Rules and Virtues in Ethics

Monday, 08-03-2020


There really are exceptionless rules, but we lose a lot focusing on rules to the exclusion of the corresponding virtues.

Consider two different acts:  Murdering and desecrating the body; murdering and eating the body.

Viewed simply as acts, it is not easy to say which is worse.  However, the latter shocks us more profoundly because it suggests a deeper disturbance of moral character.  That counts for something.



Commentary on Thomas Aquinas’s Virtue Ethics


Can a Nonbeliever Pray?

Monday, 07-27-2020


Can someone pray if he doesn’t believe in God?  I don’t see why not.

In trouble, I might scream “Help!” even if I don’t think anyone can hear me, just on the chance that someone can.  In the same way, I might cry “God, I need you.  I don’t think you are there, but if you are, I will try to do what you ask.  Please get me out of this dark.”

Nonbelievers, take heart.  I think God hears prayers like that.

But a lot of things considered prayers are nothing of the kind, like communing with my “inner goddess,” or like chanting “Every day in every way I am getting better and better.”  That bald-faced lie isn’t a prayer to the Deity but a flattery of the Self.

Or like sitting on the porch and drinking coffee – a best-selling Unitarian minister came up with that one.  True, one might commune with God while sitting on the porch and drinking coffee, but sitting on the porch and drinking coffee is not, per se, communing with God.  Better the prayer of an honest nonbeliever than rank self-deception.

Or like the chant “Aum” or “Omm.”  Some people say that this is addressed to a spirit, in which case it would be a prayer, though to what spirit it may be addressed is another question, about which no one much seems to care.  So far as I can see, the chant is more often a sort of self-hypnosis.

Or like the fellow in the old Ray Bradbury tale who got in touch with the All by meditating on the hum of high-tension electrical powerlines.  Electricity can’t hear you.  The totality of life and death, animals and stars, harmonicas and pneumonia, pop concerts and yogurt smoothies, love, malice, lies, truths, and illusions can’t hear you either – and its answer would be worthless if it could.

More nonbelievers’ prayers would be offered, perhaps, if they were more often meant when they were offered.  What we do mean when we pray without believing is often more like this.  “God, I want your help this time, but then please leave me alone until I ask for you again.  If you want me to do something, I’ll think about it, but don’t rattle my preconceptions or ask me to change my life.  Just now I need a little light, but otherwise, please, I would like to be left in the dark.”

God, Who always reaches down to us even when we are not reaching for Your hands, give us grace to mean it, even if we don’t yet believe it.


Mail-In Voting Fraud

Saturday, 07-25-2020


Common sense urges that the easier it is to commit crime and the harder it is to detect it, the more crime will be committed.  Against common sense, the “fact-checkers” are out in force, chanting in unison that very little fraud is associated with mail-in voting.

How would we know?  The same things that make such fraud easy to commit also make it difficult to discover.

Studies claiming that there is very little mail-in voting fraud actually find nothing of the kind; what they tend to find is that very few discovered errors in vote counts can be proven to have resulted from voter impersonation.

If you are trying to mess with an election, the idea is not to be discovered.

Besides, voter impersonation is not the only form of fraud; for example one can “lose” ballots.

Wait until mail-in voting becomes universal.  Then watch crooked party activists pull out the stops.

Moral:  Always prefer common sense to a "fact check" with flawed assumptions.


A Doubt about a Doubt

Thursday, 07-23-2020


A student told me that he doubted the reality of good and right, wrong and evil, because they are “abstract” qualities.  I mention the anecdote because I hear this sort of thing often (and also for penance, because long ago I used to say things like that myself).

Now he wouldn’t have doubted the reality of odd and even, of important and unimportant, or of old and new -- and those are abstract qualities too, aren’t they?

Perhaps what he really meant was that good and right can’t be measured by the senses.  But those other qualities can’t be measured by the senses either; an odd number of apples isn’t a different weight or color than an even one.  Importance doesn’t feel warm, and an old poem isn’t hard to the touch.  Such qualities are perceived by the mind.  And so are good and right, wrong and evil.

Why then does the skeptic trust in the reality of those “abstract” qualities, but not in the reality of moral qualities?  It is suspiciously arbitrary.


