Teaching Logic with Presidential debates

by Harry on November 8, 2016

My excellent colleague Michael Titlebaum told me about an exercise he did with his Logic class. (It’s a First Year Interest Group class—20 first years who take 3 thematically linked courses, the composition of the program is disproportionately first generation, low income, and minority students—the idea being that students will get connections with each other around academics, and develop relationships with faculty early). I asked Titlebaum to write the exercise so I could include it here: mainly because it is an excellent example of the kind of pedagogy we should use more with our students in large public institutions like mine [1], but also, partly, because it is funny, and might entertain you on election day… Here’s his story:


I’m teaching introductory logic to twenty first-years in a special small-format class this semester, and the political season offered an opportunity too good to pass up. In class on October 18 I spent the entire lecture going over with them various logical fallacies and illicit rhetorical strategies. Then on October 19 I had all the students over to my house for pizza and debate-watching. I divided them into two teams, then had them score points by calling out instances of fallacies as they happened in the debate in real time.

The first astonishing thing was how many fallacies we found. 45 minutes in, my students had called out over 60. (And that was only on the two candidates—we ruled out scoring points off the moderator, despite Chris Wallace’s many loaded questions.) At that point we took ad hominem, red herring, hyperbole, and smokescreening off the table, mostly because I couldn’t count them fast enough. (Smokescreening is responding to a question by piling on related points or complications until everyone forgets the original question and the fact that you haven’t answered it.)

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I (still) believe

by Harry on November 8, 2016

The best election song of 1980…..Or maybe ever.

Good luck, everyone!

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Before the Flood

by Ingrid Robeyns on November 6, 2016

I watched Before the Flood today, the Leonardi di Caprio film on climate change. I think it does a great job for three reasons. First, it brings the debate on climate change to the masses, which the articles that scientists write in Science or Nature won’t do, nor will the class with 25 graduate students to whom I taught climate ethics. It’s great to have in-depth and very detailed debates on either the science or the ethics of climate change, but this problem needs mass mobilisation. Second, it gives a more visual and narrative complement to an intellectual approach to climate change (have you ever tried to read the IPCC reports? You’ll understand what I mean). As Piers Sellars, an astronaut and director of the Earths Sciences Division of NASA says in the movie, he understood the problem of climate change intellectually for a long time, but only when he saw the fragility of the Earth from space, really captured the scale and significance of the problem. A film such as this one can be that non-cognitive complement for all of us. Third, Di Caprio interviews an impressive range of people from different sectors and different countries, which makes the movie interesting and rhetorically powerful. [click to continue…]

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Trump voters are (mostly) Romney voters

by John Quiggin on November 6, 2016

At CT and just about everywhere else, there’s been lots of discussion about who is voting for Trump and why. This began during the Republican primaries, when it made sense to ask “what kind of Republican would prefer Trump to Bush, Cruz etc?”.

This kind of discussion continued through the general election, even though the answer is now staring us in the face. Trump is getting overwhelming support from self-described Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, and almost none from Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents. The same was true for Romney four years ago, and for McCain and Bush before him.

This is well known, but few people seem to have drawn the obvious conclusion*. With marginal changes (I’ll discuss these below), the people who are voting for Trump now voted for Romney four years ago, and for Bush before that.
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Viva Las Vegas!

by Corey Robin on November 6, 2016

As we head into the final days of the election, some thoughts, observations, rants, speculations, and provocations—by turns, cantankerous, narrow, and crabby, and, I hope, generous, capacious, and open to the future.

1.


One of the things we’ve been seeing more and more of this past decade, and now in this election, is that state institutions that many thought (wrongly) were above politics—the Supreme Court, the security establishment, the Senate filibuster—are in fact the crassest instruments of partisan politics, sites of circus antics of the sort the Framers (and their hagiographers) traditionally associated with the lower house of a legislative body.

This, I’ve argued before, has been increasingly the case since the end of the Cold War.

Think of the Clarence Thomas hearings, impeachment over a blow job, Bush v. Gore, the manipulation of the security establishment and intelligence (and the sullying of national icon Colin Powell) going into the Iraq War, the rise of the filibuster-proof majority, the comments of Ginsburg on Trump that she had to retract, and now, today, the revelation of possible FBI interference in the election.

Let’s set aside the question of how new any of this is (I’ve argued that most of it is not). What is new, maybe, is an increasing brazenness and openness about it all, as if it simply doesn’t matter to the fate of the republic if our elites reveal themselves to be the most self-serving tools of whatever cause they proclaim as their own.

And here I think there may be something worth thinking about. [click to continue…]

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No doubt Corey is too modest to toot his own horn, so here you go. You should read the book, too.

