Miracles or science?

Let us assume that miracles can give people with paraplegia the power to walk again. People are granted miracles at God’s whim. To us, who don’t understand God’s will, these miracles are arbitrary.

Well, now science can give people with paraplegia the power to walk again. But this power isn’t granted arbitrarily. It could potentially be granted to anybody who responds to the therapy.

So, which do you prefer? Mankind having no discrimination over who walks again or mankind being able to help anyone who can walk again?



Meryl Dorey and the AVN pick the rotten cherries

On 5 October, Deakin University Lecturer in Philosophy Dr Patrick Stokes published an article over at The Conversation headed ‘No, you’re not entitled to your opinion’. Stokes discussed an episode of Media Watch in which the show’s host, Jonathan Holmes, criticised a WIN News story about a measles outbreak in South-West Sydney.

The WIN News story focused on vaccination, presenting two opposing views on the issue. The first view was that of of a medical doctor, who recommended that children be vaccinated. The other view belonged to Australian Vaccination Network (AVN) spokesperson Meryl Dorey, who claimed that ‘All vaccinations in the medical literature have been linked with the possibility of causing autism, not just the measles/mumps/rubella vaccine’ and that children should not be vaccinated.

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Lying by Sam Harris

Lying by Sam Harris (2011)


Sam Harris has made his short eBook Lying (2011) available to download for free. Make the most of this opportunity and read it. It will only take you an hour or so. For those of you who cannot spare an hour, here’s a five-minute review and five-minute criticism. To the review.

In good philosophical fashion, Harris opens his essay with a definition of lying: ‘To lie is to intentionally mislead others when they expect honest communication’ (p. 4).

The expectation that others have about a particular piece of communication is important, Harris contends. When, for example, someone greets us in the street with a ‘Hi, how are you?’ an acceptable response is ‘Well!’, even when we aren’t well. Although such a response may be deceptive, Harris argues that it’s not a lie because both parties understand that the communication is intended as a greeting. By responding with ‘Well!’ you’re not intentionally misleading your interlocutor. They don’t expect an honest reply.

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It’s better to live on your knees than to die on your feet: Thomas Hobbes on the dangers of political idealism

This is a discussion piece on seventeenth-century British philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ criticism of domestic political idealism, using contemporary Australian politics as a point of reference. As a discussion piece it lacks academic rigour. So, what the hell. Let’s get it started with a factually incorrect abstract.


In the December 1982 edition of Rolling Stone, Thomas Hobbes published a scathing review of Midnight Oil’s ‘10-to-1’ album. Midnight Oil, Hobbes claimed, were corrupting Australian youth with such politically incendiary tracks as ‘Short Memory’ and ‘US Forces’. But it was the lyrics to ‘The Power and the Passion’ with which Hobbes took particular issue, writing:

We hear that “It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees”. How foolish! What vainglory! Who penned such rot? Was it Hirst, Moginie or Garrett? Have The Oils taken leave of their senses? Anybody who has lived through the English Civil War and who can ratiocinate knows that the opposite is true. Standing up for political ideals can only lead to political subversion, civil unrest and, ultimately, civil war. And with civil war comes a return to the State of Nature — a state in which all persons, upright, kowtowed and procumbent, face the constant threat of death; a state in which, as I have argued elsewhere (see my Leviathan (Bohn, 1651)), life for all is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. All things considered, therefore, it’s better to live on one’s knees than to die on one’s feet.

In this entry I’ll give a few working examples of political idealism and political realism before moving onto Hobbes’ criticism of the former and his argument that domestic peace and commodious living require us to forfeit our political ideals lest they undermine the sovereign’s authority.

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What do Occupy Melbourne want?

Occupy protester

Offering a helping hand

No doubt you’ve heard someone complain that Occupy Melbourne lacks a clear aim. While advocates from many diverse causes are participating in the movement, they share a common concern. The Occupy Melbourne website states:

Our democracy is unwell. Our elected representatives no longer represent their constituents, instead their ears are turned by wealthy lobby groups, whilst the common interests of the people they were elected to represent, are ignored.

This grievance focuses on the lack of truly democratic representation. The passage could be taken as a call for what in democratic theory is known as a ‘delegate’ as opposed to a ‘trustee’ model of representation.

