Thursday, May 31, 2012

Robert Nozick's "State-of-Nature Theory, or How to Back into a State without Really Trying": A Summary

So let's start with the state of nature. I'm pretty sure my boy Locke got it mostly right about how a government state emerges from the state of nature. The one problem is that the whole "social contract" thing is kind of a myth, right? It's not like everybody signs the contract - like 14 white dudes signed a thing and then suddenly this thing binds everyone? That's some bullshit. We have to find a way to let people sign up for realsies.

Now look. In the state of nature, shit can get a little crazy from time to time. You're minding your own business farming when suddenly OH NO MARAUDERS MARAUDING YOUR FARM, and you have to protect yourself. Eventually, maybe people get together and decide, "hey guys, it's pretty fucking rough out there, why don't we work together? Pool our resources?" Now when your farm gets marauded, some guys with guns protect you because you paid them to do that. And if you have an issue with someone within the group, then the group just forms a court rather than fighting, so no one gets their skull crushed over some pigs eating some daisies. And maybe the group also decides on some rules to follow so no one is left in the dark about what rights they do and don't have. Are the rules more restrictive than the state of nature? Well, fucking obviously, because rules are more restrictive than no rules, that's what makes them rules. But that's a small sacrifice and in exchange they'll fuck the shit up of anyone who tries to mess with you. That's a solid deal.

So instead of doing justice yourself, you just pay these agencies with the guns and whatnot. But the bigger the agency, the better, because anybro who is in your agency is one more person you don't have to worry about murderizing you, since agency has courts and stuff. Plus BONUS it's way cheaper to belong to a huge agency than a small one, because have you seen the startup costs for a paramilitary? Tanks are fucking expensive unless you buy in bulk, but Costco Tanks are only a good value if you need, like, 30. Once there's a largest agency, it's just going to keep getting larger because of PROTECTION PAUL'S LOW LOW PRICES ON RIGHTS PROTECTION. And because it's hard to spread out a police force, in different areas of the world you get these dominant protection agencies.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems and You - A Helpful Guide

I get a ton of emails asking me what is up with Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems, and with good reason: they are complicated as fuck, but they're also among the most important results ever obtained in logic. They're also super clever - it wasn't enough that Gödel was incredibly good at logic, he also had to be inventive as fuck to come up with this procedure. The theorems stand at this really weird crossroads of being important, celebrated, and complicated, and as a result they're a part of logic that people tend to hone in on, even when they have no context whatsoever. It's like asking what made Bobby Fischer so great at chess when you don't know how the pieces move - there's so much context necessary. So it's easy for people who don't know what they're talking about to get away with misrepresenting Gödel.

What do they actually show?

They say (very roughly) that no set of axioms capable of proving certain arithmetical truths can prove every arithmetical truth without also proving something false.

Examples might help.

Let's say there are fifteen sentences - 1-10 are true, and 11-15 are false. You've got some axioms, some rules you can play with like "If a=b and b=c, then a=c" and "if a=b, then b=a." You want to combine those rules in a way that lets you prove other sentences, sentences like "1+2=3+0". According to Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems, though, there is no way to get all ten of 1-10, whatever they are, without also sneaking in one of 11-15, which is bad. Maybe there are these three rules, rules a, b, and c, that combined can get you 1-6, and ruled a, b, and d can get you 5-10. But if you combine rules a, b, c, and d all at once, they'd prove 1-10, but they'd also prove 12, which is bad. And this happens no matter what. You can only ever prove some of 1-10, even though we know they're all true. If we want to keep false statements out of the party, we're going to have to keep some true ones out, too. Which true ones? Depends on how you decide who can come in. But there have to be some true ones.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Plato's "Apology": A Summary

Socrates: "Look, I don't know what I'm doing here. I'm seventy, I've never been in court before, but, I guess some people are trying to have me killed? And I'm supposed to defend myself? Just bear with me here, you guys. I'm just going to do what I normally do. Sorry if that's not proper.

