Monday, March 27, 2017

#Philosophy can't justify dumb wars, setting the issue of justice aside

That said, the issue of just war is itself problematic, and has other "baggage," even if its separated today from its religious roots.

NOTE: This is an updating of a 2011 blog post about the Libyan bombing campaign and a philosophical attempt to justify it. What follows is a lightly edited version of the original, along with extended follow-up.

You can slice and dice logical arguments to support all sorts of claims. That includes what evidence you include as warrants vs. what countervailing empirical evidence you exclude from discussion.

Especially in real-world informal logic, how you frame the parameters of the argument is another way of slicing and dicing an issue to an already-held conclusion.

Take Massimo Pigliucci's argument for bombing Libya.

Sure, in a vacuum of Libya and no other foreign policy worries, might be great. But, why Libya and not Yemen? Or, why not Cote d'Ivoire a year ago?

Massimo goes on, in what is nearly 100 posts down the list, in response to me, to say he has non-humanitarian reasons, as well, to support intervention in Libya. I've asked what they are, because I don't see any that aren't either directly or indirectly related to oil. Terrorism? Since we intercepted the ship with nuclear supplies headed to Libya several years ago, Gadhafi had become "our guy," so scratch that, even if Massimo makes that claim.

Massimo also limits the parameters of the argument by saying his support for air strikes doesn't mean support for intervention. But, given criticism of the Obama Administration, that it doesn't have an exit policy, and that our British and French allies have pushed going beyond air strikes, if necessary, that "restriction" might work in formal logic, but, in a real-world political situation, doesn't.

Massimo also, basically, tried to claim in his last comment to me that I didn't know what I was talking about on just war. Actually, I do. But, since he apparently cares not to read Walter Kaufmann's "Without Guilt and Justice," which I highly, highly recommend, he doesn't really understand where I'm coming from. (Should Massimo see this, I'll leave it to his personal judgment as to whether or not he was trying that hard to understand, wanted that much to understand, or wanted to try that hard to understand.

That said, I'm going to further deconstruct, or just plain refute, some of his claims.

The idea that the air campaign was supported by the UN is tenuous at best, per Wiki's piece on the intervention in Libya. That "at best" would be seeing the air strikes as one interpretation of how to support the no-fly zone the UN called for.

First, going beyond philosophism to actual political science and geopolitics, Massimo should have recognized that the likelihood of a successful denouement to the Libyan bombing was about as likely as a similar result for the Iraq War. Related to that, I did a separate blog post about some of his just war claims.

That said, in brief, I believe, per Walter Kaufmann's evisceration of "justice" as an abstract concept, that "just war" as an abstract concept is a mix of philosophical non sequitur and invitation to political mischief in democratic or quasi-democratic societies, especially when inveighed with religious overtones.

Per that separate post, and comments on three different incarnations of his blog home, I realize Massimo apparently has no interest in Kaufmann's book. That said, a number of left-liberals might not like the book any more than interventionist liberals, given the degree to which Kaufmann crushes John Rawls.

Second, if we are going to speak of colonialism, it's fair to ask if Massimo, as a native Italian, might have additional reason to support the bombing of Libya.

That said, let me further deconstruct his actual claims.

Just cause? If we did that all the time, we'd be Wilsonian interventionists to the extreme. And, what if other countries made similar claims about the US, or Italy. I mean, vis-a-vis the US, that's what al Qaeda itself claimed as its reason for 9/11. And, "just cause" also falls prey to some of the same issues as does "just war."

Last resort? That's a judgment call, one based in part on how willing one is to support the use of force in the first place.

Legitimate authority? Is NATO, or a hived-off portion of NATO, a "legitimate authority"? (Per what I said above, with the Wiki link, I did not, and still do not, consider the bombing campaign, certainly not in toto, and even more the deliberate killing of Muammar Gaddafi, then beyond, to be a correct and legitimate extension of the UN's no-fly and cease-fire call.

Proportionality? Failure to include things like "collateral damages" and "unintended consequences," as well as failure to appreciate the difficulty so far in seeing Arab states of the Arab Spring actually transition to democracy, means that, again, proportionality will be calculated differently by different people.

I could be accused of hindsight, but in reality, I had all these thoughts to some degree six years ago. I'm just elaborating now because I happened to come across this post a couple of days ago.

I also forgot to add in my original blog post that Libya had Africa's most vibrant economy at the time, with a per-capita income of $14,000. It also had a higher literacy rate, equal rights for men and women on divorce, and life expectancy almost as high as the U.S., all per Wikipedia. Wiki also notes that on this, and general human development, Libya was ahead of neighbors and Arab Spring predecessors Tunisia and Egypt.

Massimo also refers to the bombing of Serbia over Bosnia, then Kosovo, as a success.

However, he ignores the geopolitics behind this.

Even as Serbian paramilitaries were pulling their horns back from Bosnia, Croatian ones were sticking theirs out. And, we did nothing. (Counterpunch, among others, has covered this.)


Because Croatia was being lined up for NATO membership, as far as part of why we did nothing.

