Final Words about the Tom Johnson Saga

Now that both Chris Mooney and Jerry Coyne have cleared up a great deal about the Tom Johnson saga, I would like to return to my post vouching for Chris on July 9.  That post led to all sorts of mayhem (here and elsewhere), so I'm going to return to the scene of the (alleged!) crime.

Here’s what I wrote in my July 9 post
It turns out that William was lying when he said Tom Johnson was one of his sock puppets.  Tom Johnson was for real, as Chris learned by checking him out thoroughly in 2009. Mooney knew then and knows now who he is, and I do too, because I've seen the correspondence and other corroborating evidence. 

Not only does Chris know the identity of Tom Johnson, but I think he's being a bit modest about what he had reason to believe in 2009.  The student provided ample well-corroborated detail that made it clear he could have witnessed just what he said he'd witnessed. Granted, "William's" credibility is zero right now, so who really knows what he witnessed? But at the time William/Tom Johnson/X sent that email, back in October 2009, his story were [sic--I must have meant "was"] believable.
I had promised not to reveal the correspondence and corroborating evidence, out of concern for the student maintaining his anonymity, so could not clarify any of this at the time.  But now it's possible to clarify, using the details covered in Chris Mooney's and Jerry Coyne's posts.

(1)  I said “Tom Johnson” was not just another sock puppet.  When the student wrote comments under the name “Tom Johnson,” he was talking about himself, and he was truthful about who he was (a scientist—which is what some science graduate students call themselves), and the things he had done (attended conservation meetings involving Baptists, etc.).  That was verifiably established in the email Chris showed me, as he reveals today.  Jerry Coyne's investigation establishes the same facts. By "other corroborating evidence" I was referring to more recent communication between Chris and the student and his adviser.  All that’s now been fully verified.

(2)   I said the email seemed to not only show that Tom Johnson was “real,” but gave well-corroborated details that certified he “could have witnessed just what he said he’d witnessed."  That’s also been fully verified.  He did attend conservation meetings involving a Baptist group. Chris provides the details about the email and Jerry Coyne's investigation shows the stuff about meetings was true. 

(3)  I was careful to say that I had no idea if the kernel of the story was true—the allegation of having witnessed atheist bad behavior at the conservation meetings.  I stressed that the student now has zero credibility, which calls into question earlier statements he made about what he'd witnessed.  We can now see the scenes of atheist nastiness were fabricated.  Nevertheless, I did not know that for sure on July 9.

A final note. Last time there was a big brouhaha here, the issues were actually pretty interesting.  All my posts about abolitionism actually engaged me and my readers in interesting topics.  This whole business has been not so interesting, and in fact a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.  So thank goodness...we're done.


Could Eating Animals Be Just Slightly Wrong?

Thinking about yesterday's post, a question occurs to me. Eric Schwitzgebel says he considers eating animals to be "just slightly wrong"--like not answering the emails of undergraduates.  The more I think about it, the more I find that an odd notion. I can see how causing suffering and death to animals could be considered not bad at all, and I can see how it could be considered less bad than doing the same thing to people (I actually argue for that in my book), but how could it really be "just slightly wrong"?  What way of thinking about the suffering and death of animals could allow you to make that tepid assessment?  Suddenly I'm puzzled.  Anybody have any ideas?


I Shouldn't but I Will

This post is so interesting I have to quote it at length. It's from Eric Schwitzgebel's always interesting blog The Splintered Mind.
Regular readers may recall that in 2009 Josh Rust and I surveyed several hundred philosophers and non-philosophers on their opinions about various moral issues; we also asked survey respondents to describe their own behavior on those same issues. Some preliminary results of the study are here, here, here, here, here, and here.

The biggest divergences in moral opinion concerned our question about "regularly eating the meat of mammals such as beef and pork". 60% of ethics professor respondents rated mammal-meat consumption as morally bad, compared to 45% of non-ethicist philosophers and just 19% of non-philosophers. Opinion also divided by gender and age. Women were about 1.5 times as likely to condemn mammal-meat consumption (55% of women rated it bad vs. 37% of men). There was a similar shift of opinion with age: 55% of respondents born in 1960 or later condemned mammal-meat consumption, compared to 35% born before 1960. One might expect a compound effect for young female philosophers, and indeed it was so: Fully 81% of female philosophers born in 1960 or later said it was morally bad to regularly eat the meat of mammals.....

People often do things they think are a little morally bad. For example, I think eating meat is slightly morally bad (on par with driving a gas-guzzling car or being somewhat neglectful of emails from undergraduates), and yet for lunch today I had a salami sandwich. Apparently, a substantial proportion of young female philosophers think and act as I do: 38% of them reported having eaten the meat of a mammal at their previous evening meal -- a rate not statistically different from the 39% reported rate among respondents overall. (Caveat: The total number of female philosopher repondents born 1960 or later was small -- twenty-six -- so the exact percentage should be interpreted cautiously.) Similarly, despite the difference in normative view, there was no statistically detectable difference in the mean age of respondents who said they had eaten the meat of a mammal at their previous evening's meal: mean birth year 1954.3 for those who said they had vs. 1955.1 for those who said they hadn't.

Our survey doesn't call into doubt the relationship between normative ethical view about meat-eating and strict vegetarianism: 78% of those who reported that they never eat mammal meat said eating mammal meat is bad, compared to 32% of those who reported sometimes eating meat. However, it seems that among non-vegetarians there is little if any relationship between normative ethical view and actual meat consumption: If you don't think eating meat is bad enough to warrant strict vegetarianism, but you still think it's somewhat bad, you're just as likely as anyone else, it seems, to have a salami sandwich for lunch. Conscience and behavior go separate ways.
Many interesting things.  The majority of ethics professors disapprove of eating mammals.  Second, a whopping 81% of female philosophers born in 1960 or later (the under 50 FPs) disapprove.  Wow!  But equally surprising, "conscience and behavior go separate ways."  The under 50 FPs eat mammals as much as anyone else in the survey. 

I wonder if Schwitzebel is jumping to conclusions when he tries to explain why the under 50 FPs eat about as much meat as anyone else in the survey. He surmises that it's because, like him, they think eating meat is just "slightly morally bad" (on a par with ignoring emails from undergraduates).   He doesn't seem to have statistics that tease out who sees eating mammals as "slightly morally bad," or "seriously morally bad," or "bad enough to warrant strict vegetarianism."  The statistics he presents don't seem to rule it out that some or many of the under 50 FPs who do eat meat, nevertheless see it as more than slightly morally bad. 

