Saturday, June 08, 2019

Fanny Burney, Evelina


Opening Passage:

Howard Grove, Kent.

Can any thing, my good Sir, be more painful to a friendly mind, than a necessity of communicating disagreeable intelligence? Indeed it is sometimes difficult to determine, whether the relator or the receiver of evil tidings is most to be pitied.

I have just had a letter from Madame Duval; she is totally at a loss in what manner to behave; she seems desirous to repair the wrongs she has done, yet wishes the world to believe her blameless. She would fain cast upon another the odium of those misfortunes for which she alone is answerable. Her letter is violent, sometimes abusive, and that of you!-you, to whom she is under obligations which are greater even than her faults, but to whose advice she wickedly imputes all the sufferings of her much injured daughter, the late Lady Belmont. The chief purport of her writing I will acquaint you with; the letter itself is not worthy your notice.

Summary: Evelina Anville is out of place in the world. While she is the legitimate daughter of Sir John Belmont, she is unacknowledged, as Belmont was a libertine who denied the marriage and destroyed some of the evidence that he had ever been married to Evelina's mother, Caroline. Evelina has been raised by Rev. Arthur Villars. The story opens with news that Madame Duval, Evelina's grandmother, who had been estranged from her daughter, has only just discovered Evelina's existence, and is coming to take her to France. As Mme. Duval is regarded by no one as a good influence, being a histrionic and absurdly rude in exactly the way the English tend to attribute to the French, Evelina is sent off to a friend. There, however, she encounters the Mirvan family, and gets permission to take a trip to London with them.

Thus begins Evelina's introduction to high society. On the one hand, having been raised in the relatively quiet countryside, she often has no idea what people are doing; on the other, however, she has the triple power, always of immense value in urban high society, of youth, beauty, and artlessness. She commits more than a few faux pas, but she also gets the friendship and interest of a few people worth knowing. Part of the charm of the book is watching Evelina muddle through social situations; because, however, she has intelligence and decency (neither of which are of value in high society, but only in life), and good friends as well, she comes out all right. Some of these episodes are very well done and true to life, being recognizable to anyone who has ever been in awkward social situations in which they did not know what to do. For instance, early on she tries to get out of dancing with someone by the white lie of saying that she is previously engaged, but then finds herself at sea when the man doesn't leave but keeps wondering why her dancing partner has left her by herself. In another case, she is trying to avoid a young man, in whom she is not interested but who quite clearly has marriage on the mind, by deliberately spending her time talking with another man, who from this gets the wrong idea that she's interested in him. She also has more than a few occasions of running into someone she wants to impress while out with her cousins, who are not very polished people.

The story satirizes high society, but it is not merely a satire. It is very much about the nature of family, its honor and its shame, its value and its embarrassments, our need for it and its occasionally grievous difficulty. Many of Evelina's problems are not really due to her but due to the fact that her family is not there or, when they are, are not really concerned with Evelina herself. And a large component of the problem is that families are partly built on communication, not constant but essential, and miscommunication in family matters can sometimes do terrible things to us.

The novel is written well in every way. It is an epistolary novel, but it largely reads like an ordinary first-person novel, told from Evelina's point of view, with just occasional brief interludes in which another perspective enters the picture. The minor characters are often engaging and often funny. My favorite is Mrs. Selwyn, the acid-humored widow with that devastating sarcastic wit that on this earth belongs only to an intelligent elderly woman with a lot of practice; watching her repeatedly set to flight the foppish young men who think themselves witty was in itself worth the reading.

Favorite Passage:

"Goodness, then," cried young Branghton, "if I was Miss, if I would not make free with his Lordship’s coach, to take me to town."

"Why, ay," said the father, "there would be some sense in that; that would be making some use of a Lord’s acquaintance, for it would save us coach-hire."

"Lord, Miss," cried Polly, "I wish you would; for I should like of all things to ride in a coronet-coach."

"I promise you," said Madame Duval, "I’m glad you’ve thought of it, for I don’t see no objection;-so let’s have the coachman called."

"Not for the world," cried I, very much alarmed: "indeed it is utterly impossible."

"Why so?" demanded Mr. Branghton: "pray, where’s the good of your knowing a Lord, if you're never the better for him?"

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; this is a very funny book with charming characters and yet serious themes.

