Rorty vs Soames

by Brian on March 1, 2005

Recently Scott Soames wrote “two”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/069112244X/ref=nosim/caoineorg-20 “books”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0691123128/ref=nosim/caoineorg-20 on the history of philosophy from 1900 to 1970. “Richard Rorty’s review”:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v27/n02/print/rort01_.html of these books in the _LRB_ has attracted quite a bit of attention among philosophers. A reply by Soames has been printed, but apparently it was cut down quite a bit for space reasons. So a “full version”:http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~grussell/SoamesonRorty4.pdf of Soames’s reply (warning: PDF) has been put on the web. I expected I’d be rather sympathetic to Soames’s side of this debate, but actually I thought Rorty got in some surprisingly good points, the most central of which were about my primary area of research, vagueness.
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My Most Imaginary Friend

by Brian on March 1, 2005

There is a philosophical tradition, most prominently associated with Quine, that includes among its core commitments the following two claims.

# The things that best scientific theory quantifies over exist
# Among the things that exist, there do not exist spooks or souls or certainly not _imaginary friends_

So it would be a little troubling if best scientific theory started quantifying over imaginary friends. But “some say that’s what will happen”:http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,1427987,00.html?gusrc=rss. The Quineans will have to find some way to paraphrase away the imaginary friends without paraphrasing away the benefits, should the benefits be genuine.

Black and White

by Henry on March 1, 2005

Over at _Inside Higher Ed_, “Scott McLemee”:http://www.insidehighered.com/views/intellectual_affairs__8 has some interesting reflections on Emma Dunham Kelley-Hawkins, a late nineteenth century writer who got a lot of attention from literary scholars, including Henry Louis Gates, because she was identified as African-American, but now turns out to have been white. While there are some academic politics here that are worth exploring, Scott focuses on the more interesting aesthetic question: how it is that an author of very considerable mediocrity may become interesting because of her racial background. When Emma Dunham Kelley-Hawkins was black, the relentless whiteness of her fictional characters was significant and important, but when she became white again, it turns out to be hundrum and uninformative, a rather banal product of the racial prejudices of its time.[1] Scott has some fun with the earnest efforts of literary theorists to read racial complexities into a text which simply doesn’t support them, contrasting Kelley-Hawkins with another, far more interesting-sounding African-American writer from the same period who does actually engage with the ironies and paradoxes of fluid racial identity. But even though the alchemy of race may not be able to produce gold from dross, the body of Emma Dunham Kelley-Hawkins scholarship may still have some worth. We can consider it as an imaginative exercise, along the lines of the literary critics of Borges’ “Tlön”:http://aegis.ateneo.net/fted/tlontext.htm, who

bq. often invent authors: they select two dissimilar works – the Tao Te Ching and the 1001 Nights, say – attribute them to the same writer and then determine most scrupulously the psychology of this interesting homme de lettres…

Re-imagining a dull white religious novelist of the late nineteenth century as a conflicted black woman is less ambitious, certainly, but still not entirely without merit.

fn1. Which, as Scott points out in his conclusion, are themselves worth studying, but surely not the same thing.

Election law and blogs

by Henry on March 1, 2005

While doing some research a couple of weeks ago for a course I’m teaching, I came across this interesting Brookings Institution “book chapter”:http://www.brookings.edu/dybdocroot/gs/cf/sourcebk01/InternetChap10.pdf of how US election law affects political activities on the Internet. Reading between the lines, it appears to me that the Federal Election Commission has been strenuously trying to avoid getting sucked into the quagmire of regulating political conduct on the Internet – but that it is, sooner or later, going to have to start engaging in rulemaking. Trevor Potter and Kirk L. Jowers, the authors of the chapter don’t really discuss how, or whether, election law should apply to blogs. There are some fascinating questions here for future regulation and lawmaking. Should there be disclosure requirements for blogs (like the two blogs “authored by paid advisers”:http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/12/08/politics/main659955.shtml to the Thune senatorial campaign in South Dakota) that are intimately linked to a political campaign? Should blogging that is expressly aimed at supporting the election of a particular candidate be treated as a political contribution, or as volunteer activity? Should the kinds of restriction that apply to coordination between 527s and political campaigns be extended to prominent political blogs?