Here's the possibility I think we should take seriously.  There are many people (the under 50 FPs and others)  who do believe eating mammals is seriously bad, yet have a very difficult time giving it up.  I have encountered a lot of people like that in my Animal Rights class.  There's further confirmation in a study that shows that 42% of animal activists are not vegetarians.  These people very likely think that eating mammals is more (or even much more) than slightly morally bad.

If many people eat mammals but think it's seriously bad, what's going on?  Well, mammals taste good. But I suspect there's a bit more to it.  Experimental evidence needed!

Footnote.  In case anyone's worried about this, presumably Schwitzgebel is using eating mammals as merely a test case whereby to explore relationships between moral beliefs and behavior. He doesn't really mean to suggest that anyone's a strict vegetarian simply because they don't eat mammals.



7/31:  update here.

I need to correct a mistake in  one of my comments about the Tom Johnson business.  Here's what I said at first (July 9)--
Not only does Chris know the identity of Tom Johnson, but I think he's being a bit modest about what he had reason to believe in 2009.  The student provided ample well-corroborated detail that made it clear he could have witnessed just what he said he'd witnessed. Granted, "William's" credibility is zero right now, so who really knows what he witnessed? But at the time William/Tom Johnson/X sent that email, back in October 2009, his story were believable.
That was exactly what I wanted to say, but in response to lots of questions and attacks, I tried to find a way to make myself clearer.  I said (July 10)--
#6   Some are quite confused about what the issue is.  It's not whether the mystery person is generally credible. Of course he isn't.  It's whether Chris Mooney properly vetted Tom Johnson before elevating his comment in October 2009.
Distinguishing between  "proper vetting" and "general credibility," or credibility now, seemed helpful and clarifying.  However, I'd inadvertently been more specific about chronology.

Now that I look back at Chris Mooney's July 9 post, he was clear that his "vetting" was in response to questions--
after some questioned his original story, I took the step of confirming his identity, as this individual provided great detail about who he was, where he worked, what he’d published, and much else.
So he elevated the comment to a post, then investigated in response to challenges, and received a confirming email.

I never noticed the "drift" from one statement to the next until last night. In retrospect, what I said in my original July 9 post was exactly what I meant. I was not trying to say anything precise about the chronology of elevating, questioning etc., none of which was relevant to what I was vouching for.  That was....well, just what I said on July 9. My first post is all I really had to say.

A new rule at this blog. We will never ever use the words "sock puppet" or "Tom Johnson" again.



UPDATE: I saw it again and changed my mind!  Never mind! See comments.
As promised, and mindful of the fact that I'm in a small minority (9.3 at IMDB!!!), here goes...
Inception bored me so much I literally had to get up in the middle and seek amusement--in the form of a $4.00 box of chocolate chip cookie dough candy.  I managed to stay awake only by consuming said confection for the final hour.
Why so boring?
#1   We are to believe that Leonardo DiCaprio leads a team of dream manipulators who are tasked with implanting an idea in a a rich guy's head to get him to break apart his dead father's mega-business.  Their modus operandi is not just altering the guy's dreams, but setting up group dreams.  The whole team, plus the rich guy, wind up on an airplane having an exciting and eventful team dream which has been planned ahead of time by a dream architect.
Now, I'm willing to suspend disbelief.  I don't need to know how things work in painstaking detail.  The Matrix, for example,  works just fine for me. In principle a person could have their brain manipulated by a computer, so that they experience a completely convincing virtual reality.  It's not hopelessly incoherent to think this could happen in the way The Matrix depicts: characters lie down in a chair and put on a helmet.
But what's with these team dreams? To begin with, how do they get going?  The dream team has some fancy suitcases. When they open them up, we can see some bottles and wires inside.  They set them down next to the group, and they all start dreaming.  But wait--dreams take place in our brains. We see nothing that connects the suitcases to people's brains. This is....nuts.
And how does the architect create the dreams to begin with?  Well, she creates models--real world architectural models.  But how do the models get into the suitcases that somehow get into people's dreams?   Why (on earth) should we go along with this?
But it's even worse.  How does it make a difference whether a group is dreaming, or just one person?  How do the team members exert control during the dream, so that they can make the rich guy dream the right thing, and receive the crucial idea?
In short:  WHAT???
#2  Much of the movie consists of the team dream that commences on the airplane, and by all means it's a visual phantasmagoria. But I'm afraid still a big bore.  In real life, and in movie depictions of real life, we know that when someone falls down or gets shot, that can change the outcome.  So we feel concern and suspense.  In a dream events don't matter in the same way.  There are no rules for ordinary dreams--anything can happen next.  Granted, the laws for preplanned team dreams are somehow different.  The events somehow matter, and the team members somehow affect the events.  But how does it all really work? Who knows.  So it really doesn't exactly matter what happens all along the way in the dream.  Or does it? I'm afraid this uncertainty really makes it hard to care.  (Did you know that chocolate chip cookie dough candy is actually quite good?)
#3   But wait, what about the marvelous stuff about the difficulty of telling the contents of our minds from reality?  There's talk about this, but it just sounds like talk (yadda, yadda)--and not fresh talk either, given all the previous mind/reality movies.  The movie doesn't create any gripping anxiety about the line between dream-reality and actual-reality until the very end (which I won't spoil by discussing), unlike great mind/reality movies like The Truman Show, The Matrix, and Strange Days.
Granted, 99% of people who see this movie find it suspenseful and intellectually engaging, but I'm right and they're wrong. (Hey, I write an arts column for a small circulation magazine.  That gives me authority!)  Go ahead, tell me what you thought. I promise to be civilized about this.


Tom Johnson Chapter 368

7/31: update here.

If you didn't read the first 367 chapters, don't bother with this one. So now we have the truth about the stories "Tom Johnson" told about outrageous, nasty atheists at conservation meetings. There were conservation meetings and there were atheists, but the atheists were not outrageous or nasty. He did not hear the things he claimed to hear.

Jerry Coyne says he needed to clear this up not to protect the student from being exposed (which people have been calling for) but just to debunk the stories.  He says "some people are keeping alive the idea that it contains a kernel of truth, or that something akin to that episode might really have taken place." 