Friday, June 07, 2019

Morality and Joking

Noel Carroll has an interesting discussion of the ethics of joking at The New Statesman. His point that the mere fact that you are joking sometimes does not provide a shield against moral criticism is surely right, but I think his argument is overly simplistic on a few points.

Carroll takes it that "I'm only joking" is supposed to work on the ground that jokes aren't assertions, so if, for instance, someone makes a racial joke, they aren't actually asserting the racial stereotype. I don't think this is right, and I think it's a case of something I've noted before, namely, philosophers overloading the act of assertion. The basic logical function of assertion is to put something on the 'premise board', so to speak; this is the minimal possible thing, and the most essential thing, that can be attributed to assertion, and everything else needs justification. The fundamental core of assertion is to propose something in such a way as to put it into play in reasoning. There is a tendency among philosophers to take assertion to pertain in some way to the 'really real', but, as I've noted before, there is nothing about the act itself that seems to require this. Given this, it seems entirely reasonable to say that at least many jokes involve assertions -- they are quite literally joking assertions.

Thus the real point seems to be that they are nonserious, that they are put forward in a deliberately absurd universe of discourse. Carroll responds to the "I'm joking" gambit, understood as nonassertion, by saying that the moral problem with jokes is not always focused on any purported assertion -- the suggestions, implications, etc., can be the problem. This is certainly true. But if "I'm joking" is put forward as clarifying that the universe of discourse was itself intended to be a universe of things to be treated as absurd, then we still don't have a reason why this would not be adequate.

Because (and this is something to which Carroll doesn't seem to give due weight) sometimes it is adequate. We do sometimes take "I'm joking" to make it all right. And there's another phenomenon that seems relevant here. I once had a Dutch professor who loved telling anti-Dutch jokes. (How do you make copper wire? Give one penny to two Dutchmen.) And you not uncommonly find black comedians telling racial jokes that could ruin the career of a white comedian who told them. For at least a very broad range of jokes, the same joke in different contexts is not subject to the same moral criticisms -- it matters who tells it, it matters where (church or a bar, for instance), it matters when, and so forth.

These points at least seem to suggest that the problem is not actually the content of the joke per se. Rather, the problem is when the joker is taking some kind of liberty to which he has no real right. Now, it seems fairly clear that our senses of exactly where to draw the lines differ quite a bit, and are often hazy, but everyone does seem to recognize this line of criticism sometimes. And it's why certain kinds of joke can be outright disrespectful in one context and perfectly fine in another.

I think there is a good argument that there are kinds of joking that can be said always to be wrong -- kinds of joking that are forms of actively humiliating a person or group, or deliberate ways to blaspheme. This does, I think, suggest that there are kinds of jokes that will only rarely if ever be acceptable; for instance, if people would have difficulty making sense of them unless they were understood to be put forward by one of these bad kinds of joking. But we do need to distinguish joking and the joke that is joked, if I may put it that way; how one handles the question of ethical criticism will depend on which is being considered.

Carroll recognizes the distinction (in his comments about joking being a performing art), but I think the distinction itself suggests that the "I'm just joking" gambit is not actually based on the assumptions about assertion he originally attributed to it. If we are considering the performance and not the script, it is the performing itself that is being criticized, and the script is itself only relevant to the extent that it provides insight into the performance. Consider, for instance, someone in a play playing a racist, doomed to comeuppance, who tells racist jokes. The actor is giving the script; but we recognize that his performance of it should not be conflated with that of an actual racist. If a villain in a story tells a blasphemous joke to mark his villainy, that's not in itself an act of blasphemy. We could still talk about whether it was appropriate, but there's an entirely different kind of inquiry than we would with just an ordinary blasphemer saying the same thing.

The other point at which I think Carroll's argument is a bit simplistic is in his discussion of the conditions of comic amusement. He says, "To make people laugh, a punchline must be free from anxiety or malice." But this seems quite clearly not the case.