"Everyone is all, 'Oh, Socrates! He thinks he's sooooo smart, he knows everything that happens in Heaven and below the Earth, and he makes arguments do all kinds of weird shit, and he teaches other people to do that.' And they've been telling you all this since you were little kids, so now you're thirty and you've heard for twenty-five years that I'm a huge asshole, and I've got a single day to undo that."

"Look, here's what really happened. I didn't want to make a big deal out of it or anything, but apparently the Oracle said I'm the wisest man alive. And I don't want to brag, because I was like, 'wait, what? I don't know shit.' But, you know, the Oracle is kind of a big deal, and I didn't want to go around telling people the Oracle is just straight up wrong, because that's actual blasphemy instead of the shit you dragged me in here for, but I figured if I could actually find someone wiser than me that I could say, 'Me? No way, Jimmy, he's definitely your guy,' then I wouldn't have to worry about wisdom or whatever.

"So THAT is what I started doing. I went to all the bros who had these great reputations for wisdom, bros who claimed to know tons of shit, and I'll be damned if they weren't mostly just fucking idiots. It was like, the better a reputation a man had, the fucking dumber he was. I'm not saying I knew more than them - I'm pretty sure that I know jackshit. But these guys also didn't know anything, and were pretty sure they knew everything. And when I tried to point out that they didn't know anything, they just got pissed off like it's my fault they've got their heads up their asses, which is why they told you guys growing up about how I think I'm smarter than everyone, even though I've literally never said that, ever.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mailbag Monday: Animal Rights and Some Logical Positivism

Mailbag Monday: A weekly segment that covers readers' questions and concerns about all things Philosophy, Bro, and Philosophy Bro that don't quite fit anywhere else. Send your questions to with 'Mailbag Monday' in the subject line.


Sheraz writes,

Typically, in discussions about animal rights the following exchange will take place:
Alex: we should care about animals because they have x capacities
Betty: but some humans do not have these capacities
Betty: does this mean, you think that it is ok to removing rights from disabled humans?
My question is, what is the best way for Alex to respond? 

Well Sheraz, the bad news is that it might be that, uh, your friend "Alex," is completely fucked. Maybe x capacities, whatever they are, are stupid capacities. Maybe Alex should have chosen something different like "capacity to form even minimal social ties", which probably includes almost everyone. But really, why the fuck is Alex arguing that we should care about animals because of their capacities? That might not work for precisely the reason Betty says. Maybe he should have gone with "If you're a dick to animals then pretty soon you'll start turning on babies and shit, and suddenly you're just an asshole in general," which is a (very) rough paraphrase of Kant's argument. Bros have offered lots of different arguments to respect animal rights - not all of them have to do with capacities.

Or maybe Alex can just bite the bullet. "...Yes. I totally do think it's okay to take rights away from certain disabled humans." what an asshole, amirite?? Well, hold on. How disabled? Depends on the capacity he's talking about. If Alex is going with something like conscious thought then a very small subset of persons lack that capacity, and maybe Alex doesn't think they have rights. On the other hand, if Alex is going with something like, I dunno, thinking abstractly, then he might rule out some really great people and also all babies and I feel like you're definitely not asking me if babies have rights so there's that. Alex should be careful about what bullet he bites, I feel like he's not trying to get the mentally handicapped abused just to save cows.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Biopower and You: A General Summary According to Michel Foucault

Right, so, biopower. I don't mean, like, ethanol fuel; I'm not talking literally about energy. I'm talking about the other kind of power. You know - power. Control. The ability to make things happen the way you want them to happen. And biopower is power over bodies. That's the "bio-" in biopower, clue is in the title.

