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On The Way To Miserable

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It was 102 by midafternoon here yesterday, so I’m in the office–which is a sunroom–early, because it’s either early or nothing until later this week.

But I really hate heat.  And I hate cold.  And I got up really early, so Gregor got done.

But, a couple of things.

First, one of the reasons for reading what Singer and this guy Unger write is to see how they defend their ideas.   That also tells me what I have to argue or explain to refute their ideas.

Some people construct closed systems, so that once you accept their definitions it’s impossible to seriously challenge anything they say.  Freud is like that.  The problem with Freud’s thought is far more fundamental than anything in any of his arguments.  If you accept his definitions, you’re stuck accepting everything that follows them.

Certainly part of the issue here is the definitions these people are using.  And yes, I do think they know that, at base, the ideas they say they are upholding began as religious ones.  I think they would answer that by saying that those ideas are not only religious ones, that they’re “commonly accept basic moral values.” 

I think that, in order to counter them, you would indeed have to attack what they define as the core values.  But I’ll know more when I’ve had a chance to read Unger’s book. 

With Singer, I’ve only been able to read essays. Singer tends to be highly controversial, so the best of the anthologies for composition courses–for me, that would be Current Issues and Enduring Questions, from Bedford/St. Martin’s, and not because that company also publishes me–tend to include his stuff to see if they can get students energized to write things.

Current Issues also includes an essay by Garrett Hardin called “The Case Against Helping The Poor,” which takes almost the opposite stance, so the book isn’t biased in the way so many of these books often are.

But Hardin’s essay is–as these things often are–a practical response to what is presented as a moral argument in Singer and Unger.  And, as I’ve said before, I don’t think that works.

You have to counter moral arguments with moral arguments.

But I’ll get to that later.

Right now, I want to suggest a truly brilliant essay, linked to a couple of days ago on Arts and Letters Daily, by Lee Harris.  I’ve got a book by Harris around the house somewhere.  I like it a lot.

Anyway, the link:


And now I’m going to go drink something with ice in it.

Written by janeh

July 7th, 2010 at 8:25 am

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses to 'On The Way To Miserable'

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  1. Sorry about the heat thing. When I was 41, I moved from Michigan (hot muggy summers, cold, sometimes snowy winters) to Southern California. What an amazing thing.

    Other than an occasional longing for lilacs and those rare autumn days of clarity and sparkling foliage, I miss nothing. Of course, I live near the coast, not inland, where summer temps are routinely above 100. It’s a dry heat, they tell me. They are full of it.

    Maybe it’s time to relocate, Jane.


    7 Jul 10 at 11:28 am

  2. I used to complain about our rather notorious climate until I’d spent some time living elsewhere. But in general, weather doesn’t bother me me. Well, it gets tedious having a couple of months of rain, but that’s fairly minor. I knew someone, born and bred in one of the foggiest bits of the islands who used to get depressed, even almost suicidal, after weeks of fog. That’s serious.

    I prefer cold weather to hot, and moderate (say, 20 C) to either, and dry heat to humid heat.

    What I really don’t like, the few times I’ve been exposed to it, is hot humid weather combined with air conditioning. My body never adjusts to either extreme. I just adjust to an air-conditioned building, walk outside, and it’s like hitting a wall. I adjust to the heat, enter an air-conditioned building, and hit another wall. I’m sure it can’t be good for your health, going from one extreme to the other like that all the time.

    Today, it’s 16C, ‘shallow fog’, whatever that is, and periods of drizzle. It’ll be down to 8C tonight. We might get sun and 25C by Saturday. Or not, but the much maligned forecasters have really improved recently.


    7 Jul 10 at 2:02 pm

  3. Living in Hamilton’s Mistake–otherwise known as the DC region–all I can do is button up the apartment and wait for fall.

    Philosophy without tradition, religion or definitions based on common usage holds no interest for me. You’d like to think a man who can pick any definitions and premises he wants for a starting point could come up with a set which will lead to his preferred conclusion. If he can’t, shame on him.


    7 Jul 10 at 4:19 pm

  4. I now consider an air conditioned bedroom as a medical necessity. As I get older, I find that the range of comfortable temperatures is getting narrower.

    I spent some years reading social and political philosophy. I found that Aquinas and Locke based natural law and natural rights on God. Once people abandon God, there doesn’t seem to be anything other than “Feel good” as a basis.

    Robert, you can come up with a starting point that leads to a preferred conclusion. The difficulty comes when you have preferred conclusions to different problems and can’t get a consistent set of ideas.

    There is a well known (in Philosophy) problem called “The trolley problem”. You are a passenger on a run-a-way trolley. If you do nothing, the trolley will hit a group of 5 children and all 5 will die. You can switch the trolley to another track. In that case, 1 child will die.

    One group of people say “Switch, better 1 die than 5.”

    The other says “You are not responsible for the 5 deaths because you didn’t create the situation. But if you switch, you are responsible for the 1 death because it was caused by your action. Therefore, do not switch.”

    I’m in the first group but …


    7 Jul 10 at 5:20 pm

  5. OK, I have to admit that I don’t see anything particularly brilliant about the essay, now that I’ve had a chance to read through it. It reminds me a bit of the reaction of me and some of my friends way back in the day on our first exposure to Ed Psych and Psych 101 – we immediately tried sorting ourselves asnd our friends and relatives into whichever categories we’d read about that day.

    Sure, populations can be divided on any number of characteristics. Many of these characteristics are influenced by culture. Those are mere truisms. I’d have to read up on learned helplessness and locus of control to find out the current state of science; it’s 30 years or more since I read anything about them. Is it Mary who sometimes reads here and is a pyschologist? She might know more. But I think it’s highly suspicious the way ALL the ‘internals’ are brilliant and ALL the ‘externals’ are power-hungry.

    No, I’m not impressed.

    And what’s that bit about the greatest heroism being that for a cause already lost? If I try to save my family from a burning building and die in the attempt, that’s heroic – unless it’s blindingly obvious they’re already dead, in which case it’s insane or stupid. And I think the greatest heroism isn’t the stuff that’s decided and done in a flash; it’s the constant, quiet small stuff that has to be done again and again. Like living well with a painful or disabling illness, or working day in and day out at a disagreeable job to feed your family, because that’s the only one available.

    And I think that both sturdily standing up for oneself, and bending in the face of overwhelming force to rise again later are merely methods of dealing with opponents, not evidence of profoundly different personalities.


    7 Jul 10 at 8:27 pm

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