We are perhaps here dealing with a problem that we can regularly find in aesthetic matters -- we lack a vocabulary adequate to what we are trying to say. The movie Ridicule is partly built on a distinction between vicious wit (associated with the French) and humor (associated with the English). Vicious wit is not necessarily anxiety-free or malice-free; its primary act is ridicule, and jokes of ridicule can perfectly well involve anxiety or malice. (They do not need to do so, but it takes a certain panache to ridicule without either anxiety or malice.) One could perhaps not include our response to this kind of joke under 'comic amusment', but then not all jokes exist to elicit comic amusement; on the other hand, if we include it, then it's not always true that the punchline must be free from anxiety or malice. His attempt, then, to argue that the morality and the comedy of a joke are not so distinct seems to amount to nothing more than saying that when malice would ruin the joke, it ruins the joke, and does not give (as his phrasing seems to imply) any general account for when this is the case.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Taste of Divine Things

...[O]ne who receives the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son knows the Father and the Son and comes to them. The Spirit makes us know all things by inspiring us from within, by directing us and lifting us up to spiritual things. Just as one whose sense of taste is tainted does not have a true knowledge of flavors, so one who is tainted by love of the world cannot taste divine things: "The sensual man does not perceive those things of the Spirit of God" (1 Cor 2:14).

[St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Chapters 13-21, Larcher & Weisheipl, trs., Catholic University of America Press (Washington, DC: 2010) p. 87 (section 1959).]

There's very certainly an implied reference to wisdom here, since the relation between sapientia, wisdom, and sapor, taste/flavor, particularly with regard to divine things, is common and is found elsewhere in Aquinas; he has in fact just finished talking about the fact that the Son is begotten Sapientia.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

A Poem Draft

Seven Incantations

Seven incantations in the Elven realm are known --
three for power, three for splendor, one that stands alone --
mighty as the morning sun, hidden as the night,
locking and unlocking doors between the dark and light.

First, to use a power you must hold it deep inside,
thus in power's fire's flames unburning to abide.
Dying to your shadow frail, life's borders you will cross;
worthy minds alone may make that journey without loss,
getting by returning thence a threefold work and might:
earth, by which the runes of lore are opened to your sight;
water giving vision of the future to the mind;
flame reforging heart and thought to greater mode and kind.

Seven incantations in the Elven realm are taught,
three for power, three for splendor, one most highly sought.
Force they have for changing, for they change your inmost name;
those who have partaken thus, no longer are the same.

Speak the second spelling and a greater flame descends,
sevenfold its working borne on seven burning winds,
placing strength within the heart and crown upon the head,
lore of those who have advised and force of those who led.
Sightedness of eagle and the subtlety of snake,
fishful swimming through all dreams as though they were a lake,
divination's guidance like the tortoise in his shell,
elephantine toughness to endure the dark and fell,
kinship with all creatures good in land and sky and sea:
by this incantation's might the mind of bonds is free.

Seven incantations in the Elven realm are learned,
three for power, three for splendor, one fate has overturned;
rooted are they deep within the universe's rite,
cosmic in expression of the liturgy of light.

Rare indeed the one who finds the third high Elven song;
only those should seek it out whose wills are sure and strong --
not with elemental force nor living souls it pours;
stars instead that rule the worlds with might in endless stores.
By the power of this rite the acolyte may rise,
walk among the rolling suns and change unchanging skies,
master of all charm and shaping, gramarye and chant,
from the cosmic tree receiving seeds of flame to plant.

Seven incantations in the Elven realm are sought,
three for power, three for splendor, one beyond all thought,
signs of power testifying to a higher world,
seven words within whose hearts the universe is curled.

Charm of binding, too, may sound and subtle sages find,
ways to share the course of thought and mingle flesh and mind,
weaker than the starfire, yet an endless hearth of light,
warm against the winter cold, against the shadows bright.
Burdens born from trouble may be shared like heavy load;
thought with thought may travel and share a weary road.

Seven incantations in the Elven realm are sung,
three for power, three for splendor, one the gods have brung,
armaments to shake the earth, to walk the spirit way,
inner secrets of the spheres brought down to realm of day.

Sickness has no power; by a word it is unwound,
medic more availing than mere mortal man has found.
Leprosy it washes into skin both new and clean;
blindness it dispatches, giving eye its healthy sheen;
tongues are freed for speaking, lameness let to leap,
tumors brought to level and deep pain made gentle sleep.

Seven incantations in the Elven realm are found,
three for power, three for splendor, one perfects the round,
full of living spirit and of life unending source,
infinite in wonder, limitless in course.

