Sunday, November 21, 2004

War on Iraq pt. 2

Allow me to entertain a seemingly similar, yet notably different, anti-war strategy. Rather than questioning our justification, let’s question something that I feel is more important, namely, our obligation. First off, note the trivial truth that justification does not imply obligation. I might be justified in being angry with Fred for kicking my shins, but clearly I am not obligated to be. I will grant something like Vallicella’s argument (clearly a cumulative-case argument is the way to go), thereby admitting that we are justified in going to war, but argue that our obligations (if any) were elsewhere. Nonetheless, I will also grant that we did have an obligation to go to war with Iraq, but I will argue that it was outweighed by a competing obligation that we ignored. An example of competing obligations: I am obligated to get to class on time, but I have a (stronger) competing obligation to not drive recklessly and run over fellow students in order to do so.

(An interesting question I will leave untouched is where our obligations now lie, given all that has already occurred. Here’s an article on that particular subject.)

So, presuming that our actions were justified and obligated, why should we think that our greater obligations were elsewhere? I will use the Golden Rule, which is common to most respectable ethical systems, as my primary justification. I was, as all of you probably were, born into a life of privilege. By privilege I don’t mean exceeding wealth, but simply safety and comfort—never having to worry too much about starving to death, contracting fatal illnesses from the little food or water consumed, dying a violent death as an innocent, etc. Nonetheless I can counterfactually imagine that, if I had been born into a life of poverty, I would want the privileged people to aid me.

The U.S. and ‘western’ European nations consist of about 900 million people. According to this site, there are about 842 million hungry people in the world. This is almost as much as there are in all western nations combined! This means that, given that you are alive now, there is about as much chance that you’re in one of the privileged western nations as there is that you’re hungry. Also, it should be noted that about twenty-four thousand of the hungry die every day, three out of four of which are children under five. (For those of you who are pro-lifers--whom I am not unsympathetic with--compare this to the estimated 3600 abortions occurring daily in the U.S. in 2002.)

According to this site, with the money that the U.S. (not including our allies) has spent on the war on Iraq thus far, we could have fully funded global anti-hunger efforts for 6 years. Imagine how many years that will be when our work in the Middle East is finally complete. If we could fully fund those efforts for about 13-15 years, then by the estimates of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization we could cut the number of hungry people in half. If you follow the above link to the article on the FAO website, you will see that halving hunger would also have immense benefits for both the national and world economy.

I believe that we should have helped these hungry people instead of engaging in the war on Iraq. I believe we are aiding fewer people by our efforts overseas than we would be aiding through the reduction of hunger. I also believe that reducing world hunger would have resulted in fewer American deaths than our efforts overseas have. Related to the last comment, I believe that this war will cause more violent deaths in general than aiding hunger. And finally, I believe that fewer unnatural deaths simpliciter would have occurred if we had chosen differently. Being someone who is both (a) glad that they are not hungry and (b) glad they have not died an unnatural death, I use the Golden Rule to believe we were obligated to reduce those two things.

If governments and nations have any moral obligations at all, then surely the U.S. had many sets of competing ones. We were obligated to help those being slighted by Saddam’s hand, and we were also obligated to help the hungry. Because our aiding the hungry would have enhanced more lives and harmed fewer, I argue that this was a stronger obligation.

So, even while admitting that the war was justified, and that we had an obligation to help those in Iraq, I claim that we had a competing obligation that was stronger and, therefore, we acted incorrectly.

Four concessions (with competing considerations):
(1) I’m not sure if the figures reporting the cost of war include how much money we make from the taxing of corporations who sell our nation weapons. That is, perhaps our government wouldn’t have been able to afford spending as much money on allaying world hunger as we have on the war, because the war immediately produces government income. Keep in mind, however, that aiding world hunger would also create some extra government income from the people who produce the food.
(2) Of course I can’t be sure that fewer people would have died violent deaths had the war not occurred, but we know that the number of violent deaths in Iraq has increased since our invasion, and certainly more American soldiers have died in the last year and half than the years prior.
(3) I'm sure some of you out there are thinking that we had to go to war because we gave Saddam an ultimatum to which he did not acquiesce. Perhaps not following through on our word would make us look like pansies in the eyes of the world. I ask you: Does it really seem like we have gained respect in the world's eyes through our actions? Did our similar actions in Vietnam gain us respect? Do you think we appear credible, or stubborn?
(4) Spending money on the war is contrary to spending money on hunger, but not contradictory to it. We could be doing both if we had taken even more money away from other government projects. Granting this, you can take my argument as saying that the hungry should have taken a higher priority than the war.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

The War on Iraq

[Preface: Clearly, this post will be based on a personal bias, and isn't really too philosophical per se, but something I think we should all take an interest in.]

