Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Why is only empirical evidence evidence? Isn't this a self-refuting requirement?

This is from Sloan Lee's Facebook page. We've heard the "Where's  yer evidence" challenge around here a lot.

Consider the demand for empirical evidence -- or the question (often rhetorical): "What is your empirical evidence for that claim?" -- where empirical evidence is evidence based directly on sensory experience (or something along those lines). Often the demand for empirical evidence is made (or requested) without the modifier "empirical" -- but it is assumed or understood that this is the sort of evidence being demanded (or requested).
Often empirical evidence is just the sort of evidence one needs in order to answer a question or settle an issue. For instance, if you want to know how many chairs are in the room or whether or not any trees are planted in the courtyard, empirical evidence is just the sort of evidence that is most appropriate. However, is that the only sort of evidence that is acceptable or legitimate? What sort of empirical evidence could settle the question of whether or not 2 is necessarily an even number? What kind of empirical evidence could refute (or establish) whether it is necessarily true (or not) that only nothing comes from nothing? Not even quantum indeterminacy or particles arising from minimal energy states could do that.
In any case, this sort of epistemological demand sometimes (perhaps even often) has as a background assumption that the only legitimate appeal to evidence is the appeal to empirical evidence. However, such a demand is self-defeating. This assumption has no empirical support itself. Further, an appeal to the success of science will not help here, for the most that this can show is that certain sorts of issues are best investigated by empirical (or scientific) means. In other words, there is no good empirical evidence that the only kind of genuine or real or legitimate evidence that one can have is empirical evidence. So, if the only grounds that one can have for rationally believing something is empirical evidence, then (by its own standard) no one can rationally believe the claim that only empirical evidence is legitimate evidence.
Nevertheless, the demand for empirical evidence as the only legitimate evidence is an extraordinarily pervasive demand on internet discussions -- but that doesn't make it any less self-defeating as a demand (or as a question or as an assumption). It is such a pervasive mistake that I think that it deserves its own name. To that end, I suggest the following:
"The Empiricist Fallacy"
Of course, I'm open to hearing the thoughtful, polite, and well-articulated considerations of others on this issue.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The slippery slope fallacy on steroids

I see no good reason to believe that the banning of assault weapons will lead to the banning of all weapons, which would, of course, take a Constitutional amendment. I know a lot of people say this, but it strikes me as the slippery slope fallacy on steroids. We could save lives in mass shootings if we could prevent potential mass shooters from getting guns that can fire and fire without having to reload. Stopping to reload ends many a mass shooting, as in the shooting at Safeway in Tucson where Gabrielle Giffords was shot. Ordinary self-defense and ordinary hunting does not require us to fire without reloading. You could be in a defensive situation where you need an AR-15, but you could be in a defensive situation where you could sure use and hand grenade.

There is a rationale for some weapons restrictions even if we don't want to rip up the second amendment and confiscate all guns. So why use the slippery slope argument?

Monday, May 28, 2018

Do I have the right to carry a hand grenade? Or a nuclear bomb? +

Guns aren’t the only kind of arms you can have. A hand grenade is a weapon, too. If there should be no restriction on our right to have weapons, shouldn’t we allow people to carry hand grenades? Or how about a nuclear bomb? Is that protected by the Second Amendment? Why restrict the right to bar arms to tubes with triggers that shoot bullets? Isn't that an arbitrary limitation?

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Republic vs. Democracy and the Electoral College

The real purpose of the electoral college, which is spelled out as clearly as it can be spelled out in Federalist 68, is to put a layer of independent representation between the voters and the choice for President. His idea was that you wouldn't vote for Trump or Hillary. Who you would vote for are people who might choose between Trump or Hillary, or maybe put someone else in if they thought there was something wrong with both of them. If you take the republic vs. democracy argument seriously, that is where it leads you. I would admit that there is an element of geographical balancing in that the College is modeled on congressional representation, and so states with two senators and one congressman actually get more representation per capita than their population would warrant. But we aren't more of a republic and less of a democracy if we have a rubber-stamp electoral college and we reduce the college to a revised counting system. For centuries now people vote for actual candidates, and once their votes are counted, the electors have never surprised anyone or exercised any independent judgment, except for a few "rogues," and some states have passed laws making it illegal to do what Hamilton originally intended for electors to do, that is, exercise independent judgment.

The electoral college was designed to, among other things, stop demagogues from becoming President. The idea was that if a demagogue were to get the support of the people, the electors would exercise their own judgment and vote someone else in, even if the people who put the electors in wanted him for President, the electors could be counted upon to say no. You may disagree, but I think Trump is a dangerous demagogue with inadequate respect for the rule of law. In any event he had held no political office prior to the Presidency. If we had enshrined the Hamiltonian concept of the Electoral College into our system, I believe that the seasoned judgment of the electors would have prevented him from becoming President. A genuinely "Republican" conception of the electoral college would not have put Trump in the White House. And irony of ironies, the Democratic Party, with its superdelegate system, was far more "Republican" in its selection process, while the Republican party as more "Democratic," providing no way to stop a marginal Republican with great mass appeal to get the party's nomination for President. 

