Katharine Hepburn, R.I.P.
Katharine Hepburn died today at the age of 96.
One of the most delightful screen actresses of all time, the irrepressible, irreplaceable Hepburn embodied strength, fire, intelligence, independence, and eccentric individuality. What other actress could achieve such a seamless blend of femininity and androgyny, of wackiness and dignity, of toughness and fragility, of down-to-earth simplicity and aristocratic hauteur?
I’m sorry she’s gone, because it now seems terribly unlikely that I’ll ever marry her.
Incredibly, many of her movies are not currently available. But those who want to see her at her best could do worse than to sample The Philadelphia Story, Bringing Up Baby, and The Lion in Winter.
P. S. – Oh yeah, some Senator died too.
Long’s Review of De Jasay Now Online
My review of Anthony de Jasay’s book Justice and Its Surroundings for the Independent Review is now online: click here.
The Constitution of Liberty
I’m delighted by the Supreme Court’s decision today in Lawrence v. Texas, striking down state laws regulating private sexual conduct (and thereby overturning the Court’s infamous 1986 decision in Bowers v. Hardwick). I’m not impressed by most of the actual reasoning in the decision (see the majority opinion and O’Connor’s concurring opinion), but I applaud the result.
Conservatives (including Justice Scalia in his dissenting opinion) are screaming their heads off, warning us that this decision, striking down Texas anti-sodomy statutes, paves the way to the legalisation of gay marriage, polygamy, prostitution, and other private and consensual sexual relationships. Good, I hope so.
Justice Thomas, in his rather less hysterical dissent, expressed sympathy for the plaintiffs’ cause but objected that there is no right to privacy in the Constitution. This raises the old question of how one should go about interpreting that document. It’s often supposed that what a statement means is determined by its speaker’s intentions. This is true, but only in a way. Suppose I say “Hitler may have won World War II,” mistakenly believing (as many do) that this means the same thing as “Hitler might have won World War II.” My having intended something true doesn’t change the fact that, given the established rules of grammar, what I have actually said is false. But then I really have a double intention here. On the one hand, I intend to convey a certain idea: the idea that Hitler might have won World War II. On the other hand, I intend to speak grammatical English and not some private idiolect of my own. The latter intention commits me to deferring to grammatical rules of which I am ignorant, a semantic intention that ends up trumping my direct intention.
The same point applies to constitutional interpretation. As legal philosopher David Lyons writes:
Imagine that you and I disagree about the substantive requirements of social justice. We then differ as to how the concept of justice applies; we differ, that is, about the principles of justice. This is possible if the concept of justice admits of different interpretations, or competing conceptions. ... Now consider a constitutional example. ... a court applying the just compensation clause would not necessarily decide a case as the original authors would have done .... Instead, a court would understand the Constitution to mean precisely what it says and thus to require just compensation. A court would need to defend a particular conception of just compensation ... against the most plausible alternatives. ... Contested concepts do not seem confined to morality and law. Their properties are at any rate similar to those of concepts referring to natural substances or phenomena, such as water and heat. On a plausible understanding of the development of science, for example, the caloric and kinetic theories of heat are (or at one time were) competing conceptions of the concept heat. ... If, as most people would agree, ‘heat’ refers to a determinate physical phenomenon, there can be, in principle, a best theory of heat. This implies that there can be a best conception of a contested concept. This suggests, in turn, that contested concepts in the Constitution might have best interpretations. ... Now if the idea that the Constitution includes contested concepts is correct, then to apply the Constitution in terms of their best interpretation is, in effect, to apply doctrines whose application is called for by the original Constitution. But, just as interpretation of the concept heat requires more than mere reflection, any interpretation of this type inevitably draws upon resources that are neither implicit in the text nor purely linguistic. It .... requires that courts applying ‘vague clauses’ of the Constitution interpret ‘contested concepts,’ which requires reasoning about moral or political principles.As I have written elsewhere:
(David Lyons, “Constitutional Interpretation and Original Meaning,” pp. 85-99; Social Philosophy & Policy 4 (1986), pp. 75-101.)
If the law says that government employees must be paid in gold, then they may not be paid in iron pyrites, since iron pyrites is not in fact gold, even if those who wrote the law were ignorant of the difference. If the law says that fishermen may not hunt mammals, then in fact the law says they may not hunt dolphins, even if the lawmakers had thought dolphins were fish. Likewise, if the law says that involuntary servitude is forbidden, then the government may not conscript soldiers, since military conscription is in fact involuntary servitude, even if those who wrote the law did not recognize this.(For more about Spooner’s approach to legal interpretation, see Randy Barnett’s article here.)