Just to set the record straight, not me. This is what I wrote yesterday:
The fraud in this instance (if there is one, and we don't actually know for sure) seems enormous to some people. It seems like a huge thing to leave a story out there, in doubt but not disconfirmed, that says some new atheists confront and insult religious people in person, at conservation events.  Of course, it goes without saying that some atheists do confront and insult religious people in books, articles, websites, public talks, on TV, and on the radio.  But if someone says "in person," that simply can't be left standing. Some people think it's worth exposing this student, no matter what the consequences for him, to get to the bottom of this.  But I think that's grossly imbalanced. The difference this story makes to the image of atheists is minuscule.  The difference exposure could make to the student is huge.  Ethics requires us to think about that.
I said that the people who were calling for exposure saw the story as "in doubt but not disconfirmed." Surely that is what many of them thought.  They weren't all trying to expose the guy just to punish him...were they?  They wanted conclusive disconfirmation.

So in that passage I wasn't even saying what I personally thought.   Seeing the misunderstanding in comments at other blogs, I clarified the next morning--
7/25 10 am:  People (elsewhere) are exercised about "not disconfirmed."  No, I'm not invested in getting people to think "Tom Johnson's" obnoxious-atheists-at-conservation-meeting story may be true. My point in this post is that it doesn't matter a whole lot whether it's true.  So it's not worth messing up someone's life (forever, with an internet expose that will never go away) to find out for sure  But OK: people are curious.  Did it happen?  I think mystery student offered Chris Mooney very credible corroboration for his story in October 2009.  Much of that still holds up, but some of it now seems very fishy. So (to my mind): low probability the story is true.   On the other hand,  I don't buy the theory that the story was so implausible on its face that Chris Mooney should have immediately dismissed all the corroboration. Even the best journalists can be duped.  But I want to be cautious--I don't have access to all relevant information.  I simply don't know the whole truth. 
Maybe that was still unclear--in fact, probably so.  I did not clarify what was holding up and what was fishy and improbable, because I was trying to protect the student's identity.  All the revelations in Coyne's post make it easier now to speak clearly.

Finally, about Chris Mooney. People at other blogs are saying since it turns out the "Tom Johnson" story was false, he's been discredited and I was wrong to vouch for him. What?  The question about Chris, as a journalist, is just whether he did the right things, whether the October 2009 email appeared convincing, whether there were corroborating links, etc.  "Due diligence" just means all that, not protecting yourself from every conceivable fraud.  It does not mean spending weeks investigating an anecdote, before elevating it from comments to a blog post.  It does not mean treating someone with the suspicion we all now justifiably feel toward "Tom Johnson."   Good journalists get scammed.  Surely this is right.


Imminent Inception

Warning: in the next day or so I'm going to write a huge rant about how much I disliked the movie Inception. See it...think about it...discussion coming soon.

What Journalists are Supposed to Do

Update 7/31:  here

This post is mighty puzzling.  The worst part is what we might call "the blue principle."  Ophelia writes it in blue (twice) just to make sure we don't miss it.

“Journalists” are supposed to expose their “sources” if they use the journalist to perpetrate a fraud.

Suppose a journalist did think he'd been used to perpetrate a fraud (that's not necessarily what Chris Mooney thinks, of course).   Should they mechanically conclude--"now I must expose the source"?  Of course not.  The blue principle is grossly simplistic. Journalists have to think about the nature of the fraud--how serious? All frauds are not alike.  It's relevant how the source would be affected by exposure--all sorts of things are possible.  In some scenarios, it might be relevant whether the source is valuable and reliable on some other matter.  It might matter how old the source is, or how mentally disturbed, or how rich, or how poor...a thousand things could be relevant.  So--blue principle? Nonsense.

The fraud in this instance (if there is one, and we don't actually know for sure) seems enormous to some people. It seems like a huge thing to leave a story out there, in doubt but not disconfirmed, that says some new atheists confront and insult religious people in person, at conservation events.  Of course, it goes without saying that some atheists do confront and insult religious people in books, articles, websites, public talks, on TV, and on the radio.  But if someone says "in person," that simply can't be left standing. Some people think it's worth exposing this student, no matter what the consequences for him, to get to the bottom of this.  But I think that's grossly imbalanced. The difference this story makes to the image of atheists is minuscule.  The difference exposure could make to the student is huge.  Ethics requires us to think about that.

Update 7/25 10 am:  People (elsewhere) are exercised about "not disconfirmed."  No, I'm not invested in getting people to think "Tom Johnson's" obnoxious-atheists-at-conservation-meeting story may be true. My point in this post is that it doesn't matter a whole lot whether it's true.  So it's not worth messing up someone's life (forever, with an internet expose that will never go away) to find out for sure  But OK: people are curious.  Did it happen?  I think mystery student offered Chris Mooney very credible corroboration for his story in October 2009.  Much of that still holds up, but some of it now seems very fishy. So (to my mind): low probability the story is true.   On the other hand,  I don't buy the theory that the story was so implausible on its face that Chris Mooney should have immediately dismissed all the corroboration. Even the best journalists can be duped.  But I want to be cautious--I don't have access to all relevant information.  I simply don't know the whole truth. 

Update 7/25 2:30 pm:  Jerry Coyne now presents evidence that the story is false, without exposing the student's identity.  Maybe it will also come out how the student corroborated his story in a long, deceptive email to Chris Mooney.  Stay tuned.


Public Philosophy

If you don't subscribe to The Philosophers' Magazine, you really should. It's always excellent, and the last issue is especially excellent.  For this 50th issue of the magazine, Julian Baggini asked 50 philosophers to pick a "best idea" of our young century.  You can find out a lot about what's going on in philosophy from these very readable, short essays. Here's a link to the series, which is gradually being published online. 

I had already written my usual arts column when I was asked to contribute to the series (I'm not usually this diligent!).  Here's the column, which is on Rebecca Goldstein's novel 36 Arguments for the Existence of God.  Curious addendum to the column:  I belong to a Jewish book group composed of 12 women, almost all atheists or agnostics.  We discussed the book, agreed that we liked the main character and thought highly of his defense of atheism, had a big laugh about the ridiculous orthodox world portrayed in the long (yawn!) middle section, and then...what?  Then we decided it would be fun to attend services together in the near future.  Most of us are nonbelievers in Rebecca Goldstein's mold. No God, but also no general hostility to religion.  (Granted, one or two are more hostile, and one or two believe.)

I've always wondered why there's so much more public philosophy in the UK than in the US.  While I figure it out, I'm having the pleasure of seeing the situation change.  The Stone (despite it's wobbly beginning) is turning out to be a great forum.  Martha Nussbaum's recent essay on banning the burqa is a must-read for anyone making up their mind about this tricky issue.

