Friday, December 19, 2014

Brassington on Tommy the Chimpanzee

Iain Brassington has an utterly baffling post on the Tommy the Chimpanzee case. It seems to me to make a number of very obvious errors, both in interpretation of the decision and in an understanding of what the decision indicates in its proper context.

(1) Judges do not determine adequacy of law. Brassington says:

Now, I wonder whether that actually hits the target, since (as is admitted) a big part of the question is not whether the currently-accepted definition of “person” is correctly applied, but whether the definition is the right one in the first place. Pointing to the way the term has and is applied won’t answer that. Indeed, the ruling seems to take pains to avoid answering that part of the deposition. If Smith says that the law is inadequate, Jones can’t demonstrate its adequacy simply by reciting it.

As I noted in remarking on the NhRP press release, this gets the structure of the decision wrong in the first place. But even if we set this aside, this remark makes no sense. It is not Jones's place or responsibility, when a matter of law comes up, to "demonstrate its adequacy", if Jones is a judge deciding a case. A judge can demonstrate the adequacy or inadequacy of law to more fundamental laws, but there is no court system in the world in which they are tasked with demonstrating the adequacy of laws, simply speaking. What is more, a judge cannot simply ignore how a law fits into the overall legal regime; that's one of the things a judge is supposed to do. It matters whether there is precedent; and it matters how much of a change to the entire legal regime a particular kind of decision would require. These always need at least to be assessed, even though precedent alone is not necessarily definitive in itself (as the decision itself explicitly points out). And if one wishes to change the legal regime itself, the appropriate route is to work with the legislature to do so (as the decision also explicitly points out). One of my continual complaints about the way bioethics is often done is that it tends to ignore actual relevant context, and Brassington's comment here is a an excellent example.

(2)A judicial decision is not the forum for a general consideration of rights as such, but only for a consideration of rights as available under law. Brassington says:

Part of the reasoning is in tune with the dogma that you can’t have rights unless you also have responsibilities. I’ve never seen a particularly good defence of this dogma. I can see how one might have rights, and I can see how one might have responsibilities, but I’m unsure how the former depends on the latter.

The reasoning, however, has nothing to do with "the dogma that you can't have rights unless you also have responsibilities"; it simply notes that our legal regime does, in fact, link rights to in-principle participation in the responsibilities of society. What is more, we aren't in this particular case dealing with all rights in general; we are dealing with remedy rights like the writ of habeas corpus, which is in fact historically a right that is linked with the responsibilities of those subject to the law (the root idea of it being that a court can bring a person to court for whatever purposes the court is capable of having, even if the person is detained; and historically the right has primarily been upheld as a procedural protection for citizens). Even if one held that the general principle of the correlation of rights and responsibilities failed, it does not follow that it fails for rights based on legal personhood, which are, as the court notes, generally treated as linked to the in-principle capacity for social responsibility.

Likewise, contrary to what Brassington says, the application of the principle doesn't give us "a problem when it comes to young humans"; the status is (a) presumptive and (b) determined by legal regime -- you don't have to prove that you are capable of social responsibility in order to be a legal person, you just have to be the kind of entity taken to have that legal status in the overall legal regime. This can be because one literally does have the ability for social responsibility, or merely because one is deemed for convenience of law to have it, even if that is a fiction. But this is a status conferred by the legal regime as a whole. And, as the decision notes, there is simply no question here about whether our legal regime takes chimpanzees to have the relevant status -- it doesn't. There isn't even any ambiguity or inconsistency about it, as there has occasionally been with human beings; everyone recognizes that giving chimpanzees the legal status of personhood would be a significant change in how our society handles that legal status. Young humans do not represent any such change at all; our legal regime is very clear that infants are to be deemed legal persons, so there is no doubt at all about them, and is inconsistent on whether the unborn are to be deemed legal persons, so it can tip either way depending on how one assesses the overall system of law.