Is it justified? I've been thinking about this a lot lately. If the death count has risen so much since our entering, how can it be considered a humanitarian effort? If so many Iraqis want us out, who are we supposed to be helping? At first the war was justified to the American public because of the undeniable proof of WMDs. Since we found out about the lies and exagerations that backed up that claim, the justification has become more humanitarian in nature. I have no definition of humanitarianism, but I never pictured such acts involving so much death against the wishes of those we are purportedly helping. I'm no ethicist or political scholar, but my naive opinions cannot help but be contrary to those of our political leaders. If we were concerned with humanitarianism, why not help those dozens of impoverished nations who don't have such a checkered past with the US (and hence wouldn't be so resistant) by providing their hungry with food and their homeless with shelter? Why not help those in our own nation who have very little? If you're interested, go to to see how much we've spent thus far on the war. Over $145 billion. Is there absolutely no way we might've spent that money in a more productive fassion? Yes, the Iraqi government has not been the best friend of the U.S., but does that mean we need to go to these extreme measures? Are these the actions that the great spiritual and ethical leaders--Jesus, Ghandi, Mother Teresa, Dr. Martin Luther King--would have advised us to do?

When we went to war we broke the UN charter--We broke international law.

Terrorism (def.): The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.

I've heard people in the department say that this war is justified, and I've heard others say that the issue is too convoluted to judge either way. I completely disagree with both of those claims. However, I know that we're all intelligent philosophers here, so I'm confident that you have well thought out arguments for your positions. PLEASE help me understand because right now I can't help but see things from only one side.

DePoe--If this isn't the sort of thing you want on the blog, you have my permission to remove it.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

minimalist truth schema

Tell me what you think of my initial intuition of the minimalist truth schema:

'P' is true iff P. It seems like any further explication of this schema will smuggle in an inflationary theory of truth. And without any further explication this theory is very vague. The compatibility this schema has with all other theories of truth is obvious but it seems like each theory of truth will explain what this schema means in a different way. So when Horwich wants to leave the theory of truth as merely this schema without any inflation, it seems cloudy to me...
Of course this is just off the top of my head and this is why i'm submitting it to the lions. Go at it...if i even explained it good enough. ha! Disregard below post....I just figured out how to edit these.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

The Essential Indexical

John Perry, in "The Problem of the Essential Indexical" (1979), argues that indexical beliefs are necessary for action. That is, if he's walking around the supermarket while sugar slowly leaks from a torn bag in his cart, he may have the belief
(1) John Perry is making a mess.
But, he claims, this is insufficient for action (ie stopping to remedy the problem of the torn sack of sugar) unless he also has the belief
(2) I am John Perry.
or instead has the belief
(3) I am making a mess.
Those in Arthur's class will remember this, and many other similar examples, from section M of the text.
An article by Evan C. Tiffany entitled "What is Essential about Indexicals?" (2000) disagrees with this conclusion. Consider an example (not directly taken from Tiffany) where I hold these four beliefs:
(4) The resident of of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is responsible for the war.
(5) The President of the United States resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
(6) War is wrong.
(7) If one believes that war is wrong, and there is a war occuring, then they should protest the actions of those responsible.
Are these sufficient for explaining my actions of driving to DC to protest the president? Or, must there also be an indexical belief about the here or now hidden within their midst?
Difficult question--At first glance, it seems that these are certainly sufficient, but consider the following beliefs:
(8) The war is occuring now.
(9) I am a citizen of the country perpetuating the war.
(10) I am here and 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is there.
(11) Protesting is the right thing for me to do.
Are any of these, or something like them, also required for action?
What say you, fellow philosophers?

Friday, November 05, 2004

Why justification?

While talking to Marc at lunch today, he gave us a quick account of his theory of knowledge. He called it externalist, and said that it required no component of justification. For fear of misrepresentation, I will not attempt to flesh out his view further here.

It's clear that traditional epistemology has been concerned with, if not focused on, the notion of justification as required for knowledge. Is this really the thing to do? Can we analyze 'knowledge' and 'justification' separately, acknowledging their typical correlation, but admitting that neither is a necessary nor sufficient condition for the other? I know some of you out there are probably foaming at the mouth while reading this, and I want to know why.