Professor Lyons’ point is that precisely the same argument applies to moral terms: if the Constitution demands just compensation for victims of eminent domain, then such victims must receive whatever is actually just, not what the framers thought was just, since the Constitution says to give “just compensation” rather than saying to give “what we consider just compensation.” … The 19th-century abolitionist Lysander Spooner used similar arguments in his Unconstitutionality of Slavery, claiming that slavery was outlawed by various clauses in the Constitution even if the authors of those clauses had no such intention, because such phrases as “republican form of government” and “against domestic violence,” when interpreted in accordance with the correct moral and political theory, ruled out slavery.
No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.What are the “privileges and immunities” of American citizens? What counts as “due process”? What counts as “equal protection”? These are contested concepts. What the authors of the amendment meant by them does not settle the question of their interpretation. After all, the Amendment doesn’t require “what we, the authors, deem equal protection of the laws.” It requires just what it says: equal protection of the laws. We need, then, to interpret these concepts in the light of the most defensible theory of the nature of rights, of due process, and of equality. But the most defensible such theory is libertarian natural rights theory.
The liberty of the citizen to do as he likes so long as he does not interfere with the liberty of others to do the same, which has been a shibboleth for some well-known writers, is interfered with by school laws, by the Post Office, by every state or municipal institution which takes his money for purposes thought desirable, whether he likes it or not. The Fourteenth Amendment does not enact Mr. Herbert Spencer’s Social Statics.But Holmes, as usual, was wrong. Mr. Herbert Spencer’s Social Statics is exactly what the 14th Amendment does enact.
One of the best pieces in The Early Ayn Rand: A Selection from her Unpublished Fiction is Rand’s 1932 Red Pawn, a story set in a former monastery converted into a Soviet prison. (The story was written as a treatment for a still-unpublished screenplay, also by Rand, that is even today languishing in development hell over at Samuel Goldwyn Films.)
In his editorial introduction to Red Pawn, Leonard Peikoff writes that the story’s “subtheme” is the “philosophic identity of Communism and religion,” since both belief systems “equate virtue with selfless service” and “subordinate the individual to something allegedly higher (whether God or the state).” (p. 108) More recently I’ve seen some Objectivist source (I unfortunately forget which) describing this not merely as the subtheme but as the theme of Red Pawn.
Rand certainly disapproved of both Communism and religion. And she also agreed with Nietzsche’s claim that the two share important philosophical roots. But is that really a theme, or even a subtheme, of Red Pawn? Or is this a literary myth that needs to be nipped in the bud?
The one passage in Red Pawn that comes closest to addressing the relationship between Communism and religion is Rand’s description (pp. 130-31) of how the original Christian iconography on the monastery walls has been painted over with Marxist symbols and slogans:
Many centuries ago, the unknown hand of a great artist had spent a lifetime of dreary days immortalizing his soul on the chapel’s walls. None could tell what dark secret, what sorrow had thrown him out of the world into its last, forgotten outpost. But all the power and passion, all the fire and rebellious agony of his tortured spirit had been poured into the somber colors on the walls, into majestic figures of a magnificent life, the life his eyes had seen and renounced. And the bodies of his tortured saints silently cried of his ecstasy, his doubt, his hunger.Because the old murals fail to “harmonize with his new culture,” a Soviet functionary endeavours to “improve them” by painting “a sickle and hammer on Moses’ tablets” and “a red flag into the raised hand of Saint Vladimir.”
But the ancient glazing that protected the murals, its secret lost with the monks, did not take fresh paint well. The red flag ran down the wall and peeled off in pieces. So Comrade Fedossitch had given up the idea of artistic alterations. He had compromised by tacking over Saint Vladimir’s stomach a bright-red poster bearing a soldier and an airplane, and the inscription: COMRADES! DONATE TO THE RED AIR-FLEET!Below a painting of Jesus “in the clouds, His robe whiter than snow,” gazing down “with a sad, wise smile, His arms outstretched in silent invitation and blessing,” prisoners play chess with pieces “modeled out of stale bread,” on chessboards drawn with “cheap purple ink,” beside stacks of literary detritus – “The ABC of Communism, the first volume of a novel, a book of verse without a cover, a Ladies’ Guide to Fine Needlework, a manual of arithmetical problems for the first grade” – lined up on “rough, unpainted boards of bookshelves that cut into the angels’ snowy wings.”
