Friday, October 28, 2011

Cicero's (106-43BC) Philippics:  Resistance is Futile.

This being resistance to save the Republic.  This is a series of speeches given in the Roman Senate against Mark Anthony.  If we are to believe Cicero, Mark Anthony is one of the worst politicians ever.  Accusations of every kind are made ranging from forging laws for money to selling Roman provinces - all for his own gain.  The money never lasts too long, however, since debauchery and payoffs are expensive.  Cowardice is another recurring theme.  Cicero helped raise up Octavian as a rival to Anthony, only to have Octavian become the emperor who finally put an end to the Republic.  Cicero didn't live to see this, however, as Anthony murdered him first.  The transition of the Republic to the Empire took about 20 years with all kinds of struggles and changing of loyalty.  The main lesson I learn:  Keep your head low during a civil war.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Indian Festival in Fremont:  Diwali

My wife and I were taking a stroll around the neighborhood this evening and noticed many houses with candles along the walkways leading to the front entrance.  They were mostly at houses that I recognized as having Indians living there, although I noticed the candles at both Hindu and Sihk houses.  Arriving back home, I did a quick search and found that today is the Diwali celebration.  The linked article gives this explanation for the practice:

"It is said that Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth, roams the earth on this day and enters the house that is pure, clean and brightly illuminated.  Therefore, people, before exchanging gifts and bursting crackers, offer prayers to the deity."

Coincidentally, news of the rapidly increasing wealth gap is pouring into my house today.  We find the gap is greatest in Atlanta while nearby Oakland had their Occupy Protest over Lakshmi's distribution choices disrupted by tear gas.  What to make of all this?  It is tempting to conclude that the reason for the increasing wealth gap is because people aren't cleaning their houses like they used to, while the Occupy protesters are clearly lagging on this account.  It is embarrassing to mention what has happened to purity in recent years.  On the other hand, I am really just a know-nothing novice on these issues having first heard of the Goddess of Wealth today.  Obviously these events are related, but I would appreciate the insights from someone more familiar with the details of how this wealth distribution mechanism works and why Lakshmi is becoming more discriminating.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Calvin:  Christian Liberty.

Given that Calvin is the Doctor of Predestination, his discussions on this subject are somewhat of a surprise to me.  I am still listening to the section, but might go over it again.  Here is something at the start:

"...for the moment any mention is made of Christian liberty lust begins to boil, or insane commotions arise, if a speedy restraint is not laid on those licentious spirits by whom the best things are perverted into the worst. For they either, under pretext of this liberty, shake off all obedience to God, and break out into unbridled licentiousness, or they feel indignant, thinking that all choice, order, and restraint, are abolished." - Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III.

The overall doctrine is that Christians aren't under a long list of laws that we must follow.  We have Liberty to make choices while the course we choose isn't set for us.  Our modern viewpoint is that this allows us creativity to pursue any direction, but Calvin tempers this with the claim that we are only to pursue our freedom within the life-role that we have been assigned by birth and upbringing.  My view is that the purpose of Christian Liberty must be centered around Christ and our desire to do good with our life, while also being thankful for the blessings God has given us.  For those who can't understand this, however, the relationship of liberty to licentiousness becomes the focus.  So far Calvin seems to be dwelling on the errors and abuses of Christian liberty more than the purpose, but I will need to go through the entire section to form a more complete opinion.

One thing that is becoming clear to me is that Calvin believes in predestination, but it does not seem to be of the "everything is deterministic based on atomic theory" style predetermination of modernism.  There is something different, but I can't quite describe it yet.

Monday, October 24, 2011

"Moderate Islamist Party Set to win ..."

This post is not about Islam.  It is about using the adjective "moderate" to characterize a religious group.

"To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:  ...  I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - I am about to spit you out of my mouth." - Revelation 3:14-21

What I am wondering is if any religion honors those who are "moderate" more than those who are zealous.  Certainly Christianity doesn't, although mainline churches have done a great job of emptying their pews by encouraging their flock to be "moderate".  That is, the preachers teach their listeners to be slackers in the faith.

