Notice Sunday, Aug 22 2010 

As I am sure you guys have noticed, it has been a long time since I’ve updated this blog. I have a lot of things on my mind that I would like to write about, but I haven’t got the time at the moment to address these ideas as carefully and thoroughly as I’d like. For the time being, this blog will be inactive. I do hope to resume posting some time in the future… For now, feel free to peruse the 116 posts I have made thus far; I’ve added contact information to the “About” page, if you’d like to get a hold of me. I’ll respond to all comments, questions, requests, or complaints. 🙂

Note Thursday, May 6 2010 

Sorry for the low amount of activity as of late. I’ve been busy with finals. I’ll be graduating this year, so there’s many things that I’ve got going on besides this blog at the moment. I am almost finished though. You can expect a post within the next few days. It will be about a topic that many on both the left and right can probably agree on, to some degree. Cheers. 🙂

One year later… Monday, Feb 15 2010 

Exactly one year ago, I started this blog as a response to the SCSU Scholars blog, authored primarily by King Banaian, the chairman and a professor of the economics department at SCSU. Following a particularly egregious post where he characterized the civilian victims of the the U.S.-Israeli offensive in Gaza as virulent terrorists deserving to die, I was fed up and thought I should have a place to voice my own opinions. I did not know much about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before the Gaza offensive, but with a greater awareness of global issues I began to investigate the issue further. I spent countless hours researching the issue, exploring the history, reading articles, watching videos, and hearing the personal testimonies. What I learned was shocking and disturbing. My response had to be principled: I had to oppose all aggressive violence. In this vein, I stood firmly against the Israeli attacks on Palestine. I wrote a letter to the school newspaper condemning U.S.-Israeli war crimes and posted a modified version of that letter on this blog. That same week, two professors led a panel along with some students discuss the plight of Palestinians, which had caused some controversy after another professor in the audience had erupted during the presentation. I criticized both the professor and the school newspaper’s handling of the story, which I found to be highly biased. That post still remains the second most viewed post since I started this blog. From there, things took off.

The blog has expanded to cover a wide range of topics, from the abstracts of moral theory to the goings-on around campus. Today I mostly write about economics and politics, evidenced by the “Categories” section to the left. On occasion, I’ll still respond to posts made by Dr. Banaian at the SCSU Scholars blog, but I prefer to explore independent issues that are on my mind. I believe this process, this blog in general, has been very transformative for me. It has helped me develop my ideologies and beliefs, has fostered my understanding of important issues, and has allowed me to sharpen my writing, arguing, and explaining skills. Who says writing blogs is useless? 😉 I admit that I am often brash, crude, or sometimes even impudent in my writing—surely a function of writing online. I apologize for this and will always try to improve. Many times things can become disconcerted by the vary nature of the topics I write on, which are often highly ideological or controversial to begin with.

However, I believe open debate and the flow of information and ideas are critical to a healthy society and community. For this, I owe a tremendous thanks to people to who take the time out of their day to visit this blog and read my ideas, even if you don’t always (or ever) agree. Your interest is what makes writing this blog worthwhile. To the people who comment, I cannot say thanks enough and am highly appreciative. Your input is important and highly valued. One year later, and 95 posts and 275 comments later, none of this would possible without you guys. Thanks.

An appeal to skepticism Wednesday, Dec 16 2009 

As I note in my “About” page, I sometimes deal with the topic of philosophy. In this sense, I usually mean moral philosophy (or perhaps also political philosophy, but I usually label that under politics). My fascination with philosophy began with my intro to reasoning (i.e. logic) class with Dr. Williford (no longer at SCSU) in my first year here at the university, and continued with my business ethics course with Dr. Shaffer in my third year here. It now continues with my course in epistemology (i.e. the philosophical study of knowledge) with Dr. Mirza. One of the central topics dealt with was what constituted knowledge. In this sense, the philosophical question is much different than the other philosophical questions that I have dealt with in the past on this blog. In any case, I find it fascinating (even if irrelevant), and the label of “philosophy” in my About page does not preclude it, so I’ll explore the topic below in further detail. If you are not interested in the philosophical question of knowledge, then this would be a good time to stop reading (and keep in mind this is not one my ordinary posts on this blog, as I usually deal with politics or economics; see the categories in the box on the left). If, on the other hand, you are interested in the epistemic question of knowledge, then please bear with me as I explore the concept of philosophical skepticism. 🙂