One of those 50 TPM essays was about the same subject. Catherine Audard says the important question is whether there's a "public reason" to ban the burqa.  The phrase is useful--have a look at her essay.  It was at the back of my mind when I asked yesterday whether there's any reason "in the public domain" for people not to combine science and some elements of religion in their own heads.



Here's something I've been scratching my head about, ever since the Tom Johnson Affair:  why are people (some, anyway) so riled up about "accommodationism"?  I don't care for the term, but never mind.  Let's talk about the attitude it refers to.  So-called accommodationists are atheists of a  certain sort--atheists who favor a tolerant and pragmatic approach to religion.  For example, they see religious people who embrace evolution as friends, not foes. As a result, they don't like to see these people excoriated.

Accommodationists can be, but really don't have to be, compatibilists about science and religion  That's the view that there's no contradiction in accepting all of modern science and also retaining religion (or some, anyway).  You can "have it all" without being guilty of any thought-crimes.

Accommodationists really don't have to be compatibilists.  You might think science and religion are incompatible, but that this is a problem only for the  person who accepts science and retains religion. It's not a problem in the public domain.  So despite the incompatibility, it's still right to be tolerant and pragmatic. But certainly, some accommodationists are also compatibilists.

Some of the "new atheists" think accommodationists stand in the way of progress--meaning  progress toward the end of religion.  They see science as an excellent religion-o-cide, and resent accommodationists going around passing out an antidote (compatibilism), or at least encouraging complacency.  Of course, religious people look for antidotes to science as well, and can be complacent, but the accommodationists are found especially irritating. "They're fellow atheists. They should know better!"

Anyway, that's my reading of the battle over accommodationism.  I lean toward the accommodationist side because, though I'm an atheist, I don't long for the end of religion. Even if I did, I'd think promoting science was much more important than fighting religion.  And I think it takes tolerance and pragmatism to promote science effectively.


What's really on my mind is compatibilism, the antidote to science promoted by some accommodationists (and many religious scientists).   It reminds me of another antidote, also called "compatibilism"--the view that we can accept determinism without rejecting free will, despite the appearance that they're irreconcilable.  To be a compatibilist, you have to accept one of various artful, subtle views about what free will really is. 

Here's what's puzzling me:  within philosophy, compatibilism is perfectly respectable (though of course not universally accepted).   It's not seen as at all unreasonable to want to hang on to both determinism and free will. Determinism is what you seem to have to accept if you take science seriously.  Free will, on the other hand, is something we strongly feel we have, and it's also tied up with our beliefs about moral responsibility.   Why isn't science/religion compatibilism equally respectable? 

You might say--it makes perfect sense to want to go on believing in free will. We have an extremely strong impression that we have it, and believing in it does seem bound up with viewing people as responsible.  It's valuable to be able to retain it. So it's not reactionary or illogical to want to find a way to "have it all"--both determinism and free will.  But with religion it's different.  Religion-retention is reactionary. It's like trying to retain slavery when you've embraced equality, or trying to retain the soul when you've understood the brain.

Of course, religion is many things. Retaining it is in some instances like retaining slavery or the soul.  But the basics--God, for instance!--seem more like free will.  For religious people, there are powerful confirming experience involved, like the vivid sense that we have free will.  Believing in God improves life for many people, just like believing in free will improves life. 

I'll just leave it there.  There's no question it's respectable (even if it may not be correct) to be a determinism-free will compatibilist.  Why is it any  worse to be a science-religion compatibilist? If you have the answer, let me know. I'm just thinking about it.

Update:  Jerry Coyne is also talking about free will today.


Why Socrates Didn't Write

An intriguing paragraph about Socrates in a New York Times review of a book by William Powers:
It should surprise no student of history that this moment in time — when many of us feel as if we’re teetering on the edge of a brand-new technological cliff — can also be seen as a familiar human problem. Powers reminds us of when Socrates, the greatest of all oral communicators, was freaking out over “the very latest communications technology, written language based on an alphabet” (though as Powers concedes, “writing wasn’t completely new”). Socrates believed that scrolls would erode thought by permitting people to forget what they had learned because they’d be able to look things up, that “they wouldn’t feel the need to ‘remember it from the inside, completely on their own.’ ” Worse, writing wouldn’t “allow ideas to flow freely and change in real time, the way they do in the mind during oral exchange.”
It never occurred to me to think Socrates had worries about writing per se.   I thought he committed nothing to writing because he was an interrogator of other people's ideas, and because all these interrogations ended in aporia--uncertainty, puzzlement.  He didn't write anything down because he didn't have any theories to write down.  But no, Powers says he was worried about writing messing up our minds, like today you might have worries about electronic communication.  Fun analogy, whether accurate or not!

On the subject of "messing up," Gary Shteyngart's essay in the review comes across as a big whine, but y'know, I think he's right.  "Only disconnect."  (Get the reference?  Cute!)  OK, let's do it, but first I need to do a little blogging.  Hope you don't mind if I check a few websites too.  I wonder if I have any email.


Free Speech for Adjuncts

An adjunct religion professor at the University of Illinois has been let go for sending his students an email preparing them for an exam and making the Catholic case against homosexuality.  One important issue is the way the Catholic church selects and pays the staff who teach courses on Catholicism (more here), but surely decisions about this individual shouldn't focus on that larger problem.

The more directly relevant issue is freedom of speech--why is the instructor being denied it?  Well, he's an adjunct, rehired (or not) every semester.  But how can that be decisive?  A recent survey showed that 50% of US faculty have part-time adjunct status, and another 19% are full-time adjuncts or lecturers.  Just 31% are tenured or tenure-track.  If freedom of speech among US faculty is going to continue to mean anything, it has to extend to adjuncts.

A complicating factor is that the email does raise questions about the instructor's knowledge and judgment.  Given that his stated goal is to help students prepare for an exam, he should be simply setting forth positions and their pros and cons.  Instead, he clearly tries to convince students that the utilitarian way of judging homosexuality is wrong and the natural law approach is right.  I would not object to him doing that in the classroom ("Now I'll tell you my view--but of course you're free to disagree."), but in an exam-prep email, it comes across as excessive proselytizing.  Just as problematic: the email misrepresents utilitarianism, and the explanation of natural law isn't very impressive either.

Because of the other problems with the email, it's tempting not to insist on freedom of speech for this particular adjunct professor, but the department apparently had no previous concerns about his teaching ability, and has no other concerns at this time.  He's really being let go because of his stance on homosexuality.  People who value free speech ought to hold their noses--his position is inane and easily refuted--and stand up for this guy.

Update:  Or at least that's what I think without first spending 3-4 hours reading everything out there on this subject.  What say you?

