The Unity of the Virtues

One of the things that has been debated since ancient times is whether the virtues are a collection of things, or a whole. Socrates, who argued that virtue was a whole (and a form of knowledge that -- somehow -- could not be taught) argued the point with the famous Protagoras in the dialogue of the same name. [I will annotate the speakers for the convenience of the reader.--Grim]
Socrates: And has each of [the virtues] a distinct function like the parts of the face;-the eye, for example, is not like the ear, and has not the same functions; and the other parts are none of them like one another, either in their functions, or in any other way? I want to know whether the comparison holds concerning the parts of virtue. Do they also differ from one another in themselves and in their functions? For that is clearly what the simile would imply.

Protagoras: Yes, Socrates, you are right in supposing that they differ.

S: Then, I said, no other part of virtue is like knowledge, or like justice, or like courage, or like temperance, or like holiness?

P: No, he answered.

S: Well then, I said, suppose that you and I enquire into their natures. And first, you would agree with me that justice is of the nature of a thing, would you not? That is my opinion: would it not be yours also?

P: Mine also, he said.

S: And suppose that some one were to ask us, saying, "O Protagoras, and you, Socrates, what about this thing which you were calling justice, is it just or unjust?"-and I were to answer, just: would you vote with me or against me?

P: With you, he said.

S: Thereupon I should answer to him who asked me, that justice is of the nature of the just: would not you?

P: Yes, he said.

S: And suppose that he went on to say: "Well now, is there also such a thing as holiness? "we should answer, "Yes," if I am not mistaken?

P: Yes, he said....

S: Well then, Protagoras, we will assume this; and now supposing that he proceeded to say further, "Then holiness is not of the nature of justice, nor justice of the nature of holiness, but of the nature of unholiness; and holiness is of the nature of the not just, and therefore of the unjust, and the unjust is the unholy": how shall we answer him? I should certainly answer him on my own behalf that justice is holy, and that holiness is just; and I would say in like manner on your behalf also, if you would allow me, that justice is either the same with holiness, or very nearly the same; and above all I would assert that justice is like holiness and holiness is like justice; and I wish that you would tell me whether I may be permitted to give this answer on your behalf, and whether you would agree with me.

P: He replied, I cannot simply agree, Socrates, to the proposition that justice is holy and that holiness is just, for there appears to me to be a difference between them.... I admit that justice bears a resemblance to holiness, for there is always some point of view in which everything is like every other thing; white is in a certain way like black, and hard is like soft, and the most extreme opposites have some qualities in common; even the parts of the face which, as we were saying before, are distinct and have different functions, are still in a certain point of view similar, and one of them is like another of them. And you may prove that they are like one another on the same principle that all things are like one another; and yet things which are like in some particular ought not to be called alike, nor things which are unlike in some particular, however slight, unlike.

S: And do you think, I said in a tone of surprise, that justice and holiness have but a small degree of likeness?
You can see the issue. If the virtues are not in a sense the same, then justice and holiness -- or any two virtues -- are completely different. That is clearly wrong, as it requires that we say that it is never just to behave moderately, nor is it just to behave immoderately; nor is it courage to behave with self-control, nor is it courage to behave without self-control. The division makes no sense at all.

But the unity is a problem, too. It is clearly the case that the virtues do not come to be as a unity, as everyone knows someone who is brave but not wise, or wise but not brave; just in his dealings with others, but not moderate at the dinner table; etc. If the virtues were one, then to have one would be to have them all.

I think that the virtues are like the parts of a house, so that they are all part of a whole, but they have to come to be in a certain order. You can't put the roof on first; you have to have a foundation before you can put up walls. There's a little bit of variability in the order -- you could put up two walls and then a roof, if you wanted. Each virtue has a different purpose in a way, in that the roof provides shelter from the sun or rain while the walls provide shelter from the wind, but they are also all unified in a common purpose of providing shelter. This seems to address how virtues can be unified without losing either their different character or their capacity to exist separately in a given person.