For well over two millennia, philosophers have dealt with the question of what knowledge is. Plato gave, but did not necessarily commit to, the basic description as “justified true belief.” That is, knowledge is justified true belief. More formally, subject, S, knows proposition, p, if and only if p is true, S believes that p, and S is justified in believing that p. It is easier to read if formulated like this:

S knows that p, iff (if and only if):
1. p is true
2. S believes that p
3. S is justified in believing that p

Thus, the three necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge are truth, belief, and justification. This has become known as the justified true belief analysis of knowledge. The purpose is to find the conditions for knowledge such that when these conditions are met, one can be said to have knowledge (sufficiency) and that every case of knowledge meets these conditions (necessity). Put differently, if I meet these three conditions I have knowledge; and if I have knowledge, I meet these three conditions.

Thus, the justified true belief analysis of knowledge was generally accepted as the correct analysis for knowledge since Plato crudely formulated it. And it seems correct on the surface. I cannot be said to know something that is false. I cannot “know” it is raining outside currently if it is, in fact, not currently raining outside. Further, I also cannot be said to know something if I don’t actually believe it. If it is raining outside, but I do not believe it to be raining outside, I cannot be said to know that it is raining outside. Moreover, it seems I cannot “know” something if I am not properly justified. I may have the true belief that I will win the lottery tonight. That is, I might actually win the lottery tonight and I believed I would. However, if I simply formulated my belief on conjecture, some supernatural explanation, etc., I am not ordinarily said to have knowledge. If I merely make a lucky guess about some proposition, it’s not really knowledge. Thus, I need some justification for my beliefs. If I am properly justified in my belief that is true, then I can be said to have knowledge. For example, I observe that it is raining outside and I therefore formulate the belief that it is raining outside. Since it is true that is it raining outside (and I believe it and am justified in believing it), I can be said to know it’s raining outside.

In 1963, one Edmund Gettier turned this two-thousand-year-old analysis on its head with his single three-page paper. In it, he describes cases in which a person has a justified true belief but cannot be said to have knowledge (i.e. the three conditions are not sufficient for knowledge). Such counterexamples to the traditional analysis have come to be known as “Gettier problems” or “Gettier counterexamples.” Let us explore such a counterexample. The following case is one similar to the original Gettier presented in his seminal paper. Suppose Smith is a close friend of Jones. Smith formulates the belief that Jones owns a Ford, for Smith has always seen Jones drive his Ford, has seen the documentation for Jones’ ownership of Ford, has no reason to suspect Jones does not in fact own the Ford he drives around, and so on. Smith is entirely justified in believing Jones owns a Ford. However, Smith has been deceived. The documentation Smith saw was authentic-looking but was in fact fraudulent; in reality, Jones did not own the Ford he was driving around and was merely deceiving Smith. Thus, Smith’s justified belief that Jones owns the Ford is false. Smith does not have knowledge because he failed to satisfy all three of the previous conditions for knowledge (namely, the condition that the proposition believed is true). However, Smith is in a room with Jones and another man whom he has never met before, Jake. At the same time, Smith deduces from his (untrue) belief about Jones’ ownership of Ford that “Someone in this room owns a Ford.” Smith believes this proposition based on his false belief that Jones owns a Ford. As it just happens, however, Jake does own a Ford (but Jones does not). As we see, then, Smith has the justified true belief that “Someone in this room owns a Ford.” Smith was justified in believing “Someone in this room owns a Ford” because he validly deduced it from the justified belief that Jones owned a Ford. However, Jones did not own a Ford, but it still remains true that “Someone in this room owns a Ford” because Jake, by sheer circumstance, does in fact own a Ford. Since Smith had no previous knowledge of Jake (much less what car he drove), then it seems Smith’s belief that “Someone in this room owns a Ford” is only made true by the lucky circumstance that someone he with whom he is unfamiliar owns a Ford. Intuitively, we do not say lucky circumstances amount to knowledge. Gettier showed the justified true belief of knowledge to be insufficient, because all three conditions were met but knowledge was not obtained.