Though models of democratic representation go back much further, the particular distinction between the delegate and trustee models can be traced to conservative political philosopher and British parliamentarian Edmund Burke. As Burke proclaimed in his 1774 speech to the electors of Bristol, ‘Your Representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion’ (1999, p. 11). For a number of reasons, from the physical absence of constituents during parliamentary debate to what Burke considered the sheer idiocy of dogmatically adopting the position of his constituency before the parliamentary debate had been had, Burke thought it appropriate to represent as a trustee—that political power had been entrusted to him by his constituents.

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Are political obligations always moral? A Hobbesian rumination

Uncle Sam

Richard K Dagger opens his very good Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on political obligation with the following claim:

To have a political obligation is to have a moral duty to obey the laws of one’s country or state. On that point there is almost complete agreement among political philosophers.

There are two problems with this opening gambit.

Firstly, and of least importance, agreement in any amount—be it no agreement, little agreement, almost complete agreement or complete agreement—does not itself establish the truth of a proposition. One’s suspicion should always be roused by attempts to use claims of ‘near complete’ or ‘general agreement’ to establish a point.

Secondly, and more importantly, a political obligation is not always a moral duty. For a political obligation to always be a moral duty, one of two conditions must be met. The terms ‘obligation’ and ‘duty’ must be synonymous, thus rendering the proposition tautological or true by definition. If this condition is met then to have an obligation means the same thing as to have a duty. If this condition is not met, then for Dagger’s principal claim to hold all ‘political obligations’ have to fall within the set of what we consider to be ‘moral obligations’. To have a political obligation would then be to have a moral obligation because there would be no political obligations which were not also moral obligations. Let’s deal with these two conditions in turn.

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Political obligation: of subjects and men


Simon Bogojevic-Narath's (2006) 'Leviathan'

The distinction between man and subject, and the positions that follow from it, make it possible to understand as consistent Hobbes’ claims (1) that no man is bound by the civil covenant to kill himself, or any other man and (2) that a sovereign may not unjustly kill an innocent subject.

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An ode to sociopaths

The great individuals of world history … are those who seize upon th[e] higher universal and make it their own end. It is they who realise the end appropriate to the higher concept of the spirit. To this extent, they may be called heroes. They do not find their aims and vocation in the calm and regular system of the present, in the hallowed order of things as they are. Indeed, their justification does not lie in the prevailing situation, for they draw their inspiration from another source, from that hidden spirit whose hour is near but which still lies beneath the surface and seeks to break out without yet having attained an existence in the present. For this spirit, the present world is but a shell which contains the wrong kind of kernel. It might, however, be objected that everything which deviates from the established order — whether intentions, aims, opinions, or so-called ideals — is likewise different from what is already there. Adventures of all kinds have such ideals, and their activities are based on attitudes which conflict with the present circumstances. But the fact that all such attitudes, sound reasons, or general principles differ from existing ones does not mean to say that they are justified. The only true ends are those whose content has been produced by the absolute power of the inner spirit itself in the course of its development; and world-historical individuals are those who have willed and accomplished not just the ends of their own imagination or personal opinions, but only those which were appropriate and necessary. Such individuals know what is necessary and timely, and have an inner vision of what it is.

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On Bullshit

On Bullshit

The Oxford English Dictionary cites a circa 1915 letter by Percy Wyndham Lewis as the first use of the term ‘bullshit’. Lewis used the term as coarse slang for rubbish or nonsense — nonsense that is eloquent yet insincere. Harry G Frankfurt’s 2005 essay ‘On Bullshit’ explores the meaning of bullshit in more depth.

So, what is bullshit? Well, to bullshit is not to lie, Frankfurt argues. Liars have a concern for the truth insofar as they must know what is true to proffer what is false. The truth-teller and the liar are therefore ‘on opposite sides … in the same game. Each responds to the facts as he understands them, although the response of the one is guided by the authority of the truth, while the response of the other defies that authority and refuses to meet its demands’.

The truth-value of a statement is of little interest to the bullshitter. The bullshitter is indifferent to how things really are, but hides his nonchalance. He makes assertions that suit the occasion, without concern for their correspondence with the truth. This is the ‘essence’ of bullshit. And it is dangerous because the normal concern for truth becomes ‘attenuated or lost’ as bullshit takes hold. The liar is certainly opposed to truth, but he is not as great an enemy of truth as the bullshitter. Bullshit is corrosive.

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