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John P. McCaskey

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John P. McCaskey last won the day on July 17 2015

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  1. University students: Two wrongs don’t make a right, but if the university busts you for pirating music, point out the frequent piracy by your professors of copyrighted course materials. Professors: We should stop pretending there is some loophole that allows us to freely scan and distribute copyrighted course readings. Yes, there are gray zones in what can be copied without permission of a copyright holder, but a basic assigned course reading just isn’t one of them. The test is simple: If the official coursepacks copy center that your bookstore uses would demand the purchase of reproduction rights, then any attempt to get around that—a local copy shop, emailing a PDF, handing out copies in class, uploading to a course web site, having the library upload to an online course reserves—is piracy. Read More... Link to Original
  2. The first paragraph of a review of Marco Sgarbi, The Aristotelian Tradition and the Rise of British Empiricism (Springer, 2013), to be published in HOPOS. Marco Sgarbi wants to rebut the view that British empiricism had its roots in a revival of Platonism. Instead, he insists, its roots were in the Paduan Aristotelianism of Jacopo Zabarella, inherited, embraced, and developed by a century of British writers. “Put simply, without the legions of forgotten British Aristotelians, there would have been no Locke, no Berkeley, no Hume” (234). To make his case, Sgarbi surveys British writers, forgotten and not, obscure and famous, and successfully shows that wherever you look in British philosophical writings from 1570 to 1689, you find echoes of Aristotle. From these echoes, Sgarbi concludes that the “predominant . . . scientific method” (226) in the days of Gilbert, Bacon, Galileo, Harvey, Boyle, Leeuwenhoek, Hooke, and Isaac Newton was not a confident experimentalism but a skeptical empiricism that would find maturity in Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. The book’s back-cover blurb rightly calls the proposal “radical.” Read More... Link to Original
  3. Be careful. Hume himself said virtually nothing about what in his day was called induction. The few times he used the term, he indicated that he saw no problem with it. Any claim about what Hume said about induction, pure or otherwise, requires you to read back into Hume some recent understanding of what the term means. If you say, “What Hume thought about induction is . . . . ,” you mean “What Hume thought about something that I, but not Hume, call induction is . . . .” It was Keynes who associated Hume with induction. Keynes point was: Even though Hume himself didn’t think what he said had anything to do with induction, we should think otherwise, having now a different conception of induction than Hume himself had.
  4. <p>Induction is a thorny philosophical problem: Given we’ve only observed some, how can we say a statement is true of all?</p> <p>To solve this problem, we should distinguish general statements from universal ones and recognize the fundamental importance of the first. Here are generalizations:</p> <p><a href="http://www.johnmccaskey.com/joomla/index.php/blog/73-general-vs-universal">Read More...</a></p> Link to Original
  5. <p>Thoughts on climate change (not all original*):</p> <p><strong>Leaving the world as you found it is not good enough.</strong> Your moral responsibility is to make your world a better place, not to leave it as you found it.</p> <p><strong>What is the goal of climate science?</strong> Shouldn’t the science of climate change be about determining how to change the climate and make it the best it can be? Or has someone already concluded that the current one is as good as it gets? (Darn.)</p> <p><a href="http://www.johnmccaskey.com/joomla/index.php/blog/72-climate-change">Read More...</a></p> Link to Original
  6. A new libertarianism is coming. It is more accommodating, less strident, more pragmatic, less hard core, more moderate. It is more in line with mainstream American values and less opposed to core elements of a mixed economy and the modern welfare state. It is being developed in libertarian think tanks, political science departments, and campaign headquarters across the country. If the new doctrine keeps spreading and makes its way into political platforms and public policy, the last major American political doctrine even nominally defending individual rights will be gone. Let’s call the new doctrine simply New Libertarianism. And let’s look at where it came from, why it is importantly different, and why it is generating both excitement and contention. To do that, we need to understand where the current libertarianism came from. And to do that, we need to review some history. Read More... Link to Original
  7. Today’s quiz: Match the political philosopher with his or her view of human nature. Hint: They both believe we should design political systems for a society of rational citizens all pursuing their own self-interest. A: You meet a man. He appears to be like you—a rational fellow looking out for himself. You recognize that his goal is the same as yours—to keep as much of his own stuff as possible and get as much of the other fellow’s as he can. A third man, similarly rational and selfish, joins you. What should you all do? You realize that with all these rational selfish individuals, there is an inherent conflict of interest. So before the fighting begins, you all strike some deal. None of you will get everything he wants, but each will walk away with something. You will each need to restrain your rational self-interest, but at least the deal keeps you all from a battle of blood and guts. B: You meet a man. He appears to be like you—a rational fellow looking out for himself. You recognize that his goal is the same as yours—to get as much of value out of the interaction as possible. A third man, similarly rational and selfish, joins you. What should you all do? You realize that all these rational selfish individuals are different. What is valuable to one is not necessarily valuable to the other. In fact nothing the other guy has is inherently valuable to you. Really, nothing has any value in and of itself. Something has value only to the extent you keep your wits about you and act rationally. If all of you do the same, you find no conflicts of interest. No blood. No battle. Read More... Link to Original
  8. Many libertarians, Objectivists, and other defenders of free-market capitalism think property is on the list with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It’s not. And it shouldn’t be. Rights Your rights are what it would be wrong for someone to stop you from doing. If you have a right to vote, it would be wrong for someone to stop you from voting. Even the right to a thing is really just the right to actions—the right to gain, keep, use, and dispose of the thing. Rights are the opposite of the wrongs delimited by the non-aggression principle. So that statement—“Rights are what it would be wrong for someone to stop you from doing.”—is really an abbreviation. The full form is “Rights are what it would be wrong for someone to initiate the direct or indirect use of physical force to stop you from doing.” I’ll usually just use the short form. Inborn Rights and Civil Rights Some rights are inborn, timeless, inalienable. Violating them is morally wrong. The rights cited in the Declaration of Independence are of this sort: “all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Read More... Link to Original
  9. <p>Here is the right way to think about gun rights. </p> <p>First, you do not have an inborn inalienable right to own and carry a gun. You don’t. If you are an American, you may have a constitutional right, but that’s different. If you don’t understand the difference and the relationship between these two, you will get nowhere. So that is where we must start.</p> <p><a href="http://www.johnmccaskey.com/joomla/index.php/blog/65-guns">Read More...</a></p> Link to Original
  10. Following the highest established standards of logic, the most rigorous canonical reasoning, any logic professor can decimate Ayn Rand’s moral and political philosophy in one 45-minute lecture. It took the Harvard professor Robert Nozick only a few paragraphs. But Rand doesn’t follow the conventional standards of logic. She has her own distinctive method of arguing. If that method is valid, her moral and political philosophy stands. If it is invalid, her whole system comes crashing down. What is her method and is it valid? Read More... Link to Original
  11. Please consider having this discussion over at http://www.johnmccaskey.com/joomla/index.php/blog/63-rands-nap.
  12. It is wrong to initiate the use of physical force against another person. It is wrong to approach some random fellow and punch him in the face. But the injunction applies much more broadly. It is an injunction not only against direct physical assault but also against theft, fraud, and breach of contract. Let us see how that can be. Read More... Link to Original
  13. You could have a system of ethics in which generosity, good will, and benevolence are virtues (at least conditional ones), but altruism—helping others without regard to any personal benefit—cannot be the universal and ultimate standard of good and bad, of right and wrong. Imagine a circle of altruists. Read More... Link to Original
  14. This semester, I am teaching "The Politics and Philosophy of Ayn Rand" in the Political Science department at Brown University. I believe this is the first time a course on Objectivism has been taught in the regular curriculum of an Ivy League university. The syllabus is at http://www.johnmccaskey.com/joomla/index.php/courses/politics-and-philosophy-of-ayn-rand
  15. Be careful, Thomas. You are starting to sound like Whewell. :-)
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