Confucians can torture

May 8, 2017 – 11:02 am

I asked Sam Crane at Useless Tree:

Are there, in fact, any arguments against torture in Chinese philosophy that aren’t basically utilitarian? If there aren’t, then could there have been? In Western philosophy our arguments are usually from appeal to various notions of ‘human rights’, but that wouldn’t be possible for the Chinese sages. Other arguments are from the harm done to the character of the torturers: i.e. you don’t want to be the sort of person who does that, so it’s morally impermissible for you to do so. Is it possible to run such an argument in the Chinese context? Has it ever been done?

His reply was to the effect that a Mencian interpretation would require that “The noble-minded, who conscientiously cultivate their appetite for Duty and Humanity, are obviously most repelled at the thought of the suffering of others.  Thus, the noble-minded would not take up torture…” I found this doubtful and sent the following reply, which I think might be interesting.

I think the arguments that you give are likely to be the sort that a Confucian sage would give on this topic if he wanted to argue against torture, and I think you’re right that he would have a preference for not torturing, but I doubt that that preference could be extended to a blanket prohibition against torture – at least, not on the grounds you give. Your proposed argument appeals to the limits placed on a man’s possible behaviours by his ren, and no-one doubts that there are such limits, but I think that even fully-developed ren cannot play the role that you want it to play of erecting impassable barriers against some forms of behaviour.

It’s reasonable enough to suppose that on the Mencian understanding of human nature, torture would offend against the compassionate element of human nature that allows us to feel empathy (for the child in the well, for example.) Also, it is right and proper to nurture this aspect of our human nature, for it is the seed that grows into ren (“The heart of compassion is the germ of benevolence” (2A.6)) and ren is one of the virtues. Now, Mencius wants us to develop this ren as far as we can, to make us noble, from which it follows that the truly noble man is one who is truly compassionate; but your claim would then be that no truly compassionate person could bring themselves to cause pain to another, and that therefore torture would be effectively absolutely prohibited. This, I think, does not follow.

Ren cannot be just free-floating compassion. To be a virtue it has to be expressed according to the li. If there are cases where, according to the li, the appropriate way to show ren involves causing some pain or even killing, then it couldn’t be the Mencian position that causing pain was never the right thing to do; and that opens the door to a possible justification for torture *in some cases*. So the question now is, do the li ever call for such a thing? I think that, given the widespread acceptance of punishment in Chinese society, we’d have to say that the traditions did encompass the inflicting of pain as part of the pattern of behaviours that contributes to a harmonious society. Those traditions are the li.

So I don’t think that “Don’t do what should not be done, and don’t desire what should not be desired” is going to give us the blanket prohibition that you suggest, because it leaves it up to an interpretation of the li what it actually is that should or should not be done, and the li may well allow us (or demand of us) that we inflict pain.

One way (the only way that I can think of offhand) to deny that this mediation of ren through li has the consequence I am suggesting, would be to claim that the only cases in which inflicting pain was according to the li involved it being inflicted by a superior upon an inferior, and that Mencius thought that the noble character aspired to treat all men as social equals. All relations then would be relations like friendship – and in no circumstances is it proper for a friend to cause pain to a friend. But could such a claim be supported? I doubt it; because it would mean that Mencius had taken up the position of the Mohists, and he was pretty clear elsewhere (e.g. 3B.9) that Mohism was wrong on just this point.

There’s one other thing that might be relevant. This conversation started with a consideration of the proper treatment of prisoners of war; but what is their place in the Confucian division of society? Which one of the five fundamental relationships covers the captive enemy soldier and his captor. I would guess that it would be the sovereign-subject relationship, but I don’t know. If the relationship was not covered at all, or not recognised in the li, then the Confucian would have no guidelines at all as to the proper behaviour.


The Confucian Canon

May 8, 2017 – 10:29 am



Limits to Reason

May 8, 2017 – 10:25 am
Colin McGinn had a comment on the human tendency to irrationality, partly wondering why people are so irrational given that “human irrationality can seem the oddest and least adaptive trait of the species,” and accepting that “we need to know what causes irrationality and what we can do to fix it.” I replied, and I thought I might as well save that reply here:

There is a general assumption that rationality is adaptive – and your claim that irrationality looks maladaptive would be a version of that – but Stephen Stich in his book The Fragmentation of Reason went through a selection of the arguments that he could reconstruct for that position and found them all pretty badly wanting. Even without reviewing his counterarguments, it must be pretty clear that if rationality really was so advantageous it wouldn’t have taken 3 billion years to arise in the current evolutionary process; so the mere fact that we are as rational as we are (or can be) is something that we should marvel at.

There are, in fact, very good reasons why a restricted irrationalism might be an optimal evolutionary strategy, and why we should therefore expect people to be irrational at least to some degree. (Cherniak’s Minimal Rationality has more thoughts on this topic.) The principal reason follows from the fact that we cannot expect any natural system to be a perfect reasoner. For one thing, there are physical limits to deductive capacities in any finite device. Since we can’t be perfect reasoners, and there are time constraints on the reasoning that we can indulge in, it makes sense that we would be designed to take shortcuts (as Breako mentioned.) These shortcuts get us answers that are good enough and tend to err on the side of safety. That is an evolutionarily superior strategy to one which involves just reasoning – even reasoning according to the most reliable rules of induction or deduction. There’s a lot of work on this sort of thing following on from Kahneman and Tversky’s experiments. (It’s not even the case that ‘knowing the truth’ or ‘disbelieving falsehoods’ has an adaptive value in itself. One very annoying finding is that people who are religious believers are relatively more successful and happier than others – and it doesn’t seem to matter what they believe in, just that they believe.)

In this respect then, we are really in the same position as many other animals on this planet, having a certain degree of rationality, far from perfect, and trying our best to get along with what we’ve got. One way to see how our limits affect us, and why we should be cautious and humble in applying our reasoning powers to complex questions, is to look further down the Great Chain of Being and see how the situation looks for those ‘lower’ creatures. Take dogs for example. Do we think dogs would be better off if they were stripped of their instincts and the traditional social structures of the pack, and were left to attempt to reason out their life choices? Would such animals be able to set appropriate goals for themselves? And for any choices they made, would they be competent to reason out the proper means to achieving them, or would they fail because they are just not smart enough and don’t have a proper understanding of the way the world is? And if we can accept that those animals have that problem, and that we are essentially just as far as they are from perfect rationality, then does it not follow that we will have that problem too?

I guess the upshot of this reasoning, if it can be trusted, is that we don’t really know when deliberate reasoning is the appropriate way to get to a practical conclusion. At least, we shouldn’t be so sure that more ‘rationality’ is going to be a good thing, and that people who are acting irrationally, if that means acting against the reasoned opinions of others, are necessarily doing the wrong thing.


Thoughts on Torture

May 8, 2017 – 10:22 am

Christopher Hitchens has followed in the footsteps of Steve Harrigan and subjected himself to the process known as ‘waterboarding’ in order to be able to report more insightfully on just what it is that is the focus of so much controversy. He reports that it is clearly torture and that therefore it ought not to be practised. On the other hand the Americans say that they don’t torture, but that 3 persons were waterboarded in the early days after 9/11; from which we might conclude that they don’t consider it to be torture. In both cases, however, there is a fundamental agreement: torture is inadmissible under any circumstances.

One way that the argument might now go is to start disputing what is and is not torture. According to the UN it is “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession.” (Plus some other conditions.) But according to the US memo… Any definition is going to have to distinguish between treatments that are merely unwelcome to the subject and things which are somehow more serious. And legal definitions need to be precise. There will then be borderline cases. Torture is as vague a concept as any.

Another obvious area of dispute is to whether we can mean what we say when we make torture inadmissible under any circumstances – and here we would start talking about ticking time bomb scenarios, Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, etc. 

But all that can be put to one side. What I want to know is why torture is impermissible. How do we go from  whatever definition of torture we adopt to a ban on its use?

Information is unreliable. That’s just not a very plausible position. Nazis used torture quite effectively to roll up resistance operations. The Americans say that a huge amount of usable (and used) information was obtained through waterboarding KSM and the two others. Witches under torture gave up the names of their friends and family – can one doubt that they would have given up the names of their fellow witches if there had been any? In any case that is not really why people would oppose it. Just ask yourself – if it could be shown that torture was reliable in 99% of cases in establishing the truth (and if we applied it to everything from parking tickets to murders I wouldn’t be surprised if it was that effective,) would that change our opposition to its use in (almost) any circumstances. I don’t think so. 

This is especially difficult for someone like myself who doesn’t any longer believe that there are such things as fundamental, inalienable, human rights.


What’s the Point of This?