Death itself has weaker sway on those who know the end;
spell there is to beat it back and bounds of life to bend,
giving to the body's flesh a power to be unharmed,
unfettered by the graveyard with a life thus rendered charmed,
giving to the mind a light that dark of grave may flee,
something of the life of youth and youth's agility;
such a might is given to the one endowed with rhyme
such that even death may quail, though only for a time.

Seven incantations in the Elven realm resound,
three for power, three for splendor, one for godhood crowned.
By their vibrant power souls in holy place have trod,
changed in stages, bit by bit, to something like a god.

Nectar and ambrosia sweet may give the grace of youth,
wisdom like to ancient sage, eternity of truth.
Power beyond power such as gods alone may know
brings the final chantment as it sets the air aglow,
bright apotheosis laid in layers like the sand,
greater by the growing as it piles band on band,
hgiher than the mountains, higher than the crystal sky,
higher than the shining stars that live and do not die,
farther than the final sphere, farther than the end,
step by step in endless way the final spell shall wend.
Seven incantations sound in Elven land and hall:
three for power, three for splendor, one above them all.

The King of Siam (Re-Post)

John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding 4.15.5 (1690):

If I myself see a man walk on the ice, it is past probability; it is knowledge. But if another tells me he saw a man in England, in the midst of a sharp winter, walk upon water hardened with cold, this has so great conformity with what is usually observed to happen that I am disposed by the nature of the thing itself to assent to it; unless some manifest suspicion attend the relation of that matter of fact. But if the same thing be told to one born between the tropics, who never saw nor heard of any such thing before, there the whole probability relies on testimony: and as the relators are more in number, and of more credit, and have no interest to speak contrary to the truth, so that matter of fact is like to find more or less belief. Though to a man whose experience has always been quite contrary, and who has never heard of anything like it, the most untainted credit of a witness will scarce be able to find belief.

As it happened to a Dutch ambassador, who entertaining the king of Siam with the particularities of Holland, which he was inquisitive after, amongst other things told him that the water in his country would sometimes, in cold weather, be so hard that men walked upon it, and that it would bear an elephant, if he were there. To which the king replied, Hitherto I have believed the strange things you have told me, because I look upon you as a sober fair man, but now I am sure you lie.

Thomas Sherlock, The Trial of the Witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus (1730):

Taking the observation therefore in this sense, the proposition is this: that the testimony of others ought not to be admitted, but in such matters as probable, or at least possible, to our opinion. For instance: a man who lives in a warm climate, and never saw ice, ought upon no evidence believe that rivers freeze and grow hard in cold countries: for this is improbable, contrary to the usual course of nature; and impossible according to his notion of things. And yet we all know that this is a plain, manifest case, discernible by the senses of men, of which therefore they are qualified to be good witnesses.

Joseph Butler, Analogy of Religion, Introduction (1736):

So, likewise, the rule and measure of our hopes and fears concerning he success of our pursuits; our expectations that others will ct so and so in such circumstances; and our judgment that such actions proceed from such principles;—all these rely upon our having observed the like to what we hope, fear, expect, judge; I say, upon our having observed the like, either with respect to others or ourselves. And thus, whereas the prince, who had always lived in a warm climate, naturally concluded in the way of analogy, that there was no such thing as water becoming hard, because he had always observed it to be fluid and yielding: we, on the contrary, from analogy, conclude, that there is no presumption at all against this; that it is supposable there may be frost in England any given day in January next; probable, that there will on some day of the month; and that there is a moral certainty, that is, ground for an expectation, without any doubt of it, in some part or other of the winter.

David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section X (1750):

The Indian prince, who refused to believe the first relations concerning the effects of frost, reasoned justly; and it naturally required very strong testimony to engage his assent to facts, that arose from a state of nature, with which he was unacquainted, and which bore so little analogy to those events, of which he had had constant and uniform experience. Though they were not contrary to his experience, they were not conformable to it.