The counter argument is that the "moderate" here is really a virtue taken from the philosophical notion of "all things in moderation".  This can be dispensed with quite quickly, however, because those who support the notion that religion should be done in moderation never call for abortion to be done in moderation.  There is no call for the depravo-religions to tone down their lawsuits nor for moderation from the PETA folk nor the one-worldwide-totalitarian-government-to-stop-global-warming crowd.  To give examples from the opposite extreme, no one praises a group for being "moderate fascists" or "moderate racists".  Anyway, philosophy is not unanimous in its claim that moderation is a virtue:

"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom." - Ecclesiastes 9:10

Xenophon praised Socrates as being one who cheerfully endured the greatest hardships of any Greek soldier.  The extreme or the extreme.  Would Aristotle's name have been remembered if he had pursued learning in moderation? Which of us chooses to read a philosopher on the basis of the philosopher having a reputation for being mediocre?  Um ...

My general view is that to call someone a moderate Papist or a moderate Buddhist or a moderate follower of religion Y is to insult him.  We are referring to him as a slacker who wants to have some affiliation with the religion, but really doesn't care.  Islam is likewise a religion that has no praise for moderation, except as a tactic for furthering its ends.  Thus, regarding the western journalists that use this description, the only decent response is ... ptttuuuiii.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

My nephew ordered a new shirt.  What could it possibly mean?

Just to clarify, the characters literally mean "white person see no understand", which probably best translates to "white people can't read".

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Calvin:  Regarding faith.

Calvin's comments on faith constitute a long section with many thoughts, so the one I highlight below should not be considered characteristic of the whole.  Still, it jumped out at me:

"Here, however, a question might be raised as to the view to be taken of Sarah and Rebekah, both of whom, impelled as it would seem by zeal for the faith, went beyond the limits of the word. Sarah, in her eager desire for the promised seed, gave her maid to her husband. That she sinned in many respects is not to be denied; but the only fault to which I now refer is her being carried away by zeal, and not confining herself within the limits prescribed by the word. It is certain, however, that her desire proceeded from faith. ..." - Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, chapter 2.

Rebekah proceeded with outright deceit.  Thus, we are left in a bit of a problem.  Christian salvation is through faith, yet certainly not faith in just anything.  Faith in our material goods?  Faith in a political leader?  Faith in another religion?  Thus, Calvin acknowledges that Christian faith can never have a perfectly clear view of the object to which Christian faith is directed, namely God and His promises through Jesus Christ.  Thus, Calvin concludes:

"These examples certainly show that error is often mingled with faith; and yet that when faith is real, it always obtains the preeminence. For as the particular error of Rebekah did not render the blessing of no effect, neither did it nullify the faith which generally ruled in her mind, and was the principle and cause of that action. In this, nevertheless, Rebekah showed how prone the human mind is to turn aside whenever it gives itself the least indulgence. But though defect and infirmity obscure faith, they do not extinguish it. Still they admonish us how carefully we ought to cling to the word of God, and at the same time confirm what we have taught—viz. that faith gives way when not supported by the word, just as the minds of Sarah, Isaac, and Rebekah, would have lost themselves in devious paths, had not the secret restraint of Providence kept them obedient to the word." - Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, chapter 2.

This is related to something I have thought about for sometime:  No human has as clear a view of God as Satan had, yet humans can come to God through faith, while Satan cannot.  It is clear that perfect theology is not a requirement, but rather something more fundamental regarding the human soul.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Plutarch: Regarding the rule of law.

This is from the story of Solon who was a mythical founder of the laws of Athens.  A foreigner, Anacharsis, takes an interest in Solon's activities:

"Solon, somewhat surprised at the readiness of the repartee, received him kindly, and kept him some time with him, being already engaged in public business and the compilation of his laws; which, when Anacharsis understood, he laughed at him for imagining the dishonesty and covetousness of his countrymen could be restrained by written laws, which were like spiders' webs, and would catch, it is true, the weak and poor, but easily be broken by the mighty and rich. To this Solon rejoined that men keep their promises when neither side can get anything by the breaking of them; and he would so fit his laws to the citizens, that all should understand it was more eligible to be just than to break the laws. But the event rather agreed with the conjecture of Anacharsis than Solon's hope." - Plutarch, Lives, Solon

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pascal (1623-1662): Deism, Descartes, prophecy, etc.