Safe Spaces

Monday, 07-20-2020


On some campuses students have demanded and won the establishment of “safe spaces” in which they don’t have to hear non-woke opinions (called “micro-aggressions”) and can calm themselves with coloring books and other childish distractions.  They don’t even have to bring their own coloring books, because college officials supply them for free.

I suppose it is obvious that such behavior isn’t explained by political disagreement.  There is a difference between thinking that someone is mistaken, and regressing to childhood just because you are subjected to hearing his opinion.

Some writers have suggested a different explanation:  That when they were growing up, these young persons were overprotected, overindulged, constantly told how special they were, and persuaded that if anything didn’t please them it must have been somebody’s fault.

Maybe.  We need some evidence here.  But so long as we are guessing, let’s consider another possibility.

So many more young persons come from damaged homes in the present generation than in the previous one.  Could the reason some of them behave like children be that they didn’t have enough childhood when they were at the age for it?

Damaged homes certainly influence personality in other ways; for instance boys who grow up without dads are much more likely to hold a grudge against God the Father.  Isn't it plausible that it may influence personality in this way too?

These two guesses aren’t necessarily incompatible.  Sometimes parents spoil their children gratuitously – but sometimes they spoil their children because their home is damaged.  Having exposed them to harm, they compensate by overprotecting them.

Just a thought.


There Is No Need for All Robots to Be White

Friday, 07-17-2020


Is there anything that isn’t racist?

Humans Show Racial Bias Towards Robots of Different Colors:  Study

“We hope that our study encourages robot designers to create robots that represent the diversity of their communities .... There is no need for all robots to be white.”

The Unintentional Racism Found in Traffic Signals

“How is it possible that well into the 21st century, parents all over Manhattan — well-meaning, #BLM-marching parents — are teaching their children to ask ‘little White men’ [in the traffic signals] for permission to cross the street?  And why doesn’t this seem to bother them?”

Director of Science at Kew: It’s Time to Decolonise Botanical Collections

“In my own field of research, you can see an imperialist view prevail. Scientists continue to report how new species are ‘discovered’ every year, species that are often already known and used by people in the region – and have been for thousands of years .... The first inhabitants of Brazil and the first users of plants in Australia often remained unnamed, unrecognised, and uncompensated.  They are quite literally invisible in history.  This needs to change.”

Seattle Public Schools:  K-12 Math Ethnic Studies Framework (20.08.2019)

“Definition of theme:   Power and oppression, as defined by ethnic studies, are the ways in which individuals and groups define mathematical knowledge so as to see “Western” mathematics as the only legitimate expression of mathematical identity and intelligence.  This definition of ​legitimacy is then used to disenfranchise​ people and communities of color.  This ​erases the historical contributions​ of people and communities of color.

“Learning target:   Students will be able to analyze the ways in which ancient mathematical knowledge has been appropriated by Western culture.  Students will be able to identify how the development of mathematics has been erased from learning in school.  Students will be able to identify how math has been and continues to be used to oppress and marginalize people and communities of color.”

The Knitting Community Is Reckoning with Racism

[One knitter speaking to another knitter, who had spoken enthusiastically of India as colorful, complex, and inspiring:]  “Multiple times you compare the idea of going to India to the idea of going to another planet — how do you think a person from India would feel to hear that?”

NAACP Links Earthquake Signs in Oregon to White Supremacy

“A new city policy requiring public signs on brick buildings warning they might collapse in an earthquake is part of a long history of white supremacy aimed at forcing black people to move out of neighborhoods, the NAACP of Portland, Oregon, says.”

Racism Row Over ‘Anglo Saxons’ as Furious Historians Call for ‘White Supremacist’ Term To Be Banned

"Historically, the people in early England or ‘Englelond’ did not call themselves 'Anglo-Saxons' ... The term was used sporadically during the early-English period, but by and large the people in early medieval England referred to themselves as ‘Englisc’ or ‘Anglecynn.’  ‘Anglo-Saxon’ became more popular as a phrase in the 18th and 19th centuries when it was used to link white people to their ‘supposed origins.’  It was later adopted by Hitler, who wrote of the ‘Anglo-Saxon determination’ to hold India.”

