Historical analysis and policy making often require counterfactual thought experiments that isolate hypothesized causes from a vast array of historical possibilities. However, a core precept of Jervis's ?systems thinking? is that causes are so interconnected that the historian can only with great difficulty imagine causation by subtracting all variables but one. Prediction, according to Jervis, is even more problematic: The more sensitive an event is to initial conditions (e.g., butterfly effects), the harder it is to derive accurate forecasts. Nevertheless, if (...) awareness of system effects can help forecasters better calibrate their probability estimates of whether or not certain events will come to pass, systems thinkers who are pessimistic about prediction are diluting their confidence too much. The challenge is a meta-cognitive one: thinking systematically about when to engage in systems thinking; and weighing the costs and benefits of using simple or complex heuristics in policy environments that can shift suddenly from quiescence to turbulence. (shrink)
Abstract Timur Kuran's Private Truths, Public Lies makes a compelling case that people often misrepresent their private preferences in response to real or imagined social pressures, that the relative power of competing interest groups to punish opinion deviance and reward conformity determines the patterns and pervasiveness of preference falsification, and that preference falsifi?cation helps explain such diverse outcomes as the persistence and sudden collapse of communism and the precarious persistence of racial preferences in the United States and of the caste (...) system in India. Although preference falsification is important and raises questions about the legitimacy of the opinions expressed in opinion polls and elections, it does not seem widespread enough to warrant the conclusion that ordinary people lack the courage necessary to make democracy work. (shrink)
Heuristics are necessary but far from sufficient explanations for moral judgment. This commentary stresses: (a) the need to complement cold, cognitive-economizing functionalist accounts with hot, value-expressive, social-identity-affirming accounts; and (b) the importance of conducting reflective-equilibrium thought and laboratory experiments that explore the permeability of the boundaries people place on the “thinkable.”.
Despite the bad reputation of the legal profession, law remains king in America. A highly diverse society relies on the laws to maintain a working sense of the dignity and inviability of each individual. And a persistent element in contemporary debates is the fear that naturalistic theories of the human person will erode our belief that we have a dignity greater than that of other natural objects. Thus the endurance of the creation vs. evolution debate is due less to the (...) arguments of creationists, or to the continued influence of the book of Genesis, than to the reading of the evidence provided by Phillip E. Johnson of the University of California, Berkeley, Law School. (shrink)
If someone abstains from meat-eating for reasons of taste or personal economics, no moral or philosophical question arises. But when a vegetarian attempts to persuade others that they, too, should adopt his diet, then what he says requires philosophical attention. While a vegetarian might argue in any number of ways, this essay will be concerned only with the argument for a vegetarian diet resting on a moral objection to the rearing and killing of animals for the human table. The vegetarian, (...) in this laense, does not merely require us to change or justify our eating habits, but to reconsider our attitudes and behaviour towards members of other species across a wide range of practices. (shrink)
It seems clear that the ontological argument can no longer be dismissed as a silly fallacy. The dogma of the impossibility of necessary existence is seriously threatened by the case of necessary existential truths in mathematics, and as for the claim that the ontological argument must beg the question, since by mentioning God in the premise his existence is presupposed, it is undermined by the fact that we often refer to things—Hamlet for instance— we do not for a moment think (...) exist. The doctrine that existence is not a property , insofar as it does not reduce to one of the foregoing points, is very murky, for the sense in which ‘red’ is a predicate and ‘exists’ is not has never been clearly defined. Moreover, the way many believers hold that ‘God exists’ is immune to empirical refutation strongly suggests that we are dealing here with an analytic statement, which is just what the ontological argument should be expected to produce. It seems in order, then, to conduct theological discussion under the supposition that the argument is in fact sound. (shrink)
Jonathan Glover and I, while not in such deep disagreement about the ethics of killing as to make all communication impossible, still disagree enough to make sustained confrontation worthwhile. At minimum, such confrontation should make it clear what are the most fundamental issues at stake in ethical arguments about various kinds of killing.
The following objection to the ‘ontological’ argument of St Anselm has a continuing importance. The argument begs the question by introducing into the first premise the name ‘God’. In order for something to be truly talked about, to have properties truly attributed to it—it has been said—it must exist; a statement containing a vacuous name must either be false, meaningless, or lacking in truth-value, if it is not a misleading formulation to be explained by paraphrase into other terms. In any (...) case the question of the divine existence is begged. (shrink)
The paper offers a discussion of Philip Merlan's contributions (in "From Platonism to Neoplatonism, The Hague 1960, e in some papers of his, now included in his "Kleine Philosophische Schriften", Hildesheim 1976) to the understanding of Aristotle's metaphysics, with particular reference to the science of being qua being.