May 8, 2017 – 10:20 am


A: Imagine this B: Look at this
Something big wrapped in plastic Christo Javacheff (2000) Wrapped Reichstag Project for Berlin
A pickled cow Damien Hirst (1995) Mother and Child, Divided
Some bricks William Anastasi (1964) En Route (Stack of Bricks) Originally untitled
A toilet Marcel Duchamp (1917) Fountain
A bike seat with handlebars arranged like a bull Pablo Picasso (1943) Head of a Bull
Dirty sheets Tracy Emin (1999) I Think It Must Have Been Fear
A light turning on/off Martin Creed (2007) Work No. 227: The Lights Going On and Off
A picture of a soup can Andy Warhol (1968) Soup Can
A really big comic book Roy Lichtenstein (1962) Blam
repeat ad nauseam










What do you get from column B that you don’t get from column A? Whatever you get has little to do with Art – if Art is anything more specific than ‘an experience.’ As Art therefore, the elements of column B are purely pointless.



Art vs. Pornography

May 7, 2017 – 11:06 pm

Many defenders of Bill Henson’s pictures of naked sexualised children claim that the public (Philistines) are wrong to condemn Henson’s work as pornography because they are art. (But note that some in the Art world’s ‘in crowd’ were prepared to admit Henson’s offensiveness before the public noticed.) In making this claim they appear to be confusing two applicable dichotomies: that which divides images that are pornographic from those that are not; and that which divides images that are Art from those that are not. They ignore the perfectly valid possibility that an image may be both Art and pornography. Without getting into the weeds of definitions, it’s clear enough that, whatever Art might be, Pornography is understood and sanctioned as something belonging to a category of items that if allowed currency would be damaging to public morality. The following grid shows the possible combinations and some representatives.

 Pornography  Not Pornography
 Art  Bill Henson  Sandro Botticelli
 Not Art  Kayleigh Pearson  C. M. Coolidge

The situation is slightly confused by the possibility that the current Australian law that regulates these things (and I will not pretend any familiarity with it) does make some allowance for artistic license. In a previous version of the law, I believe, a disputed piece might be given a pass on the basis of  ‘expert opinion’ as to its ‘artistic merit’. In that case, legally speaking, the category of pornographic art is effectively empty. (Also, if that were the case, the public would be right to conclude that the law is a ass.) Let us suppose, however, that the Henson defenders intend more than a purely legal claim. How then could we charitably interpret their claims that Art should not be restricted by pornography laws; and could such claims be reasonably defended?

If Artists want the public to accept that a picture is de facto rather than de jure not pornography just because it is Art, they will need to defend that claim. Given that they accept that the very same picture that counted as pornography when found on some dirty old man’s hard drive would not be pornography if it were hung in a gallery and accepted by them as Art, they will have to argue that Art is defined as Art by something external to the artwork itself. What could this possibly be, and could whatever it is really provide a guarantee that Art is not Pornography? Several possibilities seem most likely to be argued here:

  1. Perhaps it is the intention of the artist that is relevant. A thing is or is not pornography depending on whether or not the artist willed it to be so. This seems to be a promising line: it’s obviously true that the intention of the pornographer and the intention of the artist are supposed to be quite different – the pornographer intends to pander to our basest preferences, and the Artist (one is certain) has some other purpose in mind.

But this will not do. The arguments of Beardsley and Wimsatt against the ‘Intentional Fallacyapply here more effectively even than in the cases that those authors intended. Recall that Pornography is understood and sanctioned according to its feared effects on public morality, and the intentions of the artist in the case will almost always be irrelevant to the effects of the artwork. (In general, indeed, we have no access to the artists intentions, so interpretation that relies on this access is impossible.) A thing is or is not pornography without regard to what the intention of the artist might have been in creating it.

  1. Is it then the intention of the set of experiencers, the audience let’s say, that makes the difference; so that whether something is pornography or not depends upon the attitudes that the audience members take to the experience of the artwork? That is what seems to be suggested by the objection to the previous proposal. If the audience can be relied on not to be badly affected by the art, not to be titillated, not to have base motives excited, etc., then surely the Artwork is not to be considered to be pornographic. So an Artwork that appears in an Art gallery and is seen by the Art crowd can have no evil tendencies. Therefore it cannot be pornography.