Foie Gras or Cat Food?

When I was in Paris recently, I was astonished by the fact that foie gras is on the menu everywhere--you know, the liver pate that's produced by torturing geese. I'm more than a little concerned about whether there's an animal rights movement in France. Here's the standard defense--"That stuff is soooooo delicious, we just can't do without it." (That's the short version. Some go on to claim the geese couldn't be happier, French culture can't survive the sacrifice of foie gras, etc etc.) But what about the deliciousness bit? Well, it turns out science is helpful here. Is the stuff really, really scrumptious? No more so than cat food! On average, people cannot tell them apart. So says Paul Bloom, in his wonderfully interesting and entertaining new book How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like.

Laughing at the Misfortunes of Others

Carlin Romano starts an editorial about Chrisopher Hitchens's cancer in scandalous fashion--
If God occasionally intervenes in the world to shoot down an atheist—to show who's boss, or simply to vent—it makes sense for Him to target the esophagus.
As organs go, it's long and conveniently placed, stretching from throat to stomach, making a good target for an elderly yet determined deity with possibly shaky hands. Its importance to speech heightens the symbolic force intended. And its connection to swallowing suggests the irony some believers think God enjoys too much: You can't swallow me? You won't swallow anything!
What a terrible thing to say!  For shame!  But never fear, he says this stuff to raise...
...the peculiar issue of parallelism that comes up when curmudgeons, contrarians, and provocateurs find themselves on the ropes, as with all violators of society's norms. Just as we can debate whether it's acceptable to use terrorism or torture against terrorists and torturers—those who don't sign on to the social contract by which everyone else lives—we can ask whether it's OK to be scabrously unsympathetic to a stinging gadfly who is possibly in his ninth inning.
Hitchens has said wicked, wicked things about other people.  Is turn-around fair play?   Yeah, yeah, two wrongs don't make a right.  On the other hand, a "stinging gadfly" is in no position to complain.  And if he can't complain, how can anyone complain on his behalf?   This is what Saul Smilansky calls "the paradox of moral complaint" --for more on that, see here.

To make the puzzle about Hitchens even more puzzling, consider an interview (will provide link when I find it) where he's asked how he would define the good life. He lists several ingredients, but focuses on one in particular, mentioning it twice.  What would that be? Laughing at the misfortunes of others.


Brain Freeze

There's something immediately funny about cryogenics--freezing dead people so they can come back to life some day, if the technology is every invented.  Sunday's NYT article on the subject tickled my funny bone, but also got me thinking about a very creepy eventuality. Say you opt for brain freezing, rather than whole body freezing (like the man featured in the story). OK, so they unfreeze you some day. 

We tend to think of the brain as what really matters. But embodiment is, well, kind of important. Let's say you wake up in 2100. Maybe they've wired you up so you get inputs from a video camera. (Note: this is the premise for my first screenplay. DON'T steal it!) You look around the room. Not so bad! I survived! There are nice people in the room, intriguing new gadgets you'd like to experiment with. Great. (This part goes on for a while.) Then your automatically scanning videocamera changes perspectives and reveals you--now, just a brain in a tank.

Oh my god! This is really, really bad! Whatever the personal identity theorists may say, what we really feel is "our bodies, ourselves." Maybe the brain is the real me, but it's very, very freaky not to be a brain in a body. And not just freaky. Bodies do great things for us, like allowing us to move around and change the world. You know--walk across the room, pick up a cup, stuff like that.

The article doesn't get into this. In fact, for all its virtues, it has a continuity problem. At one point we're talking about whole body freezers. Next, the author is back to freezing brains. The people featured in the story never talk about the matter. Can you wake up "whole" if you don't bring your own body?

Right, maybe they'll come up with ways to simulate embodiment, as in Robert Nozick's experience machine or the famous brain-in-a-vat. So bodiless people will feel as if they have bodies...and won't have to freak out. But maybe not. Keeping the brain going seems much more doable than putting it in another body, and getting all the sensory and motor connections to work again.

Maybe we make too little of our embodiment--a holdover from the old idea that the real me is my soul. We figured out it's really the brain, but at least in some existential sense, to be me is to have my brain in more or less the same body.

The Banning Business

We'll be back to regular programming soon.

An awful lot of people have said scathing things about me (here and elsewhere) over the banning business, so I'm going to come back to it for a nanosecond.  The apocryphal version was repeated at this blog by recent commenters. Here's Chris Mooney's account.

If there's an interesting question anywhere in here, it's whether a person who is called something very bad (a liar, dishonorable, obstructing justice, ethically blinkered, just to choose a few insults from recent memory)  has an absolute right to comment at the blog where the insult was paid.  Must a ban (even if not groundless) be postponed or temporarily reversed?

When Internet Ethics 101 is taught in philosophy or journalism departments some day, no doubt that question will be on the syllabus.  I'm going to say no.  When you get sent packing, you do lose your voice.  But not in some inexorable fashion, especially if you're a well-known blogger.  There's lots and lots of space on the internet.  The right to respond can still be exercised, just not in the blogger's "home."

If you want to know what she thinks about this, you know where to find her.


On Being Thought a Liar

It's an interesting thing how offensive it is to be called, or even thought, a liar.  Liars don't break anyone's bones, but to be a liar is a really, really bad thing.  Why?

But first, I have to comment on the bad reasoning of people who arrive at that conclusion about me (and sadly, they can be found at various websites that don't deserve further attention).

Here's the reasoning, and yes, it has to do with "that whole business" (see here too).
JK will not tell me X, or Y, or Z, about Tom Johnson (because, as I've said, those details would reveal his identity, and I think it would be wrong to do that).
Therefore, JK is telling lies about Tom Johnson.
Um, it's not valid.

I think people are entitled to simply not listen to what I have to say. But they're not entitled to call me a liar.  That actually would require knowing something about me (that I'm a mendacious sort of person) or having information that falsifies what I've said.  People who do know me, and think I'm lying, or encourage others to think I'm lying--well, I need to go back to my Dante post and carve out the proper place for you.

Alright, let's try to rise about the particulars.  Why exactly is it so offensive to be thought or called a liar?  Comments only on that question. I'll be moderating to filter out any others.

It's Not about the New Atheism*

So what is this recent dust-up really about (see the last couple of posts)?  Being a philosopher and all, I'm supposed to sit back in my armchair, puff on a pipe, and make some observations. 