(3) Judicial cases give the burden of proof to those who would change the status quo. Brassington does recognize that in principle one can take the rights and responsibilities here as stipulative. But he goes on to say:

For one thing, even if all right-holders are duty-holders, it doesn’t follow that all duty-holders are right-holders. (In just the same way, even if all squares are rectangles, it doesn’t follow that all rectangles are squares.) So if slaves did have rights after all, there seems to be something else going on – and if it can be going on in respect of slaves, then why not in respect of chimps? At the very least, that something else would have to be quite carefully defined.

But, first of all, this is not how the relation of rights and responsibilities are generally conceived; if someone has a genuine duty, one does have the rights required for the performance of the duty. What is more, the writ of habeas corpus has historically had a very close connection with precisely this way of relating rights and duties: one of the reasons it is seen as protecting subjects and citizens is that it means that others cannot arbitrarily prevent them from fulfilling their overall legal and judicial responsibilities without having an acceptable reason that justifies it.

But again Brassington drops the judicial context. In a judicial context it does not "have to be quite carefully defined" what the relation between rights and duties is; judges are not philosophers of law or moral philosophers, considering regimes in the abstract in a rigorous way; nor are they legislators determining the basic principles of a particular regime on broader principles; they are practical decision-makers handling particular cases in light of how the actual legal regime operates. It is not the responsibility of the court to carefully define every important issue that comes up, or even most issues that come up; if someone wishes to establish in court that the way things are done practically is inconsistent or unacceptable, it is they who need to establish it, and they need to do so in a way that has relevance to the court's actual authority to the practical requirements of the case at hand. A court can indeed address these sorts of problems -- if they come up in a way that the court can do something about and in a matter in which it is important for the practical issue at hand. It is not, however, either the court's general responsibility or general right even to show how or whether the way things are legally done makes sense.

(4) A remedy under law depends on the general way law works. Brassington says:

So I’m inclined to think that the sufficiently narrow view is artificially narrow. It seems to devolve either to a potentiality argument (human newborns are potentially duty-holders), or to ignore the central part of the NHRP’s claim, which is precisely that the extent of legal protection afforded to chimps is insufficient. People who think that rights have an important role to play in explaining what law is, and what law should be, are unlikely to be satisfied with the role they’re given in the ratio here.

And as the court notes, the most appropriate way to extend legal protection to chimps is to get the legislature to pass laws establishing those legal protections. Courts are not legislatures with the authority to establish legal protections in general; they can recognize legal protections that already exist, or rule that consistency in their application requires that they be applied in cases where they have not before, or any number of other things. But they can't make them whole cloth. And thus the central part of the NhRP's claim can only be addressed by the court insofar as addressing it makes sense in light of precedent and the overall system of law. The court simply pointed out that precedent and the overall system of law pretty clearly leave no room for the court to act in the way the NhRP takes its claim to establish that they should.

(5) The decision is more or less what a reasonable person would have expected. Brassington ends by saying, "It’s a strange judgement." But in reality what's strange is thinking that a judgment that is more or less what almost every relevant court in the U.S. would have said up to this point, and that pointed out what is clearly the legal issue with trying to do what the NhRP is trying to do through the courts rather than the legislature, is in any way strange. Despite some very optimistic thinking surrounding the NhRP, there was very little expectation in general that the court would act in any other way; there was very little doubt prior to the case about what the basic lines of its reasoning would be. There is also very little doubt that had the court gone the other way, it would have sparked considerable outrage, and possibly backlash in the legislature, as a great many people would have regarded the court as having overstepped the bounds of its authority. None of these tell us whether the result is good or bad in itself; but they do in fact establish that there is nothing strange about it.

