29 April 2008

My Favorite Blog for Links

My favorite blog for links?

Without question Terry Teachout's About Last Night, where scrolling far down in the right-hand column one may find links to the only existing movie of Willa Cather; movies of Leonard Bernstein conducting the overture to Candide, a young Van Cliburn playing a Liszt Hungarian rhapsody, or even (believe it or not) Mark Twain (a film made by Thomas Edison); and sound recordings of G.K. Chesterton, P.G. Wodehouse, Dylan Thomas, W.B. Yeats, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot ("Prufrock" and "Waste Land")--among many others.

Be forewarned: don't start looking at his collection unless you have an hour free!

And Teachout besides is the best writer reviewing the arts today.

28 April 2008

WASAP the Finale: Pierre Destrée at Johns Hopkins, 4pm Friday

The last talk of the DC Area Symposium in Ancient Philosophy is to be given by Pierre Destrée at Johns Hopkins on
Friday May 2 at 4pm. The title is "Catharsis in Aristotle's Poetics".

Here is a link to a page of the Johns Hopkins web site that gives directions, information about parking, and link to a campus map.

26 April 2008

The Free Rider and the Dumb Ass

Here are some further thoughts on the Free Rider problem, and why the 'discovery' of the problem is distinctively modern.

I'd like to add to the Free Rider problem another difficulty, what I call the 'Dumb Ass' problem. The Free Rider problem is: Why should an individual contribute his share to a system of social cooperation, when he gets the same benefit, and even greater benefits (those of convenience and no loss of opportunity), even if he does nothing? The Dumb Ass problem is: Why should an individual contribute his share to a system of social cooperation, when others are doing nothing, and he'll get none of the benefits that ought to come of contributing?

Two examples from warfare:

Free Rider: the soldier who lays low and lets his buddies do all of the fighting; he comes out into the clear when the danger has passed.
Dumb Ass: the soldier who follows orders and holds his position, getting killed for it, when everyone else has breaks ranks and flees.

The puzzle about the Free Rider is why shouldn't everyone be a free rider?--and yet if everyone is free-rider, then social cooperation fails. The puzzle about the Dumb Ass is why ever should anyone be a dumb ass?--and yet if no one is prepared to be, then social cooperation fails.

We suggested earlier (following the SEP article) that a reason the Free Rider problem might be thought a problem in modern but not classical contexts is that classical thinkers more readily allowed the possibility, and reality, of altruism. But I think this is too crude, and false.

It's rather the case that the classical world generally held a different view of self-interest, which one might begin to spell out with the following statements:

1. 'Rational self-interest' involves not simply doing something that admits of a rational explanation (and is therefore 'rational'), but also doing something which benefits one's reason; and reason is benefited both through its expressing itself and through achievement. Thus, for instance, someone who acts in order to do his part to fulfill some rationally appealing ideal is pro tanto acting in accordance with rational self-interest. (Therefore, nothing excludes the Dumb Ass' acting in his rational self-interest. In some cases, perhaps, the Dumb Ass makes a choice of his rational self-interest over, as it were, his corporeal interests.)

2. The most valuable goods are those possessed through doing or achieving something (being active) rather than through receiving something (being passive). (Therefore, nothing excludes the Free Riders' acting against his rational self-interest: the goods he enjoys through free riding are ones that he merely receives.)

3. Greatness is a good (it is a 'value'), and greatness, or a certain superiority, is achieved through conferring goods on other persons, not through being the object of the conferral of goods. And so, someone who gives something to a friend thereby makes himself 'better' than his friend, and his friend's reciprocation is motivated, in part, by the concern to restore an equality in the relationship. (Therefore, the Free Rider is 'inferior' to those from whose social cooperation he benefits.)

Add to the above the following crucial consideration. In the dominant classical conception, human beings are by nature 'social' (civic, association-forming), and thus the question of how one is best to realize one's nature, and therefore attain one's true self-interest, is a question not of whether to enter into associations at all, but rather simply which associations are sufficient. But the dominant modern conception is that human beings are originally 'left alone' (compare Locke's 'state of nature', as the best version of this), and as result to form an association with another always requires a sacrifice or loss (of options, choice, freedom).