Pascal's entire work is dedicated to proving Christianity to non-believers.  With Spinoza, we find that atheism and deism can be identical, but Pascal does not think so:

" ... And on this ground they take occasion to revile the Christian religion, because they misunderstand it. They imagine that it consists simply in the worship of a God considered as great, powerful, and eternal; which is strictly deism, almost as far removed from the Christian religion as atheism, which is its exact opposite. ...

All who seek God without Jesus Christ, and who rest in nature, either find no light to satisfy them, or come to form for themselves a means of knowing God and serving Him without a mediator. Thereby they fall either into atheism, or into deism, two things which the Christian religion abhors almost equally. ... " - Pensees.VIII

What I imagine from all this rhetoric is that while there was considerable fussing going on between catholics, protestants, anabaptists and other separatists during this era, atheism and deism were stewing in the background among the intellectuals.

Having completed Pensees, it is now somewhat clear what Pascal's dispute was with Descartes:

"I cannot forgive Descartes. In all his philosophy he would have been quite willing to dispense with God. But he had to make Him give a fillip to set the world in motion; beyond this, he has no further need of God." - Pensees.I

Descartes and Pascal are both down on the utility of pure reason, especially when trying to get a word in with sophists running everything.  Descartes tries to find a simpler, less disputable position to stake his reasoning on.  Pascal turns to the Bible - scripture - and then starts sounding more like a Calvin (who he also doesn't like):

"There are two ways of proving the truths of our religion; one by the power of reason, the other by the authority of him who speaks.
We do not make use of the latter, but of the former. We do not say, 'This must be believed, for Scripture, which says it, is divine.' But we say that it must be believed for such and such a reason, which are feeble arguments, as reason may be bent to everything. ...

It will be one of the confusions of the damned to see that they are condemned by their own reason, by which they claimed to condemn the Christian religion." - Pensees.VII

After this Pascal largely devotes himself to enumerating in detail the prophecies about Christ while explaining the character of Christianity at the same time.  One section I like comes from Daniel 11 where a prophecy that seems to point to Xerxes is given and the sequence of kings in the prophecy only works if you include kings that aren't listed in the Biblical account:  

"'The angel said to Daniel: There shall stand up yet,' (after Cyrus, under whom this still is), 'three kings in Persia,' (Cambyses, Smerdis, Darius); and the fourth who shall then come,' (Xerxes) 'shall be far richer than they all, and far stronger, and shall stir up all his people against the Greeks.'" - Pensees.XI

I had come to the same conclusion after reading Herodotus.  It is nice to see someone else had obtained the same result.  What is clear from reading Pensees is that Pascal had read widely from classical literature up to his present time and was familiar with various Jewish writings in addition to the Bible.

A few curious things are in the final chapter where Pascal praises the pope and condemns the Jesuits.  The writings of the Jesuit founder, Ignatius Loyola, I seem to like, but this is a century afterwards and Pascal leaves me the impression that this group has a very different purpose at that point in time:

"You the Jesuits, what you wish is a Christ not crucified, a religion without miracles and without wisdom." - Pensees.XIII

My take is that the later Jesuits wanted the reputation of being the church, but not the substance.  Pascal clearly sees a long list of enemies tearing the church apart, yet the church still grows.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pascal (1623-1662): Regarding boredom and retirement.

"Nothing is so insufferable to man as to be completely at rest, without passions, without business, without diversion, without study. He then feels his nothingness, his forlornness, his insufficiency, his dependence, his weakness, his emptiness. There will immediately arise from the depth of his heart weariness, gloom, sadness, fretfulness, vexation, despair." - Pensees.II
Pascal (1623-1662): Regarding philosophy.

"To make light of philosophy is to be a true philosopher." - Pensees.II

Pascal further explains why I study philosophy:

"Lastly, others wear themselves out in studying all these things, not in order to become wiser, but only in order to prove that they know them; and these are the most senseless of the band, since they are so knowingly, whereas one may suppose of the others that, if they knew it, they would no longer be foolish." - Pensees.II
Pascal:  Ethics and the Immortality of the Soul.