Yet this isn't fully satisfying either, as it would seem as if you could say more than I can say about what precisely is the foundation of virtue, which ones come next, and so forth. The capstone virtue -- the roof -- might well be Aristotle's magnanimity; yet others might argue it is justice. Aristotle says that both are, in a way, complete virtue. I think magnanimity is the stronger candidate, as it crowns complete virtue with the activity of using that complete virtue to pursue the most honorable things, whereas justice (in its character as lawfulness) compels you to do the right things rather than making you desire to do them. Still, you see the point: you could argue either way, and if my view is right, it ought to be able to draw out something more specific about the order.

In any case, I was thinking of the question because of a scandal at Berkeley involving the philosopher John Searle. I think we were just discussing his Chinese Room thought experiment recently. Most philosophers take the ability to think clearly and come to deep philosophical insights as a fairly high degree of virtue; the ability to control one's sexual urges is supposed to be a more basic virtue, expected to come about earlier. And maybe it did; Searle is 84, and perhaps is less capable (or less willing) to behave himself now than when he was younger (as well as less famous and powerful). Or perhaps the ability to think clever thoughts isn't such a highly-placed virtue, but something more like athletic ability (which only some can attain in any great measure, for reasons that have nothing to do with virtue). Then the virtue to actualize one's native capacities may not be so very great; only a bit of discipline and practice, combined with a great deal of natural talent. Developing self-control over deep impulses could be much higher and harder than developing the self-control necessary to practice things one finds enjoyable and to which one is naturally inclined, which would account for why so many great athletes also end up demonstrating a lack in this area.

Alternatively, perhaps the view that these virtues come about in any kind of order is wrong. Perhaps you can just have some of them without others. But it does seem odd to say that you could be just without being capable of moderation, or be wise without being capable of self-control.

UPDATE: Speaking of Searle, here is a recent interview with him, with a heartwarming headline.

My precious

About sums it up for me.
Sure, I know, Republicans had a narrow majority, and they could only pass something through the Senate by reconciliation, which imposes limitations. But the thing is, Republicans don't hide behind the vagaries of Senate procedure during campaign season. Trump did not win the Republican nomination telling rallies of thousands of people, "We're going to repeal and replace Obamacare — as long as it satisfies the Byrd rule in the judgment of the Senate parliamentarian!"
What's so utterly disgraceful, is not just that Republicans failed so miserably, but that they barely tried, raising questions about whether they ever actually wanted to repeal Obamacare in the first place.

Honky Tonk Rock

This piece comes from a list of ten similar pieces compiled by Rolling Stone. They describe them as Mike Ness' "country-punk covers," although in this case it's just a honky tonk version of a song Ness wrote himself. Unlike the others in the list, then, it's not really a cover.

Speaking of Rolling Stones, that band did one of these things too. Here's their honky tonk version of "Honky Tonk Women."

The Sword in (Late Medieval) War

John Clements of ARMA writes.

On the Lapse in Political Virtue

David French is quite right.

Best Thing Under the Circumstances

The Republican-led health care act was hideous, and we're better off without it. Someday we'll get the Federal government out of health care, but this didn't even pretend to do that. Someday we'll get to price transparency and fee-for-service instead of an insurance model, so we can have true markets. This bill didn't do that either. It didn't do anything I'd want done to try to fix the way we pay for health care, but it would have propped up all the worst features of the current system.

Hopefully the Trump administration learned that Congress is a co-equal branch that can't be just ordered to support a policy whether it makes sense or not. Failing that, hopefully at least Congress learned that about itself today.

They can take their time and get it right, or they can just repeal O-care with a one-year delay to give time for alternative solutions appear, either at the state level or from the market itself. Or they can do nothing and hope it all falls apart someday on its own, which would still be better than this. Under the circumstances, killing this bill was the best idea.

Christianity is Irrelevant

So argues this writer, who is quite pleased about it:
I’m excited the North American church is dying. Christians not having the influence we once had in the 1900s gives me great hope. For the past 100 years we’ve had a lot of cultural converts. Everyone is a Christian because they grew up in Texas. Or they go to church. Or their mom and dad raised them that way. Hell, according to the U.S. census 70% of Americans identify as “Christian.” But the vast majority of those responses are nothing more than cultural identification, not Christianity. I imagine that’s why so many people despise Christians. Their belief is cultural, and no one intends to follow the man they claim governs their life, so we end up this giant homogenous blob of hypocrites that judge and condemn people, instead of looking like they did in 165 AD. Instead of rushing to the aid of others, or paying for pagan burials like our ancestors did, we have half-hearted followers who run rampant through the streets of social media pointing the finger to everyone except themselves.