Don't forget that this was another violation of the US's (presumably good for all then-current NATO members) promise to Boris Yeltsin in 1990 not to expand NATO eastward.

And, with that, at least in the U.S., that's the difference between a liberal, on the one hand, and a left-liberal or beyond, on the other.

I visit, and comment on new posts, at Massimo's blog regularly, and have totally agreed with his take on people like Sam Harris and Jonathan Haidt.

But here? Being logical isn't the same as being right.

At the least, without engaging in serious multi-valued logic, with answers that would include things like "maybe" and "maybe not." With that in mind, I wouldn't say Massimo is wrong on his support for Libyan air strikes. I would say that, to use the old Scottish jury verdict, he's only reached the "not proven" state.

And, I wouldn't say I, or others, are "right" to argue against air strikes.

At bottom line?

Not only is being logical not the same as being right, the use of bipolar western logic to try to "prove rightness" is often wrong.

Arguably, such situations are even a good example of Hume's famous dictum: "Reason must be the slave of the passions."

Again, there's not necessarily a "right" or a "wrong" involved. But, in this particular case, since Massimo is claiming non-humanitarian reasons for Libyan intervention, and I doubt he can name a good non-oil-related one, I think, on the passions, he's wrong. (That said, some Humeans forget that he still called on reason to take a role in guiding the passions.

I should note that I've hinted before that Massimo practices "philosophism," the hyper-philosophic parallel to scientism. And, I think it sticks here. I don't know if Massimo would go as far as Dan Kaufmann in admitting that philosophy doesn't have final answers for many of the questions it addresses. But, maybe that would help. At a minimum, non-classical Western philosophies reject such certainty.

I mean, per the above, I probably could invent a multidisciplinary, intersectionality-driven new discipline called "the philosophy of political science" or something, but why? It wouldn't add anything significant to the academic study of political science as currently constituted.

Or, per that piece linked above, and again here, on refuting his claim on just war, maybe he needs to expand his Weltanschaaung to include non-Western philosophies.

Per Iranian philosopher Idries Shah's famous dictum (he himself being non-Western, of course):

“To 'see both sides' of a problem is the surest way to prevent its complete solution. Because there are always more than two sides.”
I noted that I could find seven or eight "sides" either directly involved in the Libyan Civil War or else playing bank shots.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

"What color are these strawberries?" is ultimately a philosophical question, not scientific

A lot of people have probably, via Facebook friends or whatever, seen the photo of strawberries at left, whose production is described here.

I haven't actually opened the picture in Photoshop, but I'll take at face value the claim it has no red pixels.

But, what does that actually mean?

Photoshop's default on color pictures is to present a photo in "RGB" format. That's Red, Green, and Blue — the three primary colors. But, many Photoshop commands let one manipulate not only those three colors, but the three commonly accepted secondary colors of Cyan, Magenta and Yellow, plus a channel for Black. If you've ever heard of CMYK (B already used for Blue) photo editing, that's where it comes from. The Black channel is necessitated by the conversion of primary colors back to secondary.

Anyway, back to RGB colors. Several thoughts here.

First, many colors, even in "normal lighting," whatever that is, aren't what we think. If you use Photoshop much, you'll see that the "green" in grass is about one-third yellow.

Second, does Photoshop's 256-bit format for each color channel imply a level of digital accuracy that doesn't exist? I mean, we can peg light to 500 nanometers. But, is that blue or is that cyan, or turquoise, if we use a non-technical color, or what? Wiki has a full piece on "spectral color" which raises such issues.

And, with that, we're into various issues of philosophy.

Setting aside some aspects of epistemology, we've got what would be either informal logic or linguistic philosophy, first. That is the issue of categories and definitions.

Per what I posted above, where does one color "stop" and another "begin"? That's not a science issue, that's a philosophy issue.

We also have linguistic philosophy issues on how one defines color. Setting aside the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which is nonetheless of a certain degree of strength, some languages distinguish between more colors than others. Isaac Newton, with the rainbows produced by his prism, famously distinguished indigo as a seventh color of the spectrum.

To the degree the above photo is an optical illusion, it trades on something else which is related to epistemology, and to David Hume's project of empiricism. That is the idea of qualia, or why do things seem to be the way they are.

The idea of qualia, if accepted in one of its several forms and definings, undercuts the "blank slate" idea of human perception stressed by Hume, and to fair degree by fellow empiricists. A child old enough to point to a red splotch in normal light, when shown this picture above, would not be able to point to claim it has a color similar to that red splotch on the blank slate theory of the human mind. (I frame the example this way to try to bracket the issue of the baby's mind being "contaminated" by explicit written or oral conversation.)

As to opponents of the idea of qualia? As I've gotten older, and more read in modern philosophy, I find Dan Dennett's arguments more and more lacking. The more and more we do current research in robots, artificial intelligence and similar, the more and more we realize human minds don't work that way. Dennett's other objections are somewhat functionalist in nature.

A side issue is that discussions of qualia often get wrapped up with issues of ontological dualism, even though in reality the two are separate items.