By the way, given the disparity as described between classical and modern, it seems to me naive to speak of the discovery of some problem or paradox by moderns, which classical thinkers all missed. What might concern me, rather, is whether modern social theory doesn't rest on some serious mistakes about human rationality and welfare.

24 April 2008

What Goes Around Doesn't Always Come Back Around

A student told me about this earlier today, and I couldn't believe it. Yet here's proof:

Aristotelis opera /

ex recensione Immanuelis Bekkeri, edidit Academia regia borussica ; accedunt fragmenta scholia index Aristotelicus.
v.1 Renewed - Due on 05-10-08
v.5 Renewed - Due on 05-10-08
CU: Mullen Library Stacks
Call Number:
PA3890 .A2 1960
Number of Items:
Library Has:
v.1-2 v.4-5

In the Mullen Library at the Catholic University of America, the Berlin Academy Aristotle circulates (this student has the two borrowed volumes in her room)! I was told that other, even more valuable rare books are in the stacks.

(What's the market price for each volume -- $1000 ... $2000 ... ?)

23 April 2008

Make Your Voice Heard!

I've constructed a poll for Dissoi Blogoi. Here's your chance to tell me and others what you really think of this blog!

To participate, simply follow this link.

(The real reason I've contrived this poll is to let you know about the application which it uses, Doodle. Recently I needed to schedule an exam in one of my courses, and I used Doodle for coordinating everyone's schedule. It's very convenient -- just go here and follow the link for "Schedule an event". )

Change in Topic

For this Friday's lecture by Rachel Singpurwalla, which now will be:

'The Unity and Virtue of the Spirited Part of the Soul in Plato's Republic.'

21 April 2008

Truth and Freedom in Plato's Republic

The Washington Area Symposium in Ancient Philosophy


Rachel Singpurwalla
Fellow, Center for Hellenic Studies

"Truth and Freedom in Plato's Republic"

Philosophy Library, Aquinas Hall
The Catholic University of America

Friday, April 25th, 2 pm

17 April 2008

We're All Analytical Philosophers Now

Here's a curious comment from Alex Pruss on his blog:

Occasionally, I find myself party to conversations about analytic and continental philosophy. It seems to me that Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Sextus, Augustine, Boethius, Anselm, ibn-Rushd, al-Ghazali, Maimonedes, Aquinas, Scotus, Ockham, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Hume, Kant and Frege all practiced analytic philosophy for a significant part of their philosophical lives—some of these, indeed, for just about all of their philosophical lives. When I read these people, I find them kindred souls, clearly engaged in the same rational pursuits, using pretty much the same tools, as I am. To denigrate analytic philosophy would, thus, be to cut oneself off from much of our philosophical tradition, and to lack the tools of analytic philosophy is to severely limit one's ability to engage this tradition. Fortunately, I have found it rare these days for continental philosophers to denigrate analytic philosophy.
Hold on there! Can we define terms? What do you mean by 'analytical philosophy'?

Here's one definition, which uses a paradigm and counts something as more or less analytical depending upon its closeness to the paradigm. The paradigm is either: Frege's analysis of number in the Grundlagen, or Russell's analysis of definite descriptions in "On Denoting" (you pick). Both purport to use techniques of formal logic to solve long-standing philosophical puzzles.

'Analytical philosophy' so defined would be the project of aiming to solve long-standing philosophical puzzles through the application of techniques of formal logic. In that sense no one on that list except Frege is an 'analytical philosopher'.

If you say an 'analytical philosopher' is someone who cares about clarity and argument, then I'd say, why don't you simply drop the qualifier--and the substantive too-- since every thoughtful person cares about such things? Yet, if you were to say that an 'analytical philosopher' is someone who places himself under the constraint of not putting forward anything, or putting it forward 'as finished', unless it is clear and demonstrated (and why ever should one constrain oneself in that way?), then you eliminate nearly all of the figures on that list.

