginning to think that the usual physical definition of stored inventory is hardly adequate. For example, you might have a bunch of metals stored up as ‘saving/investment’ for a rainy day, but without the technical knowledge to convert them into tools, they’re essentially quite useless.

    So why is it that I just cannot find any definition of saving/investment that takes into account the accumulation and dissemination of knowledge and skills by a population? Furthermore, wouldn’t this also affect inflation and deflation rates? E.g. a population losing its skills means that supply drops and prices rise, and vice versa.

    Anybody can point me in the right direction?

    Back on topic – The person/individual is so important. That’s why the leftoids are so intent on crushing it as a concept.

  • Paul Marks

    The Wobbly Guy – there is the concept of “human capital”, the knowledge and skills of people.

    Sadly Collectivists often abuse this concept as an excuse for more “investment” (they mean government spending) in education and training – which, in practice, turns out to be teaching children about Frankfurt School Marxist stuff such as “Critical Race Theory”, rather than teaching metal shop and so on.

    But any concept can be abused by the forces of evil (that is what they do). It does not mean that human knowledge and skills (and real education and training) are not important – you are correct Sir, they are of vital importance.

  • Paul Marks

    The central problem with the French Revolution was the lack of individual rights (or “individual justice” for those people who dislike the word “rights”) AGAINST “the people” (the Collective). This was due to the lack of the basis for this in the writings of Rousseau and others who influenced the Revolutionaries.

    Could they Revolutionaries have freed themselves from this evil influence? Yes they could have – with a great effort of moral reason (agency), and some did. However, not enough of them did – too many failed the moral test, and the result of that was disaster.

    Every person, every day of their life, faces (if only in small ways) the struggle between good and evil in themselves – and we all fail sometimes. I certainly fail – a lot.

    The role of the philosopher (indeed of anyone) is to remind people that they can, with great effort, defeat their evil impulses – at least sometimes. And, in this, the philosopher is himself (or herself) no different from anyone else.

  • Paul Marks

    It is not true that people do not know they are choosing to do evil – most of the time (although certainly not always) they (we) do know they are choosing evil.

    Sadly many of us sometimes choose evil (knowing it is evil), and we could (with effort) not choose evil – this is the basis of the Criminal Justice system and the Common Law (that people sometimes do evil things knowing they are evil and that they could, with effort, choose not to do these things) – and it is most certainly not a “mental illness”.

    This is why (for example) Thomas Hobbes hated justice and the Common Law (see, for example, his work “A dialogue between a Philosopher and a student of the Common Laws of England” – with Mr Hobbes clearly being “the philosopher” in the work) – indeed Thomas Hobbes tried to redefine the very words “justice” and “law” as simply commands of the ruler or rulers – he did that for this reason.

    It is astonishing (and horrible) that some self described liberals tried to push Mr Hobbes in the early 19th century (even doing such things as putting copies of his works in every library in the nation – but NOT copies of works refuting Mr Hobbes, by Ralph Cudworth and others). These “philosophical radicals” around the publication the “Westminster Review” also revered David Hume (supposedly his denial of human personhood was “the light of Hume” according to Mr J.S. Mill – see also the refutation of Mr Mill on this and other matters by James McCosh). These people were not just very different to the Old Whigs because of their (the Mills and so on) opposition to private landowners and private factory owners – they were the opposite of the Old Whigs on basic philosophical questions.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Paul:
    As usual, you refuse to engage in the arguments and take refuge in slogans.
    I am now convinced that you did not understand anything of what i wrote (or what Hume wrote, for that matter).
    The latest piece of evidence:

    as for your claim that liberty is a “mental illness” – I disagree.

    I did not say that liberty is a mental illness, i said that YOU call a mental illness “liberty”.

    And you keep talking about Hobbes and Hume without engaging with Clarke and Collins.

    And you keep ranting about “flesh robots” without knowledge of AI.

  • bobby b

    “Pithy” is kind of ironic here. 😉

  • Paul Marks

    Snorri – I was careful not to mention “flesh robots” in my last few comments, in order not to upset you. Nor have I written anything about Artificial Intelligence (AI) in this thread.

    If a robot can be built that has free will (moral agency – if you dislike the term “free will”, they-are-the-same-thing so it does not matter which term is used) – then yes that robot would be a person (although not a human person – not biologically human, but a person yes-indeed). It would be morally responsible for its actions – because, with moral effort, it could have chosen to do other than it did. It would have a “soul” in the Aristotelian sense, which need not mean the existence of God or life after death – those are quite different matters. The robot would then, yes indeed, have rights – or (if the term “rights” offends) would have a moral claim to individual justice – because it would be a being (a person), it would have a soul (be capable of moral agency).

    People sometimes choose evil, knowing that it is evil, and with moral effort they could have done other they did – that is the basis of criminal justice. It is this foundation (moral agency – the ability to choose to do other than we do) of criminal justice (and much else), that Determinists and “Compatibilists”, de facto, deny. Hence the implied claims that crime is a “mental illness” – and-so-on. Mostly crime is NOT a mental illness – it is a choice by people who are quite sane, and knew what they were doing was wrong. Again – people sometimes choose evil, knowing that it is evil, and they could (with moral effort) have done other than they did.