It is certainly possible that some specialised audiences might be more resistant to the corrupting influence of some works than others, but even if that were true that wouldn’t support the claim being made. In that argument the audience of the Artwork has now been restricted to a  non-random subset of the possible audience, whereas the understanding of pornography that we have is that it is defined in reference to the effects of the work if it is available to be experienced by the entire possible audience (or, equivalently, to random subsets of it.) The claim that could be made here is that the Artwork is not harmful if the audience is an Art crowd, but that’s not the same as saying that the Artwork is not pornography. Child pornography appreciated by the Art crowd would still be pornography.

If it is claimed that Art should have a special dispensation from this moral judgement – and artists have recently been keen to claim that they are above the moral laws that apply to the rest of benighted mankind (especially since the mid XIXth C, see Grana Modernity and its Discontents) – then they will need to make the case for that privilege. I can’t see any prospect of a successful argument along those lines, but suppose that we accepted this proposal; what then? Well, since the argument does not deny that the State may have an interest in restricting some forms of symbolic production on the grounds of public good, we will need to know when to apply this privilege.

  1. Perhaps we may be supplied with an uncontroversial, non-trivialising, and impartially applicable definition of Art that will operate as a filter: each piece may be tested against this definition and a decision reached as to whether the thing is Art or not and the Art privilege is to operate or not.

Unfortunately, given the controversy that has surrounded all previous proposed definitions of Art, I think we have good reason to believe that no such objective and applicable characterization of Art is to be had. There is a further irony in this case that in previous attacks on ‘Modern Art,’ where it has been claimed that this or that piece is “not Art,” the response of the Art crowd had been to mockingly and rhetorically demand a definition of Art from their attackers. Failing to be able to say what is or is not Art has for some reason been seen as giving the Artist the ability to claim that whatever he wants to do is Art. (It should have made Artists wonder what on earth the point of their occupation was, and it should have made Art funding bodies wonder about what their (usually tax-derived) money was funding. But that’s another topic.)

  1. Perhaps we can can take the Art crowd at their word then, and define Art as what Artists do. Then, anything that looks like Pornography but is done by an artist would invoke the Art privilege. All that remains is to find a definition of an Artist that is not equivalent to ‘someone who makes Art.’ Since Artist’s are to be the beneficiaries of a privilege extended by the State, the State will have to agree on the method of discrimination – rather like the priesthood or the medical profession. Perhaps he is to be a member of an official body of state-recognised artists – a sort of Arts Academy with legal teeth. How will membership be determined? How will Artists enjoy being organized by the State? (It wouldn’t exactly be consistent with their revolutionary posturing would it? In fact, wasn’t Modern Art largely a rejection of the Academy Art of earlier times?) And will their audiences be similarly organized in order to benefit from the Art privilege? A State-run connoisseur’s club? All this hardly seems to be in the spirit of the defences of Bill Henson; and a solution on these grounds might seem to be worse than the problem it is intended to solve.
  1. Perhaps it will be claimed that Art is what happens in Art venues; but I think it’s pretty obvious that all the same problems that attached to Art-as-what-Artists-do will also apply here m.

No, I am afraid it will not do. There can be no Art privilege in these matters. Artists will just have to accept that they must obey the same rules as the rest of the citizenry – and Bill Henson should stop taking pictures of naked children.

Andrew Bolt has an amusing debunking of particularly bad arguments given in support of Bill Henson and the Art Privilege in Prejudices stripped bare (Herald Sun, 28/05/2008)


A Modest Proposal for Middle-East Peace

May 7, 2017 – 10:52 pm


UN resolution 242 calls for a withdrawal to secure and recognised borders.

Israel may have to accept that no conceivable borders can satisfy both criteria. The Arabs maintain a maximalist (or very nearly) interpretation which insists on Israeli withdrawal to the 1948 borders, but these are impossible for Israel , given the hostility of the surrounding states – and especially if the state that arises in the vacated territory is hostile. The evidence of the withdrawal from Gaza and from South Lebanon is that such a state would indeed be hostile.


Israel cannot

1.      maintain a military occupation of conquered territory and a conquered population indefinitely,

2.      annex all the disputed territories and make the Arab population citizens of Israel ,

3.      withdraw to the 1948 borders leaving a hostile entity in the disputed evacuated territories,

Israel must

a.     control the Jordan valley

b.     have guaranteed access to East Jerusalem religious sites – and in the view of the Israeli population, probably must retain sovereignty over those sites

c.     be able to neutralise the danger of Arab irredentism/revanchism/etc.

d.     rid itself of the burden of controlling a hostile and essentially irreconcilable population

e.     resolve the issue of the settlements in the disputed territories humanely (evacuation? extraterritoriality? retained control? Population transfers? etc.)

