Saturday, March 03, 2012

Several Essays in One Enquiry

A side issue arose in a thread at "Feminist Philosophers" over the best way to look at Hume's Enquiries. I made the point that they were collections of essays; and it was argued by Katy Abramson that they should not be read as essays:

Hume’s Enquiries are not properly read as a collection of essays, in the way, say, his essays are. He changed the title, we should take him seriously (and his final chosen title for the entire shmeer was Essays and Treatises on several subjects).

I think it's a little more complicated than this. I agree entirely that we should take Hume's re-titling seriously. But I think we should also take seriously the fact that this re-titling occurs late in the game -- very late in the game for the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.

The first edition of the ECHU was published under the title, Philosophical Essays concerning Human Understanding. Likewise, Hume initially referred to the Enquiry Concerning Principles of Morals as essays (although under that title); this is how he refers to them in letters, and in the actual first edition that is what they are called within the body of the text itself -- it is only in the errata that he starts changing this. That is to say, if we take 'Enquiry' to indicate that the works should not be read as collections of essays, in both cases this comes out late: they were both mostly written, and the ECHU wholly written, published, and reprinted, as essays. It is only after the ECPM that he changes the title to Enquiry. Likewise, it's true that he eventually calls the whole group Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects, and obviously the Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary, are essays, but it's not clear that ECHU and ECPM fit into the 'Treatise' part, or even that 'Essays' and 'Treatises' are mutually exclusive categories.

Thus ECHU owes nothing of its structure to any conception of it as anything other than a special set of essays. Now, obviously these essays are obviously interrelated, and there is obviously at least some progression among them. They all contribute to one theme. And there's no question that these essays are all contributions to one philosophical investigation. 'Enquiry' is quite a good name for the set. But as Beauchamp points out somewhere, there's no reason to think that in changing the title from 'Philosophical Essays' to 'Enquiry' and calling the various parts of it 'Sections' rather than 'Essays' that he's saying that the Sections don't fall into the genre of essays; 'Enquiry' is a function-term not a genre-term. It doesn't identify the literary character of the pieces, but merely establishes what philosophical task they are being used to perform.

So, practically speaking, what effect does this have on interpretation of ECHU? I think our practice should be to read it as both a collection of essays and as an integrated investigation, because it manifestly is both. We should take seriously that Hume eventually re-titled it as 'An Enquiry', but we also have to take seriously that he wrote them as essays, and published them as essays, and only later re-titled them. (The argument for ECPM is a bit more complicated, since the presentation of it as a single Enquiry is so much earlier in its history, but I think a similar argument can be presented for it.) Therefore:

(1) We should recognize that the Sections both have an order and don't depend on that order -- every single one is capable of standing alone (in some sense), and, in fact, Sections X and XI are very difficult not to read exactly as if they stood alone. Because of this there is somewhat more license to dip into the ECHU and simply pick out a Section to consider on its own. Interpretation has to take into account what the other Sections say, but this is true of any collection of essays. This contrasts sharply with, say, the Treatise; Book I, Part 4 of the Treatise is not written so that it could be considered on its own, and who does not recognize the overall structure of Book I, and each Part of it, has radically failed to grasp some of the important features of Hume's argument. ECHU has a structure, but it is necessarily a looser structure. It's arguably designed so that the reader can take it entirely in more manageable bites, without having to hold massive amounts of the book in mind, which is the sort of feature that makes the Treatise much harder to read.

To be sure, Sections IV and V are not strictly stand-alone, but they weren't (strictly) stand-alone when they were explicitly called essays, either. One has only to look at typical essays of the period to see that sometimes we get not strictly stand-alone essays but essay-pairs and essay-series; likewise, one can have meta-essays that deal with points raised by several other essays. Taking it as a collection of essays doesn't mean the group has no structure -- it is also a unified Enquiry -- but that the contribution of the structure itself to the argument is relatively light.

(2) We should approach ECHU in terms of the literary features and style of the essayist. Section X is not a rigorous and grave treatise on miracles, for instance; it is an indirectly (but deliberately) humorous essay that uses Humean principles to turn tropes from Protestant anti-Catholic polemics ironically against Protestants as well as Catholics and practically blares in neon lights that it is doing so. It does raise serious and important points, but it deliberately does so with humor and elegance typical of the early modern essay. Section XI doesn't give us a rigorously philosophical discussion of particular providence; it gives us a literarily light essay of the sort you might have found in The Spectator, but uses this approach to give some discussion of serious philosophical arguments. And so forth.

These two features don't give us a radically different Hume -- people tend to approach several of the Sections in ways consistent with (1) already, they just don't usually do so for principled reasons -- although (2) does give us a lighter and friendlier David who is not trying in the ECHU to give a rigorous account of things (although this doesn't, of course, mean that he's necessarily sloppy) nor to give a fully serious discussion (although this doesn't, of course, mean that he doesn't raise a lot of serious points) but is instead putting serious philosophical ideas in a more popular and familiar form to make them accessible to the literate public. And that is very much in line with the way Hume describes his own project.

So in other words: I think the Enquiry is indeed properly read as a collection of essays, just like his other essays; although we should read this collection of essays as having a special unity of theme, purpose, and principle that is missing in the others. This latter point means we should in a sense take these essays more seriously than most of Hume's other essays because together they form a more strongly coherent philosophical project. And it's even possible that this is behind the re-titling, i.e., that Hume change the title to 'An Enquiry' in the hopes that it would lead people to take it as a substantive rather than merely occasional philosophical contribution the way most of his other essays are. In any case, that's how we should read it. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't see it as a collection of essays; it means we should see it as a philosophically substantive collection of essays (on one topic).

Chesterton for March III

There are three ways in which a statement, especially a disputable statement, can be placed before mankind. The first is to assert it by avowed authority; this is done by deities, the priests of deities, oracles, minor poets, parents and guardians, and men who have “a message to their age”. The second way is to prove it by reason; this was done by the mediaeval schoolmen, and by some of the early and comparatively forgotten men of science. It is now quite abandoned. The third method is this: when you have neither the courage to assert a thing nor the capacity to prove it, you allude to it in a light and airy style, as if somebody else had asserted and proved it already.

Source: The Illustrated London News (7 Aug 1909)

Ethics is Public

The general opinion of mankind has some authority in all cases; but in this of morals it is perfectly infallible. Nor is it less infallible, because men cannot distinctly explain the principles, on which it is founded.
Hume, Treatise 3.2.9.

I thought of this when thinking of the recent controversy over the Giubilini-Minerva paper on infanticide. This is a dispute that goes well beyond two authors of a paper. Both authors are fairly young, and they were just doing what they were trained to do, and had no real thought for public or practical implications of their work. And one of the things that Francesca Minerva, in particular, has repeatedly said is that they were only writing for academics and that academics wouldn't have taken offense at the paper. I think she has unconsciously put her finger on the problem with modern bioethics: it's a relatively closed world, a bubble whose membrane is only semipermeable, in which people feel that they have the right to discuss ethical matters of profound public concern without any regard for the actual public whose concern it is. In the academic bubble you can chat in a seminar room about how killing disabled babies is permissible as an abstract principle; in the public arena no one can evade the notion that abstract principles have concrete effects, and in the public arena making the same argument is to classify yourself with some really nasty people as an enemy of humanity. And to some extent it really doesn't matter whether you think the public is right about this; you don't have to go all the way with Hume (I don't) to see that he has a key point here, which is that ethics cannot be discussed in a bubble shielded away from the general opinion of mankind, and that the Savulescus of the world, continually lecturing the public at large (as Savulescu, clueless as ever, is still lecturing everyone by means of Twitter) on the superiority of reasoned argument over abuse (despite being abusive himself and not putting forward much reasoned argument himself), have missed the point with their illiberal attempts to put the peasants in their proper place. Reasoned argument is generally superior to abusive rhetoric as a means of opposition, although it is worth noting that nobody, and I mean nobody, actually acts in such a way as to treat it as always superior. But setting aside the fact that the two can overlap, it is still true that when, in talking about ethical matters, you have touched the sort of nerve that leads to widespread abusive rhetoric, you should sit up and pay attention, because the mere fact that people are giving no distinct explanations, no precise articulations, no arguments laid out according to academic conventions, doesn't mean that they don't have a genuine point. It is too strong to say, with Hume, that such things are infallible; but it is certainly true that they should be taken seriously. And, more than that, that you can't discuss ethical matters as if they didn't have to be taken seriously. Ethics is not exclusively public, but it is public; you have to take into account the concerns of the public; if nothing else, this is the only way in which you can discuss matters of serious public interest while respecting the autonomy of all the people who stand any remote chance of being affected by the sort of thinking you are putting forward. This is a fault with the ethics community at large, and with the bioethics community in particular: professing to speak on matters of general interest to mankind, they shut out the general opinion of mankind as if it were something to be looked down on or ignored. One problem with this, of course, which we see here, is that the public doesn't actually have to put up with this behavior.