"It is certain that the mortality or immortality of the soul must make an entire difference to morality.  And yet philosophers have constructed their ethics independently of this: they discuss to pass an hour.  Plato, to incline to Christianity." - Pensees.III

If it seems awkward, Pensees is a collection of rough notes that Pascal made for writing a book, but he never wrote the book.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Justice with Michael Standel.

This is a series of 12 hour long videos going over many of the topics of philosophy that I have been reading.  The class is given at Harvard and PBS recorded them.  A number of moral theories are discussed along with some discussions and examples of how they might apply.  The series seems to me to be a good overview.  The explanations of Aristotle's Politics was quite helpful and forced me to give this work a review.  Mills work on Utilitarianism is what motivated me to finish watching this series.  There are a few unfamiliar names.  Familiar names that I haven't studies are Bentham and Kant.

Listening to these lectures and the student interactions reminded me of the problem I had earlier with the academic ethics of Stanley Hauerwas:  Facts.  In one of the earlier debates in the Justice videos the respect for the wealth of Micheal Jordan was considered relative to taking his money and using it "for the greater good".  The first part of this bargain strikes me as concrete:  Micheal Jordan has money that could potentially be taken by the government.  The later, however, is not only fuzzy but potentially completely misleading.  Everything the government does is labeled "for the greater good", even if it is merely paying drunks to go to the bar.  The fact is that virtually everything the government does comes with some sort of moral hazard.  A few items like Polio Vaccination are mostly good, but even they come with moral hazards since the vaccine companies - or the lawyers who sue them - can find plenty of ways to inflate their costs.  If "for the greater good" turns out to mean "rewarding the crony capitalists", then the entire discussion collapses.

Another factually problematic area involved the famous denial from Bill Clinton regarding an affair.  This was deemed to be a white lie, in spite of the angry demeanor that he took on in the video clip.  It was also deemed that white lies are of little harm.  Not to go into a lot of detail here, but the worst lies consist of information that is 100% true.

The last item had to do with "gay marriage".  This topic involves so much political correctness that getting the facts straight is a crime against the constitution and humanity.  The students mentioned the notion that the government had an interest in procreation, but then stopped.  Will any procreation do?  Of course not.  Governments have traditionally concerned themselves with procreation that produced a mentally and physically acceptable next generation, thus, there is an interest in marriage where the government provides subsidies and rights.  Our own government is said to have sterilized the mentally challenged so that they could not produce offspring, just as a farmer might do so also.  The key moral issue, however, is between legitimate and illegitimate families.  The latter have a strong tendency to produce citizens who are mentally and socially dysfunctional.  If you want to get into Harvard, you need to have had a more stable upbringing and this means that most of the kids grew up with both of their biological parents.  In the case of same sex marriages, there can never be legitimate children, thus, the problem.  An infertile heterosexual couple, on the other hand, can adopt a child and raise that one so that it is relatively well adjusted mentally and socially.  All this relates to the facts of human biology and psychology.

This series also reminded me of Aristotle's claim that only the old and experienced should study philosophy, because they are the only ones who have sufficient life experience to process the meaning.  Half of moral philosophy is getting the facts right, like Solomon did in the story of the two woman fighting over the child.  Ascertaining the true facts that exist behind the wall of rhetorical fog takes experience.

Friday, October 07, 2011

John Mill (1806-1873): Utilitarianism.

Utilitarianism is a view that all ethics derives from a need to maximize the total happiness of mankind.   Mill lists the originator of the theory as being Epicurus (341-270BC) who was an atheist with pretenses of scientific understanding.  This caused a lot of hostility towards the view and Mill is mainly hand waving his rebuttals to the various complaints. I will refer anyone interested to the first lecture from Michael Standel to get a modern view of the subject.