The reason I’m excited about the shift is because as the cultural converts die, vibrant Christians will take their place. Churches will be smaller and stranger to the public, but they’ll be healthier.
Last night I watched another '70s counterculture movie -- Vanishing Point, which has an awesome Dodge Challenger as its real main character -- and was reminded of how 'small and strange' that version of Christianity is. It's really strange, but not really bad: the "Long Haired Friends of Jesus" in the song (and movie) Convoy.

It's true that I meet fewer and fewer young people who recognize obvious Biblical references in movies or television. "That's Ecclesiastes," I'll tell them, and they kind of seem surprised that something so cool could have come out of the Bible. We none of us control any of this, and what is going to happen will happen. Still, there is some reason to hope that it won't all be bad.

The Guy Who Got Ben Rhodes' Job

The Atlantic has a piece on him, which a friend of mine who is quoted in it describes as fair and accurate. The guy's name is Michael Anton, and you probably read an article he wrote during the election last year.

We traded up, in this respect at least.

Air Assault in Raqqa

U.S.-backed Syrian Arab forces landed on American military helicopters with Apache gunships flying overhead.

The indigenous forces were accompanied by U.S. special operations “advisors,” the spokesman added.

“It takes a special breed of warrior to pull off an airborne operation or air assault behind enemy lines,” said Col. Joe Scrocca “There is nothing easy about this – it takes audacity and courage. And the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) has that in spades.”
There's something you don't see every day.



How the Irish Were Always White

David Bernstein, in "Sorry, but the Irish were always 'white' (and so were Italians, Jews and so on)" over at the Volokh Conspiracy, touches on a topic that relates to my own past research.

The relevant scholarly literature seems to have started with Noel Ignatiev’s book “How the Irish Became White,” and taken off from there. But what the relevant authors mean by white is ahistorical. They are referring to a stylized, sociological or anthropological understanding of “whiteness,” which means either “fully socially accepted as the equals of Americans of Anglo-Saxon and Germanic stock,” or, in the more politicized version, “an accepted part of the dominant ruling class in the United States.”

Those may be interesting sociological and anthropological angles to pursue, but it has nothing to do with whether the relevant groups were considered to be white.

Here are some objective tests as to whether a group was historically considered “white” in the United States: Were members of the group allowed to go to “whites-only” schools in the South, or otherwise partake of the advantages that accrued to whites under Jim Crow? Were they ever segregated in schools by law, anywhere in the United States, such that “whites” went to one school, and the group in question was relegated to another? When laws banned interracial marriage in many states (not just in the South), if a white Anglo-Saxon wanted to marry a member of the group, would that have been against the law? Some labor unions restricted their membership to whites. Did such unions exclude members of the group in question? Were members of the group ever entirely excluded from being able to immigrate to the United States, or face special bans or restrictions in becoming citizens?

If you use such objective tests, you find that Irish, Jews, Italians and other white ethnics were indeed considered white by law and by custom (as in the case of labor unions).
Some of my graduate research in history involved looking into Irish immigration to the US from the 1830s to 1850s and the nativist response to it. At the time, the Irish were considered white even by the Anglo-Saxon Americans who opposed them. Race was understood quite differently then than it is now (as Bernstein points out later in the article), and the idea that the Irish were not white when they arrived uses today's race and ethnic studies definitions and projects them onto American society in the past. It has nothing to do with how Americans in the 19th century viewed the Irish and everything to do with how race and ethnic studies researchers view race today.

One factor that Bernstein does not touch on, probably because it is not widely recognized, is that nativism in America prior to the Civil War was not about immigration per se but rather religion. The nativists had no problem with many other immigrant groups coming in, but they had huge objections to Catholic immigration.