Let's start with the wrong view.  The wrong view is that there are these two teams--the new atheists, and the accommodationists.  (I hate that term--in fact, it's actually inane.  Atheists are a tiny minority in the US. You need to have some power before you get to accommodate...or not.  Better word: pragmatists.)  Next part of this wrong view: since I'm an accommodationist, I've vouched for Chris Mooney, who is another accommodationist.

To begin with, that construal doesn't even get the teams right.  I do like Chris's pragmatism.  (Basically, he seems to think we should first figure out what really matters. Then decide how to get there. And he thinks full frontal assaults on religion might not be the right way. OK...right. I'll buy that.)  But I like some of the new atheists, too.  My husband and I sometimes joke that we ought to set up a Richard Dawkins altar. We are huge fans of The God Delusion,  as well as other books by Dawkins.  I also love Sam Harris's book The End of Faith.  It's not so simple for me to put myself on a team.  

So no, it's not "the new atheists vs. the accommodationists." The right view is that this is about fairness.  Look at how William's "confession" that he had made up Tom Johnson (and duped Chris Mooney) was greeted.  Confession:  July 7, 2:12 pm.  At 3:39 Chris Mooney comes on and says he's shocked and will look into it.  At the same time, PZ Myers comes on and says Mooney owes him a "groveling" apology.  Despite Williams' admission of serial lying, PZ has believed him and gone even further. He'd made up his mind, with no evidence, that it was Mooney's fault he was duped.  

Watching the whole thing unfold, I thought--not fair.  OK, duped.  But culpably duped? How can we know that?  After Chris's amazing revelations in this post, and especially after seeing the supporting evidence, I realized the reaction to William was even more erroneous than I had first thought. It was wrong to trust the guy--he'd just confessed to huge numbers of lies!  It was also wrong to assume Chris had been culpable.  His decision was regrettable--no doubt about it!  But culpable for being duped?  No.

Alright--main point is: by vouching for him I really don't see myself as taking a stand on new atheism or accommodationism. This is just about basic fairness.

Comments moderated.  Be reasonable, be nice.

*  Take off on It's Not About the Bike, by Lance Armstrong.


I Can't Make You Believe Me if You Don't

Update 7/31: All of this is now obsolete.  See here.

Think Bonnie Raitt.

This post is addressed to a couple of hundred people in the universe who now believe I am a liar, a sexist pig, a person of poor judgment, someone who should be ashamed of herself, ethically blinkered, dishonorable (their words)....you name it, I've done it.  I'm going to list the top 10 very bad reasons people have for thinking any or all of that. 

#1 Some think that by standing up for Chris Mooney on the issue of how he vetted Tom Johnson, I'm actually taking a position on a whole host of issues concerning moderation of the Intersection, etc. etc.  Not true.  I am weighing in on the vetting, and nothing else.  For the vetting alone, he has been charged with dishonesty, ethical malfeasance, shabby journalism, a pervasive bias...and more.  That's what I'm responding to.

#2  Some people think it's "ethically blinkered" to deal with the vetting issue, without concerning myself with other gripes people have about Chris.   I suppose they'd think all the defense lawyers at The Innocence Project were ethically blinkered too. (That's very wrongheaded.)

#3  Some have an irrational level of trust in "William," who confessed some of his sins at The Buddha is not Serious last week.  So they think the truth must be compatible with what William said.  Here's why this is irrational:  William has every reason to distance himself from any persona that reveals a lot about who he really is.

#4  Some think this is a trial, so if they can't see the evidence I'm looking at, they should completely disregard what I say.  I suggest that these people better hurry up and throw out all the books in their library. Most of it's hearsay.

#5  Some think it's incumbent on me to "out" the mystery person behind all of this if I want to be taken seriously. That's really strange, since just last week at The Buddha is Not Serious people were making peace with this very person, and saying they respected his desire to remain anonymous.  Ophelia Benson was even writing about going Desmond Tutu.  Now she's saying she's "frosted" because I'm "protecting" this person, despite his bouts of sexism (which she knew about during the Tutu phase).

#6   Some are quite confused about what the issue is.  It's not whether the mystery person is generally credible. Of course he isn't.  It's whether Chris Mooney properly vetted Tom Johnson before elevating his comment in October 2009. [update 7/28: correction here.]

#7  Some people think if Chris properly vetted Tom Johnson, then every single thing in Tom Johnson's comments must be true. But no.  He was properly vetted if (A) Chris was given evidence that solidly established Tom Johnson's identity.  Yes.  Email, websites, many other links, and yes Chris contacted Mystery Person using university email. And (B)  the identity made Mystery Person's account reasonably plausible. I don't think Chris needed to do a background check on Mystery Person.  I don't think he needed to spend hours and hours following every link.  Things just had to look plausible, and they did.

#8  Some people are absolutely sure that Mystery Person couldn't have seen the things he claimed to have seen.  They think they have no biases about this, and Chris's putting any trust in Mystery person shows his biases.  But in fact, there are biases on the other side.  When each person asks "could this have happened?" they are picturing their own experience of "meetings.  What meetings? Who's at the meeting? Your assumptions about this are your biases.

#9 Some think I'm supporing Chris to get a spot on Point of Inquiry.  Yes, and maybe he'll send me a check for a million dollars.

#10  Some people don't use what they know rationally.  I thought it was worth me stepping into the fray because I actually thought I'd be believed.  No sooner did I take Chris's side than a bizarre pattern emerged. Instead of reasoning "She's trustworthy, so she saw convincing evidence," they said (several people!) "this Jean Kazez is not the one we knew." My prediction that I'd be believed was premised on the assumption that other people are reasonable, and that turned out not to be true. 


The Truth about Tom Johnson

7/31--Update here.

If you are not following this dust-up, don't try. It will eat up your entire morning, and some of your afternoon.  But I am following it, and it just got more interesting.

So we have a guy, now known as William, who wants to do battle with the new atheists, and defend Chris Mooney, and evidently he feels small and powerless.  So he goes Oz on everyone, and pretends to be someone else--not one great and powerful wizard, but rather he looks for power in numbers.  He sends multiple personae (Milton C., bilbo, etc) to The Intersection where they defend Mooney and castigate his critics.  Later on, he starts a blog, You're Not Helping, where he pretends to be a "we" and creates sock puppets to comment on and support everything he says.  All strange, but all true.

When all this comes to light and William confesses, he starts listing all his sock puppets, and includes one "Tom Johnson", who caused quite a stir at the Intersection back in October 2009 by telling a story about how he'd witnessed religion-bashing at a conservation meeting.  Just a sock puppet, William now says. That comes as a shock to Chris Mooney, because Chris had checked him out, identified him as real student X, and used his story as supporting evidence in a post of his own.