The New Yorker headline is too strong: The Book That Predicted Trump. That’s beefed up from what Matt Feeney actually says: “From Robin’s argument, we could predict that a conservative party would be unlikely to nominate the idealized conservative as its standard-bearer, but that it would absolutely yoke itself to a populist nut job like Donald Trump.” That’s better than the headline. Better still, however, not to defenestrate Karl Popper quite so dramatically as all that. Robin advances an empirical hypothesis about the nature of conservatism. If possible, we should model hypothesis testing as an exercise in disconfirmation. It is plain that Trump does not disconfirm Robin. Trump fits the Robin model to a T, but it goes too far to say the model predicts him. Obviously 2016 has been an unusual year for Republicans. It may yet prove to be the year in which the Republican Party cracks up, like the Whigs. There is nothing whatsoever in Robin’s model that predicts 2016, in particular, shall be a special year. You could have made money in the prediction markets, betting according to Robin’s model, because you would have snapped up Trump back when he was selling for fractions of pennies. Clearly he was an undervalued property, by Robin’s theoretical lights. But recognizing a long shot as not so long as people think is not the same as it being a lock. So, to repeat: Robin did not predict Trump. I belabor the point because I predict some folks – our Corey does have his detractors, strange to say – may dismiss this New Yorker squib on the grounds that it is puffing Robin up as a prophet to an irrational degree. That right. It is.

But the Robin point can be reformulated. It’s not that he predicted Trump and, therefore, his hypothesis is confirmed. Rather, nearly everyone else predicted Not-Trump and, therefore, their hypotheses are disconfirmed by Trump. ‘Since conservatism is X, Y and Z, conservatives won’t vote for a -X, – Y and -Z guy like Trump.’ Something like that. (OK, I’m fudging a bit. Point is: Trump tests everyone else, NOT Robin.)

The headline ought to read “The Book That Didn’t Predict Not-Trump”. There. Fixed it. [click to continue…]

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The latest issue of Law Ethics and Philosophy has an open access symposium on Family Values, with contributions by Sarah Stroud, Anca Gheaus and Luara Ferracioli, and a fairly comprehensive response by me and Adam Swift. To simplify, Stroud criticizes us for being too unforgiving of parental partiality; Gheaus criticizes us for being too permissive with respect to parental authority over children, and Ferracioli introduces two adequacy criteria that, she argues, our theory does not meet. Of course, you’ll want to be sure to read the book first so you’ll know what it’s all about! It’s a good symposium in that there is enough, and sharp enough, disagreement to be interesting, but enough common ground that several issues get clarified, and progress is made.

While you’re at it, you might also want to check out the other symposium in the same issue, prompted by Philippe Van Parjis’s provocative (to put it mildly) and brief piece “Four Puzzles on Gender Equality”. Here’s the abstract:

There are dimensions along which men seem to be disadvantaged, on average, relative to women. For example, they can expect to live less years; in a growing number of countries they are, on average, less educated than women; they form an electoral minority; and their greater propensity to misbehave means that the overwhelming majority of the prison population is drawn from their ranks. These disadvantages, if they are real, all derive from an unchosen feature shared by one category of human beings: being a male. Does it follow that these advantages are unjust?

The interesting responses are by Paula Casal, Pierre-Étienne Vandamme, Jesus Mora, Valeria Ottonelli and Gina Schouten. It’s entirely accessible to non-academics, not just because it is free on the internet, but also because most of the papers (including Van Parijs’s) are short, and largely free of technical language. I mainly don’t teach my own work, so despite its pedagogical value I probably won’t use the Family Values symposium, but I can’t wait to teach the Van Parjis symposium in my undergraduate political philosophy class in the spring!

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The Stone Tape

by Harry on October 30, 2016

On the iplayer, a repeat of the brilliant radio adaptation of Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape. I saw The Stone Tape much too young (when it was first broadcast—I think my mum bought our first colour television specifically for it) and still remember the sense of complete terror it caused. Listening to the adaptation last year brought it all back. Listen with headphones, in a dark room, and don’t get interrupted, if you can manage it!

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Sunday photoblogging: railway line, Orio

by Chris Bertram on October 30, 2016

Orio is a small town in the Basque country, northern Spain

Orio, early morning

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I’m still reading Dieter Henrich, Between Kant and Hegel: Lectures on German Idealism. The more I read, the more I think I really need to read more Fichte. Also, there are moments like this: [click to continue…]

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Arguing against racism

by John Quiggin on October 30, 2016

A while back, I made the case that the political crisis evident in most developed countries could be explained in terms of a “three-party system” in which the political forces were divided between tribalism, neoliberalism and a somewhat inchoate left. This replaced a neoliberal consensus in which power alternated between hard/right neoliberals (in the US context, the Republican party), relying on the political support of tribalists, and soft neoliberals (in the US context, centrist Democrats) relying on the left to support them as a lesser evil. The first stage of this breakdown has been the capitulation of hard neoliberals to the tribalist right. The most obvious instance is Donald Trump, but the same thing is happening in Australia with Pauline Hanson, in England with UKIP/Brexit and in many European countries as well.

