Thursday, March 31, 2011

New Threats to Freedom Essay Contest: In response to Greg Lukianoff on campus censorship

George Lukianoff argues that the university campus is becoming increasingly censored. This is disturbing since universities ought to be the haven of free thought. Instead of silencing those who disagree, people ought to debate. This is an important issue today, which I will address by highlighting the denial of free speech at the highest level of government, and specifically the loss of critical discourse in the Obama administration.   
In the discussion of the treatment of free speech by the administration I will discuss one specific incident. In summer 2010, Bradley Manning was arrested for leaking documents detailing the Afghanistan war. Following his arrest, Manning was subjected to psychological abuse. Amnesty International described his treatment as “unnecessarily harsh and punitive.” In addition, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley quipped that the way Manning was being treated was “ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid." He suddenly resigned. Clearly his resignation had to do with his comments on the Manning issue. Because of the language of his resignation statement it is generally accepted that he was fired over the issue by order of the Administration. There was no debate, and there was no informative statement given on the matter. It constituted a clear abridgement of free speech.
            The Administration’s actions can be defended in multiple ways, but not without forsaking the value of free speech. It may be that Crowley genuinely resigned, but this is highly unlikely. A look Obama’s fierce persecution of whistle blowers, his unhelpful comment on the issue, and his former actions makes it extremely improbable. The statement from Crowley mentions he resigned because of “the impact of my remarks.” It is then quite evident that Crowley’s decision was influenced by someone else. Sometimes assaults on free speech are defended because the speech was factual, fallacious, or hateful. If Crowley’s comment was full of errors, then the Administration should have corrected these errors. Surely there was nothing hateful in Crowley’s words. Even if there was, it is hard to see why he need resign—instead of clarifying, apologizing, or even justifying his statement. Yet unfortunately, people resign over incidents of “hate speech” often. What Noam Chomsky said is very useful in this regard: “If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all.” So the only option left to justify Crowley’s firing is that he and the Administration did not agree. Yet this is no reason to force someone to resign. The administration ought to be open to internal critique. Clearly the structure of a civil society, which enters into reasonable discourse, should be practiced in the government itself.
            Thus, the campus is not the only place where opinions are being censored. As citizens we ought to criticize this blatant abdication of our rights. As Voltaire said, “Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too.” It is quintessential that free speech be sustained in all areas of life; otherwise the quality of our reasonable discourse will severely fall.

A useful article on Libya

The Tasks of Anti-Imperialists by Gilbert Achcar

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Singer Solution to World Poverty

The Singer Solution to World Poverty

See also one of my favorite papers, if there can be such a thing: Famine, Affluence, and Morality

 Singer's Simple Syllogism (from The Life You Can Save)
1. Suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad
2. If it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without sacrificing anything nearly as important, we ought, morally, to do it.
3. By donating to aid agencies, you can prevent suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care, without sacrificing anything nearly as important
4. Therefore, if you do not donate to aid agencies, you are doing something wrong.

Perhaps I will post on this argument, perhaps not, it seems completely sound; so I really don't see much to comment on.

Check out Give Well for evaluations of charities:

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Mackie on Arguments for Design

In my humble opinion Mackie demolishes “general” arguments for design in his chapter on the subject in The Miracle of Theism. Any argument for design usually tries to show that the complexity and order give us good reason to believe in God. Mackie however brings in his best buds Kant and Hume’s critique of this argument as well as a few points by himself. Mackie formulates the argument like this, not unlike Moreland’s formulation:
1. The world resembles human artifacts in that it: contains order and is a movement toward and end
            2. Human artifacts are designed by a mind
            3. Therefore the world is designed by a mind as well.

But in Hume’s Dialogues this is objected to extensively with these 5 points:
1. Is the analogy between natural order and artifacts close enough to make theism a good explanation of the former?
2. Even if the answer is “yes,” various alternative hypothesis, by their availability, weaken the confirmation of the theistic one. (pg 137)
3. Even if the theistic hypothesis would be confirmed (despite 1 and 2) the order of the divine mind would still need explaining.
            4. The existence of evil would lead one to doubt the existence of a good God
            5. This argument doesn’t prove the theistic God.

Now I think Mackie is mistaken about point 3, he makes it like this
“The argument for design, therefore, can be sustained only with the help of a supposedly a priori double-barrelled principle, that mental order (at least in god) is self-explanatory, but that all material order not only is not self-explanatory, but is positively improbable and in need in further explanation.”
But surely the theist can point out dissimilarities between mental order and material order. Or perhaps much more easily, they could deny that God has mental order and say that she simply is mental substance.

I have already discussed 1 and 2 here: 4 is a rather large and complex issue and 5 is rather obvious so I won’t discuss those. On to Kant’s critiques!

Kant’s critiques are: similar to the first point that the most any argument from design could show is that there is a divine-architect which created the world from pre-existing materials, this is because any time a human designs anything they must use pre-existing materials. Second Kant believes that the design argument depends on the cosmological argument, this is because at some point the argument from design relies on contingency which is a core part of the cosmological argument. This may be true, but it probably just depends on how the argument is formulated, in other words it may not always be the case that the proponent of this argument has to refer to contingency and even if they do perhaps they can avoid the cosmological argument.