For this review, I will highlight a few notable quotes, but first I would note that there seem to be multiple John Stuart Mills!  Having listened to On Liberty one day, The Subjection of Women on a second, and Utilitarianism on a third, there is a major consistency problem.  On Liberty asserts that the only one who knows what is best for an individual is that person. Other knowledgeable individuals can only  have the vaguest of notions and to say what is best in any more general way is wildly conceited error.  Utilitarianism asserts not only that what is best for others can be known, but insists that this knowledge must be put to work at all levels from school indoctrination to legal systems.  The Subjection Of Women asserts that laws we have today are inherited from primitive times when selfish interest by petty warlords created laws by brute strength.  Utilitarianism asserts that laws are the cumulative product of human wisdom derived from centuries of experience and philosophical pondering.  On Liberty claims that principles of conscience and ethics are so varied and conflicting as to preclude any hope of sensible moral legislation by a community.  Utilitarianism asserts that conscience and the various ethical systems all derive scientifically from the one fundamental principle of maximum utility - i.e. happiness - and thus all provide guidance for the grand legislation of utilitarianism.

The one thing that I view as constant among liberals is that whatever sacred, irrefutable argument they employ today will be a direct contradiction to the sacred, irrefutable argument they used yesterday and both of these will hopelessly conflict with the sacred, irrefutable argument that they will use tomorrow.

The end of poverty and disease:

"Yet no one whose opinion deserves a moment's consideration can doubt that most of the great positive evils of the world are in themselves removable, and will, if human affairs continue to improve, be in the end reduced within narrow limits. Poverty, in any sense implying suffering, may be completely extinguished by the wisdom of society, combined with the good sense and providence of individuals. Even that most intractable of enemies, disease, may be indefinitely reduced in dimensions by good physical and moral education, and proper control of noxious influences; while the progress of science holds out a promise for the future of still more direct conquests over this detestable foe." - Utilitarianism, chapter 2.

Thanks to the social welfare state, the west has indeed eliminated many forms of poverty and much of disease.  Many other social ills have, however, risen to take their place, while one shudders when imagining what happens when the obviously unsustainable social welfare state starts collapsing.  This again highlights the modern notion of unidirectional progress in civilization compared to the classical one of cycles.

That Happiness is a scientific quantity:

"If there is any anterior principle implied, it can be no other than this, that the truths of arithmetic are applicable to the valuation of happiness, as of all other measurable quantities." - Utilitarianism, chapter 5.

The engineer in me got excited about this.  We can write equations for happiness, program them on a computer, and then use optimization procedures to perform the maximization!  But what, precisely, is the equation for happiness for an individual?  Are there any constraint equations?  And what precisely is the domain that we are integrating?  Mankind as currently alive?  What about the unborn?  What do we do if the result of the optimization is that the computer tells us we should exterminate a subset of the population to achieve a higher overall happiness?  Perhaps I should give Mill a visit and ask him some questions.  Anyone want to join me on applying for a DARPA grant for this?  I can handle the equations and have the super computer resources.  Just need someone with some knowledge of the formula for happiness.

Utilitarianism vs. Christianity

"In the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth, we read the complete spirit of the ethics of utility. To do as you would be done by, and to love your neighbour as yourself, constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality." - Utilitarianism, chapter 2.

Um, no.  Utilitarianism is a macroscopic or global law that specifies the end result.  The means doesn't enter in, except to the extent that it would be deemed more or less desirable as a precedent for obtaining similar utilitarian results in the future.  The Golden Rule is a microscopic or local rule that is aimed at individual transactions, but presumes nothing regarding results on a global scale.  They are independent principles.  Mill does note that many have objected that Utilitarianism is a non-theory, but tries to rebut this by cleverly claiming credit for real theories.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

John Mill (1806-1873): There are no known biological differences between men and women.

The Subjection of Women (1869) argues that for a woman to be a wife and a mother is to be a slave. If we combine this with his other work, On Liberty, it is clear that society has an obligation to invalidate any voluntary contract of slavery entered into, while Mill makes it clear that wives face a situation worse than slaves, hence it should be even more compelling to do away with the stench of marriage. It is doubtful that those who are satisfied with their marital arrangements would be left in peace. The wives have not had their eyes opened to the possibilities available to them through Liberty, while the husbands are brutal and manipulative slave masters of their wives who are so comfortable with their brutishness that they have lost all ability to judge sensibly.