Now, either we buy the Republic vs. Democracy argument or we don't. If we do, we keep the electoral college, outlaw pledged electors and encourage independent judgment on the part of the electors. If we don't buy the Republic vs. Democracy argument, then we abolish the Electoral College and go to popular vote. But I can't see a good reason for keeping the Electoral College around after its primary function, to put a layer of independent, seasoned judgment between the people and the selection of the President, has been effectively eliminated. What Hamilton was talking about in Federalist 68 never came to fruition, and it is an equivocation to say that Hamilton was defending the Electoral College as it now exists.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The original purpose of the electoral college

The electoral college was put into place so that people would not elect the President directly, but would put that decision into the hands of other people who were better informed and would do the voting for them. The electoral college was set up before there even were political parties in America, and when the system of pledged electors emerged, Hamilton and Madison were horrified, claiming that this defeated the whole purpose of the Electoral College.

Now, you may like the idea of a system where living in a densely populated area means that your vote counts less, and living in a more populated area means your vote counts more. I don't see an argument for this offhand, unless large states were somehow exploiting the smaller ones, and they're not. No one is crucifying Middle America on a cross of gold. I don't see much force in the Argument from Geographical Balance myself. But even if this were a good argument, you cannot say that this is the reason the founders put in the Electoral College. Alexander Hamilton would not recognize the Electoral College as it is currently employed. The original purpose of the electoral college went by the boards shortly after our country was founded. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

A rebuttal of Judith Jarvis Thomson on Abortion


Does the multiverse solve the problem of evil?

I once wrote a paper suggesting that the multiverse solves the problem of evil. So God could have created a better world? He did. Then he created this world and all the worlds worth creating.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

I had to take the abortion cartoon down

Because it was messing things up. But instead I want to discuss a statement I made many years ago, that if politics were logical, Democrats would be pro-life and Republicans would be pro-choice.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

What do gun control advocates advocate?

A lot of people assume that those who advocate gun control want a blanket ban on guns. Virtually no one is suggesting this. Gun control advocates support assault weapons bans and strengthened background checks. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

Deal or no deal?

 OK here's a deal for pro-lifers. Or pro-choicers for that matter. You can defund Planned Parenthood. All you have to do is agree that the federal government will provide all the reproductive health services that PP provided absolutely free of charge to all women with the exception of abortion. Deal or no deal?

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Roe v. Wade again

The argument in Roe v. Wade is that you cannot prove that the fetus has the same rights as those already born, and that moral reasoning leaves the question undecided. This was not only the majority opinion, it was explicitly not challenged in the dissent by Rehnquist, and was never argued by Roe opponents like Scalia. The argument in Roe was that we know a woman has a right to privacy, we don't know whether the fetus has as right to life, therefore the right we know takes precedence over the right that is open to reasonable doubt. Dissenters have only argued that the right to privacy is a made-up right and not really guaranteed in the Constitution, a position that I consider to be very implausible and, what is more, is not a real pro-life argument. Because the Court think there is a case beyond reasonable doubt that women have a right to privacy that extends to reproductive health issues such as birth control and abortion, opponents of abortion need to show beyond reasonable doubt that fetuses have the same right to life as babies. Maybe you think, say, the SLED argument does that, but if so, this would require a completely different, and to my mind, more intellectually honest legal strategy than the one that has been used by so-called pro-life justices from Rehnquist to Gorsuch.

Intellectually Honest Pro-Life Strategy

I think pro-life advocacy is, from a utilitarian perspective, a pretty weak way of saving lives, even fetal lives. Three pro-life Republican Presidents have not saved a single fetus. They cut off funding for Planned Parenthood in one county in Texas and it INCREASED the abortion rate. I do believe in a 24-hour waiting period, and having women view an ultrasound, and then choose. That is both pro-choice and pro-life. The only legal arguments that have ever been presented against Roe v. Wade don't argue that the fetus has a right to life and we can prove it. All they do is try to deny that women have a right to privacy in reproductive matters, allowing abortion to be a matter of democratic choice. But that seems absurd, and opposed to the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, because it would imply that fetuses have a right to life in Iowa but not in New York.

The only way to get an intellectually honest pro-life outcome out of the Supreme court would be to argue that fetuses have a provable right to life and then argue on the basis of the Equal Protection Clause that their lives should be protected. But if that is the case, we really have never had a pro-life justice on the Supreme Court, and we have never had a President with an intellectually honest pro-life strategy.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Legitimate investigation

The Mueller investigation is a witch hunt, and a deep state conspiracy, because some of his investigators are Democrats who preferred Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump.
The House Intelligence Committee's report, contending that there was no collusion, was a legitimate investigation, since all of the signatories were Republicans and supported Donald Trump for President.
Makes perfect sense.