'Library Collections ... Proliferate Whiteness with Their Very Existence':  Library Journal Tweet Promotes 'Feminist' Librarian's Perspective

"Library collections continue to promote and proliferate whiteness with their very existence and the fact that they are physically taking up space in our libraries."

Thomas the Imperialist Tank Engine:  The Not-So-Hidden Subtexts of the Popular Children’s Show

“Thomas and his ‘friends’ often ‘tease’ like this: ‘Wake up lazy bones! Do some hard work for a change!’ .... He and his friends are clearly imperialists ....

“It may be a few years before I lay out the particularities of British imperialism to my son ... [but] in our home ... some ugly truths about unjust train society must be told.”

I gratefully acknowledge that these came to my

attention through the twitterfeed of Titania

McGrath, grand mistress of wokeness,


Systematic Racism

Monday, 07-13-2020


Viewed as a whole, American history is not systematically racist, but systematically anti-racist.  Even though, at the beginning, half the nation practiced human bondage, the authors of the Declaration of Independence put themselves on record confessing that all men are created equal.  By doing so they knowingly set up a standard by which they would be judged for all time to come.  Lincoln appealed to the Declaration in opposing slavery, Martin Luther King appealed to it in opposing segregation, and the country has worked hard over the years to convert its principle from an aspiration to a lived reality.  This purpose met strong resistance, right up to a civil war, but the line of development is clear.

On the other hand, if we consider not American history as a whole, but specific institutions, we still do find many laws, attitudes, and policies that have been promoted either with the intention of holding poor people and non-white people down, or with complacency about the fact that they do, in fact, hold them down.

Exhibit A:  Pro-poverty programs, misleading called anti-poverty programs.  These devilish traps methodically incentivize not only becoming but also remaining dependent on the government, which is merely poverty of a different kind.  The resulting culture of multi-generational dependency is so overwhelmingly documented that there is no plausible motive for continuing such programs in anything like their present form, except, perhaps, to produce a tier of wholly-owned clients for the political party that embraces them.  The mentality that drives the policy is not charitable, but feudal.

Exhibit B:  Aggressive promotion of abortion and other anti-natal practices in non-white communities.  It is hard to see how it helps poor and non-white families to kill their infants, is it not?  Only viewed as a eugenics program does such a policy become comprehensible.  Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger epitomized this view when she complained, “Those least fit to carry on the race are increasing most rapidly” (The Pivot of Civilization, 1920).  Why no hue and cry to tear down Sanger statues, by the way?  The people who pull down statues consider her a heroine.

Exhibit C:  Advocacy of laissez-faire attitudes toward sexuality and marriage.  Though most fervently promoted by the well-off, these attitudes have wreaked the greatest damage on the families of poor and working people, especially non-whites, and have tended to impoverish their children by depriving them of the consistent care, encouragement, discipline, and example of married moms and dads.  You won’t hear this from the left, but stable marriage is by far the most genuine anti-poverty program.

Exhibit D:  Opposition to school choice.  The children of non-white and poor families caught in crime-ridden inner-city neighborhoods are also caught in inferior and crime-ridden schools.  Charter schools would give them a way out, but lawmakers who can afford to send their own children to any school they want are perfectly content to leave poor kids in the jaws of the trap.

Exhibit E:  Racial quotas in various institutions, such as colleges and universities.  Such institutionalized biases perpetuate a cruel hoax on persons of minority race, not only setting up unqualified applicants to fail, but placing smart, qualified applicants under a perpetual cloud of suspicion that they got by only because they weren’t white.  Policies so damaging to non-whites would make sense only if their proponents believed that the races were inherently unequal, and wanted to string along their supposed racial inferiors.

To the degree that America does labor under something that might be called systematic racism, it seems to be all on the left – and the people crying out against it want more of it still.  American history as a whole represents the gradual purging of racism; progressivism represents its entrenchment.



Civil Disobedience

Resisting Tyrannical Governments

Am I Guilty for What Other People Did?

Is There Collective Responsibility?

Doubleplusgood Ducktalkers

Why Marx Was Wrong

Slaves and Masters

Related but more recent:

Our (Non) Racist and (Non) Sexist Constitution

A Note about Language