Read nativist writings and over and over you will read about how Catholics can never be true Americans because they owe their final allegiance to the Pope, whom nativists often depicted as a foreign prince. As millions of Catholics poured into the US, they developed a separate Catholic school system, avoiding one of the main ways immigrants were assimilated in the North. There were legal battles fought over whether states could mandate that schools use the Protestant version of the Bible (it wasn't questioned that they could mandate study of the Bible). The separate school system and various other Catholic social organizations that sprang up seemed like an effort by the whole population of Catholic immigrants to avoid becoming American. That's why the "nativists" (an epithet invented by their political enemies) called themselves "native Americans" and formed the American Party. As Catholics became important voting blocks in Northern cities and began to exercise political power, the nativists began to view mass Catholic immigration as an invasion by a foreign power.

All of this built on centuries of anti-Catholic sentiment in England which came to America early on. The Puritans, after all, wanted to purify the Church of England of all its Catholic aspects. Anti-Catholic bigotry was probably the oldest kind of bigotry in the American colonies, and it continued into the new nation. I've read that at the Constitutional Convention there was a debate over whether Catholics should be allowed to vote. The winning argument was that there were so few of them in the nation that it couldn't hurt anything to let them vote. That began to change with Irish immigration during the famines.

No Problem, Boss

A teenage boy was told by school leaders that he had to “tolerate” undressing in front of a female student and to make it as “natural” as possible, according to a blockbuster lawsuit filed in a Pennsylvania federal district court.
You might think that teen pregnancy is something to be avoided. No worries, mate: the female student identifies as male, so he couldn't possibly get pregnant.

"Reasons to Vote for Democrats" Becomes Amazon #1 Best-Seller

Earlier this month we looked at the insightful book Reasons to Vote for Democrats: A Comprehensive Guide by Michael J. Knowles with its amazing reviews. It looks like the book has reached #1 best-seller status on Amazon.

It currently has 1747 reviews and a 5-star rating. Since the book is almost entirely blank, that's an interesting feat. It does apparently have a real bibliography, though, which makes me curious ... Is it worth six bucks to see what's in the bibliography? I guess I could keep it at the office to annoy co-workers with, too ... 

The reviews really are worth reading, if you haven't been over yet.

Terrorism as Boredom

So, today there was another terrorist attack in London, involving ramming people with autos as has become usual. The attacker was exactly who you'd expect, and indeed he was exactly who authorities expected, because as usual they admit he was known to them before hand. The head of police in London said, as usual, that we should keep an open mind and not assume anything about motives (from this guy they already knew about), but also that we must take time to remember the stress that this puts on Muslim members of the community, who are especially prone to feeling unwelcome at times like this.

It's so routine now. This time the Prime Minister was nearly within arms' reach of the attack, but so what? You can always get another Prime Minister. They're just as disposable as everyone else. The important thing is that no one jump to conclusions about that thing we already know about.

Insanity Abounds

So, just this week, we had a hearing in Congress in which the FBI director admitted that someone -- probably on Team Obama -- had committed a serious felony by leaking FISA warrant information.

Democrats: 'You're trying to change the subject!'
Republicans: 'This is a serious crime!'

Today, the head of House Intelligence revealed FISA warrant information to the press.

Democrats: 'This is a serious crime!'
Republicans: 'You're trying to change the subject!'

Do any of you in Washington care about national security at all?

UPDATE: I wonder how much of this turns on 'need to know.' The President has whatever security clearance he needs, ex officio, but he doesn't necessarily need to know everything. Normally there's nothing he wouldn't 'need to know,' but a collection effort targeting him and his companions for possible action might qualify. Now the Congress might really 'need to know' that, because they have legitimate oversight purposes.

The press has neither the clearance nor the need to know. Does the citizenry need to know? Most wouldn't have the clearance, so it's an irrelevant question. Until it isn't, because the formal structures begin to fail and there's no hope but a recourse to the People.


Did you ever wonder why artists painted such obsessively realistic still-lifes, including shiny objects?  Apparently because it's simply an absorbing task to trick the eye into seeing distorted reflections by using only flat color.  This is the newest Chrismon I've completed:

Originalism vs Textualism?