More troubling, perhaps, is why anyone would want in the first place to go through a list of significant philosophers and claim that they all "practiced analytic philosophy" -- not to mention that this assertion would have come as a complete surprise to those revolutionaries who initiated "analytical philosophy". (Aristotle and Hume "practicing" the same thing? Russell and Augustine? Ayer and Maimonides?)

14 April 2008

Praeter Intentionem

Suppose I make a general resolution to use just as much force as would be necessary to protect my life against attacks-- and it turns out that in one instance the force which is required is lethal. Have I murdered someone or only defended myself?

What about in the case in which, before I make the same resolution, I believe, with confidence and on good reasons, that a certain powerful enemy will make an attempt on my life?

Again, suppose I make a general resolution to promote the activities of the Washington Area Symposium in Ancient Philosophy and, as it happens, a paper given by myself is on the program. In advertising that paper, am I promoting myself or only the program? (Of course I knew that my paper was on the program in advance.) And if it could be one or the other, how would we decide between the two?

You judge for yourself.

April 18
Michael Pakaluk (The Catholic University of America)
"Necessitated Actions and Double Effect in NE III.1"

Skinner Building, Room 1115
Department of Philosophy
University of Maryland, 2 pm

11 April 2008

A Defense of that Poor Whipping Boy

Have you ever seen a home inspector inspecting a house by taking a long screw-driver and poking it into the wooden sill of the house at intervals, to see if the tool digs in at any point, meaning that the wood is soft and rotted?

That's how I feel too frequently when reading philosophy.

Consider the excerpt from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy that I posted the other day. According to the author, Aristotle and other thinkers in antiquity failed to see the Free Rider Problem because they committed the Fallacy of Composition, confusing the goal of the community with the goal of the individual.

Here's the passage quoted by that entry in which Aristotle is said to commit the fallacy:

We see that every city-state is a community of some sort, and that every community is established for the sake of some good (for everyone performs every action for the sake of what he takes to be good). (Aristotle 1998, Politics, book 1, chap. 1, p. 1)
But now consider the Aristotelian text. You can see that something is wrong, because the lines quoted in SEP do not contain Aristotle's conclusion!
πειδ πσαν πλιν ρμεν κοινωναν τιν οσαν κα
σαν κοινωναν γαθο τινος νεκεν συνεστηκυαν (το γρ
ναι δοκοντος γαθο χριν πντα πρττουσι πντες), δ-
ς πσαι μν γαθο τινος στοχζονται, μλιστα δ
το κυριωττου πντων πασν κυριωττη κα πσας
χουσα τς λλας. ατη δ' στν καλουμνη πλις
κοινωνα πολιτικ.
Here's how I might translate, and you see that the inference occurs after the passage quoted (highlighted):
Since every city-state (as we see) is a kind of association, and every association is established for the sake of some good (everyone does everything for the sake of something regarded as good), plainly every association is directed at some good, and the association which does that most of all, and is directed at the good which holds sway over all the rest, is that association which itself most holds sway and embraces all the others. This is what is called the 'city-state'-- 'political society' in fact.
One might wonder how the statement merely of the premises of an argument could possibly constitute a fallacy of any kind.

Perhaps the idea is that the fallacy is contained solely in the line, "every community is established for the sake of some good (for everyone performs every action for the sake of what he takes to be good)". Yet here the translation (due to David Reeve, apparently) attributes a distributivist sense to Aristotle's universal claim, which is not required and fails to fit the context. (Jowett for instance, tipping in the other direction, has: "mankind always act in order to obtain that which they think good".) (My own intuition is that Aristotle writes πντα πρττουσι πντες in order to include collective as well as individual action -- since clearly some things done are done through the actions of several.)

Moreover, gar ('for') doesn't always introduce a claim meant to stand as premise to implied conclusion.

Soft wood, I'd say; I personally wouldn't rest anything on it.