Israel would prefer

         i.     a ‘Palestinian’ polity (PP) to control and be responsible for the Palestinian Arab population

       ii.      a stable cooperative regime in any Palestinian polity

      iii.      not to be required to concern itself with the internal affairs of the PP (even if it became hostile or unstable)

     iv.       an internationally recognised solution (but can probably be satisfied with one which is merely acceptable to America

Arabs require

A.   an independent polity

B.    a viable polity

C.    access to East Jerusalem religious sites – and have always maintained that the sanctuary must be their sovereign territory (but see Israeli b)

D.    a polity free of Jewish settlers – though they might be permitted to remain as dhimmi


The time is right for an Israeli unilateral solution to the problem of the Disputed Territories

1.     PA is thoroughly discredited internationally because of its involvement in terror, corruption

2.     PA leadership is recognised as not being capable of making peace ( Camp David , intifada Hamas elections, etc.)

3.     the overwhelming likelihood of the hostility of any potential PP is recognised, and Israeli security concerns are as widely recognised as can ever be expected to be the case

4.     America sees the relation between the Israel- ‘Palestinian’ conflict and the wider West-Islam friction – and also associates the Arab allies of the Palestinians with threats to American interests

5.     Middle-Eastern ‘stability’ is no longer valued per se


Under the Oslo agreements the disputed territories were divided into classes of territories as A, B, C. The PA was given control of area A territories. These were territories surrounding centres of Arab population. Under this system the PA controlled over 95% of the Palestinian Arab population.

I propose that

1.     Palestinian area A be taken as the basis for a PP with whatever other areas are required to make those areas minimally viable.

The intention under Oslo was that PA control would eventually be extended over Pal. B territories etc to create a contiguous/connected territory. Gaza would always remain unconnected however.

2.     The effort to create a single Palestinian state as a PP should be abandoned. The PP may be instituted as separate, independent governments of the Palestinian cities and their hinterlands.

(Since the problem of non-contiguous Gaza will have to be faced anyway, there is no reason that whatever solution may be found for Gaza’s communication with the PP instituted on the West Bank would not serve equally well for communication in this plan.)

3.     Territory not assigned to the PP should be annexed to Israel .

4.     Population of the annexed territories may either become citizens of Israel or may be compensated and allowed to transfer to any part of the PP.

5.     Jewish population of the areas assigned to the PP either become citizens there or are relocated with compensation (by Israel .)


1.     Reoccupy all Disputed Territories

2.     Delimit PP zones: I suggest Ramallah, Bethlehem , Hebron , Jericho , Tulkarm/Qalqilya, Jenin and their hinterlands

3.     Separate populations

4.     Annex unassigned territories to Israel

5.     Build a fence around the PP territories (This is already largely completed.)

6.     The final stage has two possibilities

1.      Clean Break (strongly preferred)

1.     Withdraw from PP territories

2.      Nation Building (invents a new quagmire to replace the old one)

1.     Remove all PA officials

2.     Disarm and demobilise all PA security forces and other ‘formal’ militias (Hamas, etc.)

3.     Remove terrorist infrastructure – including UNRWA, EU, NGOs

4.     Assume responsibility for administration of PP

5.     Assume responsibility for funding of PP

6.     Incrementally develop native administration of PP

7.     Incrementally withdraw from PP


1.     Largely removes need for prolonged negotiations (Arabs have shown no good faith previously)

2.     Provides quick, relatively neat final solution to be put in place; removes uncertainties

3.     Provides a separation of populations desired by both sides

4.     Provides strategic depth to Israel – all of Jordan valley (west bank lowlands) held by Israel

5.     Allows a hostile PP to be quarantined from sources of weaponry

6.     Allows maximal control of population movements from PP to Israel continuing the reduction in levels of violence that the incomplete fence has already achieved

7.     Preserves Jewish character of Israel and Arab character of PP(assignment of lands and populations results in only a small increase in the Arab population of Israel )

8.     Allows Israel to cease governing hostile alien population either immediately (preferred) or relatively quickly and on a known schedule

