But I had to link to this post, if only for this quote: "For almost every doctrine espoused
by continental philosophers, there is some analytic philosopher who has given mind-numbingly
dull step-by-step arguments for that conclusion." Mind-numbingly dull step-by-step arguments-r-us!
If I have a disagreement with what Angelica has to say here, it is tiny; I would say that encouraging the notion that wrongdoing will be punished can be justified on utilitarian grounds. Admittedly, if we were all good utilitarians, it wouldn't be necessary to encourage faith in our institutions by such devious means, but then if we we all good utilitarians, then we wouldn't need many of our institutions to begin with. Utilitarianism does not call upon us to ignore what people are really like. Rather, we must try to find ways to come up with good outcomes despite the unfortunate failure of most people to be good utilitarians most of the time.
Given her further commentary, perhaps this was Angelica's point anyway, in which case I don't disagree with her at all.
I try, really, to follow the right wing blogs a bit, to comment on their numerous errors. They really shouldn't go unchallenged, but it's so tiring. However, I will do a tiny bit here. I don't know a liberal who denies that North Korea will sell anything to anyone; I recall hearing stories about North Korea selling missile tech to Iran for the past couple of decades. This sort of thing is the reason we liberals have been complaining that if the administration had really been concerned with WMDs, North Korea was a far bigger threat than Iraq. Now, if there were any evidence of Iraq being equally willing to sell weapons (it wasn't; Hussein preferred selling oil, and keeping his weapons for himself, even in the days when he had WMDs)), or more importantly of their being any suspicious buyers (obviously impossible, when they weren't doing any selling), that might have made Iraq a threat.
Mark Kleiman advocates retribution, on the basis of reflection on an extreme case. In general, I am suspicious of conclusions drawn on the basis of extreme cases. Of course, one could question whether Kleiman is right that the punishment of Pinochet would be useless on the grounds of deterrence (he's on better ground in ruling out incapacitation arguments; it seems unlikely that Pinochet will commit further crimes if not locked up); one could argue that such a public case will provide a reminder of the reach of the law and have some benefit in discouraging other criminals, great or petty. But perhaps that is unconvincing.
Of course, on utilitarian grounds (the sort of grounds I like to use), it could also be argued that Pinochet's suffering will make the friends and relatives of his victims happier. Perhaps that's enough justification in this case, since they are so numerous.
Kleiman, however, proposes that making Pinochet suffer is something we owe to his victims, and it sounds like he means the dead ones. I think the idea that we owe anything to the dead is not only false (on utilitarian grounds; we can't benefit or harm them, so we have no moral duties with respect to them), but also dangerous. The idea that retribution for long past wrongs is morally required fuels many a cycle of warfare and oppression. I think we should be trying to break those cycles, starting with the very idea of retribution.
I don't know why I sought this out; with thanksgiving dinner only a couple of hours off, killing my appetite seems inappropriate. However, it was also fairly entertaining, and it's always good to find more ammunition for the war over intelligent design that has mysteriously flared up again recently. Hopefully I will have forgotten some of the parasites by the time the turkey is served.
I assign my ethics students both "Famine, Affluence, and Morality" and "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" to read. It is perhaps predictable that they mostly don't think they should be giving money away, but that they do think people should, and in some cases that they would, walk away from Omelas. But how can it be right to sacrifice dozens or hundreds of children to painful deaths to keep one person moderately happy, and not right to subject only one child to a miserable fate to keep a whole society ecstatically happy? I think this combination of views cannot be tenable.
In my humanities class today, I talked a bit about Roman architecture. One of the more famous buildings the Romans built is the Pantheon, the temple of all gods. In addition to containing statues of a whole bunch of gods, it apparently traditionally contained an altar dedicated to gods as yet unknown. It occurred to me that this is the result of taking the sort of reasoning involved in Pascal's wager seriously; if we don't know what gods there are, try to make sure none of those we've ever heard of are unhappy with us in case they exist, and to be super safe, try to be nice to gods we've never heard of too. Of course, it's not clear how to make an unknown god happy, which is the place where the whole program falls apart a bit, but it does perhaps make clear how odd it is that Pascal himself and so many of those who cite him think the way to take no chances is to be Catholic. Surely that's taking all sorts of chances; the odds have to be better with the earlier Roman way.
In his discussion of justice in the Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Hume tries to argue that justice is based entirely on usefulness, partly by arguing that in circumstances where justice is not useful, nobody thinks it should apply.
One of his examples concerns what he calls the laws of war. He claims these, like all rules of justice, are justified by their usefulness, and that they can and should be ignored where they are not useful. As an example of where they are not useful and should be ignored, he presents the case of fighting enemies, barbarians, who do not themselves follow the rules.
Obviously, this seems relevant to current circumstances; many people seem to agree with Hume's reasoning, and favor applying it to our dealings with terrorists. Thus, I thought this passage would be a good one to spend some time on with my students. I was a little disturbed at the result.
One student noted that the laws of war are presumably justified on the basis that following them reduces the damage done by warfare, and that one side following the rules would still reduce the damage somewhat, if not as much as both sides following them. Thus, she said it seemed that only one side following the rules was still useful.
However, she was a lone voice in that cause. Pretty much everyone else who expressed an opinion thought it made no sense to follow the rules if your enemy didn't. Indeed, some seemed to think it made no sense to follow any rules of war at all; that if you're at war, you should do whatever will most quickly and efficiently bring victory.
These are university students, and so to be expected to be liberal-leaning, and they're in deep blue Massachusetts. I did not expect to find such sentiments. I don't know what to think about this.