There is no logically necessary reason to invoke ontological dualism to explain qualia. That's doubly the case if one understand consciousness and the mind through the lens of embodied cognition and not Dennett's crudely mechanical and scientism-driven computer models.

Let's take this in terms of color. My cone cells in my eye may have slightly different wavelength sensitivities than yours. My optic nerve neurons may respond slightly differently to my cone cell impressions than your neurons do to your cone cells. That's a thumbnail on embodied cognition and color.

Next, let's head to psychology.

If your father, or mother, was a firefighter, your "suchness" of the color red will be far different than mine, at least if their fire department still uses traditional fire-engine red colored vehicles.

Or, as an adult, let's take yellow. If you're a salesperson for French's, as in French's mustard, your "suchness" for yellow will be different than mine if I'm a salesperson for Dole banana. Or for Sunkist, and Sunkist lemons.

Friday, March 03, 2017

St Paul puffer acts like Jesus Seminar fellows he excoriates

Saint Saul: A Skeleton Key to the Historical JesusSaint Saul: A Skeleton Key to the Historical Jesus by Donald Harman Akenson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Short on scholarship, long on coprolite polishing

I really wanted to like this book, after seeing it at the local library. And parts of it, upon review, I do — above all, Akenson’s critique of the latest version of the search for the historic Jesus, especially as conducted by most of the fellows of the Jesus Seminar.

But, at the same time, Akenson gets a LOT wrong in this book — and, at the risk of concern-trolling for academics, I suggest that he might reconsider jumping from history to biblical studies with any more books.

Some of his errors, per that above, are whoppers.

The New Testament is NOT a “single artifact.” The theology of Paul is not the same as that of the Synoptic Gospels — which Akenson himself discusses!

Second, Yahwism does NOT go back to 1600 BCE. It’s no earlier than 1000 BCE, in all likelihood, and certainly no earlier than that in an organized state called Israel, if it’s even that old.

Now, some more specific errors.

Paul, in his passage in 1 Corinthians on marriage, was NOT giving halachic correction to Jesus’ “don’t get divorced and remarried” passage from Mark and softened parallels. First, Paul and Jesus were operating in totally different Sitz im Leben. Paul is speaking, I believe, in terms of the End Times, and thus, this passage is similar to his “neither Greek nor Jew, neither slave nor free” in Galatians. He’s telling believers don’t change your status in life. Second, he admits in 1 Corinthians 7 this is HIS teaching and not “from the Lord.” Jesus, on the other hand, if we call him a quasi-Pharaisee, WAS offering a statement of halakah.

Next, his accusation that “Questers” want to date Mark pre-70 just to have something before the destruction of the Temple is untrue. Rather, the Markan apocalypse is lacking some vaticinium ex eventu that are in Matthew and Luke, and thus, like Daniel, gives us a dating hook.

Next, claiming the Talmud has nothing historical, or nearly so, about this era? The “gardener protecting his cabbage” from the Toledoth Jeshu was knows to Tertullian, so it at least includes myth from the middle second century.

Soon after that, he is too credulous to Robert Eisenman.

Now, Paul “versus” James and other things. First, how do we know James only believed after Jesus’ death? Paul’s word plus Synoptic disparagement of his family. Now, I don’t believe in Eisenman’s earthly dynasty, but Akenson makes a statement with slim warrant.

Next, the food sacrificed to idols and blood, re 1 Corinthians and whatever council met on this. The meat sacrificed to ideas was not kosher, as he notes. But Akenson then commits either a big “oops” or a huge rewrite. The law on blood in meat is NOT Jewish; it’s Noahide. I’m sure he knows that, and thus is doing a deliberate rewrite, softening up Paul.

Next, if the Mishnah is not historically accurate, how do we know mitzvoth were numbered at 613 in the time of Paul and Jesus? Actually, the number 613 isn’t even mentioned until the Talmud. And, what they are isn’t itemized until Maimonides. Oops! More Judahism pseudo-authenticity by Akenson gets torpedoed!

On the criterion of embarrassment in the gospels, he ignores the variant “he was angry” reading in Mark 1 with the unclean man. Oops again, or deliberate rewrite again?

A bigger possible rewrite is ignoring the idea that Paul may have “invented” the Eucharist out of similar meals from pagan mysteries. Akenson here is bad in general.

Even worse, finally, is his claim that Mark may well have known about the Virgin Birth myth and deliberately discarded the idea. This underplays how oral tradition plays out and eventually becomes concretized, as shown in Mark, then the other Synoptics, then the Protoevangelium of James, etc.

The bottom line that Akenson seems to have, that Saul is a reliable witness to the historic Jesus, as well as a reliable anchor to a semi-unitary development of the move from Jesus to Christ, pretty much fails.

His smackdown of the Jesus Seminar and related issues are probably the primary things saving this from a one-star rating, which is ironic, because in his construction of Paul, he comes off as not a lot better than some of the Jesus Seminar fellows he excoriates.

And, I forgot to mention until now that he says he's going to use the KJV as his English text because of its poetic language or whatever, and he, first cite of it, talks about how it's a bad translation.

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