9.     Provides immediately/eventually for independent Palestinian Arab governance of an independent PP.

10.   After withdrawal PP internal politics need no longer concern Israel vitally

11.   Although there is the opportunity to create a functioning liberal regime in the PP, nothing hangs on this. (The example of the current dysfunctional government does not encourage such a commitment – hence the preference for Clean Break)

12.   Both strategies – but Clean Break especially – provide Israeli forces with a foreseeable end, improving morale


1.     Unilaterality means no other actors are committed to the success of the proposal

(It is not clear how much of a disadvantage this is. Arab states are apparently incapable of publicly supporting any peace deal, Egypt and Jordan notwithstanding, so no peace proposal can be made dependent upon their approval or cooperation. In the best case they may acquiesce, though they are most likely to continue their current hostility.)

2.     Proposal falls far short of satisfying the Arab maximalist position, or even the ’48 or bust’ solution. For this reason it will be unacceptable to Arabs and some others.

(Whether Europe and others will seriously dispute the execution of this proposal is unknown. They will certainly complain and decry its ‘unfairness’ pro forma, but they seem to have no interests requiring more.)

3.     ‘Viability’ of PP is likely to be disputed

This will be answered in detailed arrangementsfor communication and general access through Israeli territories. I see no reason why cities and suitable hinter;ands may not be viable, given good will on the Israeli side.

4.     Dependence on Israeli ‘good will’ is humiliating and will ensure hostility

Possibly true. However, Israeli security could hardly be secured without infringing Arab ‘honour.’ Moreover, PP hostility is irrelevant if they can be made impotent.

5.     Will probably make many Jewish religious sites inaccessible if PP is hostile.

Unfortunate, but not unbearable

6.     No concessions are made to long-standing Arab demands – whether those demands were sincerely made or not – which will upset some

(See final status settlement for East Jerusalem , Refugees, etc.)


1.     Status of East Jerusalem

Old City will remain in Israel . Arab inhabitants will be given choice of citizenship in Israel or PP. Etzion Bloc to go to Israel .

Any person to have the right to visit the sacred sites in the Old City – principally referring to the right of Muslims to visit the Haram.

Temple Mount outside the Haram to be Israeli territory. Haram to be shared sovereignty with some appropriate authority. The form of words may be left for diplomacy, but the facts will be something like: PP administration over Haram, Israeli security about Haram (including authority to quarantine or restrict access if incitement leads to violence or general level of PP hostility makes it dangerous.)

2.     Right of Return

Denied, of course. However, final compensation may be paid to a responsible UN agency for distribution amongst claimants, or paid to PP authorities with understanding that misappropriation on their part will not void the finality. Amount of final compensation to be set by Israel . A process to determine a fair amount to be decided upon. It is to be made clear that compensation is humanitarian aid and does not constitute an admission of guilt or liability for disadvantages.

The Arabs will almost certainly decline to cooperate. Israel may put this compensatory money in an escrow account to be tapped whenever they decide to accept it. This would actually be good for the Palestinian Arabs as symbolizing finality of claims and providing capital; and would be symbolically good for Israel as demonstrating bona fides

3.     Arab State Hostility

No change in current status except perhaps with respect to Egypt and Jordan .

Egypt has a very Cold Peace with Israel and government has made no effort to pretend that anything more than the desire for US money makes them pay lip service to the peace. There will be no change here, despite popular unrest

Jordan ‘s political shape may be more seriously affected. Israeli unilateralism – which Jordanians will see as a repudiation of the ‘land for peace’ formula to which Jordan has been committed and by which Jordan has tried to justify its peace – will be read as a betrayal of the principles of the peace.

Syria will do what it can to derail the process if there is no concession on the Golan Heights . Syria and Iran may take the opportunity to incite their collaborating forces in Lebanon to conflict with Israel . Unfortunate, but that was always going to happen whatever Israel did.

Diplomatic activity may be able to ameliorate some of this hostility. Perhaps some concessions may be made.

Egypt will be given joint control with the PP over the Gaza border with it – as it has now wrt the PA.

Jordan may be given an administrative role for the Haram. This has the advantage of playing into a threat of Hashemite revanchism wrt the sites at Mecca and Medina, and threatening Saudi control of Arabia . A threat which it is handy to have in the background when negotiating for Saudi cooperation.



Use of Wikipedia

May 7, 2017 – 10:47 pm

The following is from an email I sent on 22/03/2007. I thought I might as well keep it here as anywhere.