Fanatical monks had chosen this bit of land in the Arctic waters off the Siberian coast; they had welcomed the snow and the winds, and bowed in voluntary sacrifice to a frozen world no man could endure for many years. The revolution had dispersed the monks and brought new men to the island, men who did not come voluntarily. (p. 111)The fact that the first inhabitants were making a voluntary sacrifice and the later inhabitants an involuntary one does not change the fact that for Rand all such sacrifice is evil. The unknown artist’s murals express the agony of renouncing life, while Rand’s story is entirely against such a renunciation. Nevertheless, the monks’ sacrifice and the artist’s passion are portrayed as having something noble and heroic in them, even if in the service of a tragically misguided ideal. With the Communist ideal it is not so.
The Blogging Will Continue Until Morale Improves
In a Blog’s Stead has just been added to two online lists of academic blogs: www.henryfarrell.net/blog and rhetorica.net/professors_who_blog.htm. Check ’em out!
Acts of God
Is the existence of a supreme being – i.e., God – praxeologically incoherent? That depends. If a supreme being need not be an agent, then praxeology, the a priori science of human action, has nothing to say about her existence one way or another. But suppose God is indeed thought of as an agent. In that case, there might seem to be three praxeological objections to the notion of a perfect being that is also an agent. They run as follows:
The Argument from Happiness(These arguments are paraphrases of those offered by Ludwig von Mises in Chapter 2, Section 11 of Human Action.)
1a. A perfect being is necessarily completely happy.
2a. A completely happy being is never discontented with her present circumstances.
3a. Action necessarily involves discontent with one’s present circumstances.
4a. Therefore, a perfect being is never discontented with her present circumstances. (1a, 2a)
5a. Therefore, a perfect being cannot act. (3a, 4a)
The Argument from Omnipotence
1b. A perfect being is necessarily omnipotent.
2b. An omnipotent being would necessarily achieve her ends immediately, without intermediate means.
3b. Action necessarily involves the pursuit of ends via intermediate means.
4b. Therefore, a perfect being would necessarily achieve her ends immediately, without intermediate means. (1b, 2b)
5b. Therefore, a perfect being cannot act. (3b, 4b)
The Argument from Omniscience
1c. A perfect being is necessarily omniscient.
2c. An omniscient being would necessarily foresee all her future actions.
3c. Action necessarily involves prior uncertainty as to whether one will perform that action.
4c. Therefore, a perfect being would necessarily possess certain knowledge of its future actions. (1c, 2c)
5c. Therefore, a perfect being cannot act. (3c, 4c).
An external means bears a causal or instrumental relation to its end, while an internal means bears a logical or constitutive relation to its end. If Freud is right, then my motive in writing this … was to win “fame, fortune, and the love of women.” This would be an example of an external means. … By contrast, playing this particular chord here … is an internal means to playing the Moonlight Sonata. I'm not playing the chord as an end in itself; the chord's value to me lies in its contribution to the whole sonata. So the chord is a means – but not an external means. One test for the difference is to see whether it makes sense to wish for the end without the means. It makes sense to say, “I wish I could achieve fame, fortune, and the love of women without having to compose this …,” because the means and the end are logically separable; but it doesn’t make sense to say, “I wish I could play the Moonlight Sonata without having to play all these notes.” Just these notes, played in just this sequence, constitute the Moonlight Sonata; there’s nothing we could count as playing the Moonlight Sonata without playing the particular sequence of notes of which it is composed.Hence Callahan’s claim that “any action undertaken now can only bear fruit in the future” is misleading; an internal means can be simultaneous with its end.
possibility of not-p?
actuality of not-p?
|confidence that p||yes||yes|
|knowledge that p||yes||no|
|inevitability of p||no||no|
Khawaja versus Pipes
Today Praxeology.net inaugurates a new feature: guest editorials. The first one is A Response to Daniel Pipes by my friend Irfan Khawaja.
The article is a continuation of an earlier exchange here. Irfan argues that Daniel Pipes’ writings on militant Islam betray a “deficiency of vision” that has “repeatedly led Pipes to snap judgments; to playing fast and loose with evidence; to dabble in rumor, innuendo and defamation; and to a stubborn inability to admit mistakes, sometimes egregious ones.”
Interested in writing a guest editorial for Praxeology.net? Contact me.