Well, Mill didn't quite put it that way and he surveys a large number of opinions on the subject. The driving force for Mill is that Liberty is the sole end goal of humanity, while the sole function of liberty is expression, either of the philosophical, political, artistic, or scientific sort. Reading between the lines, anyone who chooses to marry has rejected their calling as a human. I would describe it as an adaptation of the call to the monastic life being purloined by someone who had contrived that Liberty should be the sole deity to whom our allegiance is required.

The book starts out with long sections regarding the extreme abusive husband and the ideal submissive wife. Laws regulating marriage are then discussed in the context of this extreme - but sadly all too common - case. I would characterize most of his arguments as being of the ad hominem type. All his opponents are biased, hence, there reasoning is fallacious. The next bit deals with an argument based on "progress", with the notion that women were originally brought into slavery by brutish men who used violence. As civilization advanced, such crudities were understood to be evils, but the legacy lived on. This view isn't sourced. Having cited many views from classical times, I will note that Mill does not make any mention of the views of Aristotle, Plato and others that democracy and freedom would turn Liberty into a cult that would cause civilization to degenerate into its most brutish forms.

The latter half is dedicated to the argument that marriage does away with 50% of the talent of a civilization. The capability of women relative to men was a subject that wasn't taboo in this era. Mill's argument here is that we can never know what observed differences are due to nature or nurture, thus, all observed differences are due to nurture (Quod Erat Demonstrandum). As for specific change, Mill highlights a few laws but leaves things vague as to what to change beyond this. Mill lists a number of jobs that he thinks should be open to women, including that of a soldier. I am having difficulty imaging women doing an 1860's style bayonet charge. That a complete re-engineering of civilization is required can easily be inferred.

Looking back at this book from our modern viewpoint, it is useful to see how Mill's vision has played out as it has been forceably put in place.

Economic: The US saw great increases in economic output during the 40's to 60's as women were drawn into the work force. This would seem to vindicate Mill somewhat, except that it has come at a price. Career women do not produce enough children to sustain the population on average, hence, shrinking populations are the norm in many modern countries.

Creative: Per Mill's theory, unleashing the creativity of women should result in a female Newton or Einstein for every male one. One check would be the Nobel Prize list. There are some women in literature, but not much else.

Happiness: This is more difficult. Mill says that the liberated woman will be happier. There are many kinds of happy and unhappy women, but I would say that those who had a healthy, stable traditional marriage are the happiest. As in the 19th century, there are some abused ones. Then there are the Code Pink liberated types who generally give me the impression of being pathologically angry. Then there is White Trash. Those are the ones who had no sensible family upbringing so remained in the feral (liberated?) state.

My overall opinion is that Mill's theory has been tried and failed miserably. The counter argument is that Mill's theory hasn't yet been tried, because there are still vast amounts of traditional marriage in society. Unless this is completely erased and converted to the new, post-marriage system, we have not given it a proper try. Regardless, scientific arrangements for society must take precedence over stone age practices based on violence.

For me, the book was quite an eye opener. I hadn't realized that the destruction of the marriage/family relationship was considered to be a major goal by intellectualoids in the mid 19th century.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

John Mill (1806-1873):  It ain't botherin you none so shut your trap up.

John Mill apparently is the founder of modern liberalism, which should not be confused with the classical notion of liberalism.  I listened to his work, On Liberty, which is a 19th century take on libertarianism.  There are many memorable statements in the book, but I was in a rush and so will just highlight the following one that seems to provide a justification for the Opium wars:

"On the other hand, there are questions relating to interference with trade, which are essentially questions of liberty; such as the Maine Law, already touched upon; the prohibition of the importation of opium into China; the restriction of the sale of poisons; all cases, in short, where the object of the interference is to make it impossible or difficult to obtain a particular commodity. These interferences are objectionable, not as infringements on the liberty of the producer or seller, but on that of the buyer." - On Liberty, Applications

Mill is pro gambling, pro strong drink, pro prostitution, and apparently pro every vice with the exception of slavery, although how that is squared with prostitution isn't quite clear.  Even in the case of selling poisons mislabeled, Mill has some doubt.  As for Christianity, Mill finds little to praise.  According to him, Christianity has no moral code and thus makes no contribution to ethics.  I will thus throw in the Apostle Peter's rebuttal to Millism:

"Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God." - 1 Peter 2:16

"They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity - for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him." - 2 Peter 2:19

Thus, Mill argues the modernist line that unless you are free to indulge in any vice, you have no freedom.  Christianity claiming to the contrary that anyone controlled by vice has no freedom.