On the article itself, I don' t know if you consulted it, but it contains its own curiosity. As some readers of this blog have pointed out, the Free Rider Problem arises only if one excludes 'altruistic' motivation as original in an agent. But on this point the SEP entry says two things:

1. Scientific social science became possible only once the motives of agents were postulated as being purely self-interested, in the manner of Hobbes. (Oops, someone forgot to tell the Scottish moralists about this.)
A century later, Hobbes did not bother to advise acting from self-interest because he supposed virtually everyone naturally does so. From that assumption, he went on to give us the first modern political theory of the state, an explanatory political theory that is not merely a handbook for the prince and that is not grounded in normative assumptions of religious commitment. To some extent, therefore, one could credit Hobbes with the invention of social science and of explanatory, as opposed to hortatory, political theory.
(Notice that 'social science' thus understood becomes a purely descriptive project and cannot be of a piece with practical reasoning.)

2. But, on the other hand, perhaps the postulate of purely self-interested action is false.
Against the assumption of purely self-interested behavior, we know that there are many active, more or less well funded groups that seek collective results that serve interests other than those of their own members. For a trivial example, none of the hundreds of people who have been members of the American League to Abolish Capital Punishment is likely to have had a personal stake in whether there is a death penalty (Schattschneider 1960, 26). In our time, thousands of people are evidently willing to die for their causes (and not simply to risk dying -- we already do that when we merely drive to a restaurant for dinner). Perhaps some of these people act from a belief that they will receive an eternal reward for their actions, so that their actions are consistent with their interests.
To summarize, according to the author of the SEP entry, the postulate which is necessary for a field's becoming a science is perhaps in fact false!

Thank goodness we've long since worked our way clear of such obvious mistakes as the Fallacy of Composition!

09 April 2008

BACAP Upcoming Tomorrow

The Departments of Philosophy and Classics
Brown University
The Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy


Heike Sefrin-Weis
University of South Carolina

Commentator: Daniel Devereux
University of Virginia

April 10, 2008
7:30 PM

“Pros Hen and the Foundations of Aristotelian Metaphysics”

Seminar Friday 10:00-12:00 pm
“An Aristotelian Science of Being?”

Philosophy Department
54 College Street, Room 119

For more information, please contact Mary Louise Gill, mlgill@brown.edu

08 April 2008

Grad Student Aristotle Conference and Workshop

Conference and Graduate Student Workshop on Aristotle

October 4-5, 2008
Saint Joseph
’s University
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Sponsored by the

Greater Philadelphia Philosophy Consortium

Keynote Speakers:

John Cooper, Princeton University
Jean Roberts, University of Washington
Cass Weller, University of Washington

Graduate students are encouraged to submit papers on some aspect of Aristotle’s thought. Accepted papers will be read in a workshop setting. Papers should be suitable for delivery in 20 minutes or less.

Interested graduate students should submit a paper and abstract by June 1 to:

Audre Brokes or Andrew Payne

Philosophy Department

Saint Joseph’s University

5600 City Avenue

Philadelphia, PA 19131

brokes@sju.edu apayne@sju.edu

07 April 2008

The Free Rider Problem, and Aristotle the Whipping Boy

I think it's best to speak first of the "Free Rider Phenomenon" and then state a problem.

The Free Rider Phenomenon

Membership in a group is like an exchange: each person makes a sacrifice (S) (i.e. he gives up or does not take something he might otherwise have gotten) and in exchange gets a good(G) which is achievable only by the efforts of the group as a whole.

Suppose that he will still get G even if he does not sacrifice S. The group's provision of G does not hinge on his particular sacrifice of S. (This is what Tuck means in saying that "his contribution is negligible".) Then he might not sacrifice S and still get G. In that case he would get something for nothing; yet his continuing to get G will depend on others' making that sacrifice. Thus he's a "free rider" on the sacrifices of others.
Now, we know what some ancient thinkers might have called such a person--unjust, pleonectic, shameless, and unconcerned about the nobility, propriety, or appropriateness of his actions. "So people act badly"--you might say-- "what's the special problem?"