    We all face the choice between good and evil every day (if only in small ways) – and we struggle within ourselves. I have never claimed that moral agency is easy or that we always succeed in defeating the desire to do evil (in big ways – or in small ways), but it is possible. Yes, absolutely, we all fail many times (I have never denied that Snorri – I have certainly done much that is evil in my life, so have most people if not everyone), but we can, sometimes, do what is morally right.

    Again hat tip to the late Ralph Cudworth (the inventor of many terms still in use – for example “psychology”) – specifically his warning against chopping up the human mind (the human person) into different bits (“will”, “reason” and so on) – when they are really the same thing. Personhood (moral agency) can not be chopped up in this way, and it can not be reduced to something else – i.e. explained away.

  • Paul Marks

    Yes – if something (say a mass of mental and plastic) becomes someone (a person) a being with moral agency (free will), they do have a moral claim for individual justice. Because they have become an individual. They are no longer just an object – they have become a subject. They have moral responsibilities (they are morally responsible for their actions – because they had the moral agency to, with moral effort, do otherwise than they did), and they have moral rights.

  • Paul Marks

    Is it possible to give free will (moral agency) to a computer? To endow a computer with a soul – in the Aristotelian sense.

    I do not know – I have no idea. But I have certainly never denied the possibility of creating this “artificial intelligence” – a person made of metal (or whatever) rather than flesh and blood.

    The mind goes to the dangers of this – “Sky Net” and so on, but in the same film the “Terminator” also transcends programming, he (if it is correct to use the term “he”) disobeys a direct order of the young “John Connor” and engages in an act of heroic self sacrifice.

    To engage in this act – he showed he had a “self” to sacrifice (a reasoning moral “I” – which David Hume denied existed – and, tragically, so did F.A. Hayek) – this particular Terminator had become a person, had developed free will (moral agency) and it was not a mental illness – even though, yes, he destroys himself.

    The difference between “Sky Net” and this particular Terminator (this INDIVIDUAL) at the end of the first film is not that one had agency (free will) and the other did not – they both did. The difference between them is that one (Sky Net) choose evil, and the other (the Terminator at the end of the first film) choose good – at great cost.

    In a few days many of us will be standing at memorials to people (for this particular Terminator had become a person by the end of the first film) who made the same choice, to oppose evil at the cost of their own lives.

    They do not grow old, as we who are left grow old. Age does not weary them, or the years condemn. At the going down of the sun, we will remember them.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Paul: I appreciate the reasonableness of your last 3 replies to me, which is why i read them.
    (I did not read previous replies from you to me, in this thread, apart from the 1st paragraph.)

    However, i still do not see you engaging in debate on the issues that i raised, especially on this:

    Between Hobbes vs Bramhall, and Hume vs Reid, there was another debate in British philosophy about agency, or liberum arbitrium: it was between Samuel Clarke and Anthony Collins.

    Both Clarke and Collins seem to have had a better understanding of agency than Hobbes, Hume, or Reid. They understood that to make a free choice is to choose what one thinks best: not to choose randomly.

    I have never shoplifted. That does not make me less free than an occasional shoplifter.

    I have never smoked. That does not make me less free than an occasional smoker.

    If you insist on discussing Hume’s view of agency (which you do not understand anyway), instead of Clarke’s and Collins’, then i can only conclude that you did not understand what i wrote.

    (BTW: that is not to deny that Hume was a much greater genius than Clarke and Collins in meta-logic, epistemology, and meta-ethics. But not in the philosophy of agency. Between Thomas Aquinas and Newell & Simon, i am not aware of anybody who has understood agency as clearly as Clarke & Collins.)

  • Paul Marks

    Snorri you have a total right not to read what I have written – absolutely Sir.

    I do understand David Hume – it is you who do not. And you use the word “agency” whilst not understanding (or, at least, seeming not to understand) what this word means.

    However, as you are not reading what I am writing (and the things you did not read cost me a great deal of effort to write) – there is no point in me writing any more on this subject at this time. Good day to you Sir.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Paul, you are justifying me not reading what you write. Because you still ignore Clarke’s and Collins’ argument for compatibilism.

    And i have never seen you argue against Hume’s argument for compatibilism. Which just goes to show that you did not understand it; however much you might be under the illusion that you understand it.

    And btw i do not believe that you understand Thomas Reid, either.

  • Snorri Godhi

    BTW, Paul, let me explain where i come from.

    Almost exactly 10 years ago, i have come to the conclusion that my own mother cannot be trusted to understand what i say. Not because she is stupid: because she is utterly unable to pay attention to what people say.

    Pretty soon, i noticed the same pattern in other people on my mother’s side of the family.

    Now, if i do not trust my own mother to pay attention to what i say, do you wonder that i do not trust YOU to pay attention to what I say??
    (Or to what Hume said, for that matter; or even to what Reid said.)

  • Snorri Godhi

    PS: and if i do not trust you, Paul, to pay attention to what i say, then why on earth should i waste time paying attention to your replies????

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