I apologize if the foregoing case was not very clear. Gettier probably explains it much better than I can, and you can read his paper here. The actual car example comes from Keith Lehrer, in this paper. Of course, Wikipedia explains it pretty well. A much simpler version that I like is that of a broken clock. Let’s say I purchase a brand new clock, set it up, and observe it for some time and ascertain that it is telling time accurately. I am justified in believing the time it displays because clocks are generally reliable sources for telling time. Several days later, however, I come home and observe the clock displays the time of 6:07. Based on this, I formulate the justified belief that it is 6:07. Unbeknownst to me, the clock stopped working 12 hours earlier. By sheer luck, though, the actual time is 6:07. Thus, my justified belief is true. However, we would not ordinarily say I “know” that it is 6:07 because of my reliance on a broken clock. Had I looked at it at any other time, my belief about the time would be false. Therefore, I was lucky and luck does not count for knowledge.

There have been many attempts to solve this puzzle. Some have said we need to find a fourth condition that eliminates the possibility of Gettier problems (called “JTB+G”). Others have decided to throw out the justification condition and find other conditions in its stead. (It is almost universally agreed that truth and belief are necessary but insufficient conditions for knowledge. That “justification” is necessary for knowledge has been argued against, for example by Robert Nozick.) The literature on this is quite vast so I will not review it in this post. The Wikipedia article I linked to does a satisfactory job in explaining the various approaches, if you are interested, as does this site.

Suffice it to say that one response has been that the justification condition on which we rely is not strong enough. It is possible that even completely justified beliefs are in fact wrong. If the premises on which I rely are always (logically) possibly wrong, then any account that relies on “justification” will always be susceptible to a Gettier-like problem. This line of thinking is referred to as fallibilism. Kirkham has a good defense of fallibilism here.

Fallibilism rests on the idea of skepticism. Epistemic skepticism says that any belief based on empiricism (that is, empirical evidence or reliance on sensory perception) could logically possibly be false. The arguments for this are quite nuanced and detailed. That I am seeing a computer before me could conceivably be false. To wit, there could be a conceivable world where my senses are being deceived perhaps because I am hallucinating or because some evil genius scientists is controlling my thoughts and is merely giving me the false belief that I see a computer before me. Thus it is logically possible that I am wrong in my perceptual beliefs. In fact, claims the skeptic, it is logically possible that all beliefs based on empiricism are false (see, e.g. the brain in a vat theory). If it is logically possible that all our beliefs based on perception are false, then we cannot be said to know anything for sure. That is the argument of skepticism. Again, though, the arguments for and against skepticism are nuanced and will not be reviewed in this post. (If you are really interested, this book has a good overview.)

In conclusion, since it appears it is logically possible that any (or every) empirical belief we have about things could be wrong, the case for knowledge should be stronger. That is, it is only possible for us to “know” when it is not logically possible that our belief is fallible (that is, there is no conceivable or possible world where it is wrong). Again, see the Kirkham paper I linked to for a further exposition of this argument.

This is a powerful argument, and it is one I appeal to. Of course many people reject this argument on many grounds and I do not mean to imply that Dr. Mirza endorses such an argument. It is merely one I have decided is the most convincing of those provided. Keep in mind, please, that I have also just condensed an entire semester of lecture, discussion, argument, and thought into about 1,500 words. The issue is much more complex and nuanced than this. I merely offer a rough overview of this topic that I find fascinating. I admit I probably did a rather poor exposition here, as my purpose was simply to formulate my thoughts about this subject in some words and I apologize if it is not exactly coherent. I would be pleased to clarify if anyone is interested.