The phenomenon becomes a 'problem', I think, when we presume that the reasoning, "I can get G without S, therefore I shouldn't sacrifice S" is regarded as both (i) rational and (ii) universal or natural, i.e. common to human rationality. Then:
(i) If it's common to universal human rationality, then if one person may justifiably reason in that way, then all persons may-- but then the reasoning would be self-defeating, because no one would sacrifice S, and thus the group would not provide G after all.

(ii) If it's rational, then attempts to persuade or coerce individuals to act otherwise are attempts to persuade or coerce them to do something which is (strictly) irrational--and yet their achieving G seems eminently rational.
The Free Rider Problem, then, takes the form of a paradox: practical rationality is both impractical (self-defeating) and irrational.
About the comments: I think Eric Brown has made the interesting suggestion that the problem 'should philosophers rule' (Plato, Rep.) or, more generally, 'should philosophers regard themselves as bound to contribute to civic life' (a Stoic problem) --is a Free Rider problem. -- Yes, I think so, but wouldn't the difficulty need to be generalized more for this to count as a discussion of that problem?

Papabear I think points in the right direction, but let's see if we can't get clearer about it.
To whet your whistle, consider the following passage from the SEP article on the Free Rider Problem. Once more poor Aristotle serves as a whipping boy and is maligned. The author seems to agree with Tuck that the problem wasn't recognized for centuries, and his explanation is that everyone was blinded by the fallacy of composition:

This fallacious move between individual and group motivations and interests pervades and vitiates much of social theory since at least Aristotle's opening sentence in the Politics. He says,

We see that every city-state is a community of some sort, and that every community is established for the sake of some good (for everyone performs every action for the sake of what he takes to be good). (Aristotle 1998, Politics, book 1, chap. 1, p. 1)

Even if we grant his parenthetical characterization of individual reasons for action, it does not follow that the collective creation of a city-state is grounded in the same motivations, or in any collective motivation at all. Most likely, any actual city-state is the product in large part of unintended consequences.

Argument from the fallacy of composition seems to be very appealing even though completely wrong. Systematically rejecting the fallacy of composition in social theory, perhaps especially in normative theory, has required several centuries, and invocation of the fallacy is still pervasive.

05 April 2008

Classical Thought and the Free Rider Problem

I have in mind a series of posts on "the free-rider problem" and classical philosophy.

My thoughts were turned to this by a remark of Richard Tuck. Tuck has claimed (in a recent podcast on the subject, and also in print) that the free-rider problem, commonly regarded as an important problem involving collective action, was never identified as a problem by classical thinkers, and has been discovered only within the last hundred years or so.

Tuck is not alone in thinking this of course, but with his interests in the history of political thought, he's given the point some emphasis. As he says in the podcast (go to Philosophy Bites and scroll down to 10 Feb 2008):

It is very recent. Although people have occasionally thought they found precursors of this idea in the writings of Hobbes or Hume or Rousseau, or even to some degree back to antiquity, if you look at them fairly closely it turns out not to be the case. This particular argument--that I shouldn't collaborate in cases where my actions or my contribution is negligible--is virtually never found until the middle of the 20th century. And it's certainly the case that it's now taken on an enormous life of its own, and it's a major theme in political science. That's an oddity. Why should it be that something that seems so obvious, allegedly, to people now, didn't seem obvious for two thousand years? That's kind of curious.
Thus, some questions.

First, (for those who aren't familiar with it) what is this problem?
Second, is it really true that the problem is not articulated by classical thinkers?
Third, if this is true, why was it not articulated by them?

The third question is important, as there are a variety of reasons why the problem might have been articulated only in modern times, besides the explanation that we're smarter (include under this: our science or formal methods are better), or that social conditions have changed ("man and mass society", and all that) so as to make the problem seem pressing. Such as? For instance:
  • the 'problem' arises only given untenable or false premises, so the ancients reasonably never stated it;
  • if the 'problem' had been raised, they would have regarded it (on reasonable grounds) as having an obvious 'solution'; thus it would not have seemed interesting to them;
  • they would have regarded the problem as uninteresting, since they would have assimilated it (again, on reasonable grounds) to a much broader class of concerns, which did interest them, but which had a very different structure and form.