Anthony Ellys, Remarks on An Essay Concerning Miracles (1752):

Yet this Author intimates plainly enough, that very strong Testimony might justly have engaged the Prince's Assent to these Accounts of the Effects of Frost: For though they were not conformable to his Experience, yet they were not contrary to it. The last Expression, as it came from Mr. Hume, has, indeed, a little different Turn, but is, in effect, the same with this. And his Observation is certainly right; for the Prince neither had had, nor could have, any Experience that Water could not be frozen to Solidity. All that his Experience amounted to, was, that Water had never been actually solid, within his Knowledge or Observation; but this was no Proof from Experience that it could not ever have been so. There was no Experience in this Case that could be Opposed to the Experience for the Credibility of human Testimony. And therefore such Testimony, when strong, as it ought to be, in Proportion to the extraordinary Nature of the Fact related, must have remained in its full genuine Force, and was therefore justly credible, and capable of rendering the Fact related credible to the Prince. Now as Mr. Hume saw the Justness of this Reasoning in the Case before us, so he ought to have seen it, with regard to the Credibility of Miracles upon sufficient human Testimony. For the Reasoning is exactly the same in both. There is no more Experience to any one against Miracles, than there was to the Indian Prince against the Effects of Frost. And since there is no such Experience to be Opposed to that Experience, upon which the Credibility of human Testimony is grounded, that Testimony ought to have its full Force in the Proof of Miracles, as well as of any other Events.

Lady Mary Shepherd, Essays on the Perception of an External Universe (1827):

There may be no perfect analogy in nature, unless it be that there arise exceptions to hitherto universal experience in all classes of things, with which we are acquainted.

The tale of the Indian Prince, who refused to believe a natural occurrence which passed the limits of his own experience, may be told of ourselves ; — we deem some limited observation we make, the measure of an universal fact; — we draw general conclusions from particular premises ; until extended knowledge acquaints us with exceptions, and sometimes with single and most important exceptions to otherwise universal facts.

(There are others, of course, who discuss it. In particular, almost everyone who discusses Hume's essay after the second edition -- the story was not in the first edition, so was added for some particular purpose, probably to address criticisms that Hume by that time had received or foresaw receiving -- at least mentions it.)

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

On Papineau on Knowledge

David Papineau has a somewhat odd essay on knowledge at Aeon. He wants to argue that knowledge is not a helpful concept, but his argument is very tenuous. He starts out considering a problem about our reluctance to regard statistical evidence as adequate:

Imagine that 100 prisoners are exercising in the prison yard, and suddenly 99 of them attack the guard, carrying out a plan that the 100th prisoner is no part of. Now one of these prisoners is in the dock. No further evidence is available. Guilt is 99 per cent likely, innocence 1 per cent. Should the court convict? Everyone’s first reaction is – certainly not. The court has no information that rules out the defendant being the one innocent prisoner. You can’t convict someone solely on statistical evidence.

But, he says, this is puzzling because we will convict on things like eyewitness testimony that is only 95% certain. Papineau then says the most plausible of the many controversial explanations of this, is Clayton Littlejohn's argument that the difference is knowledge. Then he concludes, "If the courts are aiming to convict the guilty and free the innocent, and to avoid the converse results, what’s the logic in preferring sources of evidence, such as eyewitnesses, that lead to more false convictions?"

Notice that there's no significant connection here. Papineau himself recognizes that the Littlejohn account is not the only account, and that this whole area is quite controversial, so the only thing connecting this problem to knowledge at all is Papineau's estimate that it's the most plausible account. That is weak, at best.* And it's the assumption on which most of the rest of Papineau's argument is based.

The primary argument, mostly gestured at, that does not seem to be based on this assumption is his rejection of the knowledge norm of assertion (one ought to assert something only if one knows it). I agree with the rejection; knowledge has never been a good candidate as 'the norm of assertion'. But his argument doesn't rule out that knowledge might be a norm of assertion; nor does it rule out the possibility that knowledge might just be the optimal case of something fitting whatever norm of assertion we might be assuming. Since Papineau doesn't seem to think that 'knowledge' is an incoherent concept or a meaningless term, surely he would not say that, given merely believing X reasonably and knowing X, that the latter would always be worse. He says, "All we really care about is whether their beliefs are likely to be true.". But is that really all we ever care about? If nothing else the widespread attraction of the idea of knowledge would seem to suggest this is unlikely.