A Poem Draft


There is a truth that will not die,
No matter the tyrant's hold.
There is a flame that lights our way,
No matter the stifling cold.
No matter the shadow of death that falls,
No matter the tiring roads,
A solace awaits for the struggling soul,
Though it kick against the goads.
A starlight shines upon the frost
From a star that masters fate,
Sustaining hope of all who ache,
No matter the weary wait.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Rosmini on Sensation, against Idealism

879. I have demonstrated two things:

1. Sensation is in us, not in external agents (cf. 632 ss. and 672 ss. [652]). The idealists misused this fact. I grant them its truth, but they should not have neglected other facts while acknowledging it. Their error was the result of insufficient observation, not of defective observation.

2. Sensations are in us as the term of actions done by something other than ourselves (ibid.).

This was the other fact neglected by the idealists, although no less clear than the first. In every sensation we experience a passive modification or disturbance within us, of which we are directly conscious which expresses the term of an external action. By their nature, therefore, sensations, although in us, inform us of something outside ourselves. We must either deny the difference between activity and passivity, or accept that to be conscious of an experience in us is to be conscious of an action done in us, but not by us.

Antonio Rosmini, New Essay concerning the Origin of Ideas, Volume 2, Part 5, Chapter 11.

Judas the Lion-Prince, the Avenging Rod

The Feast of Lights
by Emma Lazarus

Kindle the taper like the steadfast star
Ablaze on evening's forehead o'er the earth.
And add each night a lustre till afar
An eightfold splendor shine above thy hearth.
Clash, Israel, the cymbals, touch the lyre,
Blow the brass trumpet and the harsh-tongued horn;
Chant psalms of victory till the heart takes fire,
The Maccabean spirit leap new-born.

Remember how from wintry dawn till night,
Such songs were sung in Zion, when again
On the high altar flamed the sacred light.
And, purified from every Syrian stain,
The foam-white walls with golden shields were hung.
With crowns and silken spoils, and at the shrine.
Stood, midst their conqueror-tribe. five chieftains sprung
From one heroic stock, one seed divine.

Five branches grown from Mattathias' stem.
The Blessed John, the Keen-Eyed Jonathan,
Simon the fair, the Burst-of-Spring, the Gem,
Eleazar, Help-of-God; o'er all his clan
Judas the Lion-Prince, the Avenging Rod,
Towered in warrior-beauty, uncrowned king,
Armed with the breastplate and the sword of God,
Whose praise is: "He received the perishing."

They who had camped within the mountain-pass,
Couched on the rock, and tented neath the sky,
Who saw from Mizpah'a heights the tangled grass
Choke the wide Temple-courts, the altar lie
Disfigured and polluted — who had flung
Their faces on the stones, and mourned aloud
And rent their garments, wailing with one tongue,
Crushed as a wind-swept bed of reeds is bowed,

Even they by one voice fired, one heart of flame,
Though broken reeds, had risen, and were men,
They rushed upon the spoiler and o'ercame,
Each arm for freedom had the strength of ten.
Now is their mourning into dancing turned,
Their sackcloth doffed for garments of delight,
Week-long the festive torches shall be burned,
Music and revelry wed day with night.

Still ours the dance, the feast, the glorious Psalm,
The mystic lights of emblem, and the Word.
Where is our Judas? Where our five-branched palm?
Where are the lion-warriors of the Lord?
Clash, Israel, the cymbals, touch the lyre,
Sound the brass trumpet and the harsh-tongued horn.
Chant hymns of victory till the heart take fire,
The Maccabean spirit leap new-born!

Music on My Mind

Mary Lou Williams and the Roots, "The Devil -- Chorale Vocal".

The Devil never rests come day, come dusk, come dawn;
You compromise and end up sold in parts.
So don’t it strike you funny when you look him in the eye --
The Devil looks a lot like you and I.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Watch Is Long Betimes and Late

by Christina Rossetti

This Advent moon shines cold and clear,
These Advent nights are long;
Our lamps have burned year after year
And still their flame is strong.
'Watchman, what of the night?' we cry,
Heart-sick with hope deferred:
'No speaking signs are in the sky,'
Is still the watchman's word.