This may just sound like the internalist/externalist debate, but I want to assure you that it is not. In fact, Marc also gave us a brief account of his notion of justification, which he claims is internalist. What is at issue here is rather: Is justification (either internalist or externalist) at all relevant to having knowledge?

Something I should point out about myself as a philosopher that concerns both this post and the other that I started. Just because I pose these questions does not imply that I stand on either side of the debate. Rather, I find myself playing devil's advocate. For instance, regarding the 'stubborn epistemologists?' post, I tend to agree with Ed that there is a priori knowledge, regardless of whether or not we are hard-wired to think logically. But while pressuring myself into coming up with an argument for holding that belief I was unable to do so. Hence, I found myself holding the position dogmatically, or as I put it earlier, being stubborn. I just don't want people to think that I'm writing these to cause arguments or undermine the beliefs of others--Oftentimes I'm hoping that you folks can help me justify the beliefs that we already share. :-)

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Stubborn Epistemologists?

The naturalized epistemologist and the old school foundational internalist may be stuck in an argument of "nuh-uh" vs. "yes-huh":

(1) We (as philosophers) believe certain rules of deduction to be valid (eg modus ponens) but not others (eg modus morons--the fallacy of affirming the consequent).
(2) We can show through meta-theory why this is so, but even the meta-theory will implicitly depend on our use of the valid rules.
(3) The internalist will account for this by claiming that we can know certain things a priori.
(4) The naturalist will account for this by claiming that we are (as DePoe pointed out) 'hard-wired' to reason in such a way.

Now, for those of you in McGrew's Epistemology class, yesterday you witnessed his argument against 4. For those who were not, or have forgot, here is it's basic form:

What evidence is there to believe that this hard-wiring occurs? As those of us who have taught an introductory logic course will attest, students often commit modus morons fallacies, and have trouble seeing the validity of rules that are, to the trained eye, clearly truth-preserving. Evidence for hard-wiring is minimal at best.

It doesn't obviously follow from the fact that people have trouble grasping the formal rules of logic, that they do not view the world through logical glasses. Even if someone might mistakenly use modus morons in a formal proof, there is a good chance that they will not accept the following argument:

(5) If I'm George W. Bush then I have skin.
(6) I have skin.
(7) I'm George W. Bush.

An analogous occurence might occur when students make the jump from numerical arithmetic to algebraic variable arithmetic, that is, a young student who could easily perform (8) might have difficulty performing (9).

(8) 23 + 36 = ?
(9) 23 + x = 59

Is this proof that we do not see the world quantitatively?

Also, is an evidential argument against hard-wiring a proof for the a priori? Doesn't it make equal trouble for the foundational internalist that students have difficulty seeing the validity of these supposedly foundational beliefs? How can they build up from the foundations without having rules like modus ponens? Certainly my dog didn't work out the logic of MP before making the inference from:

(10) If there is a sound of a can opening, food is placed in my dish shortly thereafter.
(11) There is a sound of a can opening.
(12) Food will be placed in my dish shortly.

I'm not sure what I'm supposing this post to have demonstrated, other than that there might simply be a question-begging theoretical dispute between the Quinean and the Cartesian.

"Those beliefs are hard-wired."
"Nuh-uh, they're a priori."
"Hard wired!"
"A priori!"

Somebody show me the arguments and prove me wrong!!

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Ad the Atheists

Regarding the issue of "unabsolved" (or, better, gratuitous) evils, it seems that those in the camp of the atheists have not succeeded in showing (a) that there are, in fact, gratuitous evils and, accordingly, (b) whatever they wished to show about God himself (say, that he does not exist?). After I raised the point that it wasn't clear how it follows from some evil e's being apparently gratuitous that e is in fact gratuitous, I believe that it was John Park (JP) who immediately directed our attention to certain things John DePoe (JD) had said about the afterlife (which implied that apparently gratuitous evils are not in fact gratuitous evils). (The specifics of what JD said have escaped me, but I believe that they concerned there being justice in the afterlife where there was no justice in this life.) What I think JP did was introduce a red herring: true, one might believe that apparently gratuitous evils are not in fact gratuitous evils because of what JD said; but that's not relevant to the issue of it's not being clear how it follows from e's being apparently gratuitous that e is in fact gratuitous. Those in the camp of the atheists, then, still have yet to show that it follows from e's being apparently gratuitous that e is in fact gratuitous--and, indeed, and accordingly, whatever they wished to show about God himself.