ADDED LATER: There's some discussion of this going on at Google's Australian version of this site ( Comments there don't show up at the primary site (

Friday, March 02, 2012

Chesterton for March II

If a miracle is not exceptional, it is not even miraculous. Nobody was ever taught by any sane creed to count upon or expect anything but the natural. To put the point briefly, we are commanded to put our faith in miracles, but not to put our trust in them.

Source: The Illustrated London News (7 Nov 1908)

Some Links

* The diocesan phase of the cause of canonization for Jérôme Lejeune is nearly completed. Lejeune, who died in 1994, was one of the twentieth century's greatest geneticists and discovered the cause of Down syndrome. Now that the diocesan phase is completed, the investigation for beatification begins in earnest as it is handed off to Rome. The official completion will be in April. Bl. Jérôme Lejeune, patron of geneticists, sounds rather nice, and he was by all accounts an amazing man; I hope something comes of it.

* waggish had an interesting post on ambiguities in Euripides' Bacchae.

* Robert Paul Wolff has a series of posts on Plato's Gorgias:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six

* Dingo tool use.

* The NYPD has been spying on Muslims in Newark. This is rather disturbing.

* Two interviews, one by Francesca Minerva (one of the authors) and one by Matthew Flanagan, on the recent abortion and infanticide paper that made the big controversy.

* Download the Universe is a new science ebook review blog, and looks pretty good. (ht)

* A paper I intend to read when I get the time, on the famous anecdote about Kurt Godel's worries about a logical flaw in the U.S. Constitution: Godel's Loophole (Guerra-Pujol)

* Henry Karlson has a good meditation on Lent

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Chesterton for March I

Marriage is a duel to the death, which no man of honour should decline.

Source: Manalive

On Savulescu's Response in the JME Controversy

There has been a recent dust-up over this article in the Journal of Medical Ethics arguing that infanticide is acceptable, and, indeed, is acceptable under any circumstances under which abortion would be acceptable. Since people in general, and possibly especially Americans, don't like the idea of medical ethicists advocating the killing of babies, and the abstract for the paper is actually pretty blunt about it, as soon as people started becoming aware of it they began to make their displeasure felt.

The JME then published on its blog a response by Julian Savulescu, which I find remarkable for its utter weakness. Savulescu says:

The Journal does not specifically support substantive moral views, ideologies, theories, dogmas or moral outlooks, over others. It supports sound rational argument. Moreover, it supports freedom of ethical expression. The Journal welcomes reasoned coherent responses to After-Birth Abortion. Or indeed on any topic relevant to medical ethics.

This is not even a coherent claim. If the Journal doesn't "specifically support substantive moral views, ideologies, theories, dogmas or moral outlooks, over others" it can't "support" freedom of ethical expression, because the support of freedom of ethical expression a substantive moral view. And, indeed, the argument with which Savulescu ends his comment, in which he tries to suggest that all the critics are really the ones at moral fault, gives away the store by making the Journal's decision depend on some rather substantive moral assumptions. But more than that, this is not a claim that could even be made coherent. It is true that publishing an article advocating infanticide does not mean that the Journal is saying that infanticide is morally permissible; but it does mean that the Journal is saying that advocacy of infanticide is morally permissible, and that arguments advocating infanticide, if they meet certain criteria incidental to actual content, may permissibly be given the additional credibility that comes with being published in an academic journal. This is one of the things that gets people's hackles up, though.

When he gets to the end, though, his argument turns from weak defense to near self-parody. It's not the implicature of the Journal's publishing such an article that is the problem, Savulescu says, it's everybody taking offense at the idea that killing babies is a morally acceptable topic for medical ethicists to treat seriously. Those people are "fanatics," those are the people who are indicative of a deep moral disorder in the world. Why? Because opposing the legitimacy of infanticide as a topic for a medical ethics journal is opposed to the values of a liberal society. One has to wonder who Savulescu thinks such an argument could possibly persuade; surely he sees that he has just conceded what many of the hate-mailers had been saying, that the Journal gives arguments a higher moral value than the morally protected status of babies?

And no one is going to be taken in by it, anyway. What Savulescu has just assured us -- quite explicitly -- is that as far as the JME is concerned every topic is up for grabs as long as it meets certain criteria that don't address content. The JME, in the interests of "rational engagement", would, Savulescu has just assured us, gladly publish arguments for the mass euthanizing of Jews or the sterilization of blacks as long as they were clever arguments based on "widely shared premises." Surely he has to have seen that this sort of argument isn't helping his case, nor does it actually put him and the other editors on the moral high ground, nor does it obviously make them champions of liberal values -- which Savulescu has, again, already said that the Journal does not support anyway, since it supports no substantive moral outlooks over any others.

I don't have a huge problem with the article itself; one has to put up with a lot of such nonsense masquerading as reasoned argument if you're an academic, and the discernment and prudence of editors are, while not completely missing, very, very fallible. But I do find myself rather annoyed that the editor of a major ethics journal could think he could get away with such a tin-eared and poorly reasoned defense. This argument is a genuinely incompetent patchwork.

(I actually kind of wonder if Savulescu is simply going out on his own in the defense, or if the editors for the JME actually selected him to speak for them, because with his background -- he has argued in other contexts that killing is justified as long as potential victims are more likely to receive certain kinds of benefits because of it, and also argued that some laws preventing eugenics are too liberal and that the human race needs to practice eugenics more assertively to survive -- he is simply not the right person to be the public face of the Journal of Medical Ethics on this particular topic, and his being so raises the real risk of this blowing up even bigger than it is.)

Another of the editors, the one actually responsible for the decision, shows up in the comments and gives a less objectionable -- certainly a more competent response. He also manages to punt on every single ethical issue that could be raised about the legitimacy of topics, though, by simply appealing to peer review; and as some of the commenters go on to point out, "peer review" is not really an ethical justification at all, nor does it shield the Journal from any ethical criticisms about the decision to publish, nor does it give the Journal any immunity from ethical blowback from the community at large.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Music on My Mind

Allison Williams, "Willow Garden". Nothing beats a good murder ballad, and this is one of the best, and also one of the best known. It's usually recorded under the title "Down in the Willow Garden" or occasionally "Rose Conley" (or "Rose Connelly" or any number of other variants). Most recorded versions spoil the ending, though, by making the ending line "the scaffold's waiting for me," which is redundant, although it's still better than Charlie Monroe's version, which ends with "the cell is waiting for me," a line that doesn't even make sense given that the man is already set to be hanged. No, to get the ballad right you have to peg the ending right. Murder ballads only work by presenting the story as either (1) tragedy, when they sing of either human injustice or the unfairness of life; or (2) comeuppance, when they sing of terrible justice. This one is a comeuppance ballad: the justice here must be poetic, and we're talking about a man who kills the woman loves, in a brutal way, for nothing other than money. Nothing short of hell is enough for the man. And that's the original ballad: it ends with a man waiting not just to die but to go to hell. And Williams pegs it perfectly.

Of course, this version would be worth recommending just for the fact that that's the way a banjo should be played.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lady Mary Primrose's Favorite

This is a folktune named after Lady Mary Shepherd, the philosopher, although, of course, it comes from her maiden name of Lady Mary Primrose, and so is called "Lady Mary Primrose" or "Lady Mary Primrose's Favorite." There are a number of variations under other names, most notably "Miss Joan Kier," but the association with Lady Mary seems to be due to the great folklorist, Nathaniel Gow, because the first time it appears under Lady Mary Primrose's name seems to be in his magisterial collection of folktunes, starting about 1800. Primrose became Shepherd in 1808, and Lady Mary was born in 1777, although I think almost in 1778, so it would have had her name attached to it when she was around twenty. As far as I know, we have no idea why Gow gave it this name, except that, apparently, it needed a name and was Lady Mary's favorite.