When William decommissioned Tom Johnson, there was much excitement at various anti-Mooney blogs.  It wasn't just schadenfreude--Chris Mooney has been duped! Ha Ha!--but there was a new round of a popular game called "pin something on Chris Mooney."  It was biased of him to believe in the crazy stories of a sock puppet.  He must have done a very shabby job of checking him out.

Now, that struck me as very premature, but now I see just how premature.   It turns out that William was lying when he said Tom Johnson was one of his sock puppets.  Tom Johnson was for real, as Chris learned by checking him out thoroughly in 2009. Mooney knew then and knows now who he is, and I do too, because I've seen the correspondence and other corroborating evidence. 

Not only does Chris know the identity of Tom Johnson, but I think he's being a bit modest about what he had reason to believe in 2009.  The student provided ample well-corroborated detail that made it clear he could have witnessed just what he said he'd witnessed. Granted, "William's" credibility is zero right now, so who really knows what he witnessed? But at the time William/Tom Johnson/X sent that email, back in October 2009, his story were believable.

No doubt, the accusations will continue, and get stranger and stranger. But from my perspective, case closed.

Correction 7/29: My first comment here --after gussnarp's question--was rushed and garbled because I had to get to a horse show (!).   The comment reduced this post to 8 points, but I badly misstated one or two of them, in my hurry to get out the door. The post itself, and my 6:19, 7:23,  and 10:45 comments, say what I had to say more clearly.  Now that more is publicly known about the student, I imagine they are all now easier to comprehend.


Dante does Da Internet

Preface: Here (plus the 570+ comments) and here.

The pseudonymists
In the outer vestibule of upper hell there are people who post under pseudonyms. You can keep track of them, and they're honest about what they think. They have reputations to maintain. Really, they can't be blamed. After all, it's odd to speak (under your own name) to the entire blogsphere. Talk about public speaking! Google makes it even worse. Plus, pseudonymists can have specific, perfectly good reasons to avoid using their real names. So--they're merely in the vestibule, but I'm afraid they don't get to lounge in heaven, nibbling on cotton candy for eternity. Being brave enough to use your own name has to have its rewards.

The Anonymists
These people go by "anonymous" or "Fred" or "zippy," as it might be, but the main thing is that they don't always use the same name. So you can't keep track of them. They have no reputations to maintain, which can lead them into temptation. They'll wind up in the inner vestibule, next to the hot, hot door. If they're careful, it's not that bad. But cotton candy...no.

The Puppeteers
These people (odd that they even exist!--see preface, link #1) indulge a strange vice--they post on blogs using multiple pseudonyms, for purposes of associating their opinions with a multitude. They may even make their aliases talk to each other, for pleasing effect. Pleasing to whom? It's not quite clear.  These people are deceivers, but also fools, since they confuse a true proposition with one that has many adherents.  Sixth circle of upper hell, alongside the heretics, seems like a fitting place for them.

The Identify Thieves
Puppeteers who want to be taken especially seriously will sometimes resort to identity theft (amazing but true--see preface, link #2), claiming that one or their aliases is such-and-such a real person. Thus, the real person unwittingly becomes associated with whatever view the puppeteer is trying to promote. The torments of lower hell (alongside the thieves in the 8th circle) are a suitable recompense. Burns, festering sores, relentless itching, the whole nine yards.


Vegan Purity

Let's talk about the "Chronicle" article (without the adjunctivitis).  Here's the passage that I think will draw fire from vegans--
Life is everywhere. I squash millions of micro-organisms with each step and wash down the drain unnoticed multitudes with each shower. Brushing my teeth kills innumerable bacteria (it's them or my gums!). With every swallow, I destroy some of the bacteria in my gut that keep me alive by helping to digest my food. But even larger creatures like cockroaches and rats, do they enter into the purview of animal-rights activists? And the HIV virus, the swine flu, tuberculosis? Do I want to eschew antibiotics and vaccines that help my life out of respect for theirs?

The grandstanding of vegans for carefully selected life forms, to serve their own sensitivities—through their meat- and dairy-free diets, their avoidance of leather and other animal products—doesn't produce much besides a sense of their own virtue. As they make their footprint smaller and smaller, will they soon be walking on their toes like ballet dancers? And if so, what is the step after that? Pure spirit (a euphemism for bodily death)? If our existence is the problem—which it is—then only nonexistence can cure it. The supreme biocentric act is not to discover yet one more animal product to abstain from. The supreme biocentric act is dying, returning the finite matter and energy you have appropriated for yourself and giving them back to the creatures you stole them from. And what makes them so pure? Are they shedding tears as they tear you and each other apart? The real "crime" is existence, not being or using animals.
Obviously, Fromm has not read his Regan and Francione.  These people draw the line in a way that easily allows us to brush our teeth. The crucial characteristic for them is being a subject-of-life or (simpler still) sentience (Francione), not mere animalhood. So Fromm's reductio ad absurdum is premised on a misunderstanding.

On the other hand, is this line of thinking entirely worthless?  I don't actually think so.  Even drawing the line where advocates of veganism really do, there really is a question what sort of a life a human being can have, while fastidiously avoiding every last infringement on sentient life.  There is something to the idea that these ethicists want us to reduce our ecological footprints until we're on our toes...or not fully living. I think that's a reason to avoid purism, but not a reason to abandon the whole attempt to treat animals morally.  Fromm seems to agree:
I think vegetarianism is admirable. I would recommend it. Unlike vegans, who are enlisted in an open-ended but futile metaphysic of virtue and self-blamelessness that pretends to escape from the conditions of life itself, vegetarians have more limited goals and have marked out a manageable territory with fewer cosmic pretensions. They are concerned about their health. Or they don't want animals to be raised expressly to be tortured and killed—especially in factory farms and slaughterhouses—for their dinner plates. Or they don't want to ingest the dead bodies of fairly complex creatures, which is apt to make them feel queasy. No doubt they would prefer all animals (whatever that might include) to be treated humanely, but they are not prepared to stop wearing leather shoes or eating Jell-O. At least vegetarianism—though it can't resolve the moral dilemma of the savagery of our lives—is more or less possible in both theory and practice.
What he's rejecting is perfectionism about doing right by animals, not everything.  I give him high marks for his conclusions, low marks for misrepresentations he made along the way.