The Porter watches at the gate,
The servants watch within;
The watch is long betimes and late,
The prize is slow to win.
'Watchman, what of the night?' But still
His answer sounds the same:
'No daybreak tops the utmost hill,
Nor pale our lamps of flame.'

One to another hear them speak
The patient virgins wise:
'Surely He is not far to seek' –
'All night we watch and rise.'
'The days are evil looking back,
The coming days are dim;
Yet count we not His promise slack,
But watch and wait for Him.'

One with another, soul with soul,
They kindle fire from fire:
'Friends watch us who have touched the goal.'
'They urge us, come up higher.'
'With them shall rest our waysore feet,
With them is built our home,
With Christ.' – 'They sweet, but He most sweet,
Sweeter than honeycomb.'

There no more parting, no more pain,
The distant ones brought near,
The lost so long are found again,
Long lost but longer dear:
Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard,
Nor heart conceived that rest,
With them our good things long deferred,
With Jesus Christ our Best.

We weep because the night is long,
We laugh for day shall rise,
We sing a slow contented song
And knock at Paradise.
Weeping we hold Him fast Who wept
For us, we hold Him fast;
And will not let Him go except
He bless us first or last.

Weeping we hold Him fast to-night;
We will not let Him go
Till daybreak smite our wearied sight
And summer smite the snow:
Then figs shall bud, and dove with dove
Shall coo the livelong day;
Then He shall say, 'Arise, My love,
My fair one, come away.'

2 May 1858

The first half of the penultimate stanza approaches perfection: an immense amount said in twenty-two ordinary words.

Anne Jaap Jacobson on Mind and Representation

Anne Jaap Jacobson has been doing some excellent guest posts at "The Brains Blog", broadly related to her recently published book, Keeping the World in Mind. The series:

Introducing Anne Jaap Jacobson

(1) "Let Me Quickly Wash My Hands One More Time" (the role of dopamine in perception and action, which serves as a useful set of research for the rest of the discussion)
(2) Anxiety about the Internal (what is meant by 'representation' in cognitive neuroscience and in contemporary philosophy of mind)
(3) Representations in the History of Philosophy, and a Bit about Red Pandas (Aristotle, Aquinas, Hume; as well as the problem of fakes)
(4) Human Errors and My Errata (issues of error and the need for consideration of the mind as in some sense necessarily social)

This is all great discussion; I particularly liked the discussion in (3) of how Aquinas and Hume, despite radically different views of mind, nonetheless share some very basic ideas that are not generally found in contemporary philosophical discussions of mental representation.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Links of Note

* Philosophers' Carnival #170 at "Philosophy, et cetera".

* Whewell's Gazette, Vol. 26. There are several links for George Boole, who died December 8, 1864.

Among the other topics, I found James C. Rautio's The Long Road to Maxwell's Equations particularly interesting.

* Philip Stratton-Lake on Ethical Intuitionism at the SEP. Sadly, it manages to mention neither Butler nor Whewell despite the fact that Butler is a major factor in the importance of ethical intuitionism in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, and despite the fact that Whewell is one of the most important intuitionists of the nineteenth century; but, admittedly, it is a big subject.

* MrD on why the trolls were after Marie Curie in 1911.

* Jennifer Fitz notes some very obvious problems with a recent article by Candida Moss and Joel Baden, in which they manage to get a theological term wrong and mischaracterize the Catholic position on infertility despite having a forthcoming book on "Biblical Perspectives on Procreation and Childlessness": first post, second post. Michael Bradley at "Ethika Politika" also discusses some tendentious aspects of the piece.

* A letter between Camus and Sartre has been recently rediscovered.

* David S. Oderberg, Hume, the Occult, and the Substance of the School (PDF).

* Lorraine Daston, Wonder and the Ends of Inquiry


* A fascinating discussion of Thomson's violinist argument by Gina Schouten.