Malebranche on the Horizontal Sun

It's a well-known phenomenon that the moon on the horizon looks larger than the moon high in the sky. This has turned out to be an extraordinarily difficult scientific problem to solve, and is still unsolved today. We have eliminated some solutions. We know it's not actually larger or closer (it stays the same size, of course, and I believe it's actually farther away at the horizon). I believe Aristotle and Ptolemy both proposed the idea that it was an atmospheric phenomenon, in which the air magnifies it, but promising an idea as it was, it has been rigorously ruled out for quite some time. In the medieval period arguments began to be made that it was actually a psychological effect, with the most popular being that it just looked bigger because intervening objects made it look farther away.

Berkeley argued for a mix of the atmospheric theory with the psychological theory in which the moon looked fainter on the horizon, and therefore farther away. His position was that the eye receives fewer rays throught he atmosphere and thus less light from the moon itself. I notice, however, that Malebranche had already rejected this position, although he puts it in terms of the horizontal sun rather than the horizontal moon. In Dialogue XII of Dialogues on Metaphysics and on Religion he recounts an experiment with smoked glass in which he looked at the sun with and without the glass (don't try this at home!) and says that it can't be that the glass is letting in fewer rays, because the meridional sun, high in the sky, looks the same size whether the glass is used or not. Malebranche takes his experiments with the smoked glass (which obscured intervening bodies) to indicate that the intervening-body theory, in which intervening bodies make the sun look farther away, was the right one. He also suggests that this effect is made stronger because "the sky appears like a flattened spheroid" (JS 220).

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Unservile Arts

An interesting article by Andrew Delbanco on the endangerment of liberal arts in the college context. It really does seem that liberal arts at the college level is in very bad straits. In any case, just some random thoughts on the subject:

(1) College is an extraordinarily inefficient way to teach workers what they need in order to work. The best way to teach workers what they need to do is to give them on-the-job training, or to make use of a workshop-and-licensing system. Sending someone to college so that they will be a more productive filer of papers is truly absurd; and right now the only thing that a college degree really signals to most businesses is that you can stick with something for a few years.

Likewise, you don't get a competitive and productive workforce by sending them to school; you get a competitive and productive workforce by making it worth the time and effort it takes to work competitively and productively, and by giving them the resources required to do so. We do, in fact, do this, in part by putting an immense amount of pressure on people to get things that most people can only get by being good workers; and school does, in fact, contribute directly to this by teaching people to sit at desks and do work, and the like, but this direct contribution is minor. Education mostly contributes indirectly, by turning out people who can do things and make things that make other people more competitive and productive.

Everyone should remember the Gilbert & Sullivan song about the modern major-general, which was making precisely this point.

(2) Our current system of higher education has all the features typically associated with an educational system on the verge of breakdown. Educational institutions go through phases of intellectual stagnation and institutional breakdown. 'Intellectual stagnation' here does not mean that no original or good work is done, but has to do with the conditions required for it: education stagnates to the extent that valuable ideas are more and more costly in terms of time, effort, or resources, either on the part of the student or on the part of the teacher, thus making actual education increasingly difficult, or inconsistent, or expensive. Serious intellectual life may not freeze completely, but it slows, wasted on things that are sterile -- like journal articles that are never cited, or paperwork that simply takes up time -- or on things that misfire because people aren't prepared to use them -- like teaching methods that, fine in themselves, don't work well with students who actually need several more years of study before they will be prepared to read or write at a college level. Institutional breakdown, on the other hand, is economic in character. As Randall Collins has argued, our current educational system exhibits symptoms of both. This is not always easy to see because we pour such an extraordinary volume of people through our academic system, and put such extraordinary pressures on the people going through, that we still come up with some very good things, just by luck and numbers and brute force. But simply looking at good results isn't a way to determine the quality of the system -- and on closer look there's a lot of deterioration. People are overworked; degrees glut markets; expenses rise without real improvement; and so forth. In our case, one of the major problems is that the people who have real power are (1) not educators; and (2) don't care about education itself, and treat it only as a means to something else entirely. The first isn't necessarily a problem; non-educators have sometimes been the greatest reformers of educational systems. But the second is a pathology that destroys an educational system.