Vegan Purity and Adjunctivitis

Two good articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education. One is about the astonishing fact that US college faculty are now only about 31% tenured or tenure track.  The rest are adjunct part-timers (about 50%) and full-time lecturers, etc. The other is about vegetarianism and veganism.  Comment sections of both are worth reading too.


Dead People

Strange but true story at ABC news: 91 year old woman digs up and lives with the bodies of her dead husband and twin sister.  Because she missed them.  Aww!  And then the authorities came and took them away.

What was the harm, really?  It couldn't have been a disease issue. People handle corpses every day--the dead animals they eat. If they were removed to protect the feelings of the bereaved, that can't make sense--she was evidently the primary bereaved.  Most plausible explanation--the husband and sister wouldn't have wanted it.  We respect people's preferences, even when they're not around anymore to care.

Speaking of the dead.  I've been thinking about Stieg Larsson, the Swedish author who didn't live to see his three unpublished novels become international bestsellers.  (I just read and much enjoyed the first one.) Which brings to mind Aristotle's famous question about whether posthumous events make any difference to whether a person's life went well.  He says: maybe some, but not enough to change a life from good to bad or bad to good.

OK, that sounds nuanced and judicious, but granting that events can matter to the dead, it's kind of hard (understatement) to say how they matter.  Does Larsson's posthumous success ennoble his life? Or is it a tragedy, because he never got to know about it or enjoy it?  Was the unearthing of the husband and sister bad for them (because...eww!) or good for them (because it gave the wife/sister solace)? One of the distinctive things about the dead is that it's very hazy what's good and bad for them!


Does Pain Subtract?

There's a very simple, crude way of thinking about value. Pleasure is good, pain is bad.  A chunk of your life, from two hours to two years to the whole thing--is good or bad to the tune of the pleasure minus the pain.

Even if I was prepared to accept an experiential standard for judging lives and chunks of lives (which I'm not--see chapter 4 of The Weight of Things),  this would have to be the wrong way to go.  Looking back on our two weeks in Europe, it's all wrong to say the pain was simply a negative, subtracting from total good.   

(1)  You get really sore feet if you walk all over Rome all day, but the soreness is a part of a total experience of working hard, seeing everything, being industrious...that I like.  I'd get rid of some of that, if I could, but not all of it.

(2)  Second, the "pleasure minus pain" equation doesn't capture how we really think about whether pains are "worth it" or not.  We endured about an hour of crowds, heat, and our own squabbles as we made our way through the gigantic Vatican museum for the sake of 20 minutes of gazing at the Sistine chapel. (Then went through a second time to look at everything else--this was not quite logical.)   It's not at all impossible that the total suffering exceeded the total pleasure yet I judge the pleasure worth the pain.  What I'm thinking, apparently, is that the heights of pleasure enjoyed while gazing at Michelangelo are worth enduring all that misery, however the total quantities (duration times intensity, with quality incorporated somehow) compare. 

(3)  Last but not least, pain can make for lasting memories. In a way, travel is pretty dumb. You go to marvelous places like Rome for a few days or weeks, just to wind up back home long term, finding your environment even less interesting than before (especially if you live in Dallas).  The sore feet give your memories (including the pleasurable elements) greater staying power.  Example:  I stepped on a sea urchin in Hawaii last summer, which was seriously excruciating.  I remember that day--what gorgeous skies!  what amazing spinner dolphins!  what superb underwater corals!--extremely well.

So... pleasure minus pain, bah!


God--There's an App for That

Need a quick argument for or against the existence of God?  There are now apps to consult, both for believers and non-believers. There's "the pocket atheist," written by the son of a fundamentalist preacher.  Then there are believer apps.
One app, “Fast Facts, Challenges & Tactics” by LifeWay Christian Resources, suggests that in “reasoning with an unbeliever” it is sometimes effective to invoke the “anthropic principle,” which posits, more or less, that the world as we know it is mathematically too improbable to be an accident.

It offers an example: “The Bible’s 66 books were written over a span of 1,500 years by 40 different authors on three different continents who wrote in three different languages. Yet this diverse collection has a unified story line and no contradictions.”
Wha...? Without even pulling out an iphone, I can think of numerous contradictions.  Big ones, too.

Genesis 1, God creates both man and woman--

27 So God created man in his own image,
       in the image of God he created him;
       male and female he created them. 

Genesis 2, only Adam exists, and God creates woman from his rib--

      But for Adam [h] no suitable helper was found. 21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs [i] and closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib [j] he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
 23 The man said,
       "This is now bone of my bones
       and flesh of my flesh;
       she shall be called 'woman, [k] '
       for she was taken out of man." 
Please, someone explain this to me: how do believers not know about this contradiction, despite the years they spend going to Sunday school and participating in bible groups? 
There are lots of contradictions in the bible, and there'd be even more if different decisions had been made about what to include in the canon. You see, real people decided what was in and what was out, and one basis for deciding was to increase continuity and reduce contradictions. But you see, to err is human.  So there are still contradictions.

Praying for Christopher Hitchens

Should you or shouldn't you?  That is the question of the moment at various websites.  Sure, why not, if you think it will do either him or you any good.  But boasting that you're praying for him? Either that's got to be a humorous tease (see Andrew Sullivan) or a nasty dig (see Cristina Odone).  The nasty diggers are obviously lying about praying for Hitchens--or at least they're lying about praying for his health. ("Dear God, Please get rid of Christopher Hitchens as soon as possible. Amen.")  The friendly teasers--well, maybe they're right.  I'm sure whatever happens next for Hitchens, he isn't going to lose his love of confrontation and irony.


Philosophy Summer Camp

My kids are loafing around this summer, not attending philosophy summer camp.  But what if they were?  I suggest these as two nice questions they could be exploring instead of watching You Tube videos:

The Color of Water

Look at the pool--any philosophy summer camp will surely have one.  The water is blue, right?  Guess what?  The sides of the pool are actually white. Notice also that the blue of the pool is not the same as the blue of the sky. Take some water out in clear glasses.  Good heavens, it's not blue!  So what color is the pool water, really?   Before you say it's not blue, do think a bit about watermelon. Any fool knows it's red--really red.  But if you chop it into small enough pieces, it won't be red. So...is the water in the pool blue or not blue?

The Lemonade Stand

You and your buddy set up a lemonade stand, selling cheap crummy fake lemonade at an exorbitant price. The money comes rolling in.  Then the kids next door set up a lemonade stand selling better lemonade (from real lemons!) at a lower price.  All the cars start stopping at their lemonade stand.  They've harmed you just as much as if they'd come over and stolen your money box.  Were they wrong to set up their lemonade stand?