In a discussion below, there was a thread about how originalism is inferior to textualism. The second, as described, sounded to me like a subset of the first. Judge Gorsuch seems to think they're the same thing:
[The] second point I would make is it would be a mistake to suggest that originalism turns on the secret intentions of the drafters of the language of the law. The point of originalism, textualism, whatever label you want to put on it–what a good judge always strives to do and what we all do–is to understand what the words on the page mean, not [to] import words that come from us, but [to] apply what you, the people’s representatives, the lawmakers, have done. And so when it comes to equal protection of the laws, for example, it matters not a whit that some of the drafters of the Fourteenth Amendment were racists–because they were–or sexists–because they were. The law they drafted promises equal protection of the law to all persons… I think that guarantee… is the most radical guarantee in all of the Constitution and maybe in all of human history.

"Tribal Epistemology"

In which Vox hits upon the truth, but thinks it applies to the other side.

I mean, by all means read it -- some of their allegations against our side are serious, and you should prove them wrong by considering them fairly. It is amazing, though, to see them come right to the very edge and not ask, "Hey -- do we do this too?" The closest approach to that is an assertion that the problem disproportionately affects Republicans, which is at least a wave in the direction of the idea that it might sometimes appear on the left as well.

In Praise of Hierarchy (and Bureaucracy!)

Several leading philosophers, including Kwame Anthony Appiah, have a piece calling for a reconsideration of how important these things are.

Appiah is on my radar for his work on honor, which I think is incomplete but nevertheless interesting. Honor is like hierarchy in that relatively few thinkers today want to spend much time praising it, perhaps for similar reasons.

Susan Rice on Honesty and the White House

The Washington Post decided to publish an article by the least credible person in America on the importance of White House officials speaking the truth. They seem to be completely oblivious to the irony of having Susan Rice lecture us on this question.

Credibility is the currency in rhetoric, and Rice could not be less credible than she is. However, there's more to life than rhetoric. Philosophically, it is improper to dismiss her simply because she is a hypocrite who is manifestly guilty of the same offense -- or an even worse one, as her lies were carefully planned. That would be the logical fallacy of tu quoque, combined with the fallacy of ad hominem. She might have a point, even though she's a horrible person and a hypocrite.

And, indeed, she does have a point. Honor holds the world together. Truth is a force multiplier. Those things are true, whoever says them.

More Cultural Appropriation

I think they may be appropriating us, actually, but whatever. Maybe that's all to the good.

If you don't know the artist, she went on to be somebody. Cultural appropriation was a big part of that.

Just for Fun

Celebrity deaths

Belatedly apropos of the late lamented Chuck Berry:

What Originalism Puts at Risk

CNN published this, so I assume they must think it's plausible.

I figured it would say things like, "It could force the transfer of Social Security and Medicare to the states, as there is no obvious Constitutional warrant for the Federal government to run things like that." Or "Great Society Programs." Or "the EPA, already under threat from the Trump administration."

What it says instead is that originalism is about taking rights away from minority groups. That's either a complete misunderstanding of what the philosophy is about, or else it's a willful slander of the first order. The rights of minority groups are protected by explicit Constitutional language. Insisting on the original understanding of, say, the 14th Amendment is a way of preventing rights from getting watered down.

So too with originalism pointed toward the Bill of Rights. The way that rights get washed away is very often by sliding words into new meanings. Originalism is a stronghold against that move: it insists that, if you want to strip away the right, you have to actually go through the Article V process. Nothing else but that process will do, ensuring that decisions to alter basic rights must enjoy very broad public support.

My guess is that the misunderstanding -- if it is that -- is created by the reality that the original Founders didn't trust everyone equally, especially with what we have come to call "voting rights." However, that misses the point: the Founders didn't consider voting to be a right in the same way that free exercise of religion or free speech was a right. They thought that citizenship was a kind of office. Like any office, it should be filled only by people who have shown they are qualified for it. That's why they imposed things like property tests, which demonstrated 'skin in the game' as well as a kind of practical economic independence. The last was important because they doubted that those who were wholly dependent on someone else could really reason independently of that interest, which meant that giving votes to servants (say) would really mean giving extra votes to the landlord.

