Nicholas Shackel

Rationality and the Scottish referendum

One argument that has been put forward against voting for Scottish independence in the Scottish referendum is that it would be irrational for Scotland to break free of the rest of Great Britain. The grounds for this claim are that the Scottish economy would be significantly worse under independence. This is an empirical claim and for the sake of argument I am going to grant it. What I am interested in is whether, supposing that to be true, it would in fact be irrational. There are a number of things seriously wrong with this inference.

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Motte and Bailey Doctrines

One of the difficulties of getting people to behave better epistemically is that, whilst intellectual dishonesty is wrong, it is difficult to convict people of intellectual wrongs. As David Stove showed in his wonderful paper ‘What is Wrong with Our Thoughts?’ (The Plato Cult and Other Philosophical Follies Chapter 7 ), there are indefinitely many ways of cheating intellectually and for most there is no simple way to put one’s finger on how the cheat is effected. There is just the hard work of describing the species in detail.

Some time ago I wrote a paper entitled The Vacuity of Postmodernist Methodology (here or here  or here ) in which I described and named a number of  such cheats that I detected in postmodernism. One of these I named the Motte and Bailey Doctrine. There has recently been a flurry of use of this concept to analyse ethical, political and religious positions (e.g. here, here)  so I am taking the opportunity to have a look at it again.

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Political speech crime

In an article at The conversation  Professor Torcello has proposed that ‘an organised campaign funding misinformation ought to be considered criminally negligent’. I am wholly in agreement with him. I cannot think of a political party whose campaign can be characterised as anything other than an organized campaign funding misinformation and I would be delighted if we could bang them all up in chokey for it and be rid of them. Sorry, what’s that? He wasn’t talking about politicians? Well who was he talking about then? Continue reading

Conspiracies against the laity part 3298: the medical profession.

Well wouldn’t you know it. A surgeon who transmitted antibiotic resistant superbug during operations on people’s hearts doesn’t want you to know he did.

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Time to stop the abominable illegality of kidney markets

Do you like the ambiguous title? No, I don’t think illegal kidney markets are intrinsically abominable. Insofar as they are abominable in various respects it is entirely a further consequence of the abominality of making them illegal. The abominable politicians who passed the law and sustain the law are to blame for thousands of deaths every year.

A fundamental argument for a market in kidneys is that they’re my kidneys and it’s up to me what I do with them, so keep your nose out of it. I would also direct you to an earlier argument of mine based on the ultimatum game, in which I show that if it is true that the offers in that game should be fair, then failing to pay donors for kidneys is unfair. But perhaps you’d prefer an argument based on better consequences. Let me give you one: Continue reading

Oppressing smokers for fun and profit

According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine (Prabhat & Peto 2014),

Tripling tobacco tax globally would cut smoking by a third, and prevent  200 million premature deaths this century from lung cancer and other diseases. (here)

This should, of course, be instituted immediately. It is almost the perfect public policy: self-interest dressed up as sanctimony. Not only will we make the lives of non-smokers better at the expense of smokers, but we can do so whilst telling smokers we are doing it for their own good! Continue reading

In praise of insult

You have no right to be free from insult. Indeed, sometimes you may deserve to be insulted. Let us take a case that brings this into sharp focus: the Tory chief whip who lost his job because… well, we still don’t know exactly why because it now turns out that what the police claimed at the time wasn’t true. And maybe he should have lost his job: I don’t know. But one of the underlying assumptions throughout seems to have been that nobody should ever be sworn at. And that is flatly false. Sometimes people deserve to be sworn at. People in power deserve it when they stupidly, arrogantly or indifferently muck up our lives, something they do routinely. They deserve it most especially when they misuse their authority, such as when they do so to display their power by make someone’s life worse or for the purpose of getting  their own back on someone who resists their misuse of power. Continue reading

Closing down comments

Popular Science  has decided they will no longer permit comments on their new articles.  If you are a ‘vexing commenter’, a ‘shrill boorish specimen’, rather than a ‘delightful, thought-provoking commenter’, it now turns out you were never welcome. Of course, they have a perfect right to close their comments: it is their website. Their reasons for doing so, however, show a distressing lack of respect for the value of free speech and free opinion.

It is true that some people are shrill, boorish and vexing, but some people are merely called that because they are saying things others do not wish to hear. Climate skeptics are frequently dismissed in these terms. Very good, you might say. But so were abolitionists, feminists and gay rights activists. This is that well known irregular verb, I am forthright, you are argumentative, he is boorish, she is shrill, we are reality based truth speakers, ye (you all) are clamorous and they are vexatious liars.

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Government is good for you so do what you’re told!

We are discussing Huemer’s argument against political authority, where political authority is the special right of government to command and coerce what other agent’s may not and the special duty to obey what government commands.  A number of commentators here have responded to earlier parts of Huemer’s argument against political authority by citing benefits of government. Heumer calls this kind of defence consequentialist, not because it requires a commitment to consequentialism (that the rightness of an act is determined solely by its consequences), but just because it is offering a justification of political authority on the basis of good consequences. The essential difficulty for this defence is that political authority is supposed to be content-independent, comprehensive and supreme, but neither consequences alone, nor consequences combined with fairness, can justify such authority.

(Previous posts in this line: here, here, here, here.)

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We voted that you should pay, so pay up— or else!

So runs Huemer’s initial example in considering whether political authority is justified by democracy: you’re out with a group of people at a restaurant and when the bill comes someone suggests you pay, and the motion is carried on a vote. Since we do not think this would be right, nor do we think you’d thereby be under any obligation to pay, it is clear that anyone who thinks democracy justifies political authority has to explain why what is wrong here is right for a democratic government.

(Previous posts in this line: here, here, here)

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