On education I find Mill's views generally things I like.  That ideas which are accepted should be argued against forcefully is something I believe in strongly, yet the modern liberal is well known for being the least tolerant towards competing notions of any group in history.  Mill believes in a competition of ideas which suits me quite well - and would an Augustine also.  Mill has no problem with sectarian schools, but a big problem with government schools.  The government does have an obligation to check standards, but only so far as undisputed facts are concerned.  Based on what he wrote here, he would not be at all happy with America's government education system which leaves kids completely incapable of judging good and bad ideas.

Elsewhere I noted that David Hume was trying to be both a classical Skeptic and an Epicurean.  The Epicureans were an extreme gnostic atheist sect, whereas the Skeptic denied any knowledge, thus, his philosophical world view was fundamentalist oxymoronism.  Mill claims that Platonism was a great success - which is historically not true, and tries to be both a Skeptic and a Platonist or Stoic.  This again is in the same category as kosher pork, since the Platonists and Stoics considered it a duty of the government to impose standards of civilization and religion on society, while the Skeptics wouldn't be sure if society, religion or government even existed.  Mill's views don't derive from any of these classical views - even in part.

A purist liberatarian strand is that people should be allowed to do whatever they want (with some caveats about not neglecting one's family) but they must also accept the consequences.  It is these consequences that get to be a bit tricky.  According to Dr. Wiki, Mill came to embrace socialism later in life, which forces society as a whole to join in paying for the consequences.  I wonder if he would have revised any of his opinions on liberty.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Doctors making house calls again.

The house call went into disuse perhaps a century ago, but I experienced one today.  I have been coughing for a week and finally stooped to calling the clinic to make an appointment.  They asked me if I could accept a house call.  Cool.  About 30 minutes later the phone rang and I picked up and gave a very pathetic sounding "hello".  The doctor then cheerfully asked if Sharon was there.  "No, I'm Looney, not Sharon" I corrected.  He realized he had a list of names and numbers that corresponded but in no particular order.  Thus, he asked if he could call me back when he got things sorted out.  No problem.  Five minutes later he called again.  Two house calls in one day.  Wow.

Monday, October 03, 2011

I'm Me, Therefore I Am.

As Descartes said, spending too much time in the past causes you to be alienated from the present.  This Judge Judy video shows that philosophy has made great evolutionary progress since simpletons like Aristotle roamed the Earth.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Fiscal New Year Resolution:  Trying to improve Chinese conversation.

The government's calendar runs from October 1st through September 30th.  Traditionally the government keeps everyone in suspense by delaying the bills that are due October 1st until January 1st, thus, it has become a tradition for the new year resolutions to be made on January 1st when things are more certain.  Being a bit impatient for a change of pattern I have decided to take action now.

It was 32 years ago that I began studying Chinese while taking my engineering classes.  With all the Chinese relatives, it has improved a bit in spurts over time with some of my learning taking place as I listened to my children chattering in Chinese when they were little - having learned it from their mother, grandmother and baby sitters.  There was a time that I worked hard trying to memorize characters, with the result that I recognize a few hundred of the thousands and misread countless more.  For a White to speak some Chinese is a novelty, but really completely useless in this country.  Chinese students and professionals who live here are good at English, or else they are trying to improve their English so speaking with a foreigner in Chinese is a waste of time.  Thus, long ago I gave up trying to improve my Chinese from what is perhaps the standard of a 6 year old to something more substantial.

Stages in life change.  Now I am more likely to encounter a different class of Chinese.  The church I go to is primarily Chinese.  Many of them are in the latter stages of career like I am and have their parents living with them who no longer bother to speak English.  One non-English speaker in the group conversation changes the dynamics so that Chinese must necessarily be spoken.  Thus, there appears some hope that what I learn might actually be used.  Onwards ...