Pots, Pots, and More Pots

 Posted by on 29 March 2005 at 6:32 am  Uncategorized
Mar 292005

My sister, Meredith Brickell, is a wonderfully talented potter. I own a fairly substantial number of her pots: bowls, serving dishes, platters, mugs, jars, and so on. I use and enjoy them on a daily basis.

Happily, she now has a web site of her own at mbrickell.com. It’s not much yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing more of her work on it.

Mar 282005

… when she has her own weblog?

OCON 2005

 Posted by on 28 March 2005 at 9:15 am  Uncategorized
Mar 282005

The March 31st deadline for the early registration discount for OCON 2005 (in San Diego from July 2nd to the 14th) is fast approaching. I just signed Paul and myself up for both weeks. (It will be my third OCON, his first. I’m so insanely happy that he’s able to come this year — and for two weeks! It will be fantastic!)

For anyone attending for the first time, I’d be happy to offer my own personal recommendations on the optional courses most likely to be particularly worthwhile, given the track record of the speakers. (It can be difficult to choose the first time around if you’re unfamiliar with the speakers.)

A Video is Not an Argument

 Posted by on 28 March 2005 at 7:58 am  Uncategorized
Mar 282005

I recently heard Leonard Peikoff’s Ford Hall Forum lecture “ A Picture is Not an Argument.” (It was quite good.) All of the considerations he mentions with respect to the abortion debate apply in spades to the Terri Shaivo case, as this article “Docs Say Schiavo Tapes Don’t Tell Story” shows. The mere fact that her eyes might sometimes track a balloon or her mother does not prove anything, as any neurologist not blinded by religious faith will tell you. Similarly, the mere fact that a fetus of a certain age sucks its thumb or responds to sounds does not prove that abortion is murder.

Contrary to those who wish to use such pictures as proof, we cannot justly leap in one bound from selected perceptual data to abstract philosophical conclusions. Much conceptual processing of a wide range of observational data is required. Without that conceptual understanding, such images are horribly misleading. With it, they are useless. In the case of abortion, the pictures of the developing fetus drop the critical context of the location of the fetus inside the mother. In the case of Terri Schiavo, the selected video of her drops the critical context of our scientific knowledge of automatized responses produced by the brain stem. Sadly, people are all too easily suckered into drawing highly abstract conclusions from just a few such selected images.

For an insane example of the opposite error of rationalism, check out this article arguing that removing Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube is murder — on supposedly Objectivist grounds. Really, it’s quite astonishing.

In any case, we can all be grateful that Terri Shaivo didn’t die on Easter. The proclamations of a miracle would have been too much to bear.

Philosophy Poetry

 Posted by on 26 March 2005 at 7:11 am  Uncategorized
Mar 262005

No one’s ever written poetry about my philosophical writing — until now. Heh. Thanks, John!

But really John, you’re lagging behind by merely writing poems about my essay in Harry Potter and Philosophy. I wanna see some rhymin’ on my newly-published paper on false excuses!

(Oy, am I ever ungrateful!!!)

Mar 252005

According to this article:

Many a visitor to New York’s Museum of Modern Art has probably thought, “I could do that.”

A British graffiti artist who goes by the name “Banksy” went one step further, by smuggling in his own picture of a soup can and hanging it on a wall, where it stayed for more than three days earlier this month before anybody noticed.

The prank was part of a coordinated plan to infiltrate four of New York’s top museums on a single day.

Speaking by telephone from an undisclosed location in Britain, Banksy said he conducted all four operations on March 13, helped by accomplices who filmed him and provided distractions where necessary.

“They staged a gay tiff (lovers’ quarrel), shouting very loudly and obnoxiously,” said the artist, declining to give his real name or any personal details beyond his occupation as a professional painter and decorator.

The article also links to photographs of Banksy “wearing an Inspector Clouseau-style overcoat, a hat and a fake beard and nose” hanging up his work at the four museums.

Self-Made Vegetable

 Posted by on 23 March 2005 at 1:39 pm  Uncategorized
Mar 232005

I had always presumed that Terri Schiavo’s present condition was caused by some horrible car accident or somesuch. The actual cause is much worse, for she is to blame. She put herself into a persistent vegetative state by depriving herself of proper food for the sake of weight loss. (Via John Enright.)

Celebrating Ayn Rand

 Posted by on 23 March 2005 at 8:14 am  Uncategorized
Mar 232005

As some of you might have noticed, I didn’t post anything on the Ayn Rand centenary. I didn’t link to Onkar Ghate’s lovely op-ed on the enduring appeal of Ayn Rand. I didn’t even make a single snide remark about Cathy Young’s horrid smear job for Reason.

Now perhaps my silence isn’t all that surprising, given that I’m generally bad about blogging events. (I still haven’t written on Tara Smith’s very good, very explicitly Objectivist colloquium at Boulder on egoistic friendship. Shame on me!) However, in the case of the 100th anniversary of Ayn Rand’s birth, I had every intention to posting a short blog entry.

Unfortunately, that day was pretty much thrown into complete disarray when some unscrupulous undergraduate stole my keys from the ladies room. I put them down next to the sink as I was washing the chalk off my hands after teaching my early recitation. The next thing I knew, my keys were gone. (I posted pleas to return them, checked lost and founds, and so on, but they were never returned.) So I spent that day getting my car towed from Boulder to a dealership in north Denver in order to get new keys made. It was an expensive, exhausting, and time-consuming procedure. I must say, it was particularly annoying to spend Ayn Rand’s birthday coping with the effects of petty theft.

