Wednesday, April 23, 2008


All right, you drove me to read the Wikipedia article on Vatican II … which is absolutely as far as I shall go at looking into this dismal subject.
Oh, that settles that, then.

Monday, April 21, 2008

John Derbyshire Stupidity Watch

John Derbyshire is really starting to piss me off. Maybe someone should teach him about Scholasticism. Oh, right, he's admitted he can't understand philosophy.

I wish people who didn't understand things, and admitted as much, would shut up about those things.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

What Garbage

Yeah, I'll go back to isolation after this.

When a fellow student at Rutgers University urged Didi Onejeme to try Philosophy 101 two years ago, Ms. Onejeme, who was a pre-med sophomore, dismissed it as “frou-frou.”
Well, Philosophy 101 is probably a waste of time anywhere. I myself changed my major to philosophy only after a 200-level course on Greek and medieval philosophy. So, way to be right, future doctor!
“People sitting under trees and talking about stupid stuff — I mean, who cares?” Ms. Onejeme recalled thinking at the time.
Sitting under trees? ...what?
But Ms. Onejeme, now a senior applying to law school, ended up changing her major to philosophy, which she thinks has armed her with the skills to be successful.
Oh, fantastic - another law student. We don't have enough of those. And hey, the first instance of a recurring theme in this article - that philosophy is useful not in itself, but as a tool to getting the nifty job (usually legal) you want. Knowledge? Nah. Cash? Hell yes.
“My mother was like, what are you going to do with that?” said Ms. Onejeme, 22. “She wanted me to be a pharmacy major, but I persuaded her with my argumentative skills.”
What the flying fuck is this all about?! Your mother has no idea that people with useless humanities majors inevitably go to law school and make more than the fools who bothered to get a real education in a real field? Argumentative skills nothing; you just showed her comparative salaries for pharmacists and the lawyers who sue pharmaceutical companies dry. Case closed, as we say!
Once scoffed at as a luxury major, philosophy is being embraced at Rutgers and other universities by a new generation of college students who are drawing modern-day lessons from the age-old discipline as they try to make sense of their world, from the morality of the war in Iraq to the latest political scandal.
Philosophy was onced scoffed at, but now, just mention you're a philosophy major and people will throw palm branches at your feet. I really love (love is hate here) how philosophy is just an excuse to seem high-minded when engaging in despicable political rhetoric. I can guarantee that some stupid college morons who opposed the Iraq war wanted to feel like they were being good Socratic beings by living the same life they intended to live anyway. Unexamined, even!

Oh, and philosophy has so much to do with political scandal. Did you know what Kant said about Eliot Spitzer? Oh, right, he died 204 years ago. My bad.
The economic downturn has done little, if anything, to dampen this enthusiasm among students, who say that what they learn in class can translate into practical skills and careers. On many campuses, debate over modern issues like war and technology is emphasized over the study of classic ancient texts.
This must be post-dated to when that downturn finally occurs. Anyway, when your parents and the taxpayers foot the bill for your education, you don't really let anything like getting a real job dampen your enthusiasm for whatever mental masturbation you feel like engaging in, like trying to squeeze the square peg of the War on Terror into the round hole of classical philosophy. Keep reaching for that rainbow!
Rutgers, which has long had a top-ranked philosophy department, is one of a number of universities where the number of undergraduate philosophy majors is ballooning; there are 100 in this year’s graduating class, up from 50 in 2002, even as overall enrollment on the main campus has declined by 4 percent.
So what have these 100 solipsists done with themselves?
At the City University of New York, where enrollment is up 18 percent over the past six years, there are 322 philosophy majors, a 51 percent increase since 2002.
Same question.
“If I were to start again as an undergraduate, I would major in philosophy,” said Matthew Goldstein, the CUNY chancellor, who majored in mathematics and statistics.
I was thinking the opposite, actually - major in math, take a bunch of electives in philosophy. Whatever; it's too late now.
“I think that subject is really at the core of just about everything we do. If you study humanities or political systems or sciences in general, philosophy is really the mother ship from which all of these disciplines grow.”
It is at the core of everything we do. But things don't grow from mother ships. Ships aren't animals, Matt.
Nationwide, there are more colleges offering undergraduate philosophy programs today than a decade ago (817, up from 765), according to the College Board.
All to the wonderful end of...(and now you fill in the blank with a practical benefit)
Some schools with established programs like Texas A&M, Notre Dame, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, now have twice as many philosophy majors as they did in the 1990s.
Awesome; of course, now everyone in the world has to go to college, even illiterates, so that's not so impressive. Still, philosophy! Woo!
David E. Schrader, executive director of the American Philosophical Association, a professional organization with 11,000 members, said that in an era in which people change careers frequently, philosophy makes sense.
Philosophy makes sense in any possible world. Does it make special sense in this one?
“It’s a major that helps them become quick learners and gives them strong skills in writing, analysis and critical thinking,” he said.
People have too much faith in the ability of education to make thinkers out of idiots, and not just to make thinkers out of thinkers.
Mr. Schrader, an adjunct professor at the University of Delaware, said that the demand for philosophy courses had outpaced the resources at some colleges, where students are often turned away.
Some are enrolling in online courses instead, he said, describing it as “really very strange.”
Some people just had to bite the bullet and sign up for courses where they would never have to get out of bed or really bother with work. Man, the sacrifices some people will make for philosophy.
“The discipline as we see it from the time of Socrates starts with people face to face, putting their positions on the table,” he said.
What about the discipline as we see it from the time of Thales? Whoops; didn't study the Presocratics? Oh well.
The Rutgers philosophy department is relatively large, with 27 professors, 60 graduate students, and more than 30 undergraduate offerings each semester.
Of which like 25 are probably total bunk.
For those who cannot get enough of their Descartes in class, there is the Wednesday night philosophy club, where, last week, 11 students debated the metaphysics behind the movie “The Matrix” for more than an hour.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaand the other shoe drops with a resounding THUD.