(3) Which raises another point: the reason we call them 'liberal arts' is that they are the things that by nature are suitable for free persons. This is why utility is a secondary issue in liberal arts: the point is not to make people useful, it's to make them more free. Merely useful people are mere slaves, and if you think that the point of education is to build a competitive and productive labor force, you are saying that the point of education is to make people more effective instruments of other people -- which is, as Aristotle pointed out long ago, what a slave is. Now, we are all going to be someone's instrument for something, and our ability to be such is an important element of society; but what distinguishes the free citizen from the mere slave is that the free citizen is not merely a productive and competitive worker, but someone who can do things simply because they are excellent things to do, without any regard for profit beyond that. This is something that admits of more and less; something is a liberal art precisely in the way that it can make you more of that kind of person. This is the unspoken problem of the instrumentalist view of education: people who place instrumental usefulness above all things are evil -- and I mean that quite literally, since they subordinate the moral to useful, and treat people as mere means -- and while having an instrumentalist view of education does not automatically make you that kind of person, it does make you complicit with such people. It is a morally corrosive view.

Note, of course, that this does not imply that education can't have as one of its goals giving people what they need to be productive, competitive workers. But if you are judging everything in education on whether it is conducive to this end, you are advocating an educational system in which people are treated like tools and not like people -- in other words, a machine for enslavement.

(4) Of course, part of the problem with liberal arts is due to the academics who are supposed to teach them. 'Liberal arts' have always been those arts or disciplines that are suitable by nature to free people, but with the older meaning of the term they were envisioned as literally skills -- things like being able to add, or understanding how to use geometry, or being able to write and deliver a speech. This was well-defined. The more modern usage is not well-defined at all, and includes all sorts of content that may or may not give skills in the sense that used to be meant. And the result is that what you get is very much more of a mixed bag, and it's harder to tell whether you're getting quality. But it's still possible to do so. And the capacity of these things to improve one's character as a free person should always be foremost in one's evaluation. Jane Austen is worth learning because people who read Austen are people whose lives have value that is independent of their usefulness as labor. Other things, like (say) Zombie Studies, may not be as good as Austen for this while still contributing to this to some extent.

(5) But through it all we should remember that the liberal arts simply don't depend on the collegiate system; it depends on them, whether it acknowledges that fact or not. If the whole college system were to go bottoms up, people would still practice the liberal arts. There are real benefits to having educational institutions that support the liberal arts, but those institutions aren't essential to the arts. And I think this ends up being important. One reason why the liberal arts struggle is that so many people think of them as something you only do in college. This is clearly false. But as long as it is not recognized as false, people will never appreciate how much of what we call civilization is actually constructed entirely out of the liberal arts, or how much the liberal arts are a part of their lives when they aren't merely serving someone else's demands. Do you want people to appreciate the liberal arts? Start reminding them that their minds and hearts are free, and that they themselves show their true value in acts of liberty rather than in acts of servility.

Platonic Myths

Today for my hybrid Intro course I did what is usually my most popular lecture of the term -- on Platonic myths. My ordinary Intro course had this lecture a while ago, but I had my hybrid students take a brief survey at the end, as a way to get attendance and get some feedback. We looked at four myths -- the Allegory of the Cave, the Myth of Theuth, the Myth of Atlantis (briefly), and the Myth of the Last Judgment. And one of the survey questions was which one they found most interesting. The results:

Of the following Platonic myths, which did you find most interesting?

The Allegory of the Cave (from the Republic) 40%
The Myth of Atlantis (from the Critias) 6.667%
The Last Judgment Myth (from the Gorgias) 20%
The Myth of Theuth (from the Phaedrus) 33.333%

The hybrid course is not a huge course, so the "6.667%" is actually one person. I also asked them why they picked the myth they did. Several people who picked the Allegory of the Cave said they were impressed by how relevant it was to today; one person who picked the Last Judgment said the same. Most of the people who picked the Myth of Theuth said they found it most interesting because it raised questions about what it is to understand something; a couple of people said the same about the Allegory of the Cave. And two people who picked the Last Judgment said, interestingly, that they really liked Zeus's solution to the problem with which the myth opens (which is that good people are ending up in Tartarus and bad people in Elysium because they all know when they are going to die and they are judged while alive by the living), and both of them indicated that they thought the moral message sent by the solution was an interesting one.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

State Popularity Contest

Public Policy Polling recently did a curious poll (PDF) in which they asked Americans whether they had favorable or unfavorable views of various states. Of all the states, Hawaii had the best favorable-unfavorable ratio (54-10), being almost universally liked. One imagines that has more to do with sunny beaches and hula dancers than cost of living. California has the worst favorable-unfavorable ratio (27-44). The break-up is also interesting. Democrats tend to have a high opinion of states that are usually seen as strongly inclined to Democratic politics, while having a low opinion of states that are usually seen as strongly inclined to Republican politics; and for Republicans it is the reverse. Hawaii does so well because while it is (comparatively) absolutely loved by Democrats, it's not hated by Republicans; and California does so badly in part because while it is (comparatively) positively despised by Republicans, it's really not all that loved by Democrats, either, although they are still much more likely to view it favorably than Republicans are. Texas does much better than California because Republicans like it massively more than Democrats hate it, which is interesting, because Texas's reputation as a Republican state is not very old. Women seem to have a higher opinion of New England, while men seem to have a higher opinion of the rugged north central states like North Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming.

Of course in virtually all of these cases there was a pretty heavy not-sure component. 62% of respondents seem to have been not sure what to think of West Virginia, for instance, as compared with states like Texas or California, where the number was down below 30%. And, of course, this is a portmanteau statistic, since approval and disapproval of a state is not something that's going to be entirely coherent as a concept, and will include the most disparate kinds of evaluation. So it means next to nothing. But it's interesting to see the top and the bottom.

Most Favorable

1. Hawaii (54-10)
2. Colorado (44-9)
3. Tennessee (48-14)
4. South Dakota (42-8)
5. Virginia (45-13)

Least Favorable

1. California (27-44)
2. Illinois (19-29)
3. New Jersey (25-32)
4. Mississippi (22-28)
5. Utah (24-27)

James Wilson on Evidence

In his Lectures on Law, James Wilson gives fourteen kinds of evidence, which makes for an interesting list:

I. It arises from the external senses: and by each of these, distinct information is conveyed to the mind.

II. It arises from consciousness; or the internal view of what passes within ourselves.

III. It arises from taste; or that power of the human mind, by which we perceive and enjoy the beauties of nature or of art.

IV. It arises from the moral sense; or that faculty of the mind, by which we have the original conceptions of right and wrong in conduct; and the original perceptions, that certain things are right, and that others are wrong.

V. Evidence arises from natural signs: by these we gain our knowledge of the minds, and of the various qualities and operations of the minds, of other men. Their thoughts, and purposes, and dispositions have their natural signs in the features of the countenance, in the tones of the voice, and in the motions and gestures of the body.

VI. Evidence arises from artificial signs; such as have no meaning, except that, which is affixed to them by compact, or agreement, or usage: such is language, which has been employed universally for the purpose of communicating thought.

VII. Evidence arises from human testimony in matters of fact.

VIII. Evidence arises from human authority in matters of opinion.

IX. Evidence arises from memory, or a reference to something which is past.

X. Evidence arises from experience; as when, from facts already known, we make inferences to facts of the same kind, unknown.

XI. Evidence arises from analogy; as when, from facts already known, we make inferences to facts of a similar kind, not known.

XII. Evidence arises from judgment; by which I here mean that power of the mind, which decides upon truths that are self-evident.

XIII. Evidence arises from reasoning: by reasoning I here mean that power of the mind, by which, from one truth, we deduce another, as a conclusion from the first. The evidence, which arises from reasoning, we shall, by and by, see divided into two species—demonstrative and moral.

XIV. Evidence arises from calculations concerning chances. This is a particular application of demonstrative to ascertain the precise force of moral reasoning.

Even this enumeration, though very long, is, perhaps, far from being complete. Among all those different kinds of evidence, it is, I believe, impossible to find any common nature, to which they can be reduced. They agree, indeed, in this one quality—which constitutes them evidence—that they are fitted by nature to produce belief in the human mind.

Wilson's position, that what makes something evidence is merely its serving a kind of role, and not anything to do with its intrinsic character, and thus that evidence should not be treated as being all of one kind, is an interesting one, and, I think, right. The approach here is essentially a modified Scottish Common Sense approach, as might be expected given his background and education. (James Wilson was born and educated in Scotland; he then moved to the American colonies at the age of 24; he signed the Declaration of Independence for Pennsylvania; he served on the Committee of Detail that produced the first draft of the U.S. Constitution, and he also signed the U. S. Constitution for Pennsylvania; he served as a Justice on the first Supreme Court; and he was the first professor of law at the College of Philadelphia.)