That this is happening is now obvious. What should the left do about it? It’s obviously insufficient to make the point that Trump, or Hanson, or Farage is a racist (or uses racism for political benefit) and expect that to settle the question. That doesn’t mean that we should maintain the long-standing taboo on using the word “racist” to describe such people. Rather, we should start developing a proper analysis of political racism and strategies to oppose racism and tribalism.

The problem we face today is new in important respects. The civil rights and anti-apartheid movements were was a struggle against overtly racist racist state structures. The success of those movements did not end racism, but drove it underground, allowing neoliberals to exploit racist and tribalist political support while pursuing the interests of wealth and capital, at the expense of the (disproportionately non-white) poor.

That coalition has now been replaced by one in which the tribalists and racists are dominant. For the moment at least, ahrdneoliberals continue to support the parties they formerly controlled, with the result that the balance of political forces between the right and the opposing coalition of soft neoliberals and the left has not changed significantly. However, unlike the Civil Rights era, where racists had a clear agenda of defending the status quo, the new politics of the right is driven more by a general expression of resentment (or, if you want to be fancy, ressentiment) than by coherent policy objectives.

I have some ideas about what kinds of strategies and arguments are needed here, but I thought I’d post this first, and wait to see what others have to say.

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Who’s Up For Tabletop Games?

by John Holbo on October 26, 2016

You know what kids like? They like playing the Munchkin Adventure Time card game. I have verified this with girls and boys, ages 10-50. When the younger daughter’s friends come over, they want to play Munchkin Adventure Time. So you might as well buy the expansion set – and order pizza. It adds to the humor if you are an Adventure Time fan, which you should be. But everyone else can get the jokes easily. [click to continue…]

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Tom Hayden is Dead

by Harry on October 25, 2016

Tom Hayden, a leading member of SDS, and the person with most responsibility for drafting the Port Huron Statement, is dead. The Times obit, with its spectacularly wrong first sentence, is here. Despite the inaccuracies it is well worth reading. More interesting, more accurate, and passionate is Christopher Phelps’s piece in Jacobin, announcing the death and responding to the Times. For a start, the Times says that Hayden “burst out of the 1960s counterculture as a radical leader of America’s civil rights and antiwar movements” which, Phelps rightly responds, ‘gets it exactly backwards’ (and includes, amusing photographic evidence that I won’t reproduce because I want to induce you to go there and read Phelps).

Hayden’s youthful trajectory points, rather, to the early New Left that began awakening in the stiflingly conformist atmosphere of the late 1950s, one whose radicalism was focused in thought and action aiming to surmount race, bureaucracy, and war — and not on the experimentation with hair, dress, music, and psychedelic mind expansion that captivated the hippie counterculture.

The hippies were by and large apolitical; Hayden and his kind were political from start to finish.

The Times obit does, however, end well, with a quote from J. Edgar Hoover that anybody from that era would be pleased to have as their epitaph:

“One of your prime objectives,” J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime F.B.I. director, said in one memo, “should be to neutralize him in the New Left movement.”

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Below are six causes for optimism. But I should stress, as I have since The Reactionary Mind, that the reason I think the right has not much of a future is that it has won. If you consider its great animating energies since the New Deal—anti-labor, anti-civil rights, and anti-feminism—the right has achieved a considerable amount of success. Either in destroying or beating back these movements. So the hopefulness you read below, it needs to be remembered, is built on the ruins of the left. It reflects a considerable pessimism and arises from a sober realism about where we are right now. [click to continue…]

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Michael Lind of New America has a Theory about why politics is so screwed up. It’s worth quoting in extenso:

Science fiction traditionally has had the task of providing us with alternative visions of the future. For the most part, it has done a terrible job. The main reason for its failure is that it assumes global uniformity. …

In optimistic visions of the future, there is a liberal and democratic world government, or perhaps an interplanetary federation. In dystopias, there is a single global tyranny. … The assumption of uniform conditions in the world of tomorrow saves science-fiction authors and screenwriters the trouble of explaining the Sino-Indian dispute of 2345 AD, allowing them to concentrate on the plot and the main characters. But it is completely unrealistic.

…even in an industrialized world of wage workers and cities, the gaps between rich and poor regions are likely to remain enormous. Even as some backward areas catch up, innovative regions will shoot ahead. …

Great-power rivalry, demographic collapse, mass migration — three of the major forces reshaping the world — have been all but completely absent, both from classic science fiction and newer novels and movies that have shaped public consciousness. … Unfortunately, literary and cinematic visions of the future influence the way the public and the policymaking elite think about the future. This is particularly a problem for the left … Meanwhile, from the early 20th century to the early 21st, many centrist liberals have put their hopes in international institutions — the League of Nations, the United Nations, or, more recently, projects of trans-national regionalism like the European Union.

Today’s national populists are told that they are on the wrong side of history, by elites whose members claim to speak on behalf of an emerging world community. But maybe the populists and nationalists are on the right side of history and the elites have been duped by bad science fiction.

Well, in fairness, it isn’t nearly as creepy as blaming it all on international bankers or the Rothschilds

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