* The O Antiphons in Middle English

Love and Kindness

I might, indeed, have learned, even from the poets, that Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness: that even the love between the sexes is, as in Dante, "a lord of terrible aspect." There is kindness in Love: but Love and kindness are not coterminous, and when kindness (in the sense given above) is separated from the other elements of Love, it involves a certain fundamental indifference to its object, and even something like contempt of it. Kindness consents very readily to the removal of its object--we have all met people whose kindness to animals is constantly leading them to kill animals lest they should suffer. Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object become good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering.

C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, Collier (New York: 1962) pp. 40-41. The meaning of kindness as used here is glossed as "the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy" (p. 40).

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Rough Timeline of the Maccabean and Hasmonean Eras

All dates are BC; many dates are approximate.

323 Death of Alexander the Great. The empire is divided; Antigonus takes Greece, Ptolemy takes Egypt, and Seleucus takes Syria.

220 Simon the Righteous (Sirach 50:1-21) becomes High Priest.

218 Hannibal crosses the Alps in Italy.

217 Battle of Raphia (3 Macc. 1; Daniel 11:11?): Ptolemy IV Philopator defeats Antiochus III, ending the Fourth Syrian War between Ptolemaic Egypt and Seleucid Syria.

211 Hannibal begins his march on Rome.

207 Rome manages to turn back Hannibal at Metaurus River.

202 End of Second Punic War when Scipio defeats Hannibal at Zama.

198 Judea becomes part of the Seleucid kingdom in the Fifth Syrian War. Onias III (2 Macc. 3:1-40), son of Simon the Righteous, becomes High Priest.

196 The city of Smyrna, threatened by Antiochus III, appeals to Rome for aid.

191 Rome and its allies defeat Antiochus III at Thermopylae and Corycus.

176 Antiochus IV Epiphanes ascends to the throne.

174 Jason, brother of Onias, attempts to become High Priest by bribing Antiochus (2 Macc. 4:1-7).

171 Menelaus offers a bigger bribe to Antiochus in order to become High Priest (2 Macc. 4:23-26); Jason flees.

170 Onias murdered through the machinations of Menelaus (2 Macc. 4:30-38). Antiochus IV initiates the Sixth Syrian War.

168 Antiochus IV is turned back in his invasion of Egypt by the ultimatum of Rome. A rumor spreads that he has died, and Jason attempts to overthrow Menelaus. Antiochus discovers this when returning and interprets it as a revolt (2 Macc. 5:11-14). He begins a crackdown on non-Hellenizing Jews (2 Macc. 6:1-12).

167 Abomination of Desolation (Daniel 11:31): Antiochus Epiphanes sets up an idol in the Temple. Jews begin to rally behind the family of Mattathias (1 Macc. 2:27ff.). The Maccabean revolt begins. Mithridates of Parthia takes advantage of the Seleucid confusion to seize the strategic city of Herat; Antiochus leaves the handling of the Maccabees to Lysias and goes to war against the Parthians himself.

Antiochus dies of illness while on (successful) campaign against Parthia. Rededication of the Temple under Judah Maccabee.

163 Lysias comes against the Maccabees with a vast army and elephants; Eleazar Maccabee dies in heroic attack (1 Macc. 6:42-46). Lysias lays siege to Jerusalem, but on hearing that one of his rivals is attempting to take advantage of Lysias's absence, Lysias offers Judah Maccabee peace terms: persecution of Jews for their faith and practice will end as long as they remain politically loyal to the Seleucids. Judah accepts. A split begins to develop between Hellenizing and Hebraic Jews, leading to civil war.

161 Antiochus V Eupator overthrown by Demetrius I Soter.

162 Alcimus is made High Priest by Demetrius I Soter.

160 Judah Maccabee killed in battle by combined forces of Hellenizing Jews and Selucid reinforcements sent by Demetrius I Soter. Hebraic remnant begins to rally around Jonathan Maccabee.