Some people have pointed out that wikipedia articles often say true things. That may very well be so. In fact it might even be the case that, in general, it so happens that wikipedia articles are as accurate as Encyclopedia Britannica articles; but that is really quite irrelevant to the question of whether wikipedia is a suitable reference for academic work. The real question is whether wikipedia can satisfy the accepted epistemological criteria which define the collective enterprise of modern Western scholarship.

If I decided to estimate the number of people in a room by rolling dice and adding the spots, it might happen that I got a true answer; and if I decided whether to take an umbrella to work by reading the entrails of a chicken, it might again happen that I got a true answer. But we do not accept that these are acceptable ways to arrive at the truth. What we prefer in these cases is to count the students or to look at the sky. Error is still possible, but experience has shown that the latter methods are vastly more reliable than the former and they are therefore to be preferred on epistemological grounds.

Through bitter experience and disciplined thinking modern Western scholarship has determined a set of standards and methods that are believed to maximize the reliability of the outcomes for this collective enterprise. These are the standards and methods with which we are familiar. One of these standards is that we prefer to trust someone who has been accepted as an expert in some area by others who are interested in that area. Another is that we test new scholarship by peer review by accepted experts. Another again is that when we refer to some supposed fact we support it by appealing to the agreement of some trusted expert. None of this is guaranteed to find Truth: experts will disagree, frauds and fads will occur, and accepted facts will change. It is only our best known method.

Wikipedia, by contrast, deliberately flouts these standards. Does that make it unacceptable? Well, that depends upon whether you think that the standards and methods embodied in wikipedia are as likely to yield reliable results as the standards and methods that they replace. Is that plausible? Is it plausible that the rejection of any preference for expertise in determining trustworthiness will lead to more reliability in scholarly results? Is it likely that the preferences of the most persistent editors will provide results as reliable as the preferences of the generally accepted experts? I would suggest that that is vanishingly unlikely. Wikipedia would replace the present accepted standards with worse, less productive standards.

The wikipedia model should therefore be rejected as a possible amendment to the epistemological criteria of modern Western scholarship; and consequently, we should insist that students avoid references to wikipedia, because we have a duty to train them in the best traditions of modern Western scholarship, and wikipedia is opposed to those traditions.


T-Legality – A Modality for Legal Activists

May 7, 2017 – 10:25 pm

From Megan McArdle

A commenter claims:

Umm, you can make “corporations” (or engineers) give us more fuel-efficient cars simply by increasing fuel efficiency standards. If they passed a law tomorrow that said all cars sold by 2010 must get 45mpg, Detroit could do that pretty easily. They just don’t, because they don’t have to.

Apparently making a law that P means that P is the case. It’s an interesting point of view. Let’s see if we can establish a modal logic for that view of legislative power.

We define the modal operators L (the analogue to []) and P (like <>)

Lp =: It’s a law that p

Pp =: ~L~p =: it’s legal that p

Let’s take the semantic approach by defining the rules of the semantic tableaux for the appropriate logic.

LN                    ~PX              w/


                          L~X              w                  


                        ~LX                w/


                         P~X               w


PR                     PX                w/v      



                            X                  v

                         where v is new to this path

The accessibility relation A is a legal accessibility relation, and the indexes on the right indicate legal worlds. PR tells us that if X is not forbidden by law in w then in some state v, accessible by lawyers from w X occurs.

LR                     LX                w\v      



                            X                  v

Which tells us that if X is mandated by law in w, then in any state v accessible by lawyers from w X occurs.

We know that LA -> A, which is a statement of Legal Reflexivity, won’t be a valid formula in this logic (try the tree and see,) but if we add the rule (following the Hintikka strategy:)

LT                    LX                  w      


                           X                   w

Or if we declare that the accessibility relation is reflexive (according to the Orthodox strategy:)

Refl                     …                              


                           for any w on this branch

We also know that there is an axiomatization that will give us just the same valid formulas in LTS:

We need a rule of inference of Legal Necessitation on the analogy of plain Necessitation:

LR1: |- A => |- LA

Which, curiously enough, indicates that anything that can be shown to be a thesis in the logic must be a Law.

The axioms required are

L1:  L(A -> B) -> (LA -> LB)             (Distribution of L over -> )

L2: LA -> A                                           (Reflexivity)

L1 itself would give us KL (Lawyers’ K,) and it has the at first sight odd result of saying that if it is a law that A -> B then if it’s a law that A, it is equally a law that B. But how odd is that? We could reasonably understand this as a statement of proper legal interpretation: if the law states that A and the law also states that whenever A then B, then it is at least implicitly according to law that B. (Roe vs. Wade seems to have been decided in this way.)