If you were at all put off by this post, I won’t take it against you, but you should not worry because these types of philosophical posts probably will not be the norm for this blog. Cheers. 🙂

Obama on health care in Minneapolis Sunday, Sep 13 2009 

On Saturday, President Obama came to Minneapolis to give a rally speech on his proposed health care reform. I was going home to St. Paul for the weekend so I thought I would try to go. I was lucky enough to get in and see the president (the first time I’ve seen one in person).

It was being held at the Target Center at 12:30 P.M. and doors opened at about 9:30 A.M., but lining up was allowed as early as 6:30. I’m not sure what time people started lining up to see the President speak because I didn’t get there until about 9:25 A.M., but by then the streets were already packed with lines spanning several blocks. There were, of course, a few protesters, some with interesting signs; there were no large quarrels between the Obama supporters and the detractors, though, and I actually saw some people have civilized debate while I waited in line. There were anti-protesters too, holding signs of their own (“Competition is good. So let the government compete” or “Death panels already exist. They are the insurance companies,” for example), who drew loud cheers from people waiting outside the Target Center.

As I said, I got there at about 9:30 and I didn’t get in until about 10:45, seeing as how everyone had to go through airport-like security. Once inside, I was greeted with even more lines to get into the seats. Anyone familiar with the Target Center knows you pretty much go around in a circle on whatever level you’re on until you get to the section of seats you want to get to. I was told to keep going left until I got to the end of the line, but by the time I reached the end of the line I was already exactly where I began (i.e. the start of the line). Not cool. So I just went in whatever section everyone else was going in. I got decent seats the first time around–facing the President directly–but I was behind the camera stand for the media outlets, so I tried to find better seats. I was got pretty lucky on my second try, and I found seats about 50 yards or so from where Obama was speaking sort of to his right. I could see him fairly well so that was pretty cool. Surprisingly, everything started on time. During the wait, the crowd (about 15,000 people, apparently) did the wave for several minutes (fun to watch) and went through several chants. Not as boring as I thought it would be, as I barely got to read the book I brought for the three hour wait.

So what did President Obama have to say? I took a few notes but not many, so I’ll try to remember (I’m sure the speech is somewhere on YouTube). He started humorously by saying he needed to get to the important things first and mentioned the Gophers game going on later that night in opening their new stadium. They were playing Air Force, so he said he had to be careful what he said because they were flying him back later on. He then made an obvious jab at FOX by saying, “You may have watched So You Think You Can Dance, but I gave a speech to Congress a few days ago…” (Fox decided to air the reality dance show rather than his address to Congress on health care reform.) I thought it was funny (as did the crowd). Obama made the point that while is not the first president to champion health care reform, he is dedicated to be the last.

I’m not exactly being chronological here, but it seems to me his main goals he pointed out were to make it illegal for insurance companies to to deny or cut coverage for people with “pre-existing conditions,” to water down coverage when people get sick or need it the most, or put caps on coverage over a period of time. That’s all well and fine, I think. He said neither government bureaucrats nor insurance company bureaucrats should decide when to cut coverage. He said we should end subsidies to insurance HMOs that don’t improve health care. He pointed to Minnesota as a leader in health care, citing the Mayo Clinic as an example. His dismissed his Republican critics who he said were playing politics and were bickering; he said Social Security and Medicare were criticized as “socialism” too when they were introduced. He then said there should be mandatory screenings for things like breast and colon cancer because it will save money (because it will catch it earlier). That seems dubious, because now you’ve got to screen everyone who doesn’t have the cancer, and that costs a lot of money; but if it increases detection, that’s a good thing. Even more dubiously, he said he won’t pass any bill that adds a dime to the deficit or debt. I’m guessing whatever kind of reform he wants to see is going to cost a lot of money. Surprisingly to me, he mentioned the public option, which he said made sense. He compared it to public universities (like SCSU), saying it increased competition and created affordable and good results without pricing private universities out of the market. He then ended with a personal story about being “fired up” and “ready to go,” and asking Minnesotans if they were fired up and ready to go on reforming health care.