I note that I’m not an expert in electoral law. Still, I feel fairly confident in making two predictions. First: that these activities _will_ be regulated. As political blogs become a more established part of the political landscape, they will increasingly be treated as another means of political expression, advocacy and fundraising – and the current regulatory regime will, one way or another, be extended to cover them. The only question is how the balance between free political speech and the need to regulate organized political activities is struck. Second, that whatever regulations are promulgated will prove awkward and uncomfortable for bloggers on both sides of the ideological spectrum. Bloggers have gotten used to operating in a relatively freewheeling environment – as they get absorbed into the existing political system, this is going to change.

Update: “Luis Villa”:http://tieguy.org/blog/ points in comments to this very interesting “take”:http://zonkette.blogspot.com/2005/02/fec-talk-tomorrow-abstract-in-progress.html on how the FEC _should_ evolve from Howard Dean’s former election coordinator, Zephyr Teachout.

Hey, Maybe Freedom Is On The March!

by Belle Waring on March 1, 2005

Let me join the left-wing commentator chorus by saying that recent developments in Lebanon and Egypt make me hopeful, and also redound to the credit of Bush and his foreign policy team. (damn, I never thought I’d be writing that.) In the former case, events have been pretty much autochtonous, and out of Bush’s control. But who can doubt that the sight of Iraqis voting, even in their odd and anonymous election, has had an impact on Lebanese public opinion? (And yes, I concede that Bush jumped on the Iraq election bandwagon only after it lumbered past him, led by Sistani. Still, he jumped on.)

In the case of Egypt, there is every reason to be skeptical that Mubarak is cooking up some Algerian-style charade in the hopes of installing Gamal, and is only making these concessions to please the US. (See Abu Aarvark’s helpful round-up of Arab press responses to the move.) Even so, that means that the US has put enough actual pressure on him that he feels he needs to do some window-dressing, and that in itself is a huge step forward. I was always one who liked the sound of the Bush democracy-promotion speeches, but was convinced he wouldn’t back them up with any real pressure on US-friendly autocrats. I thought, “wow, he’s got a good speechwriter”, not “wow, I guess we’ll be giving that Niyazov guy any amount of trouble now.” So, count me happy to be somewhat wrong.

It’s Schmitt Time Again

by Kieran Healy on March 1, 2005

“Go read”:http://markschmitt.typepad.com/decembrist/2005/02/how_social_secu.html. That’s all.

Life Imitating Art

by Kieran Healy on March 1, 2005

“Rep Sam Johnson (R – Texas)”:http://www.thecarpetbaggerreport.com/archives/003628.html, the other day:

bq. Speaking at a veterans’ celebration at Suncreek United Methodist Church in Allen, Texas….Johnson said he told the president that night, “Syria is the problem. Syria is where those weapons of mass destruction are, in my view. You know, I can fly an F-15, put two nukes on ’em and I’ll make one pass. We won’t have to worry about Syria anymore.”

“Randy Newman”:http://laeren.zoggins.net/music/lyrics/lyrics-politicalscience.php, some years ago:

No one likes us
I don’t know why
We may not be perfect
But heaven knows we try
But all around even our old friends put us down
Let’s drop the big one and see what happens

We give them money
But are they grateful?
No they’re spiteful
And they’re hateful
They don’t respect us, so let’s surprise them
We’ll drop the big one and pulverize them.

Maybe the GOP should hire Newman as a foreign policy consultant. Johnson’s decision to deliver the remarks in a church was a particularly nice touch. I wonder if he knows where the road to Damascus actually is.