The axiom L2 gives us TL, Lawyers’ T. It’s an explicit statement of the claim that we started with.

This is a fairly weak logic, even amongst Normal logics. Do we want to add any other conditions? Do we want to give the legal accessibility relation symmetry or transitivity? What would these look like?

LT to L4

Add the property of transitivity to the accessibility relation in LT

Trans               wAv





Try                  Lp -> LLp

                        We find that it closes in L4 but not in LT.

Is this something we want? That if it’s a law that X then it’s a law that it’s a law that X? That actually seems quite reasonable, especially if we interpret ‘being a law’ in the way that we did for the distributivity axiom. Thus; if it’s a law that X then it’s at least implicitly according to law that it’s a law that X. Perhaps this is referring to some sort of constitutional understanding of the law.

LT to LB?

Add the property of symmetry to the accessibility relation in LT

Sym                 wAv



Try                  p -> LPp

                       We find that it closes in LB but not in LT.

Is this something we want? It’s a bit harder to understand. If something is occurring then by law there is no law against it. I have to say, that seems unlikely. So let’s not go so far as LB. (Nor, of course, can we accept L5, which we’d get by making the relation an equivalence relation.) So the accessibility relation can’t be symmetric: if v is accessible to lawyers from w it doesn’t follow that w is accessible to lawyers from v.

Even if we just stick to LT there are plenty of interesting results for the lawyers to get busy on. The following are all provable in LTS:

LTS1:    L(A <-> B) -> (LA <-> LB)

LTS2:    L(A & B) <-> (LA & LB)

LTS3:    LA <-> ~P~A

LTS4:    L~A <-> ~PA

LTS5:    ~P(A v B) <-> (~PA & ~PB)

LTS6:    P(A v B) <-> (PA & PB)

LTS7:    L(A -> B) -> (PA -> PB)

LTS8:    (LA v LB) -> L(A v B)

LTS9:    P(A & B) -> (PA & PB)

Actually, I started writing this as a bit of a joke, but I now wonder if there might not be a non-silly way to apply modality to laws. 


The Intrinsic Value of Plants

May 7, 2017 – 10:20 pm

The Swiss Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology has issued a report, “The Dignity of Living Beings with Regard to Plants,” which declares that the ‘dignity’ of plants must be considered in our handling of them. Apparently “living organisms should be considered morally for their own sake because they are alive” and plants are living organisms. Since according to this argument their moral relevance doesn’t derive from their being able to think or even to feel pain or pleasure, it seems that we have to understand that what makes them relevant is that, as living things, they have per ipso facto solo intrinsic moral value.

But why should this be so? I can only assume that the Swiss Committee is under the influence of a very poor argument that the Deep Greens use to justify their claim that non-sentient, non-human, even inanimate things can have intrinsic value. The ‘argument’ they offer is just some variation on a simple thought experiment, which goes like this:

Imagine the universe without people: would it be better or worse if it had rocks, trees, butterflies in it?

Stated this way you might think, yes, it’d be nicer if there were rocks, or trees, or butterflies. And if you’re prepared to admit this then, since the world is better with those things, and there are no humans, then there can be higher and lower values in a world without humans. So those values can’t derive from the intrinsic value of humans. So the values must be intrinsic to the things in the world without humans. So there is an intrinsic value rocks, and trees, and butterflies, and to anything else you might name. But beware! In expressing your preference for a world in which there were those things, you are just expressing your preference between two possible worlds if you were there to make the judgement, whereas the experiment in its setup says you are not there. So, let’s rephrase the experiment.

Imagine you did not exist: in that case would you prefer to not exist in a world with rocks, trees, butterflies, or in one without?

Here the idea of a preference is obviously incoherent. Like many philosophical thought experiments the ‘Last Man Argument’ (the name comes from an earlier version) trades upon an impossibility or an illusion to convince you of its point (e.g. ‘imagine you are a bat,’ ‘suppose you know all there is to know about colour vision,’ ‘suppose you’ve memorized a program that is some human’s Turing Machine,’ etc.) Until a better argument is provided we should resist accepting a claim of universal intrinsic value that has the effect of giving the same moral status to humans and rocks – which is to say, no status at all.