Originalism does not threaten to restore that idea of citizenship, because the concept of voting rights was created through explicit Constitutional actions such as the ratification of the 15th Amendment. An originalist couldn't rule in favor of a return to the earlier conception of citizenship even if he or she thought it was a better idea, just because of their commitment to originalism.

This should be better understood. Originalism is the only mode of interpretation that should be supported in a candidate for the Supreme Court. Otherwise, the court exists not to apply the laws chosen by the People in accordance with the Constitution, but to make new laws and alter the Constitution. That is no proper role for the Supreme Court, not even when they vote unanimously.

"The Coding of 'White Trash' in Academia"

A lady named Holly Genovese has some thoughts.
I bought The Professor Is In by Karen Kelsky, a terrifying book full of blunt (and much needed) advice about navigating the academic job market. While the author gives outspoken advice about the struggles of the job market, particularly for women, she also implicitly argues for the importance of hiding one’s class. She wrote about clothing and makeup and speaking patterns in women. Around the time I read this book, I realized that I, for a lack of a better term, code “white trash.” I have bad teeth, frequently say “ya’ll” and “how come,” and have a habit of running around South Philadelphia in a Dale Earnhardt Jr. t-shirt. It is one thing to have your hometown judged by your peers, but it is quite another to realize that qualities you possess, habits born of a lifetime that you don’t even realize you have, make you read as unqualified or unfit for your chosen profession.

But you can’t go home either, as they say. The more formal education I acquired, the larger the gap between my family and I became.

Enforcing Standards

Two different right-wing media personalities got suspended tonight, one for backing up the President's claims of a wiretap, and one for a philosophical difference that is widely shared by millions of Americans -- even some conservatives.

Both suspensions are defensible, even though they are in another sense completely opposed. One is backing his side in apparent absence of facts; the other is differing from her side, in a place where complete facts would be inadequate even in principle. Moral reason doesn't turn only on facts, after all: tell a computer all the facts about a case, but give it no moral rules, and it might not even understand that you were asking it a question. It certainly would not have any method for coming to a reasonable answer.

It is good for organizations to enforce standards, as it is good for people to uphold ideals. Which one of these seems best to you? Does either seem wrong? Can you say why?

The Comey/Rogers Hearing

The headlines I'm seeing everywhere: "FBI confirms Trump campaign being investigated for Russia ties! Trump's wiretapping lies refuted!"

The actual news, as far as I can see, is that the FBI confirmed an investigation into something by someone having something to do with Russia, but refused to comment.

Then, the FBI and the NSA chiefs both confirmed that a number of serious felonies had definitely been committed.
NUNES: Would an unauthorized disclosure of FISA-derived information to the press violate 18 USC 798, a section of the Espionage Act that criminalizes the disclosure of information concerning the communication and intelligence activities of the United States?

COMEY: Yes[.]


COMEY: All FISA applications review by the court collection by us pursuant to our FISA authority is classified.

GOWDY: The dissemination of which is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison?

COMEY: Sure, dissemination -- unauthorized dissemination.

GOWDY: Unauthorized dissemination of classified or otherwise legally protected material punishable by a felony up to 10 years in federal prison.

COMEY: Yes. Yes, as it should be.
Gowdy's second line of questioning, which is too long to excerpt, went through a list of candidates for the honor of having committed that felony.

So, in the Russia matter, it may yet prove that someone connected in some way to Team Trump did something wrong. However, it is definitely the case that at least one person in high position committed serious felonies -- and the list of people to investigate is not all that long. Most of them were ranking political appointees in the previous administration.

This is the point at which a smart, thoughtful opposition would ask itself, "Do we really want to have this fight, or might we quietly reach an accommodation that would let all this slide into the rear view mirror?"

I doubt that is what is going to happen here.


A sauflied is a drinking song, in the same way that the Nibelungenlied is the song of the Nibelungs.

DB: HVT Disappointed to be Raided by Rangers Instead of SEALs

Aminullah, who has countless books and films on the elite naval special operations forces, says being raided by a bunch of guys he had never heard of was a big let down....

"It's b******t. SEALs raided my brother's and cousin's houses just last month," he said. "They're probably gonna write books about that.... And seriously, my mother could graduate from Ranger School with a cloth over her eyes — which there is at all times — because she would be beaten otherwise."