152 Civil war develops in the Seleucid kingdom between Demetrius II and Alexander Balas (later Alexander Epiphanes). Both sides seek an ally in Jonathan Maccabee; Jonathan temporizes, developing relations with both sides. Jonathan Maccabee appointed High Priest by Alexander Epiphanes (1 Macc. 10:15-20).

146 Rome destroys Carthage.

143 Jonathan Maccabee seized by the Seleucids. Simon Maccabee takes control of the rebel factions and the rebel army and the Seleucid army set to face off. A snowstorm intervenes, forcing the Seleucids to retreat; they execute Jonathan.

142 Civil war breaks out in the Seleucid kingdom again; both sides again attempt to get the help of the Jewish rebels. Simon Maccabee negotiates the independence of the Jewish people and the Hasmonean realm of Judea begins (1 Macc. 14:41).

135 Simon Maccabee is murdered through the machinations of his son-in-law; his son John Hyrcanus becomes High Priest and ruler of the Hasmonean realm, but only by cutting deals with the Seleucid kingdom that effectively make the Hasmonean realm a puppet state.

128 Antiochus VII dies, and the Hasmonean realm again achieves independence. As it consolidates and expands, we see also the rise of the Pharisees.

104 Aristobulus, son of John Hyrcanus, begins to call himself king. Tensions between the Hasmonean Dynasty and the Pharisees begin to mount.

103 Alexander Jannaeus becomes king.

100 Julius Caesar born.

94 Alexander Jannaeus, in contempt of the Pharisees, pours a water offering to himself rather than God; observers begin to riot, leading to their massacre. The Hasmonean Kingdom undergoes civil war between supporters of the Pharisees and supporters of the Sadducees. The Pharisees win and, believing they have made their point, let Alexander take the throne again. He throws a banquet in honor of the Pharisees; 800 come. When they are drunk, he seizes them and crucifies them, killing their families as well.

Alexander Jannaeus dies. His pro-Pharisee wife, Salome Alexandra, becomes queen.

67 Salome Alexandra dies. Her sons, Hyrcanus II (with the support of the Pharisees) and Aristobulus II (with the support of the Sadducees) both claim the throne. Aristobulus II manages by good luck to surprise Hyrcanus II in a way that forces him to concede. Hostilities between the two soon break out again, however.

63 Rome gets involved. Pompey rules in favor of Hyrcanus II. When Aristobulus II refuses to concede, the combined forces of Hyrcanus II and Rome overwhelm him. Despite intensive fighting, Rome wins; Judea becomes a province of Rome, Hyrcanus II is made High Priest, and his ally Antipater (father of Herod the Great) is put in charge of the province.

57 Antigonus son of Aristobulus escapes from Rome and returns to Judea.

40 Antigonus declared king by Parthia. Herod appeals to Rome, and is recognized as king of Judea by the Roman Senate.

37 With the help of Rome, Herod recaptures Jerusalem and executes Antigonus. The Hasmonean Dynasty ends, the Herodian Dynasty begins.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Unworthy of Man

I must, however, be of opinion, that the sentiments of those, who are inclined to think favourably of mankind, are more advantageous to virtue, than the contrary principles, which give us a mean opinion of our nature. When a man is prepossessed with a high notion of his rank and character in the creation, he will naturally endeavour to act up to it, and will scorn to do a base or vicious action, which might sink him below that figure which he makes in his own imagination. Accordingly we find, that all our polite and fashionable moralists insist upon this topic, and endeavour to represent vice as unworthy of man, as well as odious in itself.

David Hume, Of the Dignity or Meanness of Human Nature.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Music on My Mind

Larry Sparks, "Bitterweeds". Unfortunately only an excerpt. But you can hear the original version of the whole song sung by Barbara Wilkinson at SongSpace. I think Wilkinson's song is likely to become a classic: a clear, easy to sing, and memorable story.