04 April 2008

Heroes of Philosophy

I recently discovered the work of contemporary Glaswegian sculptor Alexander Stoddart, whose work is often classical in spirit, and monumental in proportion. Consider this statue of David Hume on the High Street of Edinburgh, across from St. Giles:

Or this work depicting Immanuel Kant, worthy of a Stoic wise man:

His statues of St. Augustine, Adam Smith, and John Witherspoon are more along usual lines:

Clearly Aristotle or Plato would be worthy of this sort of treatment. But what about a recent philosopher? It seemed to me that perhaps Rawls -- although an objection might be that his personality was set against any kind of display drawing attention to himself. What do you think?

03 April 2008

They Haven't Saved the Best for Last

Only because "you shouldn't make comparisons". Let's just say that the Saturday program for the coming Texas Workshop (sent by a friend who will be there) looks very good also.

Saturday, April 5
8:30-9:00 Refreshments

9:00-12:00 Morning Session
Chair: Alexander P. D. Mourelatos (University of Texas at Austin)

9:00-10:30: “Dunamis for Kinesis and Dunamis for Energeia in Aristotle’s Metaphysics IX ”
Speaker: Mina Fei-Ting Chen (University of Texas at Austin)
Comments: Michael White (Arizona State University)

10:30-12:00: “Good, Better, Best: Teleological Principles in Aristotle’s Biology”
Speaker: Mariska E.M.P.J. Leunissen (Washington University in St. Louis)
Comments: Lesley Dean-Jones (University of Texas at Austin)

12:00-1:30 Lunch

1:30-6:00 Afternoon Session
Chair: Gül Russell (Texas A&M University)

1:30-3:00: “Stoic Logic and the Logic of Truth-Functions”
Speaker: Kevin Tracy (Lawrence University)
Comments: Robin Smith (Texas A&M University)

3:00-4:30: “Stoic Prolepsis and Meno’s Paradox”
Speaker: Henry Dyson (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor)
Comments: Hugh Hunter (University of Oklahoma)

4:30-6:00: “On Laws of Nature in Aristotle”
Speaker: Tiberiu Popa (Butler University)
Comments: Eric Sanday (University of Kentucky)

02 April 2008

April Fools

Today is April Fools day!

(Now is that an April Fools prank, or simply something false? What if I thought of it yesterday? I couldn't have said it then and made it a prank. Or suppose I'm simply late with it, as with a lot of other things.)

Texas Workshop, and an Insult to Hoeller

This weekend, the annual Texas Workshop; I once found the full schedule on the web, but that's disappeared. For now, the first two days:



APRIL 3-5, 2008

All sessions are in 501 Rudder Tower

Thursday, April 3

7:00-8:30 PM “Plotinus on the Objects of Sense Perception”

Speaker: Steven Strange (Emory University)

Commentator: Scott Austin (Texas A&M University)

Friday, April 4

8:30-9:00 Refreshments

9:00-10:30 “What’s So Funny About Being Overcome by Pleasure? Protagoras


Speaker: Brooks Sommerville (University of Toronto)

Comments: Howard Curzer (Texas Tech University)

10:30-12:00 “The Aporia of Euthydemus 288d-292e”

Speaker: Rusty Jones (University of Oklahoma)

Comments: Anthony Carreras (Rice University)

12:00-1:30 LUNCH

1:30-3:00 ”Doxophilia”

Speaker: Sean Kelsey (UCLA)

Comments: Blinn Combs (Trinity University)

3:00-5:00 Keynote address: “Socrates in the Phaedo and Aristophanes”

Speaker: Marwan Rashed (´ Ecole Normale Sup´erieure)

6:00-9:00 PM Reception/Buffet Dinner at the home of Carolyn and Robin Smith

On a different note, what I've been listening to this morning, an album that competes for 'ugliest design ever'. It looks like something nightmarish from the DDR, not WDR.