In all, I thought it was a great speech. President Obama is truly a great orator, and this is apparent when you see him speak live. He motivates the audience and he reacts to them too; his speech did not seem obviously canned. There were some things I might have questioned, but I think for the most part he provided some very good points. I think it’s fairly obvious there are things that need to be changed, whether we agree with the President or not. Making something as essential as health care more affordable is, I think, a very important objective that America must meet.

Three new additions Monday, Jul 27 2009 

The minimum wage debate on employment was very much alive the past few days across the blogosphere (and still is, actually). I’ve had very many interesting discussions with people with differing points of views. I think I’ve learned a lot from it. Perhaps in the future I will be able to touch on a few issues I wasn’t able to in my last post.

In any case, I’m pleased to be adding three new blogs to my blog roll. As always, I might not agree with everything being posted on these blogs, but I find what they have to offer interesting and worthwhile. They usually cover many of the same topics I might and you’ll typically find them to be liberty-minded.

The first is Classically Liberal, a blog that covers a whole host of issues, typically with a libertarian perspective. I don’t really know anything about the author except that they go by the name CLS.

The next is the Becker-Posner Blog, which is maintained by Gary S. Becker and Richard Posner. Dr. Becker is a professor of economics at the University of Chicago and the the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1992 “for having extended the domain of microeconomic analysis to a wide range of human behaviour and interaction, including non-market behaviour.” Judge Posner is a judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago and lectures at the University of Chicago Law School. He has been a respected writer on law and economics. The blog, which was started in 2004, typically takes a classically liberal approach to contemporary issues.

Finally, I am adding the Freakonomics blog. This blog is an offshoot of one of my favorite books: Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (2005). The book, written by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, is about economic theory being applied to culture and other social phenomena. Dr. Levitt is a professor of economics at the University of Chicago and Mr. Dubner is a journalist for The New York Times. At least six additional people currently write for the blog. The blog tends to focus on economics, incentives, and other interesting news. One of my favorite parts about the blog is that the people who comment on it are very bright and bring just as much insight into issues as the writers for the blog. Enjoy!

Blog roll addition Wednesday, May 20 2009 

There’s another addition to the blog roll. This time it is the P.A.P Blog, written by Filip Spagnoli, a Belgian philosopher who obtained his PhD at the University of Brussels and who currently works in research and statistics at the Belgian Central Bank. The blog focuses on human rights, including through the perspective of political and economic rights. “The blog looks at human rights from various perspectives: political philosophy, art (P.A.P. stands for politics, art, and philosophy), economics and statistics/data analysis.”

As with all the blogs on the blog roll, I don’t agree with everything written in the blog, but I believe it offers important discourse on human rights and the tragedy of human rights abuses.

Summer Monday, May 11 2009 

Summer is finally here. (All went well, thank you.) As you can see, posting has been slow, partly because finals took up a lot of my time. Hopefully, with more free time now, I will be able to contribute more often.There all sorts of happy things to talk about, like torture and the Afghan war! We’ll see where things go. As always, I’m looking for more contributors who are from SCSU and would like to write about politics, economics, philosophy, or other events that might interest the SCSU and surrounding community. Contrarian views are certainly welcome. Just leave a message or shoot me an e-mail.

An appeal to writers Thursday, Mar 5 2009 

Hi there. I’m making an appeal for writing contributors to this blog. I think more perspectives, dissenting or otherwise, would be especially helpful and worthwhile. This blog primarily focuses on political, economic, sociological, and SCSU events topics. If you would like to share your views on these topics, you are more than welcome to on this blog. Thanks. 🙂

Posting Sunday, Mar 1 2009 

Activity here might be a little slower in the coming days as Midterms come around the corner. 🙂