So let me finally offer my belated “Happy Birthday!” to Ayn Rand. Sadly, not all those who claim to honor her actually do so. Case in point: Ed Hudgins, the future Executive Director of The Objectivist Center, wrote TOC’s op-ed for Ayn Rand’s centenary, titled Ayn Rand at 100: The Moral Defense of Freedom. Let me comment upon a few passages.

Rand is best known as a logical yet passionate advocate of individual liberty and laissez-faire capitalism who stands out from others because she was principally a novelist. In Atlas her heroes were businessmen and -women, productive individuals whose achievements were responsible for the country’s prosperity. This is in stark contrast to the usual portrayal of business executives as villains in books, movies, TV shows, sermons and political pronouncements. Rand didn’t simply explain her perspective; her stories showed us her characters’ love for their work; it was exciting to read about how they strove with zeal, using their minds, independent judgment, integrity and strength to produce railroads, oil wells and steel mills.

Apart from the boring, insipid, and vague prose (as in “Rand didn’t simply explain her perspective” and “it was exciting to read”), this paragraph is just bizarre. Does Ayn Rand really stand out from those unspecified “others” in virtue of being a novelist? Is that a fundamental difference between her and Milton Friedman, for example? Is Atlas Shrugged most noteworthy for its positive portrayal of businessmen? Does that constitute a fundamental difference between it and modern books, movies, tv, politics — and SERMONS?!? Hudgins’ relentless focus on non-essentials is typical — and reveals (once again) his lack of understanding for and appreciation of Ayn Rand’s accomplishments.

Even more important, in her novels and her non-fiction works she developed a philosophy — Objectivism — that provided a moral defense of free markets. Rand began with the observation that since the ultimate alternative for human beings is life or death, the ultimate moral goal for each individual is survival. That might not seem so radical, but Rand went on to observe that because we are humans, the goal is not just physical survival; it is a happy, joyous and flourishing life. Further, the means by which we discover how to achieve this goal is our unique rational capacity, not instincts, feelings or faith. Thinking allows us to produce food, clothing, shelter, medicine, printing presses, computers, rockets and theories to explain everything from atoms to galaxies.

In the first sentence, Hudgins presents Objectivism as little more than a philosophy (only an ethics, really) for defending free markets. Contrast that with Ayn Rand’s own characterization of her philosophical commitments: “I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows.” Objectivism is certainly a philosophy that provides a moral defense of free markets, but it’s not only that or even primarily that. It is a philosophy for living on earth. Given that this is an op-ed on the Ayn Rand centenary, Hudgins ought to focus on the essentials of Ayn Rand’s achievements. By focusing only on one derivative aspect instead, he undervalues those achievements.

The two-sentence summary of Ayn Rand’s metaethics is far worse. Because Hudgins first characterizes the “ultimate moral goal for each individual” as “survival” rather than life, Hudgins must then hastily add that survival doesn’t mean “just physical survival,” but rather “a happy, joyous and flourishing life.” To those unfamiliar with Ayn Rand’s actual meta-ethical argument, that must seem like an arbitrary abuse of ordinary language. In addition, Hudgins’ suggests that survival as the “ultimate moral goal” is not so radical, but that flourishing as that goal is. (Are you kidding me?!?) Apparently, Ayn Rand’s idea that the basic source of moral values is the fundamental alternative of life or death is just common sense, but people reject her ethics because she advocates happiness in addition to physical survival. (Are you kidding me?!?)

In his discussion of reason, Hudgins’ wordy description of reason as “the means by which we discover how to achieve this goal” is noteworthy. Objectivism holds that reason is our only means of sustaining life; it must be thoroughly action guiding, not just sometimes or in some areas of life, but at every moment of every day. Yet Hudgins’ characterization of reason as the way in which we “discover how to achieve this goal [of life]” seems to give reason a more background role, as if it merely establishes the general means of achieving life, which then may be implemented by “instincts, feelings or faith.” A clear statement of the Objectivist view was possible, yet Hudgins offered a convoluted, misleading mess instead.

Rand developed an ethos of rational self-interest, but this “virtue of selfishness” was not an anti-social creed for predators. Instead, it led Rand to her great insight that there is no conflict of interest between honest, rational individuals. Since individuals are ends in themselves, no one in society should initiate the use of force or fraud against others. All relationships should be based on mutual consent. This became the credo of the modern libertarian movement, found today in think tanks, publications and public policy proposals.

Ah yes, let us honor the 100th anniversary of Ayn Rand’s birth by blithely connecting her to the openly subjectivist libertarian movement that she repeatedly denounced during her lifetime.

As I’ve said before: With friends like these, who needs enemies? Ed Hudgins — unlike many in and around TOC — may mean well. But that’s not good enough.

The Top 100 City Skylines

 Posted by on 23 March 2005 at 12:01 am  Uncategorized
Mar 232005

This website lists the top 100 cities around the world, based on the visual impact of their skylines.

According to their formula, the top 5 are Hong Kong, New York, Seoul, Chicago, and Singapore. Our current home of Denver is ranked a respectable #56. And although it only comes in at #98, I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for San Diego, which is where Diana and I lived when we first got married.

Hooray for False Excuses!

 Posted by on 22 March 2005 at 12:39 pm  Uncategorized
Mar 222005

My paper on false excuses is no longer forthcoming from the Journal of Value Inquiry. It has been published!

Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!

Here’s the full citation: Diana Mertz Hsieh, “False Excuses: Honesty, Wrongdoing, and Moral Growth,” The Journal of Value Inquiry, Volume 38, Issue 2, Jun 2004, pp 171 – 185.

Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!

If you have university access, you can probably get to the PDF through this link. If that doesn’t work, I’ll send you a copy of the paper if you drop me an e-mail.

For the record, I do think that the paper has some methodological problems. Nonetheless, I’m insanely happy that it’s published.

Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!

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