Thursday, March 08, 2018

Has philosophy failed?

Analytical philosophy cannot give a satisfactory account of moral discourse

That there is no such thing as right and wrong is a normal conclusion in analytical philosophy -- sometimes supported by glib references to the acceptability of infanticide and pedophilia in ancient Greece.  Where do we find any agreed SOURCE of rightness or wrongness is the problem.

We can argue, for instance that morality is inborn or natural.  But how do we tell what those moral values are?  There are many "rights" that have been said by different peole to be inalienable parts of us but where is the authority for judging between those competing claims?  America's founding fathers had their answers but they were political answers, not answers that could be found by anyone who looks.

So what is right and wrong becomes merely a matter of opinion. We may believe that some things are "just wrong" but how do we check the truth of that belief?  Opinions are often wrong. There are various streams of philosophical thought which endeavour to give some alternatives to a belief about rightness being merely a matter of opinion but they all have problems of their own.  Over the years (starting here) I have myself put up a number of approaches to understanding the nature of moral values but I think there is still more to be said

So what to we do about the fact that those who deny rightness and wrongness will almost in the same breath say that Donald Trump is wrong, racism is wrong etc.  In philosophy we endeavour to analyse discourse but is there not something almost insane about that sort of discourse?  How can we analyse a self-contradiction?

I think the solution to that contradiction is for us to abandon our endeavour to analyse discourse without looking at the people from whom the discourse originates.  I think we have, in short, to combine philosophy with psychology to understand discourse about values. Philosophy and psychology were once treated as parts of a single whole and I think this is a case where we can profitably revert to that.

And as soon as we do that, we come across a well-developed study within psychlogy of what is accepted as right or wrong. Enjoy the work of Stephen Pinker, for instance. We discover in fact that the elusive source of rightness and wrongness can be found after all -- within us.  We have instinctive adverse reflexes to certain events which we describe in "is right" or "is wrong" terms.  Our entire notions of rightness derive in the end  from certain feelings which are ultimately traceable to our evolutionary past.  They are harm-avoidant reflexes that have evolved to keep us safe and still to a degree do that to this day. Our moral reflexes can be suppressed and are rather wobbly but they are there.  In response to moral dilemmas, our responses vary but they have a lot in common between people nonetheless. So our very notion of "is wrong" is the conscious part of a self-protective reflex. And upon those basic reflexes great edifices of morality are built.

"But this is absurd" is a very common comment on the implications of a philosophical theory.  But it is in itself problematical -- because what is absurd to one person may not be absurd to another.  Nonetheless, I think we can have no doubt about the absurdity  of denying wrongness and in almost in the same breath asserting that racism (for instance) is wrong,  Philosophical conclusions don't carry over into any everyday areas of discourse to which they seem to be related.  And despite decades and centuries of endeavour, nobody seems to have a way of getting out of that dilemma.

So I think it is clear that there are some things that philosophy cannot do.  It just flails about in analysing moral statements, for instance

But we should not be troubled by that  Philosophical analysis is in the end just a tool to enable us to understand statements and there is surely no difficulty in saying that it cannot do everything by itself.

There is however a big lesson from the considerations so far examined here.  The statement "there is no such thing as right and wrong" is bad philosophy and is plainly wrong itself.  It is an indefensible statement that should not be used.  Those who use it are simply showing the limits, inadequacy and absurdity of trying to explain everything by philosophy alone. It is to mistake a dead-end in philosophy for an important truth.

It is amusing that Leftists are energetic users of the statement "there is no such thing as right and wrong".  Yet they are also energetic users of moral statements.  Most of their discourse consists simply of judging various things to be right or wrong.  So it is an effective rejoinder to a claim from them that something is wrong to say: "But there is no such thing as right and wrong".  That invariably knocks the stuffing out of them.  They just don't know how to further their argument at that point. You have ripped their platform from under them.

Do Leftists really believe that "there is no such thing as right and wrong"?  Probably not.  They would not get so heated up about the myriad of "problems" they see in society otherwise.  They can however use moral language insincerely. If the average Joe is likely to see something as wrong, Leftists will leap onto that whether or not it relates to anything else in their value systen.  They can preach the wrongness of something even if they really don't give a hoot about it. There are not in fact many things they care about -- mainly their own honour and glory -- but they will use things that conservatives care about to manipulate conservatives. I showed that experimentally years ago.

Some of the arguments I put up above I have presented at greater length previously


Zombie agencies are nearly impossible to kill

Just over a year ago Donald Trump came into the White House promising to slice the federal bureaucracy with such ferocity that, as he put it, “your head will spin.” Shortly after taking office, he identified 19 little-known federal offices for elimination.

But despite Trump’s efforts to do away with what he sees as government waste, the bureaus are all still living, breathing, and spending taxpayer dollars. These zombie agencies are proving to be difficult to kill.

From regional development commissions to arts councils, to offices responsible for fostering foreign aid, all these bureaus have continued their work.

“There’s not very much progress being made,” complained Justin Bogie, a senior policy analyst in fiscal affairs at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “I don’t think the prospect of budget cuts is good.”

This is a president who pushed through a $1.5 trillion tax bill, unilaterally announced tariffs that rocked the global financial markets, and launches near-daily attacks on the nation’s law enforcement institutions, yet he is now bedeviled by an age-old Washington problem: He can’t seem to get rid of even an obscure $4 million federal bureau.

“There is very little pressure to get rid of anything in the budget,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a Washington-based group that supports cutting the federal government. “Every single line item has a really strong constituency.”

Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, seems to understand the difficulty of turning the administration’s annual request for budget cuts into something approximating reality.