* If you're interested in my view of it, I think Clayton's proposal is extremely implausible, and I think Papineau and most people who discuss this matter are making an error, all too common among people of analytic stripe, that because something can be modeled by probabilities it is a matter of certainty and uncertainty. (This gets things backwards; probabilities are often handy in dealing with things like certainty and uncertainty, possibility of error, and the like, but that doesn't mean that they are good for nothing else.) In legal cases (and in many others), the certainty of evidence, while important, is a secondary issue; the primary issue is admissibility as evidence to begin with, which has nothing to do with the percentages. The difference between the prison yard example and an eyewitness example is causation, not knowledge; evidence is a causal notion. Eyewitness testimony is a causal chain purporting to link us to the actual event. (This is one of David Hume's truly important insights.) If you have an eyewitness testifying that this person did something bad, that is evidence, even if defeasible, that this person did something bad, because you have an effect, the testimony itself, that purports to be caused by this person doing something bad. But in the prison yard case we don't have any causal chain, even a purported one, to this person doing something bad.

It's particularly odd to be thinking about knowledge in a legal case, because knowledge, unlike (say) reasonableness, is at least arguably never important in legal cases. This is partly because in legal cases (1) not all legitimate evidence is admissible, for both ethical and practical reasons; and (2) issues of corruption, abuse of power, and the like raise worries that are often more important than accuracy of conclusion, and their safeguards affect the examination process (courts are not supposed to be strictly impartial investigators but to apply law with a bias toward public good). Every DA knows cases where it was so very certain that someone committed a crime, but the obstacles to getting the right evidence, of the right kind and quality, to get a conviction, were just insurmountable. Courts of law are deliberately set up to guarantee that this will happen in certain kinds of cases.

Bizarrely, Papineau comes close to recognizing the issue here, saying,

We hanker for some clear and direct-seeming causal path from the facts to our mind, akin to how nothing lies between the banana and the alpha monkey. Eyewitnesses and their testimony fit that model, but the statistical evidence doesn’t. It’s too indirect.

But knowledge doesn't play any role here; causation explicitly does. (Even the 'clear' doesn't bring in knowledge, because it can be purely a matter of Papineau's preferred concept of belief.)

Monday, June 03, 2019

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Evening Note for Sunday, June 2

Thought for the Evening: Titles of Opinion

We live in an opinion nation. But as I tell my students, your opinion on its own is useless; since any idiot can come up with an opinion on anything, if you have an opinion, all that means is that you are not more stupid than the most stupid person. Ideally, of course, we would all have good reasons for all of our opinions -- reasons, as I tell them, unlike opinions, are valuable to other people -- but in practice, this is unattainable. Practical necessity, if nothing else, will lead us to have opinions for only limited reasons, or for nothing that can serve as a reason for the content of the opinion at all, as when people pick up opinions under the force of peer pressure. It's worth asking, then, what the legitimate answers are to the question, "Why do you hold that opinion?" What answers can be given and still be reasonable answers to this question?

There are probably many different ways to approach this, but if we take as an analogy, even if only a loose one, possession of other things (physical objects, incorporeal hereditaments), four kinds of answers, loosely resembling four titles of possession, stand out as providing you reasonable answers.

(1) possessive title: I hold this opinion for such-and-such reasons that lead to it as a rational (even if defeasible) conclusion. Obviously, specific relevant reasons are the primary titles by which one can say that you have some kind of right to have a particular opinion. If reasons do not give title to opinions, nothing does.

(2) successive title: I hold this opinion because I have received it from someone who, at least as far as my reasons suggest, had some kind of possessive title to it. We cannot practically get by without depending on the testimony of others; that means some of the opinions we have, we have only because other people have them, not because we ourselves have any direct reasons for them.

(3) accessive title: I hold this opinion because it is accommodated well by my other opinions, for at least some of which I have some kind of non-accessive title. As I've noted before, there is a kind of doxastic synousia, a hanging-together of things like beliefs, suppositions, and opinions, that does not seem to be strictly reducible to reason-relations; one belief can accommodate another without necessarily being any genuine reason for it. For instance, peoples' opinions about the universe are sometimes clearly influenced by their politics; people with very democratic views of politics are often uncomfortable with very hierarchical views of the universe. It's not that your political views provide any reason for thinking the universe itself works a certain way; it's just that your habits of political thought make some other kinds of structural thinking about the world easier. There are many subtler kinds of cases. One of the reasons we have opinions is that they fit the way we already think.

(4) prescriptive title: I hold this opinion because, however I got it to begin with, I have held it a long time without finding reason to reject it. People sometimes don't want to admit something like this title, but in fact many of our strongest opinions are likely to be opinions that are too fundamental for relatively weak titles like (2) and (3), but for which we can't pin down any definite possessive title, because we've held it so long, and though we might be able to make up an argument for it on the spot, that's precisely what we'd be doing -- not giving our reason for why we hold it but making up a reason out of thin air for why someone could hold it.

Perhaps there are others, but as they get progressively weaker as we move from (1) to (4), if you have an opinion without one of these titles, the chances that you are unreasonable in holding it seem very high. And we could probably say, in some sense, that you have no right to hold it, that you have no right to have that opinion. From the other side, it's important to grasp that all of this is about reasonableness -- the point is that all of these are reasonable answers to the question, "Why do you have that opinion?" None of these titles mean that your opinion is right, nor do any of them even imply that your opinion is one that can be rationally defended as superior to other opinions. They just are the kinds of answers a reasonable person might honestly give to the question; they are answers that rule out the possibility that you just made up the opinion just to have one, or that you are really trolling, or anything else like that.

This approach to opinions is opposed to a number of other approaches you could find.

(i) The above approach assumes you have to have a 'right' (in some sense) to a particular opinion. You could deny this, and simply say that you can have whatever opinion you have, whatever the explanation for your having it might be. You do find people saying things like this, but I think nobody consistently holds it when you press them.

(ii) You could have an approach that restricts the number of titles. For instance, there is certainly a view, we can call it evidentialism (although perhaps not all forms of evidentialism in epistemology strictly require it), that the only legitimate titles for an opinion are (1) and (2), or even (1) and a restricted form of (2). You do find people stating this view. What you don't find, I think, are people actually living in a manner consistent with it. It doesn't really give us an account of being reasonable about opinion-holding, because it holds a standard people cannot live up to, and therefore is making an unreasonable demand.

(iii) Perhaps you could deny that possessive title is the fundamental title. I don't know any widely respected view that doesn't take theoretical or practical reasons to be the most basic kind of justification for having an opinion, but people do sometimes do strange things that minimize the value of possessive title. Take Bulverism, for instance: this is when people deny that an opinion with possessive title, i.e., backed by at least some o kind of reasons, can be reasonably held because some feature of the person nullifies that title. So, for instance, in the famous sexist remark: 'You only say that because you are a woman'. This is generally considered an illegitimate line of reasoning because (a) it is always or virtually always question-begging and (b) it attempts to bypass all reasons whatsoever, or else to sort out reasons that will be accepted and reasons that won't according to something that has nothing to do with the reasons themselves.

Various Links of Interest

* Gregory Stackpole looks at Isidore of Seville on Secular Rule and Rulers

* Deborah Savage, Adam's Gift: Man in the Order of Creation

* Alexander Zubatov, The Case for Confucianism in America: How an Ancient Chinese Philosophical Tradition Could Save Our Fraying Democracy

* Sabine Hossenfelder summarizes the basics of black holes

* Astrid Lindgren, Pomperipossa in Monismania, a fairy tale about the evil of excessive taxation. Lindgren is most famous for the Pippi Longstocking books; she wrote this little story as a protest over the fact that, under Swedish law at the time, she was being taxed at a marginal tax rate of 102%, because the law required self-employed individuals to pay taxes both as individuals and as employers. The story struck a chord, and started a huge debate about the goals of taxation; it is often credited with being one reason why the Swedish Social Democrats lost the 1976 election.

* Geri Walton, Voltaire's Coffee Obessions in the 18th Century

* The Optimizer's Curse and Wrong-Way Reductions notes some problems for common forms of Effective Altruism.

* John McCoy and Tomer Ullman, Judgments of effort for magical violations of intuitive physics. If you give people a list of fantastic things (conjure something out of thin air, make it cease to exist, make it levitate, make it invisible), which do they think would be hardest to accomplish?

* I don't generally like Cass Sunstein's work, but I do like his suggestion for a word that means "what happens when a group of people, outraged by some real or imagined transgression, responds in a way that is disproportionate to the occasion, thus ruining the transgressor’s day, month, year or life": lapidation.

* St. Ambrose and Baptism of Desire

* Singing Homer's Odyssey

* Lisa Song on the problems with carbon credits

Currently Reading

Fanny Burney, Evelina
David Papineau, Philosophical Devices
E. M. Dadlez, ed., Jane Austen's Emma: Philosophical Perspectives
Michael Pakaluk, The Memoirs of St. Peter: A New Translation of the Gospel According to Mark