It used to be, back in the day when there were kings and shit, they had power over your death - if you were a problem they would just fucking kill you, because fuck you I'm the king and I can do that. And that was more or less it. "Do what I say, because I say so. Just don't give me any reason to kill you, and everything will be fine." What were those things? Pay your taxes, worship the right God, don't attempt an uprising, and go fight places we need you to fight. In other words, things that kept the state in place and secure. Sometimes good kings would, I don't know, feed their people, but that was just so they didn't have hungry peasants all burning cottages and shit. As long as the king wasn't threatened, he didn't give two fucks about "it's so cold" or "clean drinking water" or "seriously we're hardly getting by on like 80 hours of farming a week and we could really use some ditches dug." Fuck whatever rabble his whiny subjects happened to be rousing at the time.

But eventually, kings began to figure out they could use power to create power. And the more we learned, the more the law could be used to create rather than destroy. With the advances in science and genetics and the discovery of evolution, we knew more about humanity than ever before, and slowly, power over death got replaced with power over life. The state stopped trying to just survive - now states are actively trying to create a healthy, productive populace. And you can't create a healthy, productive populace just by fucking menacing them with the death penalty all the time, not that some real assholes didn't try that route. No, now laws do a whole lot more than just condemn shit the state doesn't like - they decide what is normal and healthy and okay for people to do.

Bronouncement: New Kind of Thing (On the Blog, Not in General. Sorry Metaphysicians.)

Hey kids!

I've noted before that summarizing a particular text is by far the most exhausting part of the blog - it involves tracking down the text, familiarizing myself with it, outlining it, and finally summarizing/translating it into what you get to read. It's also super-rewarding because it's the thing that teaches me the most things, which, fuck yeah, but part of the reason I'm so inconsistent is that when I can't find the time to do a text right, I just don't do it, so you get something like the Summer Of Only Mailbags or... whatever the fuck happened this semester.

There's this other thing where sometimes an idea runs through lots of texts, or gets developed over time, or, I mean, who the fuck knows. For example, I've received a ton of questions about Foucaultian biopower, which I assume are mostly from lazy debaters who want to use Foucault to avoid having to do new thinking every single round, because Biopower Ks are easy and thinking is hard. (Sorry, that got away from me.) The point is, biopower is a confusing but interesting idea, except it's really only laid out in one text, and isn't the main point, and then it's also used all over the literature... it's really out of hand. And if I try to force the textual summary to be about biopower, then you miss out on all the really sexy sex stuff in History of Sex and now no one is happy even though all Mommy wanted was a summary of biopower on the table when she got home from work and what? I blacked out for a second.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Mailbag Monday: The Double Effect

Gabe writes,

Can you do a writeup of the Doctrine of Double Effect? In particular, I'd like to know what you think the best arguments in favor of it are since I haven't been able to find one that I don't think is complete horse shit (the distinction between a bad effect that's used as a means to a desired end and a foreseen bad effect that's "merely" an unavoidable side effect of producing that end seems completely bogus and I don't see how it could ever be morally relevant). Thanks!

Holy shit, the ol' Doctrine of the Double Effect, huh? It starts all the way back with Thomas Aquinas, who was talking about what things we can and can't do - what is and is not permissible. His discussion was actually pretty short; he's like, "What if a guy is going to kill you and you have to really injure him to stop you? Uh, well, you don't mean to hurt him because you're not a dick; you're just trying to save yourself, so as long as you're not excessive, you're all good brah!" And then he's off to other topics and you're all, "WAIT COME BACK THAT SOUNDS SUPER IMPORTANT I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS" but it's too late. Fortunately, plenty of others have taken up the Doctrine since then, and we've got a pretty robust discussion going.

Sometimes an act has two different effects - one good and one bad. You might even say it has a... Double Effect. For example, hitting that guy in self-defense has a good effect (saving you) and a bad effect (harming another guy). There are lots of situations like that: sometimes I don't go out partying, and I have a shitty night but I'm really productive the next day. (That actually never happens, but roll with me here.) Sometimes you bomb an enemy base, which brings a war to an end but also some civilians also get killed. (I admit, that got dark quick. Welcome to moral philosophy!)