A case study of sorts in bureaucratic survival is illustrated by the Appalachian Regional Commission, one of the agencies Trump initially wanted to get rid of last year.

This roughly $150 million program might seem like an obvious place to slice. That’s what budget experts at the Heritage Foundation thought when they offered a “Blueprint for Balance” in 2016 and recommended eliminating it.

Heritage analysts determined that the commission “duplicates highway and infrastructure construction” already covered by the Department of Transportation and it diverts federal funding to “projects of questionable merit,” including initiatives to support tourism and craft industries, according to the Heritage Foundation’s report.

Senator Joni Ernst, a Republican of Iowa, tried to take a whack at the Appalachian Regional Commission, too, proposing an amendment last April that would eliminate it along with three other regional commissions.

But her amendment failed, with 71 senators voting to keep these regional commissions plugging away.

As it turns out, the Appalachian Regional Commission has a lot going for it that might not be apparent at first glance. It crosses 13 state boundaries. In Washington math, that means 26 senators have a reason to care about it. (Twenty-three of those 26 senators voted to keep it alive, including 15 Republicans.)

One of states served by the commission is Kentucky, which is home to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. In January Trump nominated one of McConnell’s top staffers, Tim Thomas, to be the federal cochairman of the commission.

This year, Trump didn’t suggest eliminating the agency. It’s off the kill list.

Other agencies don’t have an obvious geographical constituency and need to get more creative to avoid shuttering. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a longtime target of conservatives, is in that category.

“They aren’t going to balance the budget,” acknowledged Bogie, the analyst at the Heritage Foundation. “But if we’re not willing to cut these little programs, how are we ever going to make the bolder reforms?”



Why Is the GOP Terrified of Tariffs?

Pat Buchanan know his history:

From Lincoln to William McKinley to Theodore Roosevelt, and from Warren Harding through Calvin Coolidge, the Republican Party erected the most awesome manufacturing machine the world had ever seen.

And, as the party of high tariffs through those seven decades, the GOP was rewarded by becoming America's Party.

Thirteen Republican presidents served from 1860 to 1930, and only two Democrats. And Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson were elected only because the Republicans had split. Why, then, this terror of tariffs that grips the GOP?

Consider. On hearing that President Trump might impose tariffs on aluminum and steel, Sen. Lindsey Graham was beside himself: "Please reconsider," he implored the president, "you're making a huge mistake."

Twenty-four hours earlier, Graham had confidently assured us that war with a nuclear-armed North Korea is "worth it." "All the damage that would come from a war would be worth it in terms of long-term stability and national security," said Graham. A steel tariff terrifies Graham. A new Korean war does not?

"Trade wars are not won, only lost," warns Sen. Jeff Flake. But this is ahistorical nonsense.

The U.S. relied on tariffs to convert from an agricultural economy in 1800 to the mightiest manufacturing power on earth by 1900.

Bismarck's Germany, born in 1871, followed the U.S. example, and swept past free trade Britain before World War I.

Does Senator Flake think Japan rose to post-war preeminence through free trade, as Tokyo kept U.S. products out, while dumping cars, radios, TVs and motorcycles here to kill the industries of the nation that was defending them. Both Nixon and Reagan had to devalue the dollar to counter the predatory trade policies of Japan.

Since Bush I, we have run $12 trillion in trade deficits, and, in the first decade in this century, we lost 55,000 factories and 6,000,000 manufacturing jobs.

Does Flake see no correlation between America's decline, China's rise, and the $4 trillion in trade surpluses Beijing has run up at the expense of his own country?

The hysteria that greeted Trump's idea of a 25 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent tariff on aluminum suggest that restoring this nation's economic independence is going to be a rocky road.

In 2017, the U.S. ran a trade deficit in goods of almost $800 billion, $375 billion of that with China, a trade surplus that easily covered Xi Jinping's entire defense budget.

If we are to turn our $800 billion trade deficit in goods into an $800 billion surplus, and stop the looting of America's industrial base and the gutting of our cities and towns, sacrifices will have to be made.

But if we are not up to it, we will lose our independence, as the countries of the EU have lost theirs.

Specifically, we need to shift taxes off goods produced in the USA, and impose taxes on goods imported into the USA.

As we import nearly $2.5 trillion in goods, a tariff on imported goods, rising gradually to 20 percent, would initially produce $500 billion in revenue.

All that tariff revenue could be used to eliminate and replace all taxes on production inside the USA.

As the price of foreign goods rose, U.S. products would replace foreign-made products. There's nothing in the world that we cannot produce here. And if it can be made in America, it should be made in America.

Consider. Assume a Lexus cost $50,000 in the U.S., and a 20 percent tariff were imposed, raising the price to $60,000.

What would the Japanese producers of Lexus do? They could accept the loss in sales in the world's greatest market, the USA. They could cut their prices to hold their U.S. market share. Or they could shift production to the United States, building their cars here and keeping their market.

How have EU nations run up endless trade surpluses with America? By imposing a value-added tax, or VAT, on imports from the U.S., while rebating the VAT on exports to the USA. Works just like a tariff.

The principles behind a policy of economic nationalism, to turn our trade deficits, which subtract from GDP, into trade surpluses, which add to GDP, are these:

Production comes before consumption. Who consumes the apples is less important than who owns the orchard. We should depend more upon each other and less upon foreign lands.

We should tax foreign-made goods and use the revenue, dollar for dollar, to cut taxes on domestic production.

The idea is not to keep foreign goods out, but to induce foreign companies to move production here.

We have a strategic asset no one else can match. We control access to the largest richest market on earth, the USA.

And just as states charge higher tuition on out-of state students at their top universities, we should charge a price of admission for foreign producers to get into America's markets.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated),  a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


No comments: