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Philosophy

Of the Mind and Tomatoes

[Don't blame me for this. It was Nick's posting about the idea of replicating a human's mind in a computer that got me started Thinking Aloud on the Tomato, homage to Natalie Solent at Samizdata.]

Consider the tomato. Well, not “the” tomato, but a tomato. A nice, fresh, juicy tomato upon the countertop. Enticing, not at all like a patient etherized upon a table.

The tomato originated as part of a tomato plant. This hardly needs saying, so I said it. But forget the parent plant. Consider this particular tomato alone and in itself.

When you eat the tomato, it will be full of delicious juice which will run down your chin, so I hope you are wearing a bib. Or an old work-shirt, dark and with holes in it. Real ones, that were free (but you had to work to get them in there). Or even nekked above the waist. (Below the waist is your own business.)

So there will be this fresh, tasty juice in your mouth. Rich with the flavor of the tomato.

But — what is the “flavor” of the tomato?

Does the tomato have a flavor if no one* is eating it?

Well, no, strictly speaking. (When we talk about the “flavor” of tomatoes in general, we are generalizing the concept of the flavors of many particular tomatoes. It’s a somewhat different meaning of the word. There is a net similarity in the flavors of all tomatoes, and that similar similarity is what we call the “tomato flavor.”)

The flavor arises from the tomato — it originates in the tomato — but it becomes flavor only because our taste buds and olfactory system react to its juice and send certain signals to the brain. This signalling-receiving process, we call “sensing.”

Its flavor is our name for our experiencing of the sensations that the tomato induces in our sense organs. The flavor as such exists only because it induces a certain experience of which our consciousness is aware, and which our mind conceptualizes and to which it attaches the symbol “flavor of the tomato.”

So, the flavor comes from the tomato, but it is not the tomato. It is actually in the human* consciousness or awareness of the interactions between the tomato (actually, the juicy bite of the tomato in the mouth) and our physical bodies. Depending on one’s context, the flavor is conceptually distinct from the tomato whose effect it is; but in another aspect, the flavor is of the tomato; the chemicals that we sense and conceptualize as “flavor,” its potential flavor, are actually present in the tomato, which is where it all begins.

I suppose you could say the flavor is a potential in the tomato proper, but only is realized in the human* body and mind.

Similarly, our mind is a result of our body, but it is not our body. Rather, it is the way we experience our body. It is the way the brain manifests our physical self to us, at any given instant.

In that sense, there is no “problem of the mind-brain dichotomy.” The mind is a manifestation of the brain at any particular instant. That these are conceptually different is not a problem, and this is not rocket science.

(And for the religious, what of the Soul? I’m hardly an expert on any theory of the Soul, but it seems to me that the Mind would then be a manifestation of the Body-and-Soul, and with that substitution there would still be no Problem of the Mind-Body/Soul Dichotomy.)

What “Is-Ought” Problem?

D. Friedman just left a comment at Samizdata making yet again this foolish, anti-real (anti-real: against reality, as one might be anti-State for instance) statement attributed to Hume that “you can’t get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is.’”

Herewith my thought on the subject, lightly edited and tempered with an introduction which might hint at my feelings about it. (I could have added a few more applicable tags to the list just to be snarky, but I was a good girl and refrained. I felt I ought to.)

. . .

Sigh. Listen carefully, class.

You can ONLY “get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is.’”

Because the very concept of “oughtness” implies some sort of goal or objective or state of affairs or value that you wish to achieve or maintain. And that you hold said goal, etc., is itself a fact.

In order to satisfy that wish, one must act in accordance with a whole bunch of facts of reality, or of what you believe or understand or assume to be the facts of reality.

For instance: I ought to go to the Post Office later. [I want my Christmas cards at least to be postmarked prior to Christmas, and I don't want my insurance payments to be late so I lose my insurance (!). Two FACTS about what I want to achieve (or avoid), and implied fact that the achievements are affected by the realities of the Post Office operations, and of date and time.]

Or: I want to live as God has outlined in the ethical strictures of the Mosaic Code, so I ought to follow those as best I can. (To achieve this involves a whole string of “oughts” and the “is’s” from which they derive.)

Or: I want to live as God wants me to live, so I ought to follow the Mosaic Code, which is, ultimately, the source of our knowledge of Right and Wrong. [N.B. -- Don't get funny ideas, Class. Personally I am an atheist.]

In other words, the very concept of “oughtness” implies the existence of a reason for the “ought.”

We very very very commonly say “I ought to do X” with no explanation of why that is. This is either because in context the reason for the “ought” is clear: I ought to go to the P.O. today [because it's important that I get certain stuff mailed today], or because at some level we will feel unsatisfied (“uneasy” in von Mises’ terms) if we don’t do it, though we may not be able quite to articulate this. “I ought not to hang up on this Yay-Hoo.” (Why not? Because one doesn’t hang up on people, even Yay-hoos. Why not? Because….)

One is wrong to conclude from this that “ought” is a free-floating thing, with no criteria (except perhaps feelings — “sentiment”) to go by as to whether one has complied with it.

Now.

I do not know of my own knowledge whether Mr. Hume actually made the oh-so-often-stated claim, let alone why he did so (in what spirit) if indeed he did so. So I decline to argue against Mr. Hume per se, but rather against the claim. However, there is a half-baked conception of what “ought” means that does unmoor the idea from any fact or presumed “fact” except that of its existence, which is totally independent of anything else: No criteria given as to WHY one “ought.” “Ought” is just Out There, free-floating, no reason why one OUGHT to obey “ought” except the existence of the putative “ought” itself. “Why ought I to…?” has no answer, by this conception of “ought.”

This is pure Platonism. This free-floating “ought” exists out there in the Universe and we Ought to obey it because we should; or, you might say, “Because we OUGHT to obey it.”

“Since when isn’t because a reason?” as the mother, at the end of her rope, says to her recalcitrant child in the old joke.

Such a thing is, of course, a pure fantasy, regardless of how one arrives at it.

And one notices that it is this DEFINITION of “ought” that makes it underivable from facts.

It makes of “oughtness” a mirage, something that can never be reached (intellectually understood) because it only gives the appearance of something real, of the lake in the middle of the desert, of the puddle down the highway on a bright sunny day after a month of drouth.

This is the nature of Plato’s putative Forms. They can never be connected to reality, because all the connections have been abstracted away. It is like cutting the bridge over the chasm and then saying it is impossible to get to the other side — impossible in principle. It is this metaphysical theory that in general supports both subjectivism and intricism. (Story for another time.)

Such an “ought” does not mean anything like what people mean when they use the word, except when they are conducting an (acknowledged or tacit) debate, or trying to philosophize.

Well what are you?

I’m third tier. Oddly enough I don’t fit any of the criteria, really. “Culturally apathetic”. Well, when the Manchester Camarata got the loan of a Strad I had my wife on the phone quicker than Jackie Robinson. What did I get from my mother for my birthday? A very nice set of the Lord of the Rings. I had a single volume paperback since I was 10 (I am now 42) and read it to death. That ook died from love, not hate. How very dare Prof. Mike Savage call me a barbarian. Oddly enough he ranks the Elite, the top tier as having been to Oxbridge or the LSE. He is a professor at the LSE. Odd that isn’t it. Well, I’m a Nottingham and Queen Mary College graduate. I was taught QMech by a guy who won the Nobel (Physiology and Medicine – he essentially invented the MRI scanner) so Prof Savage can profoundly fuck off. My personal tutor at Queen Mary had been a PhD student of Hawking and you will probs have seen Carl Murray on the TV who taught solar system dynamics there. Now, he had a strong interest in Gaelic poetry (he was Irish).

I hate this. The idea that a facility at maths and science makes you uncultured is outrageous. The fact I can code-up some HTML5 don’t mean I don’t do it listening to Bach or Sibelius. I once shared a house with a Bellendius maximus. He was a history student. He was also a twat. He was of the opinion that whilst science and engineering might be difficult (right, Mr Wix, you’ve studied ergodic theory?) it wasn’t creative. He wrote a thesis on “Domestic Service in C19th Nottingham) like anyone gives a toss. I am not criticising arts grads but I am criticising the arts and social science graduates who routinely mock the grads of the physical sciences. Why? Because they assume (a lot of them do) we is all dull. I go to the theatre and art galleries and stuff. I am well-read and I take these nasturiums badly. Frankly, I don’t care. But Chris Wix really was a twat and almost certainly still is a twat. If you can’t see science as creative (and it is) then you are a twat. Stick this in your pipe and smoke it…

Let G be a compact abelian group, μ the normalized Haar measure, and T a group automorphism of G. Let G* be the Pontryagin dual group, consisting of the continuous characters of G, and T* be the corresponding adjoint automorphism of G*. The automorphism T is ergodic if and only if the equality (T*)n(χ)=χ is possible only when n = 0 or χ is the trivial character of G. In particular, if G is the n-dimensional torus and the automorphism T is represented by a unimodular matrix A then T is ergodic if and only if no eigenvalue of A is a root of unity.

… from Wikipedia.

If I can follow that (and I can) I think Shakespeare is easy. God help me! The greatest playwright ever wrote for people who were drinking and whoring and indulging in “country pleasures”. I am not saying the Arts are easy. They are not but the likes of Wix slagging science for just being learning a load of facts is risible. By my third year at Nottingham I entered the exam hall bearing only a pencil. A Rotring. That was it. Me against the universe with only a mechanical pencil. There are few better feelings.

So, allegedly, I’m not into high culture because I can do sums. Ye\h, right Mr Wix. I might not know as much as you about domestic servants in C19th Nottingham but baby I don’t care…

Similarities

Antony Flew cites an observation by Bertrand Russell, and an Islamic manifesto from the Islamic Council of Europe:

…….

When in 1920 Bertrand Russell visited the
USSR — decades before the Politburo found it convenient
to present itself as the Protector of the Arabs — he discerned
similarities between Bolshevism and Islam: “Bolshevism
combines the characteristics of the French Revolution with
those of the rise of Islam”; and “Marx has taught that Com-
munism is fatally predestined to come about; this produces a
state of mind not unlike that of the early successors of Ma-
hommet.” So Russell himself concluded:

Mahommedanism and Bolshevism are practical, social,
unspiritual, concerned to win the empire of this world
… What Mahommedanism did for the Arabs, Bolshev-
ism may do for the Russians.

As a clear, commendably honest and altogether authoritative
epitome of the totalitarian character of Islam consider this
manifesto issued in Leicester, England, on behalf of the Is-
lamic Council of Europe:

The religion of Islam embodies the final and most com-
plete word of God … Departmentalization of life into
different watertight compartments, religious and secu-
lar, sacred and profane, spiritual and material is ruled
out … Islam is not a religion in the Western under-
standing of the word
. It is a faith and a way of life, a
religion and a social order, a doctrine and a code of
conduct, a set of values and principles, and a social
movement to realize them in history.

—–From “The Terror of Islam,” 1995.

Bacon, Hobbes and a Coke Anyone? : Addendum

Paul added the following comment to his original posting, and requested that it be posted. Happy to oblige. Minor editing to original (typo fixed, unnecessary break in exposition removed); Categories added. –Julie

[Original: Comment to "Bacon, Hobbes and a Coke Anyone?" by Paul Marks
November 2, 2015 at 7:51 pm]

Bentham gets worse over time. He starts off horrified by the violence the American War of Independence and (more) the French Revolution – he then draws the wrong conclusion that talk of “rights” and “natural law” is the cause of this violence (and can not even seem to tell the difference between the private property based American Revolution and the collectivist, Rousseau style, French Revolution) .

Bentham then decided to throw the baby out with the bath water – by rejecting any of natural rights (“nonsense on stilts”) or natural law, just accepting the Hobbesian Positivist definition of law as just the will of the ruler of rulers (despotism – tyranny).

But Bentham remains, sort of, free market for awhile – in that he wants the state to have absolute power (no natural rights or natural law either) but NOT use it much. But then he comes up with more and more statist ideas – ending in the 13 Departments of state that he hoped would control just about everything in a despotism that would have made the Ottoman Empire blush.

But Bentham is not an isolated example – this follower of Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes is the master of the Bowood Circle and the “Westminster Review” crowd. People such as James Mill and his son John Stewart Mill.

The new “liberalism” of endless attacks on the Crown (part of what Bentham claimed to be defending against the French Revolution), endless attacks against the Church of England (the Anglican Church) “Tory” people (many of whom were actually Old Whigs such as Edmund Burke) and so on.

Notice the TRICK (and it is a trick) – freedom has gone from wanting the state to be limited, to wanting “freedom from tradition” and “freedom from God” (“free” thinking as automatic atheism) and the desire for a NEW STATE.

A professional civil service (not people appointed by minister) controlled by “scientific” experts – as with Francis Bacon’s “The New Atlantis”.

An elected government with the vote for everyone – but the elections to be essentially FAKE, as the professional “experts” (people like James Mill and J.S. Mill) would really control everything regardless of who won the election – via a professional Civil Service and “education”.

And the land owners?

The people who the Old Whigs had rightly understood to be the foundation of liberty against the danger of an all mighty state.

The Westminster Review crowd Bentham’s bastard “liberal” children HATED the land owners as the “landed interest” – they wanted “free trade in land”, presented as the end of entails and so on, but really a Trojan Horse for land nationalisation.

For the domination of the STATE over land – as with the Ottoman Empire (and justified by the economics of David Ricardo – refuted by Frank Fetter).

This is the “little” secret behind the “liberalism” of Bentham and the Mills.

It is a “democratic” door way into the all mighty state of the Ottoman Empire – but without Islam.

Instead of Allah it is the state (the “scientific” “liberal” state) that would be worshipped – as long as it was controlled by “enlightened” experts (themselves) serving “the greatest good of the greatest number”.

Yes the above is unfair to the Mills – they (especially J.S. Mill) did have a real believe in freedom of speech and so on.

But they have no philosophy to back it up their belief in freedom of speech – the attempt to of J.S. Mill to reconcile his (sincere) belief in Freedom of Speech with his support for the unlimited New State (with an end to the “landed interest” and so on) is a terrible failure.

It is not “just” a lack of faith in God – it is the lack of any faith in any higher law (one can believe in natural justice without believing in God). Legal Positivism – the idea that the state has no foundational limits and that “law” is just the will of the ruler or rulers.

That is at the heart of the new “liberalism” – and it is what Mill (and modern “liberals”) get from Bentham, and he got from Thomas Bacon and Francis Bacon.

And Bentham (where ever you are) please note – this Legal Positivism is at the heart of the French Revolution you said you opposed.

Rousseau is not so different from Hobbes as people imagine – indeed they share fundamental principles.

The King (or rather despot) of Hobbes is like the “Lawgiver” or “the people” of Rousseau – there are no limits on their power.

The land of the Church (or individuals) can be looted by such a state and given to anyone they feel like giving it to.

Edmund Burke was correct – the “freedom” of the French Revolution was just old slavery in disguise.

The French Revolutionary regime was much the same as the despotism of the Ottoman Empire.

And so is an aspect (a side) of the new “liberalism” today.

And note this:

Religion is not actually the key point here.

For example Martin Luther was sincerely religious – but he embraced determinist philosophy and collectivist politics.

The Anglican position is (or was) fundamentally different – due to the influence of Richard Hooker and others.

And Ayn Rand was a passionate atheist (a mocker of silly religious people – people like me).

Yet Rand was also a passionate defender of humans as beings (agents – not the flesh robots of Martin Luther and Thomas Hobbes) and of natural justice.

A Partial Response to Paul Marks…

I have honestly never found why Hobbes is considered in the front rank (should I have used a “W” there?) becaue he always struck me as a throw-back to Plato who was such a nasty Berkshire Hunt that he dreamed of the sort of state that would have made the Kims North of the DMZ ejaculate in epic spasms of spunkulatory envy. Plato is still seen as a great in philosophy despite Aristotle completely pwning him (third man and all). And that was BC. So that arguably explains much. The stupidity of humanity over centuries. Time plays a role. Time makes a position (no matter how wrong) defensible.

As to Bacon… Bacon was a Utopian. Regardless of how mad, deranged, insane, evil or bizarre Utopians might be they get let off as sound of heart if not of mind. I would argue that Bacon was sound of neither. The first reason I would suggest is that he was a proto-technocrat. Did he know how to assemble Kipp’s apparatus? My cat could give that a better go. He died from a “chill” (fuck knows what that actually means – I bet he didn’t) but he was a booster of science (like Al Gore) who you wouldn’t trust with a fuckin’ posidrive. I have built things. I wouldn’t trust Bacon to make a round of Geralds. He copped his unfortunate one stuffing a chicken with snow. This was his first, last and only scientific experiment. It would take a heart of stone not to laugh.

To put it bluntly he was no Oppenheimer (ask any elderly inhabitant of Hiroshima). Ask anyone about Nikola Tesla. Oh, you don’t need to because you have AC power or you wouldn’t be reading this would you? Bacon was a “science booster” who had no idea about science other than shoving snow up a cloaca but to those who can’t wire a plug he is frequently seen as a great man because he was seen as on the side of progress and that is a good thing, obviously. He is the scientific hero for people who think things like “science is good” or “science banishes religion” and think it wondrous and are perfectly happy to have a MacBook but have no fucking idea how it works. There are a hell of a lot of people like that. So they lionize a “scientist” who never did any science because in a way it is easier than to try and read Feynman. I am currently listening to Bon Jovi. A lot easier than learning the guitar isn’t it? Bacon was science for those who wouldn’t know a cubic equation from their own arsehole even if given a mirror and instructions. And that is “technocrats” from Plato to Brabazon all over. People who like the idea of science but know nothing about it. And, yes, those who thing anything can be a science. Real science deals with an attempt at objective reality. It has much to tell us about the Universe but nothing about morals, society, politics, economics. These are different issues. They are conflated frequently but that doesn’t make the people right anymore than a certificate from the LSE can make sine and cosine anything other than in different phase.

And don’t worry dear reader as we enter the winter season I have no plans to stuff a chicken with snow.

I have done questionable things but I am not a complete twat.

If you wanna know a truly great scientist from (very) roughly the same era I suggest you Google “George Green”. I have been to his mill. Now that was a great man. The Science Library of Nottingham University is named for him. That is fitting. It would also be fitting if an aisle in Iceland was named for Bacon.

Computers in this house…

I did a little audit this morning. My wife and I have approximately 6 desktop machines in various states of repair (got to get onto those), three laptops, two Kindles, two smartphones (which are computers essentially), a ZX Spectrum in Gateshead, a camera with GPS (very handy – where did I take that picture? – well it tells me to arc-seconds – Jebus wept). Just the laptops would make Alan Turing weep tears of blood. I suspect I am not unusual here. I have a plan. I can get Lenovo to supply me (and I have sold my soul to ‘em – I’m typing on a Thinkpad by them) which is to get a trio of Lenovo Intel Core 2 Duos for GBP89.99 a throw and do some Folding at Home. Or maybe something else. There was (is?) an outfit sponsored by Oxford Uni (the other place) and IBM for something similar but I is buggered if I can recall the name. Having said that if I can cure cancer in my shed (for that is where they shall reside) then I shall be proud. If you can recall the name please let me know for the screensaver is much cooler. And I used to have it installed before Thalia went TU (that’s a tech term BTW). I did work my way through the Muses (and me with a comprehensive edumaction!). Some I sold or gave away. Some did go twat-wise (another techie term). I love the things. They make me, me.

No! They made me glorious. I got a Speccy thirty-ish years back. That was wonderful. Computers had been things that Bond Girls tended and I was playing Manic Miner. Wow! I learned BASIC and Pascal and Fortran on the little beast hooked-up to a 14″ Ferguson B&W TV and a tape-recorder from Dixons. It was well cool. When I went to University in 1992 I had to learn to program to drive a robot around. I excelled. I knew what I was doing. I had written the thankfully forgotten game “Orc fighter” so I knew my stuff. My classmates were astonished but I had that key advantage. I had a Lego robot whizzing around. That was cool and people say physics is dull? Not for me. That was much more fun than Swift’s juvenalia or Thackeray’s senilia. It was like stuff, cool stuff. OK, some of the labs were dull. I could live another thousand years without attempting the Guoy method for measuring magnetic susceptibility again. That was bloody dreadful. It really was but there are always bones in the sweetest fish. And building a pico-Tesla magnetometer and knowing exactly who of the lecturers was turning up tardy to the car park was more than a compensation. That cost roughly 5 quid (not of my money). But if Dr Kent was late, I knew. Bloody Hellskis that was sensitive. My lab partner once approached it with a screwdriver and it went FSD. Cheers Rachel. Not only did she dump me for a twat from Macclesfield (of all places!) but she all but knackered my magnetometer.

Nice machines at the Uni of Nottingham – 386DX40s (this was ’92 to ’95) with more interfaces than you could shake a stick at. We also had BBC-Bs for data logging.

I grew up with computers. They are me. People ask me “Why?” and I can’t answer because I just know the answer. They are me. I am nearly 42 (the answer) but I have been surrounded by computers since I was a kid. Since I first played with a Commodore PET and fell in love. I drew a picture of a Chieftain tank in ASCII. I was that sad and have only become sadder.

Weird isn’t it? I am looking down at my Kindle Fire HDX which is a computer only not in name. It cost less (no adjustment for inflation) than my ZX Spectrum did in the ’80s. Wow. I mean Wowsers! That was thirty years ago. I had just spent an hour (just an hour – this isn’t chemistry which is glorified faffing if you ask me) fixing it up despite the ‘structions in very obscure English. Oh, China! “Please to be appointing the USB port”. AKA “plug it in”. I know computers and I am wired on them. From Augsta Ada and Babbage’s cogs to Win 10 count me in. That is why I give ‘em names. My first PC was Urania. I am typing on Athina. (and yes the translit is more accurate than Athena – I know my Greek – physics.). The Kindle is Loki BTW. I’m gonna rebuild Urania as Urania III. I have a weakness for classical female names. Who doesn’t? These things are to us what steam engines were to George Stephenson (who lived walking distance from where I grew-up. They are to me what jet engines were to Clarence L “Kelly” Johnson. Except he was a genius. Bugger.

Hell, but I can program a RS-232 interface in machine code (I could anyway, once). And I could make that little Lego thing do St Vitus’s dance. I just love these things.

I adore them. They are not means of communication. That is a horrid myth. I didn’t do an A-Level in maths but I had an Amiga and I programmed fractals on it out of Sci Am. I taught myself maths. One BSc in Physics and a (fully funded) MSc in Astrophysics later and I think I proved myself. Now I mooch in Ruby and stuff. But seriously mooch. I get to be a proper programmer then bread and cheese will end-up on the table.

10 PRINT “Nick is Great”
20 GOTO 10

I have moved on a bit since then. And I am not blowing my own horn (it would put my back out) but celebrating the sheer fact that I was fortunate to be born in an age and a place where these things I quite simply cannot imagine my life without existed. I couldn’t have invented them but can I use them – yes! Aeroplanes and computers. How the devil did humanity manage for fifty thousand years without them.

I also want to build a Tesla coil. Just for the hell of it. And if it kills squirrels then like whatever. The cat is way too smart to get in the way.

I’ll keep the computers away. This will be purely analogue. Of course many will object to me “wasting ‘tricity” but fuck ‘em. My follow-up will be an Alcubierre Drive. Now that is a bit of a tough call. I mean I’d have to create negative mass for a kick-off. But Barnard’s Star in hours… Kicks HS2 into a most cocked hat. It is a fucking railway. 200 years after Brunel and the politcos haven’t got over it (one was run-over at Rainhill). And don’t talk to me about Skylon A1 or C2. Just don’t. They want to spent ten times the amount on a Stephenson gauge railroad but can’t fund a variable cycle aerospace plane. That fucker could get from Bristol Internal Spaceport (how cool is that?) to Sydney in four hours. And that is on an arctic great circle so as to not piss the Russians off but at that height and speed it ain’t MH17 is it? So fuck ‘em.

I’m a techno-fetishist. I make no apologies. Fuck railways (other than to tie Corbyn to the tracks and ride a shitty commuter train over his beardy commie corpse, back and forth) and build Skylon. But do any of our PPE elites have the imagination? No. Oh, fuck no! Wall, stand against and I’ll get the rifle.

A couple of the questions for the post Christmas period: Ancient Greek learning and English freedom – religious and political.

The Republic of Venice, like some other Italian States, was in contact with the Greek (Byzantine) Empire to the east, where Ancient Greek learning was preserved, from the most early days – contact was never lost in the Dark Ages. And the other states of Europe were in close contact with the Republic of Venice and the other Italian states. Yet the education system teaches that Greek learning came only from Islamic Spain. Is this theory really true?

Did, for example, thinkers in the British Isles such as the Irish thinkers from the 5th (indeed reaching back to Patrick and Pelagius [yes Pelagius, that free will scholar of Greek and possibly Hebrew, - of course I would drag him into it] of Roman Britain) century to the 9th century (before old Ireland was destroyed by the Vikings), or the English thinkers of the 12th century and so on (not just Roger Bacon there were other great Greek scholars and scientific thinkers also), really get their knowledge of Greek from Islamic Spain? Of course both the Greek Orthodox Church and the old Irish Celtic Church are not known for the delight in the predestination of Augustine – even if philosopher theologians do strange twisted gymnastics to try and reconcile predestination and moral responsibility (the reality of choice – of the existence of the human agent). Just as Judaism has always rejected predestination (unlike mainstream Islam) and stood for individual moral responsibility – the reality of choice, of the human person.

Also…..

In almost every case the Reformation of the 16th century led to a Church that was committed to Predestination and was a department of State – after all Predestination was the central doctrine of Martin Luther and John Calvin (they both HATED freedom and reason), and Luther taught that the State should control the State and Calvin taught that the Church should control the State – the autonomy of Church and State was utterly alien to both these thinkers. In England it led, by the 18th century, to a Church that was far MORE in favour of moral responsibility, free will, (hostile to Predestination and so on) than the Roman Catholic Church was, and to a Church that was largely part of the landed interest (backed by local patrons and so on as well as being a, largely, independent landowner itself) rather than being a department of state – an “Established Church” rather than a “State Church”. A Church that was theologically and socially radically different from the rest of Protestant Europe. Why?

Even in the 16th century someone like Richard Hooker (the three legged stool – scripture, tradition, and REASON) seems distinctly English – distinctly “Anglican” (a possible misuse of language – but I hope you get my point), by the 17th century philosopher theologians such as Henry Moore and Ralph Cudworth, perhaps the greatest Greek and Hebrew scholar of his age, are quite acceptable in England, but would have seemed radially alien in the Protestant nations of Europe (and in the centralised Counter Reformation Catholic world) – with the possible exception of the minority tradition in Holland, the Arminian tradition (and remember it was the MINORITY tradition in Holland).

Why was England so weird in its Church development? Unlike both Catholic Europe and Protestant Europe.

I have asked these questions before – but just received utterly irrelevant answers such as “Ralph Cudworth believed in witchcraft”, yes he did (so did the great Common Law thinkers Hales and Selden), but why did the Church in England (both Anglican such as Granville Sharpe and William Wilberforce and Dissenting such as Richard Price [but also his Anglican political opponent Edmund Burke] – or a bit of both such as John Wesley) contain so many people, such as Cudworth and Moore and….., who believed in religious toleration and moral responsibility, free will – hostile to predestination. Why did the English Church turn out, in the main, so differently from the rest of Europe?

So was there no movement of Greek learning from the Byzantine Empire directly to the states of Italy? Was it all via Islamic Spain? Even though Venice was technically part of the Eastern Empire itself? The “Islamic Spain is what matters” idea seems like a unlikely theory. But I am willing to be corrected.

And why did the Church in England, certainly by the 18th century, turn out so different from both Protestant and Catholic Europe? I suspect that the answer to this question is the key to the different POLITICAL development of this land in the late 17th century and the 18th century, compared to the rest of Europe.

Sir William Blackstone – the beginning of the intellectual collapse of liberty?

However, good an 18th century university administrator and judge Sir William Blackstone may have been, and however personally well disposed he may have been to liberty and property, the rights of the latter being the essential foundation for the former, his doctrine of the Sovereignty of Parliament was radically subversive of the principles of liberty – leading, in the short term, to war with the American colonies, and, in the longer term, the undermining of liberty in Britain and elsewhere.

The central “Whig” principle is that there are some things that the ruler or rulers, Kings or Parliaments, may not do – that natural law – natural justice to-each-their-own-liberty, expressed in the Common Law and other traditions, forbids fundamental attacks on liberty and property, either by private criminals or by the government.

This was the position of Chief Justice Sir Edward Coke in “Dr Bonham’s case”, it was the position of Ralph Cudworth and others against the unlimited government doctrine of Thomas Hobbes (whose mentor was that servant of unlimited government “The New Atlantis” Francis Bacon – the great enemy of Sir Edward Coke) who held that humans were not moral agents, and it was the position of Chief Justice Sir John Holt and the other “Old Whigs” of the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

Sir William Blackstone’s doctrine of Parliamentary Sovereignty destroys this Whig foundation stone of liberty – destroys it utterly. Blackstone might pay lip service to the principles of natural law, the legal principles of Cicero and the view of humans as moral agents of Aristotle, but his doctrine of Parliamentary Sovereignty negates them. If the “legislature” can do anything it likes – then liberty is naught, and natural law is just an empty term. Things are reduced to the level of the Roman Empire – where no legal thinker denied, in theory, that liberty and natural law, natural justice – to each his own liberty, existed, but held that positive law, the will of the Emperor, trumped them – which was the same, in practice, as denying that the rights of liberty and property existed at all.

Blackstone may be held up as one of the great Common Law thinkers – but his fundamental conception of law was essentially Roman, and that of the Roman Empire, just with a Parliament in place of an Emperor.

Many Americans, holding to old Whig principles, were profoundly shocked and rejected the principle of Blackstone, and those who held the same view, – but in Britain it carried all before it.

The principle of Blackstone simplified law by holding that, at a fundamental level, law is whatever Parliament and Francis Bacon “lions UNDER the throne” style judges say it is – with no appeal to natural law, natural justice (to each his own – liberty) principles against them.

It also flattered Parliament (Thomas Hobbes had always said that the supreme unlimited ruler could be one person or a group of people – thus hedging his bets in terms of the Civil War by trying to flatter both sides, like Francis Bacon before him, he would be a lickspittle apologist for whoever was in power) – it gave them delusions of grandeur, indeed of infallibility, and made them unwilling to compromise with the American colonists. After all the law was whatever they, Parliament, said it was – they were Gods upon this Earth who could do no wrong. At least that is how his doctrine was, inevitably, interpreted. So war was made inevitable – and with war the division of the English speaking peoples, a division that continues to this day.

The tradition of the Bill of Rights, American or British, runs directly counter to this doctrine of Parliamentary Sovereignty – which is why the British Bill of Rights, oh yes it once existed, is not much talked about any more. What is the point of talking about the right to keep and bear arms – if Parliament can take away this right with a statute? It means that the right, for all practical purposes, is negated. Ditto freedom of speech or anything else. If Parliament wishes to, for example, “redistribute” the property of the Duke of Portland this may be sad – but he has no rights against the “legislature”. As Mark Twain was later to say, but not as PRAISE, that “no man’s life or property is safe when the legislature is in secession” the legislature being the only true “criminal class” in United States – the fact that British opinion would have been shocked by a statement like this in the 19th century shows how much damage the doctrine of Sir William Blackstone and others had done – spread by Victorian legal writers such as Maitland, who pretended (with breath taking dishonesty) that not a single Act of Parliament in history had ever been fundamentally unjust or irrational.

By the 19th century more and more people were starting to use the words “the State” in the same awe struck way that German philosophers had in the time of Frederick the Great and before. The State seen as some sort of God on Earth, with, in this case Parliament, being seen as at least semi divine – infallible.

Sir William Blackstone may not have shared some of the “new”, there are actually ancient precedents for its errors, philosophy that was bubbling up like a witch’s brew in his time – but he opened the door for it. David Hume had made his name by being “sceptical” about everything (whether he really was, or whether it was a performance, to wake people from their dogmatic slumbers, is something I will not try to answer here), even the most obvious self evident things such as the existence of the self (the “I”) as a moral agent. If nothing was secure, if there were no principles that one could “prove”, if even the existence of oneself, as a moral agent free to choose to do otherwise than we do was in doubt, what would step into the chaos? Why the state of course – “the euthanasia of the Constitution” the end of “Whig”, Old Whig, principles. This philosophy horrified some Tories – such as Dr Johnson, who expressed his horror when someone said to him that both he and David Hume were Tories. Dr Johnson believed in the principles of Church and King because he believed they were true, objectively true, not because he believed that nothing was objectively true – that is why the Tory Dr Johnson was more of a friend of the Old Whig Edmund Burke than he was of political “allies” such as David Hume.

Jeremy Bentham, and the rest of the “Bowood Circle” of Lord Shelborne (Lord Shelborne, Sir William Petty kinsman of that other Sir William Petty – the friend of Thomas Hobbes, who wanted to mathematically “plan” Ireland in totalitarian fashion) had nothing but contempt for the principles of the Old Whigs – which were “nonsense on stilts”.

13 departments of State should control most aspects of life, according to Bentham – in this way the “greatest happiness of the greatest number” would be achieved, and pleasure and pain (not traditional right and wrong) should be the only guides to policy. If wickedness produced more “pleasure” than “pain” then it was not evil it was good – so if, according to Bentham, control of most aspects of life via 13 departments of State produced more pleasure than pain then it was to be done – and no silly “old rights” allowed to stand against it. The interests of “the people” trumped the silly (indeed “nonsense on stilts”) old rights of individual persons. The fact that this is a “category mistake” that, for example, one does not work out whether rape or gang rape is morally wrong by sitting down with a “calculator of pleasure and pain” to try and work out if the pleasure of the rapist or rapists was greater or lesser than the pain of the victim, escaped Jeremy Bentham. He made the elementary mistake, which would be shameful even in a young child, of mistaking “good” as in pleasure, with “good” as in moral (as they are the same word they must mean the same thing – NO THEY DO NOT). Just because it may be pleasant to torture someone to death it does not mean that it is morally good to torture someone to death – and this has nothing to do with the pain of the victim being greater than the pleasure of the murderer.

This is the principle of the French Revolution, of Rousseau – not of the Old Whig American Revolution. It is why the French Revolutionaries did not believe that their murdering, plundering, rape and other crimes were crimes at all – as the “welfare of the people” trumped, negated, everything else.

And the belief of Bentham and others in intellectual government administrators taking control of various aspects of Civil Society harks back to Sir William Petty and Francis “The New Atlantis” Bacon, and may even have been foreshadowed by Thomas Cromwell in the reign of Henry VIII – although his schemes, on education and so on, came to naught.

The “liberals” who followed Bentham, there were other factions of liberals of course, included people such as James and John Stuart Mill who endorsed the views on land of David Ricardo, which led to people attacking the rights of property – down with the Duke of Portland and other “Old Whigs” I bet he did not “justly acquire” his property, and he expects rent and rent is evil. This view was refuted by Frank Fetter a century ago, but one still hears it – just as one still hears demands that the state expand the money supply to maintain a “stable price level” as if Frank Fetter had never refuted Irving Fisher (let alone the absurd Lord Keynes).

And there was the Labour Theory of Value, also an interpretation of Ricardo, that holds that factory workers and so on are “exploited” – if private landed estates are, somehow, wrong and large scale non-landed property (factories and so on) are also, somehow, wrong – then the old Whig principles have been utterly destroyed there is nothing left, apart from empty chanting of the words “freedom” and “liberty” (as “liberals” still do today) based on no foundations, philosophical or other.

Of course there is a good side to both James Mill and to John Stewart Mill – but there is also a bad side, a very bad side. And it must not be hidden away – because it did great damage.

A liberal of the 19th century “Westminster Review” type (not other types) may have hoped if nothing is objectively true then there is no justification for state attacks on liberty, and may have held that denying everything, including selfhood, is the ultimate freedom – but, in reality, someone who believes that nothing is objectively true is likely to seek the STATE to fill the void (the “myth” of William James, Sorel or Mussolini). Besides the state NATURALLY expands (those who have power seek to use it – the “Dark Side” tempts them) – and if there are no principles to oppose them with……….

And Sir William Blackstone, whatever his intentions were, has in practice helped get rid of the principles limiting the state – by getting rid of all principles limiting Parliament.

“Ah but Paul – Blackstone trusted Parliament to limit the state” – then he was profoundly foolish and also ignorant, not understanding the typical nature of such statutes as the one that Sir Edward Coke struck down in “Dr Bonham’s Case” – where it was held that someone practicing a trade without a piece of paper called a “license” could not be a crime, because it was not aggression against anyone. The fact that the “Royal College” had both King and Parliament backing it, being irrelevant. If this is a crime whose person or possessions has Mr Bonham attacked? He has attacked no one – so him not buying a “license” CAN NOT be a crime.

Ditto the “Stature of Labourers”, seeking to enforce serfdom, and a thousand other wicked, and unlawful, statutes of Parliament.

But it is more than this – the decline of the respect for Parliament, and there has been such a decline, has not led to the restoration of the principles of the Old Whigs – far from it.

The worship, and “worship” is the right word, has been transferred from Parliament and Congress, Prime Ministers and Presidents – to an ideal state, the public power, “the people” which will impose “Social Justice” (the opposite of real justice – to each their own). Modern “political philosophers” say that they DO believe in liberty, in freedom against elected politicians – but, it turns out, that their “rights” are like the “rights” of the French Revolution, under the mask of “freedom” terrible tyranny, plundering and murder. The words “freedom” and “liberty” chanted endlessly – but divorced from their foundations.

When American judges, and the university class generally- the Harvard Law School, the Imperial German loving Johns Hopkins, the Frankfurt School of Marxism Columbia and on and on, first started to turn against the Old Whig principles of the Founding Fathers they first held that rights and natural law were nonsense (perhaps nonsense “on stilts”) – beasts such as “Justice” O.W. Holmes jr were open friends of Harold Laski and other totalitarians, they held (Buck V Bell) that a screaming woman, who had committed no crime, could be held down and cut up by the servants of the state – because they judged her to be “inferior”. But at least such beasts did not pretend to serve “freedom” “liberty” – they were open followers of Thomas Hobbes and other such creatures.

This sort of “judge” did not, for example, in the gold confiscation and voiding of contracts cases of 1935, hold that they were serving “liberty” and “freedom” when they tore up the Constitution of the United States.

Today Blackstone may be discredited – few would pretend that Parliament, or any other institution of government can do anything it likes. But the Old Whig principles that he helped to undermine have not returned – instead the forces of evil (for that is what they are) have taken the words “freedom” and “liberty” for themselves, and use them to force politicians to expand statism (tyranny) even when they do not wish to do so.

The book shelves groan with books on legal thought that seek to twist the concept of liberty 180 degrees – using it as a justification to destroy liberty, to expand the size and scope of government. The “intellectuals” can get away with this because the old principles have been forgotten – even the very word “right” is no longer understood to be a limitation on government power (under the natural law principle of to each their own – as the late Ayn Rand put it “hands off”), rather a “right” is now seen as an invitation for government to intervene – to enforce “anti discrimination” doctrine (that to “discriminate” is another way of describing freedom of choice, the right to associate or refuse association, is forgotten) and to give people their “rights” to goods and services at the FORCED expense of others.

This is because the old principles are out of sight and forgotten – and, however good his intentions may have been, Sir William Blackstone was one of the people who started to bury them.

The mistake of John Jay – believing that the governement could make people virtuous.

The American Founding Father John Jay was fond of reading Plato in his youth (often not a good sign), and even named one of his slaves Plato (I am not attacking Mr Jay over slavery – I know he did more than anyone else to end slavery in New York State, even losing an election over it).

It is not likely that John Jay was fond of the economic collectivism of Plato (after all John Jay was the man famous for making “those who own the land should govern it” his maxim – although it was actually G. Morris who supported a strictly limited franchise, as long you owned a little land, say your own home, you should have the vote according to Jay), so what was he getting from Plato?

Not the idea of the importance of virtue – that was a commonplace of republican (small “r”) thought, that only a moral people could remain free (that a people addicted to vice and waste would either not notice government getting more powerful – or would actively welcome a despotic government, if it promised them lots of benefits “bread and games”).

Nor was John Jay some sort of “Puritan” in the Hollywood sense – he did not believe that such things as drink and dancing should be banned, he liked a drink and he employed tutors to teach his children to dance (and the only reason he did not go to the theatre was that he believed there was so much suffering and humiliation in real life that he did not want to see it on the stage as well). Again “virtue” was a much broader concept than the Hollywood mockery of po faced Puritans.

What Plato would have given John Jay is that idea that people can (and should) be made virtuous by THE STATE.

We today are used to prisons and government schools (especially in New York) being dens of vice – and that is not funny (rape and so on should not be a matter for nudge-nudge, wink-wink jokes). Places where vast amounts of taxpayers money are spent – and people come out vastly worse than they went in. Indeed the only thing that government schools in America appear to be good at teaching people is that government should control everything and that business (especially “big business”) is evil (needing to be controlled by noble government), and the churches are evil too, and…… (well any alternative to the state in any area of life) is evil – how odd that government schools should teach that government should control everything (well actually not odd at all).

However, dens of vice was not the Platonic vision (although what American schools and colleges actually teach would have pleased Plato).

In the vision of John Jay the government prisons he established (to replace the old policy of either hanging or flogging criminals) were meant to “reform” criminals.

And the government school system he longed for (it was not really established till after his time) would take children and turn them into virtuous citizens of the new republic .

What if someone from the state had come to Mr Jay’s farm (the house he had built shows his reputation as an aristocrat is false – it is a rather ordinary house with a front pouch where someone can sit on a rocking chair and chat to passers by – the house that “Common Man” Jefferson had built is vastly grander, but then Jefferson did not mind borrowing money, John Jay hated the idea of borrowing for luxury, he would only spend money he actually had) and started to order him about in farming matters?

I think such a government official would have got a cold stare from the man who attacked price controls and other such nonsense (John Adams would have lost his temper and set the dogs on such an official). But why should government be better at forming human character?

If would not trust the government to be in charge of your carrots, why would you trust them to be in charge of your children?

Governments are often better than private individuals and associations for destructive things – killing people, burning cities and so on (as a man who had lived through war – Mr Jay knew that), but for constructive things such as reforming human character? That does not seem very likely.

Evil (force and fear) has its place in human affairs – remember the Star Trek episode where Captain Kirk is divided between good and evil. His good side has many things (for example a sincere love of knowledge for its own sake) – even his courage (the evil Kirk is a coward – terrified of losing his own skin), but the good Kirk is also useless as a Star Ship commander (he will not take risks with other people’s lives – and he is horrified even by the suffering and death of enemies). It is the evil Kirk who has the “power of command” and the delight in torment and destruction that gives him the incentive to think up clever ways of destroying foes (the pleasure a cat has). And these-things-are-necessary at times.

The state (force and fear – the Sword of State) is the negative (destructive) energy of human life – you can burn a city with such a force, but you can not make people better (not really) you can not create new and good things. Force and fear has its place in human life (the good Kirk can not command the Enterprise – although the evil Kirk can not be trusted to do so) – but it can not turn a child into a good adult, or turn criminals into honest people (it can just turn them into hypocrites like Mr Heap – pretending to be “ever so humble” as they plot fresh crimes).

If one tries to use the state for positive (for constructive) purposes the negative energy feeds back on itself – the tormented child becomes a vile adult, the criminal leaves the prison worse than when he went in (and so on). The state can punish crime – but it can reform people (and the effort to use state power to “make people better” leads to the most terrible tyranny, as C.S. Lewis pointed out).

Those people (such as John Jay) who supported setting up state prison systems and school systems sincerely believing that they would promote virtue were making an error – a terrible, fundamental, error (an error for which the world is still suffering  – and will suffer more).

The three principles of the Western tradition.

The Western tradition is based upon three principles.

That the physical universe is real and can be investigated – that it is not an illusion or unknowable.

That the human self (the mind – the investigator, the reasoning “I”) also exists, and that this does not contradict the first principle.

And that right and wrong (good and evil) really exist (are not just “cheer and boo” words) and that humans (as beings – reasoning “I”) can CHOOSE between them – can do otherwise than we do.

All these things can be found in Aristotle - although much error can be found in Aristotle also.

And they can also be found in the “Common Sense” philosophy (sometimes known know as the Scottish Philosophy of Thomas Reid to Noah Porter and James McCosh – but within which I would include such English philosophers as Ralph Cudworth, Harold Prichard, Sir William David Ross and Antony Flew).

It is rather more doubtful that these things, the three principles of the Western tradition, can be found in some more academically fashionable philosophies.

Dr Bonham’s case.

A man by the name of Bonham refused to pay for a license to practice medicine from the London College Physicians.

The College pointed out that not only did it have authority granted by a King (Henry VIII) , but also a specific Act of Parliament upheld medical licensing. So it fined Bonham (half the fine going to the college – half to the government, just as the Statute said it should) and ordered him to be imprisoned.

In the modern world that would be it – consumer protection upheld, and the evil “Dr” Bonham shipped off to be raped to death in prison somewhere (to the applause of the media – and the education system, the schools and colleges with their “protect the consumer” and “protect the worker” textbooks). However, this was 1610………

Chief Justice Sir Edward Coke (with his wicked, reactionary “Medieval mind”) was outraged by the whole thing. Not owning a piece of paper (a “license”) was not a crime under Common Law (to the Common Law a crime was an aggression against the bodies or goods of someone else – not failing to buy something). Also how could a body (the college or the government) sell licenses and, at the same time, sit in judgement over the case? This would mean that those who profited from the sale of licenses (had a financial interest in it) could punish those who did not buy them! – Which (to the modern minds of both the college and the government) is replied to by “well yes you Feudal nutcase – THAT IS THE POINT”.

Sadly (in spite of the work of Sir Francis Bacon, the author of the Progressive classic “The New Atlantis”, and mentor of Thomas Hobbes – the great philosopher who spread the enlightened notions that “law” was just the whims of the rulers, and that humans were just machines, not beings – not moral agents). The reactionary Sir Edward stopped the imprisonment of Dr Bonham – and declared that he did not have to pay a fine for refusing to buy a piece of parchment (a “license”) as the Common Law (those DUSTY CENTURIES of Year Books full of cases about one man hitting another man over the head with an axe – or damaging a local church by using its windows for target practice for archery……) knew of no such “crime”, and that it was an outrage that those who sold these pieces of paper could fine (indeed imprison) those who refused to buy them (Sir Edward’s “medieval mind” just did not understand the Progressive modern world……).

Nor did this reactionary bigotry end with Sir Edward Coke.

Chief Justice Sir John Holt (late 17th century – the generation that produced the English Bill of Rights and other hopelessly reactionary documents. with their right to keep and bear arms and so on, that are affront to the modern Progressive world) held to the same view that Acts of Parliament do not overturn fundamental principles of natural justice embodied in the centuries of tradition of Common Law reasoning (in spite of Progressive Legal Positivist Thomas Hobbes “proving” that there was no such thing as natural justice or natural law in a moral way – and that the judges of the Common Law, in seeking justice over the dusty centuries, were just lost in illusions – true law being just the will of the ruler).

Chief Justice Holt – even cited judges as far back as Bracton (did he not understand that only what has been said in the last five minutes matters?) and openly stated that Acts of Parliament do not trump fundamental law – indeed it is the other way round. And that it was possible (although difficult) for legal reasoning to find justice. Not that all judges would always agree (YES – there are other cases in the centuries of Year Books that contradict the cases that Sir Edward Coke cited, he knew that and it does NOT undermine his position), but that legal reasoning (fundamentally reasoning in justice – after the manner of Aristotelian reasoning) was possible – that law was NOT just the ravings of Kings and Parliaments. That fundamental law was different to (and higher than) “legislation”.

Chief Justice Holt even tried to apply this to slavery – which to him (as to the 19th century American lawyer and later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Salmon P. Chase) was the Common Law crimes of false imprisonment (dragging someone back if they ran away), and violent assault (whipping someone for refusing to work – no more acceptable in Common Law than throwing someone in prison for refusing to buy a piece of paper, a “license” or an “insurance policy” as with “Obamacare”).

In the United States this reactionary tradition continued with, for example, Justice Pierce Butler of the Supreme Court who held (by dissenting in “Buck Versus Bell”) that a State (even after it passed a “statute”) could not hold down a screaming woman and cut her up for the “crime” of (allegedly) having a “low IQ” out of fear that the women might give birth to babies who also might (allegedly) commit the “crime” if having a “low IQ”.

Justice Butler did not even believe that the government had the right (even after passing a statute) to exterminate “inferior races” – he had clearly never read the noble Progressive writings of the Fabian socialists H.G. Wells (the teaming millions of blacks, browns and yellows must go, forms of gas could be developed and…..) and George Bernard Shaw (every person should be made to justify their existence before a government board, “like the income tax tribunal” and if the board was not happy with them, they should be executed), friends of fellow Supreme Court Judge – O. W. Holmes Jr who wrote the Progressive view of Buck V Bell.

To a Progressive such as Holmes  the old American saying (attributed to Mark Twain) – “no man’s property or liberty is safe – when the legislature is in session” (a much realistic attitude that the deluded British faith in Parliament) is replied to with “and a jolly good thing to!”.

Well where do you stand gentle reader?

With the vile reactionaries such as Sir Edward Coke, Chief Justice John Holt, Edmund Burke (see his writings on Ireland and India), American Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, 20th century Justice Salmon P. Chase (and the others of the “Four Horsemen” who opposed such Progressive things as Franklin Roosevelt “National Recovery Agency” – General Johnson’s Jackbooted “Blue Eagle” thugs who tried to set the prices and business practices of every enterprise in the United States).

Or do you stand with the noble Sir Francis Bacon (of The New Atlantis), Sir William Petty (the creator mathematical “economic planning” in the mid 17th century), Thomas Hobbes, the Bowood Circle of the late 18th century (funded by Lord S.) with such lovely people as Jeremy Bentham – with his 13 Departments of State controlling every aspect of life (as it is the duty of government to promote pleasure and oppose pain – and natural law and natural rights are “nonsense on stilts”, law being simply the will of the rulers), and with the Hobbes lovers among the “Westminster Review” crowd of the early 19th century (with their “land question” – i.e. the view that the state could plunder the ancient estates, overturning “feudal” notions going back to the ninth century, as David Ricardo had “proved” that….. let us ignore the fact that Frank Fetter refuted David Ricardo on land a century ago, the Ottoman Empire, and Eastern Despotism generally, rocks, it is “Progressive” to attack the estates of “feudal” Western land holders). And the “New Liberals” of the late 19th century, and the Fabians and the American Progressives and………….

Ignore the warnings of old reactionary Common Lawyers such as Sir Edward Coke and John Holt that Progressive Francis Bacon stuff is really the dark side of Roman Law – the “Civilians” with their doctrines that the will of the ruler has the force of law, and that no law binds the government (because the government can change the law as it likes).

After all such warnings are repeated in the speeches of reactionary (and “corrupt”) President Warren Harding and reactionary (and “stupid”) President Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s (see the Politically Incorrect Guide to the Presidents) when they pointed out that  such things as the Progressive “New Freedom” of Woodrow Wilson which claimed to “evolve” beyond the principles of the Constitution of the United States, are (in fact) a product of German collectivist political philosophy (see J. Goldberg “Liberal Fascism”) going back as far as the 18th century philosophy (see the works of Hayek on this – for example the “Constitution of Liberty” and “Law, Legislation and Liberty” – although Hayek can never free himself from the general philosophy of the very people whose political ideas he attacks – and, contrary to Hayek, their politics comes naturally from their philosophy) and that this political philosophy is (in turn) a return to the ideas of the “civilians” – the Roman Law scholars with their doctrine that the government is limited by no law (as it can create any law it likes – and change any existing law) and that one must hope for wise rulers to promote the happiness of the people… The reactionary Harding and Coolidge claiming that those who seek to “evolve” beyond “vulgar” or “primitive” views of freedom (the property rights view embodied in such things as the British and American Bill of Rights) actually collapse back into the darkest tyrannical despotism.

Surely no one (but the most hardened and bitter reactionary) would deny that governments should promote pleasure and prevent pain (prevent the little darling people, children really, hurting ourselves) – without letting any silly “old right” stand in their way?

Maybe Women are Some Good after All?

But really, they should also include K-9 officers and enlisted.

From Clash Daily, via Weaselzippers, who got it from WSJ, where it’s only available to subscribers:

BOOM: Kurds Send All-Female Soldiers To Fight ISIS, The Reason Why is Hilarious

Posted on August 21, 2014

Kurdish women are bad-ass. You’ll never guess why they’re the ones on the frontline’s against ISIS. Check this out…

The Kurds have adopted a rather unique strategy for not only eliminating their targets, but also humiliating them along the way.

According to WZ, Kurds are deploying whole units comprised of female fighters to the front line, which has boosted their recruitment numbers, and given them a psychological edge over ISIS. One female fighter explained why the Kurds have decided to put women in the thick of the battle, and it’s sure to make radical Islamists go crazy.

“The jihadists don’t like fighting women, because if they’re killed by a female, they think they won’t go to heaven.”

Awesome. The Kurds have an understanding of what it will take to stop ISIS, and it isn’t peace talks or goodwill offerings. It’s bombs, bullets, and brute force.

Some observations of foreign types in crowds

There was some strange behaviour outside my hotel this evening, instead of the usual languid European-style pavement restaurant with a few, mainly elderly residents enjoying their café under an iridescent evening sun as a few blonde haired goddesses drift by aimlessly on bicycles, there was a massed throng of unruly teens and drunken men filling the square in front of my hotel.

I presumed that it was some form of political protest as they were uniformly dressed alike, but apparently not, it was in fact an opportunity to get utterly paralytic on Heineken served in plastic cups while watching a giant TV screen erected at the end of the not-so-very-grand place. I initially presumed they were there to watch the local version of “America’s Next One Hit Wonder” or whatever it is called in The Land of Clogs.

(more…)

I don’t believe you want to do that Dave…

Well it would appear possibly, arguably, a computer at the Royal Society in London has passed the Turing test.

Read the whole thing. It is interesting. Alas I seem unable to copy and paste from the Guardian otherwise I’d dissect this because I am less than impressed. It would appear they haven’t released the transcripts. And it was impersonating a 13 year old boy. All very fishy. Certainly it ain’t as tough a test as proposed by Kurzweil. This had to be believed by 30% and got 33%. The Kurzweil test is much more rigorous.

Oh and Prof. Kevin Warwick was involved. Hmm…

My fave comment though on the Graun is this (I seem to be able to copy those)…

For a moment, let’s just forget whether and why some computer might pass the test and what that might mean. Suppose instead you wanted to decide whether a human is intelligent… What criteria would you apply? What rigorous and material or empirical definition could you come up with for “intelligent”? Or for “thought”, “objective”, “emotion” or any other noun relating to individuals inner lives for that matter?

Of course there’s no real definition for “intelligent” that doesn’t rely on other abstract nouns, e.g. if you decide it’s “problem solving ability” then you only shift the question along to “what’s a problem, then?”.

But we all agree as a linguistic convention that there is such a thing as intelligence and that humans possess it. But if that’s true and a computer and successfully disguise itself in some open-ended way as a human then we’ve no grounds for denying the title of “intelligent” to the machine.

You may still deny that this has any metaphysical significance. On the other hand, you can’t deny that in that hypothetical the computer has transcended your ability to distinguish it from other entities you agree to be intelligent. That makes the machine categorically distinct from all others in history, at least from your perspective and is surely a significant fact in itself. Without the Turing test, you’d be stuck in a quagmire — what the test does is isolate this significant observation from all metaphysical or linguistic confusion, reducing the matter to observable behaviour.

In the end, it’s a definition of intelligence. Do you have a better one?

No, I don’t but I have never felt sure about the Turing test in general – and yes I have read a lot about it. Does it have agency? Does it have imagination? Can it make mistakes? Mistakes are important for creativity. They seem to me to link tightly with creativity. I have for a long time thought it is probably in principle to compare genuine thought with the perfection of computers in a way almost analogous to quantum complementarity. I have no idea why I feel this except I feel it which perhaps is the point. I also tend to think the Turing test is just too instrumentalist. It in a sense doesn’t get to the heart of consciousness. It’s Searle’s Chinese Room. It is sort of a search for pure empirical proof without theory.

I never trust pure empiricism without theory. I think that might have been Eddington but I can’t track it down and I am writing in a rush. There is a saying (a joke really) in the AI biz about whether you can take it apart with itself? And that is the problem. Can we really understand ourselves properly, scientifically? I feel it is an impossible task and more to the point pointless. Shakespeare couldn’t predict comets arriving but he knew humanity better than any trick-cyclist. Just look at Freud. Or Kinsey or any of those preverts. I’ll believe in the Turing test when it can explain why I love Donne’s 20th elegy but can’t stand Tennyson’s romantic musings. I’ll leave the last word to Albert Einstein…

It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure.

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