This is what is getting people into philosophy and getting The New York Times excited enough to write this stupid article. A bunch of people whose philosophical ambition far outstrips their ability are getting together to try to take The Matrix (italics, you fools - no wonder you're bleeding readers) seriously as philosophy. This is it. Descartes, not exactly Hegelian in his difficulty, is being processed through the filter of Neo. How juvenile.
An undergraduate philosophy journal started this semester has drawn 36 submissions — about half from Rutgers students — on musings like “Is the extinction of a species always a bad thing?”
"Is evolution bad?" Rutgers students debate it, tonight at ten!
Barry Loewer, the department chairman, said that Rutgers started building its philosophy program in the late 1980s, when the field was branching into new research areas like cognitive science and becoming more interdisciplinary.
"Interdisciplinary" meaning "philosophy is hard so we decided to dilute it with other stuff and to try to bolster our flimsy theories with evidence from the sciences." Nice try. Now hit the books.
He said that many students have double-majored in philosophy and, say, psychology or economics, in recent years, and go on to become doctors, lawyers, writers, investment bankers and even commodities traders.
Imagine what useless investment bankers these people would be without reading Being and Time.
As the approach has changed, philosophy has attracted students with little interest in contemplating the classical texts, or what is known as armchair philosophy.
I could have sworn that philosophy was done under trees, or something. I guess it's back to the armchairs. To contemplate classical texts.
Some, like Ms. Onejeme, the pre-med-student-turned-philosopher, who is double majoring in political science, see it as a pre-law track because it emphasizes the verbal and logic skills prized by law schools — something the Rutgers department encourages by pointing out that their majors score high on the LSAT.
Several organizations offer preparation courses on the LSAT that could avoid all this philosophizing nonsense, if your goal is just to get into law school and not actually seek out truth. Thanks for pissing on my major. PS: law schools value Bluebooking skills and memorization more than logic. Have fun with that.
Other students said that studying philosophy, with its emphasis on the big questions and alternative points of view, provided good training for looking at larger societal questions, like globalization and technology.
Looking at alternative points of view is not good in itself. It's good in that it excludes nothing that might lead to truth. But whatever; let's use philosophy to seem smart when we talk about Pepsi.
“All of these things make the world a smaller place and force us to look beyond the bubble we grow up in,” said Christine Bullman, 20, a junior, who said art majors and others routinely took philosophy classes.
I'm just sure you've left that bubble and have actually examined other views. Like, what do you think about Nozick? Oh, you never read him? You just read Marx and 1500 commentators on Marx? Way to expand that mind.
“I think philosophy is a good base to look at a lot of issues.”
If those issues are philosophical, then it's not a base, it's the subject matter. If they aren't, then why are you doing philosophy when you should just be doing your differential equations?
Frances Egan, a Rutgers philosophy professor who advises undergraduates, said that as it has become harder for students to predict what specialties might be in demand in an uncertain economy, some may be more apt to choose their major based simply on what they find interesting.
Is the economy uncertain or in a downturn? Too bad there's no field of study where you could take a logic course that would reveal the stupid contradiction there.
“Philosophy is a lot of fun,” said Professor Egan, who graduated with a philosophy degree in the tough economic times of the 1970s.
Sex is fun. Binge drinking is fun. Why should one pay $120,000 to have some fun which does not involve naked women and beer?
“A lot of students are in it because they find it intellectually rewarding.”
Because it makes them feel smart or because they are getting closer to the truth? Be careful; one of these answers is right and one is wrong.
Max Bialek, 22, was majoring in math until his senior year, when he discovered philosophy.
He was shy at first, but philosophy was gentle with him and hugged him afterward as he sobbed into its shoulder.
He decided to stay an extra year to complete the major (his parents needed reassurance, he said, but were supportive).
"They forked over the dough."
“I thought: Why weren’t all my other classes like that one?” he said, explaining that philosophy had taught him a way of studying that could be applied to any subject and enriched his life in unexpected ways.
Because the other classes are not philosophy. Did you really finish that major?
“You can talk about almost anything as long as you do it well.”
Jenna Schaal-O’Connor, a 20-year-old sophomore who is majoring in cognitive science and linguistics, said philosophy had other perks.
What an absurd name. "Jenna" indeed.
She said she found many male philosophy majors interesting and sensitive.
They were not fans of the ladies.
“That whole deep existential torment,” she said. “It’s good for getting girlfriends.”
Sartre got lots of tail.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

"Dalí and Picasso. No one else."

To ease Vernunft's heavy burden for a day, I'll link to this April 1958 Mike Wallace interview of Salvador Dalí. Wallace tries to be a serious interviewer, but Dalí was far too accomplished at being studiously nonsensical to let the interview be anything other than a piece of surrealist art. Dalí is surprisingly candid during parts, but Wallace seems unable to differentiate Dalí's serious claims from his jokes and obfuscations. Although a bit lengthy, it's certainly worth watching if you wish to see Dalí in action, or simply wish to see Mike Wallace repeatedly endorse Parliament Cigarettes.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Finals - Eternal Return

So, finals are approaching, and as spotty as content has been, it will only get worse for the next few weeks. Fair warning. Hey, other guys - write stuff. Or don't.

Anyone with legal work for the summer can call me.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Absolut-ly Stupid

All right, so, there's this Absolut ad that everyone is talking about.



First, I think the shareholders of Absolut (or whatever the parent corporation is, don't make me look up the relationships) should be scared to death of this ad. What Absolut is saying, essentially, is that in its ideal world, tequila would be king of the liquor world. It's a trademark's suicide note we are reading, folks!

Second, the, uh, redistricting plan offered by Absolut here seems a perfect solution to the growing problem of the growing Ninth Circuit. Let Mexico deal with asinine judges who can't follow the law! Our Supreme Court can then go about its business deciding hard cases instead of constantly having to overturn, unanimously, the legal conceits of a bloated body of wannabe Platonic Guardians.

Third, do you know what Absolut said?
In no way was this meant to offend or disparage, nor does it advocate an altering of borders, nor does it lend support to any anti-American sentiment, nor does it reflect immigration issues.
Oh, ok. How is that rock you are under is it comfy please reply.

Fourth, it's spelled "absolute," you fools. Misspellings do not equal automatic awesome sauce. See Zatarian's, Inc. v. Oak Grove Smokehouse, Inc., 698 F.2d 786 (5th Cir. 1983) (noting that, indeed, "Absolut" is a dumbass name for a vodka).

Friday, April 04, 2008, Panpsychism

Apparently, Strawson agrees with something I've been saying for a while now:
The third of Strawson’s leading theses is a good deal more tendentious than the first two; namely, that emergence isn’t possible. ‘For any feature Y of anything that is correctly considered to be emergent from X, there must be something about X and X alone in virtue of which Y emerges, and which is sufficient for Y.’ But Strawson holds that there isn’t anything about matter in virtue of which conscious experience could arise from it; or that if there is, we have literally no idea what it could be. In particular, we can’t imagine any way of arranging small bits of unconscious stuff that would result in the consciousness of the larger bits of stuff of which they are the constituents.
Yep. This is the problem with epiphenomenalism: it tries to have it both ways. That is, it takes as given that matter is the only thing that exists, but it also agrees that the mind is separate from the body. It's no less magical than Cartesian dualism, really, because, while accepting that an individual atom has precisely no consciousness on its own, it fervently claims that a large collection of atoms can be conscious, but only as a collection, not if broken down individually again. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, you see. Well, I don't see at all. If the parts contained not even the potential to be conscious, so that the sum of those parts would have no more consciousness than the parts individually, then the whole is just as inanimate.

Strawson's out is to suggest that the parts really do have the potential to think - panpsychism is apparently the term (who knew?). I always thought that was called "monadology," but I guess dressing up old philosophy in new clothes will get you tenure. It's a strange sort of refuge. Given that epiphenomenalism is bunk, we are presented with a problem: there are things that actually think; matter cannot think; matter is the only thing that exists; oh no. The first premise is pretty easy to accept; the second is what Strawson rejects. When you are utterly committed to the third, but something has to go, I guess you embrace panpsychism. All right.

I wonder if Strawson fell asleep when his class dealt with Kant's transcendental unity of apperception. You see, from the fact that reality impinges on the sense organs, we cannot infer that all the sense data created will belong to a single experience. Panpsychism seems especially vulnerable to this problem. If every thing has its own experience, then we have a very strange, inexplicable fact about the world: the experiences of those individual things are collected in one personal experience that, by its nature, includes all those discrete experiences. Why unity instead of plurality?

Unity must be an experience that each individual thing has, which brings us back to monadology, which is insane. Or to solipsism, which is insane. Or madness. Which is insane.

Well, there's another book for my long reading list.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Murphy - He Has Laws

So, apparently, (at least) two professors are leaving the law school this year. Is that relevant?

Well, let's see. One of my graduation requirements is a research paper course. I have a few specific topics in a general area of interest in mind. The general area is copyright; I took Intellectual Property last semester; the professor who taught that is leaving.


I've been impressing another professor in office hours and generally making his class my helot. That's the second professor who's leaving, if you couldn't tell.

I guess I should have adopted a shotgun approach, becoming acquainted with all professors in order really to game the system. Or is that gun the system? Whatever; I'm cursed with not actually being able to fake interest in uninteresting courses.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

IT Sucks - Chapter 1320

Can you view the date and time on your university's computers? I can't. Apparently, access to that particular feature is restricted; otherwise, I am just sure, the unscrupulous could alter the settings to travel through time itself. Look it up.

Anyway, you're probably somewhat annoyed by these oppressive features, but, after all, it's not your property (although you might want to check out that networking fee on your tuition - wow!), and you can understand the value of intense network security. Except, well, the security isn't very good at all. Case in point: I've been greeted, upon logging in to the university's computers, with a request from RealPlayer that I perform some sort of upgrade. This isn't the little box of text in the lower right hand corner; this is a big window in the center of the screen, coming up on login every time.

In other words, looking at (much less changing) the date is a massive security breach that must be stopped at all costs. Installing an aggressive, malware-like program is cool, and everyone on campus should be reminded that REALPLAYER NEEDS TO UPDATE every day.


Oh, and every time I log into my e-mail, I get a warning, because, get this, the security certificate has expired. This has been happening since August 2007. IT is aware of the problem, I know, because they have actually e-mailed us all to tell us to ignore this problem.

You know what I can't wait for? The day when the administration chooses to switch to Vista. That should be awesome sauce.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Diplomacy - Man's Ruin

The game of Diplomacy can really ruin a person.

Let me explain. In my Criminal Law class (required, so don't blame me), the textbook analogizes Bush's "anticipatory self-defense" doctrine to the phenomenon of "battered- spouse syndrome." The idea is that, in both cases, a potential victim acts before an existential threat is imminent, deploying lethal force to forestall an anticipated threat, not to repel imminent danger. In both cases, the aggressor subverts legal standards but argues that the justification of self-preservation (of the state, in the one case, and of the individual, in the other) purifies the illicit conduct.

I can't help being a little amused by the whole idea of international law. I have two chief problems with it: it has no credible enforcement mechanism, and it entertains a fiction of nations as persons. I'm willing to tolerate a substantial amount of Machiavellian behavior among nations, even while believing that persons ought to obey the laws of their respective nations fairly strictly. There is a philosophical argument for this duality of treatment - international relations constitute a "state of nature" unless and until a unified world government is created. Check out Hobbes for more about that. What I wonder is if my prejudice against taking international law seriously isn't just a product of playing too much Diplomacy.

Diplomacy is a brilliant game. Diplomacy affords full scope for cynical, naked ambition with no ill consequences. When you've made a nonaggression pact with a weaker, less diplomatically well-connected neighbor, you break it as soon as it becomes beneficial. You promise to move a fleet north when you actually intend to move an army south. No agreements are binding, though agreements are made (and broken) constantly in the game, a seeming contradiction that increases the pleasure of a particularly vicious, effective backstab. None of this is to say that the blatant self-interest necessary to be successful at the game consists in lying all the time or betraying everyone; on the contrary, true skill involves aligning, as much as possible, one's own interest with that of others so that mutual self-interest will produce mutually beneficial results. At some moment, though, my self-interest and yours collide - and whoever can most effectively and quickly create a favorable imbalance triumphs.

As you can imagine, some people think that real treaties in real life ought to be the law whether they are immediately beneficial or not, because reputation is important and because following through on one's word is good in itself. In Diplomacy, true chivalry is weakness.

In conclusion, I am the best ally to have in Diplomacy. Really. I promise not to attack Sevastopol.